HS2 asks government to help it deal with rising number of protests

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HS2 has sought support from across government to counter a growing number of protests, as the boss of the high-speed rail project said it was struggling to deal with direct action that had cost it GBP75m to date.

Mark Thurston, the chief executive of HS2, said “violent and disruptive” protests were spreading north and he had urged ministers to use “all the agencies of government” to help it.

Direct action against the GBP100bn rail network has ranged from camps in areas of ancient woodland in the Colne Valley, west of London, to the 100ft tunnel dug at Euston station to hold up construction work.

Thurston told MPs on the public accounts committee that HS2 had held “productive meetings” with the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, and senior civil servants to formulate a cross-agency response. To date, he said police forces had made about 300 arrests and brought nine prosecutions.

Protests had been significant on phase 1 of the route, from London to Birmingham, and were starting on phase 2 to Crewe and Manchester, Thurston said.

“We understand at HS2 that people along the route who didn’t choose to live alongside the work that we’re doing have every right to peacefully protest. The action we’re seeing is anything but lawful. It’s becoming violent and disruptive.

“We need to protect our workforce, as well as the protesters, and local people in some cases. We are very exercised about this.”

Thurston added: “There’s only so much HS2 and its suppliers can do, we’re not really geared to deal with the extensiveness of this. We’ve done a reasonable job of protecting the programme but we don’t expect this issue to go away soon and we need to set ourselves up with all the agencies of government.”

Large numbers of security guards are employed around works, and police have been joined by the privately operated National Eviction Team to close down protest sites.

Climate activists were removed from the Euston tunnel in February, around the same time as the first and longest-running protest camp against HS2, in the Colne Valley, near the major construction site for the railway running through the Chilterns, was closed down.

Protesters are about to embark on a 100-mile walk on the planned route from Lichfield to Wigan to “spread awareness about the true impact” of its construction. Campaigners say the line will destroy or damage 108 ancient woodlands and the railway will never be carbon neutral.

An HS2 Rebellion spokesperson said: “It is our human right to peacefully protest and it is our responsibility to witness and document the wildlife crimes that are being committed by HS2 every single day.

“If public bodies and government agencies, such as the police and Natural England, were doing their jobs properly and holding HS2 to account for their crimes, there would be no need to protest.”

Major construction works on HS2 started last year after the government decided to pursue the controversial line, after a review ordered by Boris Johnson. Tunnelling through the Chilterns began earlier this year. Construction of Old Oak Common station was formally started on Wednesday, a GBP1.7bn hub that will be the initial London terminus and one of four new stations built along the southern leg.

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