‘People are not alone. The fight goes on’

Buckingham HS2 protest.Jeremy Quinn.'100930M-C181
Buckingham HS2 protest.Jeremy Quinn.'100930M-C181

THE region’s Tories are not going to give up in the fight against HS2, says the chairman of the Buckingham Conservative Association, writes Hannah Richardson.

Jeremy Quin, from Quainton, has been active in the Stop HS2 campaign since the high-speed rail link was first announced, and convened the first public meeting to oppose the scheme in March 2010.

He said he was disappointed by Transport Secretary Justine Greening’s announcement last week that the government was determined to press ahead with the scheme, which would cut a swathe through the local countryside.

But he told the Advertiser local Conservatives are not prepared to toe the party line on the issue.

He said: “I’m not going to keep my head down. Conservatives locally are going to fight this.

“We’re absolutely determined this doesn’t go ahead.”

His position is shared by neighbouring Conservative Associations, including the South Northants group, the Milton Keynes group and the Bucks and Oxon area group, chaired by Bucks County Councillor Patricia Birchley.

This week, Mr Quin has written to all his members to reassure them the association’s opposition to HS2 remains “robust and determined”.

His letter states: “While not necessarily a surprise, it is of course a great disappointment to us all that the government seems determined to proceed.

“However, if anyone thinks that, post this announcement, we’ll quietly give up, they had better think again.”

Mr Quin, who was born in Bucks, is also chairman of The Countryside Alliance Foundation, a charity that focuses on getting disadvantaged schoolchildren out into the countryside.

And he is adamant HS2 is not just of significance to the local villages that are directly affected.

“The countryside is a national asset,” he said. “If it goes ahead, it will have a permanent effect on the countryside that will affect everyone.”

As a former senior corporate financial advisor to Alistair Darling at HM Treasury, Mr Quin is better placed than most to examine the business case for HS2. And he says it doesn’t stack up.

“There is a mistaken view this is going to be economically positive,” he said.

And he said the Department of Transport has itself rated the scheme a “low value for money” proposition.

“And that’s before you’ve worked out the cost overruns,” he added. “The history of every single infrastructure project has suggested there will be cost overruns.”

He said it was extraordinary the government was committing to a project that has been a financial disaster in some other European countries, especially in the current financial climate.

He believes the money could be better spent upgrading the existing rail network.

He said: “Conservatives are about not mending things unless they’re broke. They are about getting your money’s worth at every step.”

And he pointed to news this week that the coalition government was likely to announce a consultation on a new airport for London.

“If you’re about to launch a consultation on a vast new transport infrastructure of that nature, it would seem more appropriate to have a fully joined-up transport strategy,” he said.

Mr Quin said local Conservatives will continue to campaign against HS2.

“There’s a quiet and steely determination here,” he said. “We’re determined we’ve got the right arguments and we remain adamantly opposed to HS2.

“It’s not a done deal till they’ve got the money and start spending it.

“Within the Conservative Party there are numerous opportunities for members to meet and influence Members of Parliament and ministers, and we’ve been assiduous in pursuing those opportunities.

“There are significant levels of concern and disquiet in the Conservative Party, not just locally, which we wish to continue to reinforce.

“There is a very strong case against HS2 and it needs to continue to be pushed.

“It may well be the case that councils along the line look to judicial review. If they do, I’m sure they’ll have the support of the people they represent.

“The third runway at Heathrow was eventually killed off by a combination of legal challenge and loss of political will.”

“This is going to take months, maybe years, to fight, but we’ve got public opinion on our side on a national level.

“When people think what they’d rather spend £50 million per constituency on, it’s very clear they’ve got other priorities.

“I believe there will be a Conservative or Conservative-led government after 2015. It’s important that people know the Conservative Party locally will continue to fight the coalition government nationally to convince them this is the wrong way to spend this money.

“People need to know they’re not alone. We will continue to fight this. We’ve got plenty of time and plenty of ammunition on our hands and the fight goes on.”

“This is not the end of the campaign against HS2. This is not even the end of the beginning.”