Enabling works for the HS2 rail project are set to begin again on the outskirts of the village of Steeple Claydon.
This paper has followed the long history of protests by villagers against the works, most notably by campaign group 'Anti-HS2 SOC (Save Our Countryside)' which culminated in direct action in April and May this year that led to HS2 workers leaving the site.
However, last week in Parliament, MP for Aylesbury David Lidington asked the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps regarding HS2:
“Will the Secretary of State now accept that those works are prejudicial to the outcome of the review that he has established and order that they cease?"
Grant Shapps responded:
“On the enabling works, we are in a position where I have to make a go/no-go decision in December. I know that this will not a delight my right hon. Friend, but it seemed to me that if we did not continue to make preparatory works, I would not even be in the position to make a go/no-go decision. I am sorry to disappoint my right hon. Friend, but that is the current position.”
This led to communication from HS2 to local authorities the very next day, informing them that enabling works are set to go ahead.
County Councillor Charlie Clare said:
“They have been told to keep going with any work they can, so they plan to do the de-veg, and we are talking about removing everything by the end of the year.
“It's 500 acres, and the point of the work is to make it uninhabitable so that future wildlife that causes delays doesn't return. It's not just moving stuff that's in the way, it's taking huge sites and making them sterile.”
Leader of Aylesbury Vale District Council (AVDC), Angela MacPherson, struck a similarly frustrated tone:
“They're pressing ahead before they've undertaken the review and despite the notice to proceed not being granted and I think that is what's grinding all of our gears. This countryside and vegetation can't be magic'd back. It's hundreds of years of ecology that's being ripped up and it's mind boggling in the light of the review and a huge question mark over the project that they're carrying on."
Regarding next steps, Councillor Charlie Clare confirmed that there would be another demonstration in Calvert Green on 18 September at 6pm. He said:
“We're going to have another demonstration and everyone should come and make their feelings known. In the meantime, people should write directly to Grant Shapps and make him aware of the issue and he should think about it just on account of the sheer weight of emails.”
We asked Steeple Claydon parish councillor and member of Anti-HS2 SOC (Save Our Countryside) Frank Mahon, about his plans. After telling us he had just returned from checking on activity at the site, he said:
“I'm here protecting the wildlife as requested by the villagers who are my constituents as a councillor.”
HS2 are building 345 miles of new high-speed track which will connect the city centres of London, Birmingham, Manchester, and Leeds.
In March this year, ministers delayed signing off on the first half of spending for HS2, which runs from London to The Midlands, until December due to concerns over spiralling costs.
Though the cost was initially projected to be £32.7bn in 2010, the Government now estimates it to be £80bn.
It was revealed last week that the timelines have also been pushed back, with phase one from London to Birmingham now set to finish as late as 2031. The original date was 2026.