This afternoon the Hs2 Phase 1 Hybrid Bill will pass 3rd reading in the House of Commons which effectively means Parliament grants the project planning permission. The bill still has to pass through the House of Lords but they cannot stop the bill becoming law.
To all intents and purposes, today puts an end to the Stop Hs2 campaign as it’s now exhausted the political process. Whilst their campaign may stagger on for a few months until the Lords petitioning is over there’s really nowhere for them to go. The past 6 years have shown that their claims of being a national, grass-roots campaign were false. The heart of their campaign has always been nimbyism – especially from the Chilterns (and to a lesser extent Warwickshire). They never made a political breakthrough and made the fundamental error of trying to stop the project rather than gain support for getting the best financial and environmental mitigation possible. It’s also been a terribly dishonest campaign which hasn’t covered anyone involved with it in glory. A good example of that was yesterdays disgusting attempt to use the victims of the Brussels bombings against Hs2 when their corpses were still warm (see here).
What’s interesting to see is the way the Stop Hs2 campaign is going out with a whimper. Looking at them you’d hardly think today was so important. They’re too weak to organise a demonstration outside Parliament as the last time they tried that (for 2nd reading) less than 100 turned up. They’re too skint to put adverts in the newspapers so they’ve relied on social media – but even that’s a flop. There’s no attempt to make a big splash or get Hs2 trending. Instead there’s just a few lone people tweeting their opposition or making desperate, last minute pleas to their MPs. None of it shows a campaign with any vigour, purpose or determination. To add to the pathetic feeling one of the two surviving anti groups (Hs2aa) appears to have given up on social media, which it’s not used since the 6th March. It’s posted an appeal to MPs on its website but hasn’t noticed it’s website is blocked by most internet browsers as an “attack page”!
I only hope that people living on the next phases of Hs2 who will are genuinely affected learn from the mistakes the Stophs2 campaigns made and concentrate on getting the best from the project instead. My advice to them would be to ditch the political opportunists who want to exploit you (like UKIP and local campaigners who are only in it for the attention it brings them) and work through the established local political framework to engage with the project. You have a lot of legal protections through environmental and other laws.
What the past 6 years have taught us is that vital national infrastructure shouldn’t be delayed by Victorian political processes such as Hybrid Bills, which allow a vociferous minority to add costs and delays. The good news is that the lessons appear to have been learned. The new infrastructure Commission and an overhaul of the Hybrid Bill process will (hopefully) prevent infrastructure being used as a political football both by politicians and local opposition. Hs2 has in some ways been a remarkable story. The project has maintained the political consensus around it through two general elections and a coalition Government – no mean feat!
I’m working in London today but I hope to catch up with some of the debate this afternoon and blog about the result of the vote later.
Well, I didn’t manage to catch any of the debate, but I did see the result. The Hs2 bill passed 3rd reading with a stonking 357 majority. The final vote was 399 to 42. That means only 1 extra MP voted against Hs2 than they did during the second reading back in 2014. What amused me was all the fuss UKIP made about Hs2. Remember this ludicrous claim?
Yet, when it came to the crunch, their solitary MP didn’t even vote!
I’ll blog more tomorrow. In the meantime, let’s all enjoy the fact Parliament has spoken with a very loud voice – and that voice has said “build Hs2”.