Tunnelling for England
It is no secret that we are in the grip of environmental catastrophe. The proliferation of economic growth to satisfy the accounts of the wealthy elite, muddled with the need to provide for an ever-expanding population has caused plastic pollution, urbanisation, the decimation of British biodiversity and soil degradation to name but a few in sweeping terms.
HS2, the high-speed railway, boasts that: “HS2 is a state-of-the-art, high-speed line critical for the UK’s low carbon transport future”. Ironically, this will be the single greatest environmentally destructive industrial project that the UK has ever undertaken.
HS2 Ltd has released data on how the high-speed train link between Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and London will affect both industry and the environment. It states that 19,590 jobs would have to be relocated with 2,380 permanently lost (2,340 jobs are set to be created by the development), 1,740 buildings set to be demolished which includes 888 homes, 985 businesses and 27 community facilities. This will undoubtedly affect communities, but industry, bricks and mortar can be replaced. According to a report released by The Wildlife trusts in 2020, the operation will pillage 5 wildlife refuges (protected by UK law), 33 sites of special scientific interest (also protected by UK law), 693 classified local wildlife sites, 21 designated local nature reserves, 4 nature improvement areas (awarded £1.7m of public funds), 22 living landscapes – schemes to restore nature, 18 Wildlife Trust nature reserves, 108 ancient woodlands, as well as the risk to endangered wildlife such as Barn owls, white-clawed crayfish, willow tit, lizard orchid and the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, the net loss is clear. HS2 is also set to release 14 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere (12.7 times the amount of CO2 Bhutan produces annually) and phase 2B is to generate 58 million tonnes of landfill alone. To put this into perspective, this is four times the amount of waste the UK creates annually. Set to cost £88.7 billion, this would pay for our annual rail expenditure for the next 21 years.
Calling the new high-speed railway more environmentally friendly is based on one, simple idea – trains have less Co2 impact on the environment than cars. This is a true example of industrial chauvinism, ‘we can save the environment through industrialisation’ or ‘just depleting the right resources’. This mindset is an attempt to morally justify the economic philosophy that created this crisis in the first place. The equivalent of treating diabetes with a high sugar diet.
The state of the railway in the UK is a common source of displeasure for the average citizen. Inflated financial expense, poor quality of the carriage itself, lack of punctuality (if they arrive at all), and these are just some of the thoughts that appear to be synonymous with the idea of the British railway. You would be forgiven for assuming that there would be a public mandate for this. However, polls conducted by YouGov and others have frequently found that a higher proportion of the British people oppose the high-speed rail line than support it.
According to the YouGov poll above it is clear that if put to public referenda the construction would not get the majority support hypothetically needed. One could then consider the following: What use does such construction have to regular people? Or perhaps this is another symptom of bigness, of centralised financial power in London itself? This forces a general public that has no need for this extraordinary project to fit the bill, all for the pleasure of corporate offices in the capital.
There has been a strong real-world response from many groups and individuals. Eight protection camps have been set up, many in the ancient woodlands that these construction companies are now threatening. HS2 Rebellion is amid a showdown with bailiffs over tunnelling beneath Euston Square gardens to delay construction on the land. At the time of writing this piece, the tunnellers have been underground for 17 days. Acts like this harken back to the great English radicalism of the Diggers in 1649 in which people began to cultivate on common land, arguing that the English commoner was subjugated beneath the yoke of the Norman ruling class, and robbed of their religiously defined birthright – the land.
The modern image of an environmental activist is one of the ‘anti-patriot’, but in light of the environmental crisis that England faces from its rulers and industrialists, one has to wonder if there is currently a single greater act of patriotism than to stand against the destruction of the land of England.
“True freedom lies where a man receives his nourishment and preservation, and that is in the use of the earth”.
– Gerrard Winstanley, Digger.
Daily Question | 18/05/2020 | YouGov. (2020, May 18). YouGov.
HS2 Ltd. (2021, February 11). High Speed 2.
The Wildlife Trusts. (2020, January). What’s the damage? Why HS2 will cost nature too much.
UK Rail industry financial information 2015-16 report | Office of Rail and Road. (2017). Office of Rail and Road.