This major milestone was attained on the 23rd February whilst I was away in Asia, so I’ve not had chance to blog about it until today. Royal Assent means that years of talking and arguing about Hs2 are finally over. Royal Assent is essentially granting planning permission for construction to start. There are no more legal or political hoops to jump through. Politicians have now moved on to other things, even if a few anti Hs2 campaigners haven’t. What RA also does is release some pots of money that had been held back. Here’s what the DfT release says about them:
“Two funds, worth £40 million, are now open for bids: the Community and Environment Fund (CEF) and the Business and Local Economy Fund (BLEF). The CEF will help enhance community facilities, improve access to the countryside and conserve the natural environment, while the BLEF will support local economies in areas where businesses may experience disruption from the construction of HS2.
The CEF and BLEF together make up £40 million and will be allocated at a regional level: £15 million for the central area (Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Buckinghamshire Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire and Hertfordshire), £7.5 million for Greater London and £7.5 million for the West Midlands (Birmingham, Solihull and Coventry). The remaining £10 million will fund cross-border or route wide projects”.
But there’s more…
“A further £30 million road safety fund will go towards local road safety schemes in areas not currently accustomed to construction traffic. This will help provide a legacy of improvements for areas adversely affected by Phase One traffic.”
That’s a total of £70m for projects along the phase 1 route that have been released by Royal Assent.
Of course, RA has had other impacts. It’s screwed down the lid on the StopHs2 campaign’s coffin. Their campaign’s dead – although some of them refuse to admit it and continue to witter on Twitter, as if it matters any more as spades will start going into the ground in a few short weeks time.
So, what’s next for the anti Hs2 campaign. Well, on phase 1 – it’s oblivion. There’s only one active group left in 2017 as Hs2aa haven’t been heard of since November last year. In fact, if you look at Hs2aa’s website you wouldn’t even know Hs2 has got Royal Assent!
That leaves Kenilworth based StopHs2 which is just two people. Joe Rukin (who lives locally) and Penny Gaines, who’s decamped to the South-West! In order to keep his non-job going poor Joe is trying to sell his services and ‘expertise’ to Phase 2 campaigners. Quite what Yorkshire would do with a bloke whose CV reveals 7 years of failure and dishonesty is an interesting question. StopHs2 are skint. How long they will survive now is an interesting question. I’d be surprised if they last beyond the summer.
That brings us onto the next phase of Hs2 – 2a from the W Midlands to Crewe. The consultation closed on 7th November 2016. Shortly afterwards the Govt confirmed the route. 2017 will see the Environmental Impact Assessment completed and the Hybrid Bill launched. The Govt are expecting phase 2a to get Royal Assent in 2019. This may seem optimistic when you look at the time it took on Phase 1, but for one thing. The anti Hs2 campaign on Phase 2a is almost non-existent!
Apart from an active group around Stone (Staffs), supported by the local MP, Bill Cash, there’s no organised opposition to Hs2. There was in the past (of a sort, anyway) but it was always riven by in-fighting and egos. Much of it was UKIP inspired, but as they’ve got their own problems nowadays don’t expect many fireworks.
That leaves the two arms of phase 2. Crewe to Manchester and the W Midlands to Leeds.
Of the two, the Manchester arm has the least Stophs2 activity. There’s a small group based in Mid-Cheshire that’s noisy but ineffective (it doesn’t even have the backing of the local MP) and there’s the remnants of a group around Warrington. Take a look at their website. It hasn’t been updated since 2015! Their Facebook page isn’t much better. The only other group worth mentioning is CADRAG (Culcheth And District Rail Action Group) but they’re just as moribund as the others. This comment on their Facebook page says it all.
That leaves the Leeds leg, where the story is more complicated.
There’s one tiny group in Leics (which essentially seems to be a one man and his dog operation) around the village of Measham. Here’s their website. When you look through you find there’s very little in the way of action. Much of their website is empty and they’ve still not announced who their Committee members are 3 months on! Their main reason to exist seems to be to help people turn out carbon copy consultation responses (which worked so well on Phase 1 , not). Their social media presence is one man tweeting stuff that has no links with Measham at all, just random StopHs2 propaganda, oh, and a strange obsession with how many views his Tweets have had (so much so that he then tweets about it)! A telling statistic is that only 1% of the local population turned up to their inaugural meeting.
What makes this group interesting is that they’re like a few on the Yorkshire arm. They only exist because the route was changed after consultations. That means there’s opposition to their position as the changes were so that Hs2 affects less people. We may yet find the rug is pulled from under groups like this if the new consultations show a majority of local support FOR the changes!
It’s the same with a few small groups North of Sheffield. There’s an added problem for anti Hs2 campaigners here as they command very little political support. Whilst Yorkshire political culture is renowned for factionalism and squabbling between the different Councils, local Authorities and metropolitan areas the overwhelming majority of Yorkshire politicians see Hs2 as a good thing even if they can’t agree on the final course of the route. But then, neither can the protesters! There’s no coherent voice or anti Hs2 campaign across Yorkshire. The anti campaign is also hamstrung by the fact that – unlike the Chiltern Nimbys, they can’t use the excuse that there’s no stations and they don’t directly benefit.
What Yorkshire does have is a cadre of academics and vested interests centred around Leeds/Harrogate who are anti Hs2. In the case of High Speed UK (HSUK) that’s because they have their own pet scheme they want to make some money out of.
In conjunction with Wakefield Council (one of the political awkward squad, through its leader, Cllr Peter Box) a group grandly styling themselves “Yorkshire Against HS2” have organised a conference tomorrow. Titled “Hs2 Alternatives”. It contained the usual rag-bag of long term opponents and political dogmatists, from lobbyists like the Taxpayers Alliance to the Green party’s Natalie “brain fade” Bennett. Add to the mix HSUK (still punting their back of a fag packet ‘alternative’) and the superbly bonkers Paul Withrington, (who styles himself ‘Transport Watch’), StopHs2’s Joe Rukin and local self publicist Cllr Gibbons and you’ve got a real treat! I doubt Yorkshire’s seen a box of frogs this mad since the UKIP conference was last in the county. Quite wisely, two local MPs (Ed Miliband and Jon Tricket) are keeping their distance and (allegedly) leaving messages via a video link!
Somehow, I can’t imagine Sir David Higgins losing any sleep over this one. If it’s raining in Wakefield tomorrow you might get a few through the doors, but if this is the Premier league of the remaining opposition to Hs2…
And that it! The phase 2 Hybrid Bill won’t be along for a couple of years yet, so expect a lot of what’s left of the opposition to drop away – just as it did on phase 1. In the meantime, construction will have started on phase 1 and the phase 2a Hybrid Bill will be attracting all the attention.
Now I’m looking forward to a few years spent blogging about progress on the construction of Hs2!