Extinction Rebellion and other anti-HS2 protesters sprayed fake blood over the entrance of the Department for Transport as construction on the controversial high-speed rail line officially began.
Demonstrators glued themselves to the door of the DfT’s London headquarters and chanted ‘HS2 is ecocide’ and ‘HS2 has blood on their hands’ as police tried to remove them.
As he marked the start of construction, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the project linking London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds would be ‘crucial’ for the UK’s economy, claiming it will create 22,000 jobs now and ‘tens of thousands more’ in the decades ahead.
But opponents say the project will cause irreversible damage to ancient woodlands and other nature spots as well as put protected species in harm’s way. They dismiss HS2’s claims it will lower carbon emissions, pointing to the pollution the construction process will cause.
People have also asked whether the project provides good value for money, with a Government commission warning it could cost the taxpayer as much as £106bn, based on 2019 prices. Critics ask whether there could be better uses for this money that help make Britain greener.
Demonstrating outside the DfT were HS2 Rebellion, an alliance of Extinction Rebellion and other HS2 campaigners.
Group co-founder Gail Bradbrook called on the Government to ‘admit the folly’ of the project and focus on making existing bus and train services greener instead.
She said: ‘This is an aviation shuttle service between London and Birmingham, favouring rich folks who are based around the capital, and at a time when we need to protect nature, drastically lower carbon emissions and when our pattern of travel in the era of pandemic has changed for good.’
A number of HS2 protests have been held in the capital this week. Last Friday activists invaded a construction site in Birmingham and climbed on top of a digger to prevent work taking place.
For some time now, people have been staying in protection camps, set up along the HS2 line, allowing protesters to sit on trees and prevent woodlands from being chopped down.
Talia Woodin, 21, from Oxford, has been living on one of these sites for three months. She told the Guardian: ‘In XR (Extinction Rebellion) it’s often quite abstract and you don’t always feel like you’re actually doing anything. Whereas here you’re sitting in a tree and you are physically stopping that tree from being cut down.
‘[HS2] is happening right in our back gardens; a lot of it is literally happening half an hour from where I grew up.
‘It’s our home and if we can’t resist and defend our own home from something like this, then we have no chance of doing it on a greater scale, like when it comes to the Amazon or forest fires.’
Despite it running tens of billions of pounds over budget and several years behind schedule, the PM gave HS2 the green light in February.
Work will begin on Phase One between London and the West Midlands with the biggest engineering challenges – such as the stations and tunnels – followed by the main viaducts and bridges.
Most activity this year will be focused on HS2’s city centre stations and major construction compounds, including at Old Oak Common, west London, and Calvert in Buckinghamshire.
HS2 Ltd chief executive Mark Thurston said: ‘We are already seeing the benefits that building HS2 is bringing to the UK economy in the short-term, but it’s important to emphasise how transformative the railway will be for our country when operational.’
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