As the last tunneler volutnarily left today after a monumental 31 days of living underground, Rollie, 17, who occupied the network of tunnels in Euston Square Gardens, speaks out to discuss why as a young person from the North she travelled to London and put her safety at risk to protest the high-speed rail line.
The HS2 project, predicted to cost up to £230 billion has long been embroiled with controversy, but in recent weeks the underground encampment of Euston square gardens has put questions of its viability back onto the national stage. Proponents claim the train line will allow for shorter commuting times between London and Birmingham and will “level up the country”.
However, campaigners argue these claims are unfounded and negated by the project’s myriad of environmental and social impacts. For them HS2 is not an isolated case and is symbolic of a wider political problem where large scale infrastructure projects such as coal mines, airport expansions and road building programmes appear attractive due to their flashiness and marketability of ‘progress’, ‘levelling up’ or ‘job creation’.
In reality Rollie, 17 who six months ago decided to move full time to a Stop HS2 camp says “HS2 is the pinnacle of wealth disparities, class inequalities and social injustice in the UK. One day, working class children are going to learn the truth and they’re going to want to know why their friends stomachs rumbled with the stripping of free school meals, why their vulnerable relatives couldn’t seek medical attention in a global pandemic due to an underfunded NHS, why their schools can’t afford textbooks as a result of slashed funding, why every inch of precious greenery in their area has been decimated at the hands of suited fiends. They’ll one day want to know why each taxpayer was robbed of thousands annually to pay for the hellish project”
One of the most contentious criticisms of HS2′ is the extensive amount of land it has and continues to take. The total volume of land as of 22nd August 2020 acquired on a temporary basis by HS2 stood at 35km2, the city of York is 34km2. Opponents of the project state the majority of the land dispossessed belongs to working class people, farmers and those who run small businesses. This was poignantly shown last November, when Simon Swerling, a farmer whose land was taken by HS2 for a ‘temporary haul road’, used his farm truck to block HS2 workers from accessing a vent shaft for the railway, in protest of non-payments from HS2 reaching into the ‘tens of thousands of pounds’.
However, campaigners say the negative impacts on working class people “extend far past land dispossessions” referencing non payments, the destruction of jobs and the increasing privatisation of locally and commonly owned land.
The few remaining arguments for the project marred by controversy, centre around ‘levelling up’ and ‘delivering the Northern powerhouse’. Rollie, 17, from North eastern England says “A project that takes a million times more than it gives is simply just theft and criminality dressed up in a vanity beholding suit and tie. For decades the North has been underfunded by those in the ivory towers of Westminster. For decades, working class people in the north have been ordered to pay the price for a debt that was never theirs through the stripping of necessities, funding and land to pave the way for desolate and destructive industry – we shall no longer stand complicit in this”
The sentiment held by many that HS2’s levelling up the North claims don’t actually have teeth are backed by the National Infrastructure Commission set up by Boris Johnson last February. The NIC undertook an assessment of major rail schemes, one of it’s primary conclusions of the assessement was that prioritising regional links in the North would in fact deliver greater local economic benefits than building the eastern leg of HS2.
Campaigners argue the department of transport’s decision to build yet another transport link to London, neglecting actual investment in the North will drain commuters from the North with faster commuter times to London, reinforcing London’s status as the economic and business hub of the country. Alongside this they say its local transport investment which will benefit working class people not hundred mile commuter networks only used by the middle and upper classes.
Rollie states “This project is coming for working class homes with bulldozers and battering rams, it’s coming for natural paradises with diggers and chainsaws. Yet, HS2 will rapidly exchange golden green paper havens for the land of golf courses where the elite do play. When HS2 has finished, our natural wonders will be completely decimated, biodiversity will have rapidly declined, the fight for social justice will have staggered backwards and wealth disparities will have steeply inclined.”
With the £27billion road programme being recently thrown into disarray and as the battle for Euston Square gardens draws to a close after 31 action packed days, all eyes turn to the department of transport and questions arise as to whether the projected £230 billion HS2 train line is really the silver bullet of investment the working class and the North so urgently need.