Boris Johnson said this month that High Speed 2, the proposed railway connecting London with the north, would create 22,000 jobs. He neglected to mention the myriad ethical, financial and environmental issues around the line that the government is failing to address.
A few weeks ago in Denham, on the fringes of London, I watched the National Eviction Team preparing to cut the lines of two friends suspended from trees in the path of HS2. I was frightened for their lives and climbed on to one of the safety lines, believing that I would come to no harm in the sight of dozens of police officers. But the line was brought down while I was on it and I fell about seven metres, after which I was taken to hospital and then arrested.
Parliament has declared a climate and ecological emergency but, by pressing ahead with projects like HS2, the government’s words are at odds with its deeds. HS2 itself claims, in violation of the legally binding Paris agreement on climate change, that it will not be carbon neutral before 2140. By some estimates it never will be. It is one of the most environmentally devastating civil engineering projects in British history, destroying 108 ancient woodlands and 693 designated local wildlife sites, according to a report by the Wildlife Trusts, and threatening to pollute London’s water supply.
Against a backdrop of collapsing demand for mass-transit travel, the original £34 billion bill for HS2 could reach almost £88 billion, according to the Oakervee report written by the former chairman of HS2. Lord Berkeley, who was co-opted as co-author, demanded his name be removed from the report. He suggests that the costs could be at least £108 billion, and even this is based on misleading assumptions about rail passenger numbers. The Court of Appeal’s decision to quash the government’s approval for a third runway at Heathrow, on the basis that the Paris agreement had not been taken into account, provides a model of how to handle HS2.
As a teenager I have few options when it comes to protecting my dying world. I’ve been living in Denham since May, waking each morning to birdsong and the clattering growl of chainsaws. Let’s cut HS2 instead of trees and we’ll all be safer.