As it’s the penultimate day of 2016 I thought I’d take one last look at Hs2 and the campaign set up to stop it. To say antis have had a terrible 2016 is somewhat of an understatement. The Lords Hs2 Committee published their final report on December 15th which brought to an end the petitioning process that has lasted since 2014. The report served thin gruel to anti Hs2 campaigners but it did offer support for those on the route who will face genuine hardships. The reports suggested amendments will be debated early in 2017 with Royal Assent being granted soon after. After that, it’s all over bar the moaning as Phase 1 construction will begin.
Meanwhile, back on November 15th, the Government published details of the final phase of Hs2 – 2b, moving the debate on from phase 1 completely.
So, where does that leave the Stop Hs2 campaign? Dead in the water to be honest. Just like UKIP voters, their campaign’s been dying off for years (both figuratively and literally). The only ‘national’ group left by November was phase 1 based StopHs2. If they were to have any chance of survival they would need to be re-invigorated by a massive upsurge in the opposition to Hs2 due to the announcement of phases 2a and 2b. The problem is – this never happened. Let’s crunch some social media numbers. Here’s a look at the StopHs2 and Hs2aa following on Twitter and Facebook, comparing the day after the Phase 2 announcement with today.
The usual caveat applies. Not all followers are supporters. Some are there simply to keep an eye on them. The numbers can’t lie. They show that interest in Stophs2 has barely moved. When you consider the amount of people living on the recently announced routes a gain of 149 Facebook ‘likes’ and 69 Twitter followers is appalling. Campaign Manager Joe Rukin and StopHs2 Chair Penny Gaines have done even worse. As for Hs2aa – don’t even go there! For the first time since StopHs2 was established, nothing’s been heard from Gaines, Rukin or any of the StopHs2 accounts in the week since Xmas eve. This doesn’t bode well…
I suggest that these figures and the fact the number of regular stopHs2 tweeters is now below two dozen shows just how badly their campaign has done. There’s been no Phase 2 bounce at all. It can only be a matter of time now before StopHs2 folds, leaving no ‘national’ group to co-ordinate any sort of ‘fight’ on Phase 2.
However, there’s more.
I’ve always pointed out that social media is a double-edged sword for pressure groups and campaigns. It exposes their weaknesses as much as any strengths – especially on Phase 2, where their Facebook groups are pretty revealing. If you track the different new phases you find there’s no discernible organised ‘action’ groups on phase 2a to Crewe and only a handful of moribund groups on the Western branch to Manchester. Here’s an example. This is from the CADRAG (Culcheth and District Rail Action Group) page.
No doubt this inertia and lack of interest is shared by other groups which is why you never hear anything about them anymore (eg, Mid Cheshire and Warrington StopHs2). It’s only the route change on the branch to Leeds via Sheffield that’s generated some new groups, but what they’re saying on social media is hardly a defiant or united message. Here’s some to watch; Erewash Crofton Mexborough and here’s the optimistically named Yorkshire against Hs2 which features appeals for people to attend two national demonstrations, neither of which ever happened!
All told, the stophs2 campaign in Yorkshire is a mess. It’s riven by opposing views as many people want Hs2, whilst some just want to move the route back to Meadowhall. They don’t have the same political support as Hs2 opponents did on Phase 1. For a start, there’s no 51M group of councils, nor do they have any MPs who’ve come out to directly oppose Hs2. In fact, of the 51 MPs in Yorkshire only 2 voted to oppose Hs2 – and they were away from the route in Huddersfield and Shipley! Despite some trying to replay the phase 1 campaign, they can’t use two of the main arguments as phase 2 doesn’t pass through an AONB and it’s clear that people living near the route benefit from a station in Sheffield, the training college in Doncaster and a potential parkway station elsewhere in Yorkshire.
I predict that 2017 will see a very different situation surrounding Hs2. Once Phase 1 construction starts and thousands of people take up jobs building the route I expect public opinion towards Hs2 begin to change – especially as the anti campaign will have faded away. Phase 2 will still remain an issue but the level of opposition is very different in type and scale. Don’t expect it to receive the same media attention either.
I’ll still be keeping an occaisional eye on Hs2 matters, but for the first part of 2017 expect to see a lot more blogs appearing. I’m off out to SE Asia for a couple of months, so I’ll have plenty of time to write. In the meantime, Happy New Year!