30 Apr 2012

HS2 Extraordinary Meeting at Kensal Triangle: "No body wants it! Everybody will pay for it!"

On 23 April, I attended an Extraordinary meeting of Kensal Triangle Residents Association (poster advertising the meeting on local street pictured). I attended a very informative meeting in December (blogpost) and was looking forward to hearing more from Keri Brennan, a guest speaker active both in Hillingdon and the pan-London group against HS2.

The meeting was deftly chaired by Deepak Nambisan, a local resident and lawyer who, leading on one of the items himself, was able to furnish us with a update on the legal battles ahead and the likely timetable for them. Three judicial reviews were in the pipeline, two initiated by the HS2 Action alliance, focusing on the environmental impact and the compensation process, respectively, and the third by the 51m Group, focusing on the inadequate consultation process (it was explained that 51m took its name from the projected cost in millions to each parliamentary constituency).

Keri Brennan spoke passionately about her campaigning to date, explaining both how she remained defiant in the face of attempts to pacify the Ruislip group with the offer of a tunnel and how she had lost all faith in the consultation process to date and the politicians and lobbyists she said were manipulating things from start to finish. She told us how she got involved after discovering the proposal to run a line through her back garden, that she and her family had been expected to endure floodlighting for 24 hours a day for seven years of construction. She told us how the advocates of HS2 were making up costs as they went along, often as a reaction to the hidden costs that were being revealed by the campaigners. Instead of the oft repeated price tag of £32bn, she estimated a more realistic cost of £79bn, if it went ahead.

Ms Brennan concluded, "No body wants it! Everybody will pay for it! The people who do want it do so only for their careers."

A discussion was also had about the compensation schemes currently on the table, that were being consulted about by the government. There was much uncertainty in the room about if and when such compensation would be applicable, given the number of variables being deployed. I also sensed a general unease at the prospect that in seeking to establish the true risks from the project, they should not talk down the area or overstate the impact of tunneling as this would also adversely affect the marketability of their properties. I left the meeting thinking that the very fact of imposing this predicament upon the residents was itself deserving of remedy, if not compensation.

A separate item was taken on the impact on the area of lorries using Harrow Road for construction of Crossrail and why they had not been consulted about it. A figure of 68 lorries daily for the next year was given as an envionmental impact. There was generalised dissent about the failure of Brent Council to engage with them about the proposal. One resident declared that, in her experience, "Communication with Brent aint that great. They only respond to threats." An opinion was expressed that Brent had waived its jurisdiction over the matter, unlike neighbouring boroughs.

I was welcomed to the meeting as a representative of the Green Party and the Chair read out a statement from Jenny Jones, Green Party mayoral candidate. Excerpt from Jenny Jones' Green Party Statement on HS2:

"The Green Party is firmly against this project. As currently planned, HS2 is not viable either environmentally or economically. As Mayor, I would oppose the construction of HS2 in its current form for many reasons, both for Londoners and for those living outside London. These plans are for an ultra high speed railway, meaning that it has to run in a fairly straight line, ploughing through areas of natural beauty and invaluable countryside.

I am particularly concerned about the negative impact upon the residents of North Westminster, Kilburn and Kensal Rise of proposed tunneling under their homes. My Green Party colleague in Brent Shahrar Ali has been keeping me informed of the campaign against this.

Of course we need high speed rail services that reduce our reliance on flying, but the planning process must take full account of social costs such as relocation and the loss of social housing. Rail services should provide benefits to people from all walks of life, not just business people who want to shave a few minutes off their journey.

We want to make it easier, cheaper and more pleasant to walk, cycle and take public transport than to drive. More affordable fares, less congested roads and safer streets can all be achieved by prioritising people and public transport over cars. Our plans will deliver immediate improvements while setting in motion plans to transform our transport network.

Rest assured that I will continue to oppose HS2 and fight to protect London's public services as Mayor or as a Green Member of the London Assembly."

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