As I write this, a small group of individuals are in makeshift tunnels under Euston park station. They have been there for ten days now. Workmen continue to work above ground, jeopardising the safety of the individuals below. The misleadingly named, National Eviction team have been banging their boots into the tunnels in an effort to prevent the people inside from securing the structure around them, thus needlessly compromising their safety. The National Eviction team are a privately owned rent a thug, “protester removal group”. And there I was with the crazy notion that protest was a legal right in a functioning democracy?
This is another dark chapter in the destructive and controversial tail of HS2 construction.
A project that has continued despite widespread opposition. A mega project that continues in the face of a national lockdown when all other non-essential work has been forced to cease. A project that continues despite a global pandemic that has completely altered how we work and travel, meaning that HS2 will be redundant before it’s even been built! Some are perplexed that so many environmental groups are opposed to HS2. I have been questioned about this on several occasions with people arguing that trains are better for the environment than cars. Yes, rail is good, and investment in our existing railway systems is desperately needed. But mega projects like HS2, which will pour 1.5 million tons of C02 into the atmosphere in just the construction phase, must be stopped if we are to have any hope of keeping global temperatures below 1.5 degrees. HS2 won’t be carbon neutral for 120 years and continues to ravage huge swaths of irreplaceable natural habitat, all during a climate emergency. Plus, the Government’s own review of the project highlighted that costs could spiral to £106 billion, three times the original estimate!
The struggle against HS2 has been going on for years. There are many protest camps along the HS2 route, all with individuals fighting to defend the woodlands and communities the project threatens. These camps have experienced varying degrees of media coverage. It is a sad reality that when something happens in London, the media pays attention. All eyes are on the Euston park tunnel protesters now. Our thoughts are with them and for their safety. They have forced a conversation about HS2 and the wider climate and ecological emergency.
Geography lecturer, Dr. Larch Maxey is one of the brave individuals risking his life in the tunnels, fighting to stop HS2 and protect Euston park and the ancient Woodlands the project threatens. In an interview recently, Maxey said that parks are a vital nature connection for people in busy urban spaces. I would be mortified if it were my local park being decimated. It has been a lifeline during this last year of lockdowns. Of the tunnel protest, Maxey said he is hopeful it will serve as a springboard to stop the wider system that creates HS2. This is a system that gives the thumbs up to a new coal mine in Cumbria, a new gas power station in North Yorkshire, and allows Heathrow airport expansion to proceed; all projects that undermine the UK’s own climate commitments. The battle of Euston has brought the fight against HS2 into public view and with it, the omnipresent issue of climate breakdown. The Euston tunnellers have shown the kind of courage, strength and determination that we all need to show to stop HS2 and heal our world.