SPECIAL FEATURE: The need for respect as HS2 edges closer

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While steadfast residents fought their corner against the surprising arrival of HS2 contractors in a leafy corner of Fairford Leys last Tuesday, 87 miles away in a conference room in Birmingham a besuited man was bracing a lectern to deliver an important speech.

While HS2 workers were deploying a crane in Napier Road to manoeuvre fencing bundles around cars which had blocked their way, the government’s new transport minister Chris Grayling was addressing the Conservative Party conference.

Mr Grayling said: “We need to get more freight off the roads and onto rail. So how do we do that? Easy. We create more space on our railways. And how do we do that? We build a new railway that links our major cities – so we’ve got more space for freight trains and commuter trains on our other busiest lines. That ladies and gentlemen is why we need to press ahead with HS2. Everyone will benefit from this new project.”

Not everyone, if you listen to residents in our community.

While politicos clapped, residents in Napier Road fumed.

“The arrogance of HS2 - they think ‘to hell with community, we’ll do what we want’,” said resident David Stopps last week while HS2 contractors just yards from his home continued with preparation for groundworks near the site of Hartwell House in Fairford Leys.

This would appear to be the crux of the HS2 controversy – the big verses the small, the supposed overarching good verses the so-called not-in-my-backyard brigade.

But if it is in your backyard, and you’re not a commuter living in London or Birmingham or Leeds or Manchester, then your perspective is ineviatbly jaundiced.

It remains a fiery and divisive issue. The Herald’s comments section on our website is always a fertile ground for strong opinions.

Here’s a ripe selection following last week’s story about the ‘stand-off’ in Fairford Leys:

Paul Kersey, who lives on the north-west side of Aylesbury, said: “Oh boo hoo hoo. Stop the whinging please. Yes, you will have some construction traffic disruption for a time but when the job is done, what lasting impact will there be on your little hamlet? Not much – it’s basically just a screened-off railway line!”

Morris123z said: “The HS2 paving bill allows for work to start on groundworks. So I hope the people that caused the delay in the work are sent the bill for any lost time. The crane should have been used to move the cars out out the way.”

John Jefkins said: “Not sure why anybody should be surprised here. With that stupid Brexit vote, we now need this sort of infrastructure even sooner - as we need to declare ourselves ‘open for business’.”

Bucks Fizz said: “Does Bucks County Council and all the other councils in the Aylesbury area need any more evidence that Aylesbury needs a bypass before houses, HS2, and any other vanity projects our grand masters have planned for us mere long-suffering taxpayers? Otherwise it will be Gridlock Aylesbury on the roads.”

One of the people caught in this mutually conflicting bind of supposed benefit for the overwhelming majority verses localised pain would be Aylesbury’s own MP David Lidington.

He has raised concerns over HS2 but feels unable to vote against it because of the Ministerial Code - he’s part of the government, formerly as the Europe minister and now as leader of the House of Commons.

He told the Herald on Monday: “I continue to lobby transport ministers and the Select Committee on HS2 on behalf of my constituents. Having given evidence to the Commons Select Committee, I am now preparing to give evidence to the House of Lords Committee in November in support of the Wendover Society and Wendover Parish Council.

“Besides pressing for better environmental mitigation, I have also helped individual constituents with their compensation claims.”

There are communities in our area who have been dealing with the looming £56billion high-speed rail link between London and Birmingham for many hard years.

Stoke Mandeville Parish Council and the Stoke Mandeville Action Group have now had six years’ involvement with HS2. They have petitioned the House of Commons, will be talking it to the House of Lords, and have a laundry list of issues they want addressing such as HS2 funding a bridge crossing on the Chiltern line.

Fairford Leys Parish Council has been making representations to the Commons’ Select Committee on HS2 for years and this year alone it exceeded the £10,000 budget set aside for HS2 business. At its September meeting, councillors unanimously agreed a £457.76 overspend and next year may consider increasing the parish precept to allocate further funds to the HS2 fight.

Despite these long battles, thoughts do now seem to be turning towards softening the blow rather than stopping the scheme.

Residents the Herald spoke to over the past fortnight confirmed they were now ‘resigned’ to the scheme’s eventual arrival but they want to make sure it is done with consideration, that they are informed and consulted every step of the way, and that as much mitigation is carried out as possible - be it bunds of earth to reduce sound or the planting of trees to provide screening.

Cllr Steven Lambert, the Bucks County Council representative for Fairford Leys, said last week: “People do appear to be resigned to HS2 but in their minds it still feels years away - that’s why it was such a surprise when HS2 appeared in Fairford Leys [last week]. We need to be consulted. I had people ringing my house asking what was happening and I didn’t know anything about it. They need to tell us what’s going to happen.”

MP David Lidington again: “Whatever my own criticisms of HS2, which I’ve expressed many times, the reality is that the project has overwhelming cross-party support in Parliament. We need to press for everything possible to be done to mitigate the impact of this scheme on local people.”

HS2 Ltd hopes construction will start in 2017 and expects Royal Assent - when a bill becomes an Act of Parliament - to be granted later this year.

In terms of community engagement and mitiagtion, it says: “HS2 Ltd has followed and, where practicable, exceeded the legislative requirements and guidance on consultation and engagement...[an] objective of consultation and engagement has been to develop an improved scheme and propose steps to avoid, reduce or, where reasonably practicable, off-set any significant adverse effects that have been identified.”

As Cllr Lambert surmised last week: “In all the House of Commons Select Committee hearings, one thing I stressed all the time to HS2 was: ‘Don’t do this to us, do it with us’.”

The message from residents is clear: they want to be treated with respect and thoughtfulness - not as throwaway collateral damage.