Hundreds of worried residents turned out for the HS2 meeting at Cecil Sharp House, where Stanley Johnson, below, was among the speakers
Published: 30 January, 2014
SPECIAL REPORT by TOM FOOT
SENIOR politicians and highly-paid HS2 officials bottled the chance to defend their flagship rail project at a major public meeting last Thursday.
More than 600 people – including some famous faces from Primrose Hill and Camden Town, among them King’s Speech director Tom Hooper, X Factor host Dermot O’Leary and theatre and opera director Sir Jonathan Miller – packed into Cecil Sharp House.
Transport Minister Patrick McLoughlin, Lord Adonis – political architect of the scheme – HS2 chief executive Alison Munro, the newly-appointed, £700,000-a-year chairman David Higgins and lower-ranking officials from HS2 Ltd all declined official invitations to put the case for the £50billion scheme.
Martin Sheppard, from organisers Pan Camden Alliance, said: “I got the excuse: if we met one group, then we would have to meet others. The real reason is they would have had to defend the indefensible.”
The meeting, believed to be the largest public meeting ever held in response to the high-speed rail route plans. Almost 100 people were spilling out of Cecil Sharpe House into the street, unable to squeeze into the huge room.
The meeting passed a motion that “this meeting does not believe that the case for HS2 has been made”.
It added that the government should “abandon the link” – a second line running through Camden Town – and consider a slimmer, deeper station at Euston that would prevent the destruction of hundreds of homes in Regent’s Park. “Full compensation be paid to all those affected”, the motion added.
There was overwhelming support for a motion calling on Lord Adonis – formally, Baron Adonis of Camden Town – to “apologise to the people of Camden for the stress and suffering already caused by HS2 and to surrender his title”.
Despite the meeting drawing large numbers, the panel seemed short of ideas when it came to the crucial question: “What do we do next?”
The answers were to continue sending emails and responding through official channels to the Department for Transport’s consultation before February 28.
But there were demands for campaigners to turn up the heat on senior politicians of the three main parties, which are united in support of the project, with a series of major public marches or demonstrations.
One woman grabbed the microphone and demanded the room watch the film Passport to Pimlico – famously about the logical development of absurd ideas.
Council leader Sarah Hayward said: “There will be protests, demonstrations and meetings – and I will be there with bells on. But now it is important to respond to the environment impact statement.”
Stanley Johnson, father of Boris, the London Mayor, said HS2 was creating a kind of wartime collective spirit in Camden and it was time to “rise up”.
He added: “We are all talking to each other in the street. No one ever used to talk to each other. Now we are, we are talking about HS2. We need people of Camden to man the barricades. The 100,000s who live here need to rise up and say: ‘Camden will fight’.”
He added: “Anybody here know the Mayor of London? Does anybody know the MP who is head of the Downing Street political unit? We have to get hold of them and make them think like us. We are not nimbys. If we don’t fight for Camden who else will?”
In perhaps the most significant speech, Transport for London’s top director of strategy and planning, Richard De Cani, said the “link” proposal was the “wrong solution” and “doesn’t make sense”.
He said TfL – working on behalf of the Mayor of London – would be proposing “major changes” to HS2’s current plan of using the existing overground tracks for high-speed trains.
“We are opposed to the link in its current form,” he added. “The business case is weak. We also have substantial issues with Euston station.”
MP Frank Dobson told the meeting that the cost of tunnelling under Camden Town was “just” £160million more than the current plan, making it a viable option.
“To put it in perspective: they are spending £812million on a single tunnel in the Chilterns,” he added.
Rail architect Jeff Travers, who has designed an alternative to HS2’s Euston station proposals, gave a detailed explanation of his “Double Deck Down” scheme that is now being officially considered by the authorities.
Lib Dem councillor Chris Naylor said: “There are still very angry people who do not know what is going on. There is an awful information gap.”
Transport expert Stephen Plowden urged the audience to “get hold of your leaders” and meeting chair Peter
Cuming said the project would “look very old-fashioned” by the time it was finished in 2033.
Tory councillor Jonny Bucknell said it was “totally unacceptable” that no one from the government was at the meeting.
Cllr Hayward said: “I do a lot of public meetings, and all the time I have been in the council and leader I have not been to one that has been as well attended as this. People don’t realise how wide and varied these impacts are.”