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Monday was an interesting day as the Hybrid bill for the latest section of High Speed 2 from Crewe to Manchester and beyond was deposited in Parliament. The bill contains changes that have been made over the past year, such as extending the depot at Crewe, a new Northern link to allow HS2 trains to call at the station and regain the main line, plus an extension of Manchester Airport station and provision for links to the truncated Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) lines. There’s also details of a new train depot at Annandale in Dumfries and Galloway. You can read the full details and peruse the selection of documents here.

The next stage will be in February when the bill gets its 2nd reading. This is the most important stage as it contains a vote on the bill in the House of Commons. When the bill passes the vote, the principle of the bill is established and it becomes unstoppable. The next stages (Committee and petitioning stages, debate in the Lords and final 3rd reading) are important, but procedural. None of them can stop the bill from becoming law – despite what some of the lines opponents pretend! The truth is, HS2 has such great cross-party support in Parliament, both in the commons and Lords, that it will fly through the vote. The only question is just how big the token opposition will be. Let’s face it, what’s the point of some of the Tory MPs who voted against it in the past because it was passing through their constituencies voting against it now it’s being built somewhere else – and annoying their party managers in the process?

So, the only unknown at the moment is which MPs will be appointed to the Committee which will be appointed to oversee the petitioning process and how many people with a genuine interest (or grievance, because there will be some people who will be adversely affected) will petition the committee.

On phase 1, opponents of HS2 tried to kill the project my putting in mass petitions. It was a futile act as many of them were pro-forma letters, so the Committee just lumped them all together to get through them. Even so it took a long time. At the end of the process the outgoing Cttee recommended changes to the Hybrid Bill process.

These lessons were learned on the Hybrid Bill for phase 2a from the West Midlands to Crewe so the process was much quicker. Plus, nowhere near as many people petitioned. It went down from 1600 to just a couple of hundred. Part of the process included challenging the ‘locus standi’ (a right to appear in a court or before any body on a given question) of certain groups and individuals. To petition the Ctte you have to prove you are materially affected by the Hybrid Bill and the building of that section of line. That disbars groups like Extinction Rebellion and StopHs2.

One of the interesting things about the Phase 2b route is that there’s always been so little organised opposition along it. Apart from some long-standing (but ineffective and moribund) Stop Hs2 ‘action’ groups in rural (and expensive) parts of Cheshire there’s never been a single group in the Greater Manchester area or in any towns along the route. It’s all been rural Nimbyism. It’s why whenever one of the few derisory stophs2 protests have happened in the city, it’s always by people from out of town! (more on which later).

So, what was the response of what’s left as an opposition to HS2? Well, they organised (and use that word loosely) two days of ‘action’, billed this on their various websites, culminating on protests in London, Birmingham and Manchester on the day the HS2 bill was deposited.

OK, that was what was billed, but what actually happened? Friday was a taste of the farce to come. There was no ‘media storm’, in fact the mainstream media almost totally ignored them and they caused barely a ripple on social media either. Here’s a classic from the day.

Aww! Bless! They’re boasting of a lone protester asking motorists to honk in support of scrapping a green railway because that causes road congestion and inconveniences that well-known example of green transport- err, car drivers! The optics of this are hilarious, but that’s never sunk in with the protesters who proudly boast of having set up banners on bridges over motorways! You have to laugh!

Things didn’t go any better on Monday. I’d been working in Leeds that morning but had enough time to get over to Manchester to watch their demonstration in Piccadilly Gardens scheduled for noon. It took a bit of finding at first as there was no-one in the gardens. I eventually found them huddled under a the statue of Wellington, which was an excellent choice as they really met their Waterloo!

The handful of protesters were trying to assemble their white elephant and prepare their banners whilst a bunch of TV crews and reporters who outnumbered them waited patiently for them to get their acts together and the circus commence. When they were finally ready they set of for a single circuit of part of the gardens before returning and posing for the camera crews. Here’s a little video of the procession.

The person doing all the shouting is one Karen Wildin, an Extinction Rebellion/Hs2Rebellion activist from that well known Manchester suburb of *checks notes* err, Leicestershire! More on this later…

Here’s another video of them all posing for the media after their five minute amble around the gardens. It took that long as the elephant can’t see where it’s going! I’m sure that must be a metaphor for something!

So, there you have it. 10 people, two more dressed as an elephant and a child, led by a woman from Leicestershire. And how many of them were actually from Manchester? I’m willing to bet none…

Sadly, the members of the 4th estate who were there never thought to ask such pertinent questions. Karen was interviewed by Sky news and trotted out the usual trite and dishonest tosh, whilst John, the bloke from Warrington was interviewed for a minute on Heart radio and came out with the standard scaremongering about ‘ecocide’ plus the fantasy ‘cost’ of HS2 being £200bn!

Whilst I was watching the circus and John recognised me and tipped off Wildin as to whom I was. If you see her Sky interview you’ll notice her looking very furtive and constantly looking out of shot to her left (at me!) Here’s my view of events.

The whole farce lasted less than two hours. After they’d done their media interviews they packed up, whilst they were doing so Wildin buttonholed me and tried to argue with me about HS2. I’ve been their bete noir for years thanks to blogs like this and they don’t take kindly to someone telling the truth. That’s not a good idea when you’re talking to someone who knows far more about the project and politics than they do, nor someone who asks awkward questions and won’t let you duck and evade them (like asking how many of the demonstrators were actually from Manchester!) It didn’t go well for Karen who got more and more flustered before finally storming off after calling me a tw*t and a d*ckhead. Lapsing into abuse when things get uncomfortable is their normal modus operandi.

Their tiny band then traipsed back to Piccadilly station for the final farcical act. Yes, they’d arrived by train! The very thing they’re protesting against building more of!

The other protests in Birmingham and London weren’t much better, although they had marginally more people. A demonstration at Curzon St caused minor disruption to a lorry trying to enter the site before police intervened.

In London, a group of people protested outside Euston station by carrying banners and banging drums (well, that’s REALLY going to stop HS2! Ed). Interestingly this protest was timed for later in the day, presumably so some of those protesting in Manchester could get back to London in time to attend!

No problem here! The protest as Euston, which seems to have got its messaging mixed. Is this a demo against HS2 or Tory legislation? I do love the fact even one of the Extinction Rebellion drummers is having to wear ear-defenders!

And the sum total of all this? Zero. Today it’s business as usual on the HS2 construction sites, whilst Parliament prepares for the HS2 Phase 2b bill’s second reading. All the protesters have achieved is to demonstrate just how powerless they are when it comes to stopping HS2. It’s not going to get any better as their campaign continues to collapse into infighting and squabbles over increasingly scarce resources as the numbers of protesters and funds to support them dwindles. Interestingly, there wasn’t sight nor sound of any of the usual suspects from StopHs2 which has ceased to exist nowadays. Joe Rukin has retired, leaving Bournemouth based Panny Gaines as their only representative. Despite their being direct trains from Bournemouth to Manchester (via Birmingham) Penny never showed her face. This was almost exclusively an Extinction Rebellion event, plus a couple of Nimbys. None of the usual ‘stars’ from XR turned up either. No Larch Maxey, No ‘Swampy’ and no ‘Swan’. That’s because most have them have been hamstrung by bail or conditions or convictions – and the fact squabbles in the campaign are putting others off. I doubt I’ll be writing about the protesters again for a while. Well, until their next futile stunt, anyway. Oh, you’ll be able to see more pictures of the daft demo in Manchester by the end of today. They’ll be added to this gallery.

What I will be writing about will be the progress of the HS2 Phase 2b Hybrid Bill and also some site visits to various HS2 construction areas over the next month, so watch out for them.

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