The answer to both these questions is a resounding ‘No!’
If I had a pound for the number of times I’ve been asked whether it’s worth continuing with the campaign to prevent the proposed high-speed train project (HS2) from going ahead and ruining Denham and the Colne Valley in perpetuity I’d be able to afford to treat every reader of this blog to a slap-up meal at one of the many fine restaurants in and around Denham. This would include the wine and the tip.
Unfortunately, the moaners and cynics never hand over a pound as they bend my ear, so your next fine dining experience will have to wait - unless you can fork out for it yourself.
Too many people watched the news on the night the Second Reading of the HS2 Hybrid Bill was whisked through the Commons with a majority of about 400, and assumed the worst. Of our local MPs, Dominic Grieve was unable to vote because of pressing business in Newcastle; Nick Hurd abstained; only Sir John Randall spoke out against HS2, likening his misgivings about the project to the invasion of Iraq that led to the downfall of both Saddam Hussein and, eventually, Tony Blair. There are many more back-benchers who share Sir John’s views, but didn’t have the guts to speak out.
‘You can’t ever defeat Central Government,’ one local resident wrote to me recently. ‘Once they decide to do something, there’s nothing to stop them,’ emailed another. Really? Please see above and recall what happened to New Labour when they cobbled together a dodgy dossier to justify the second Gulf War. Or think further back, to when Margaret Thatcher’s government thought the Poll Tax was rather a good idea. In a democracy, there are always ways of making your voice heard and throwing out the people who make bad decisions.
The HS2 Bill that passed so smoothly through the House of Commons at the end of April was nothing more than draft legislation, which is subject to all kinds of amendments and corrections before it becomes law. It will have to pass muster in the House of Lords, which usually means it’s sent back to the other place with a scribble of blue pencil through it and a verdict of: ‘Must do better’.
One way the Commons can improve on the deeply flawed draft legislation is through the efforts of the Select Committee that’s been assembled in the last month to hear the 1,000-plus petitions submitted by individuals, businesses, action groups and local authorities, outlining their grievances about the plans for the railway and suggesting improvements. Unfortunately, the most sensible improvement – scrapping HS2 altogether to save the taxpayer about £80 billion – is not available to us at the moment, but there are many improvements we have in mind to make the impact of the seven-year construction period less hideous than it promises to be at present.
For every piece of ancient woodland they intend to cut down, we can demand equivalent planting somewhere else in the neighbourhood. For every road, footpath closure or traffic diversion, we’ve suggest a new road, improved public transport services or extra works to repair and improve the landscape. We can reasonably ask HS2 Ltd’s contractors to restrict their hours of working, the routes their heavy goods vehicles take, the size of their planned construction camps, the amount of noise they make, the number of hedgerows they destroy and so on.
We can continue to put pressure on the government to consider more generous compensation packages to householders and businesses who are going to be out of pocket as a consequence of living in the firing line of the high-speed train, and we can highlight the shoddy consultation process that’s left so many of us in the dark about the possible impact of this latest assault on our precious patch of Green Belt on the edge of London.
Around the turn of the year, we expect dozens of local petitioners to be called before the select Committee to present their arguments, and we’re also expecting the six MPs on the committee to make some local site visits to see for themselves the likely impact that the construction of the railway would have.
When Crossrail was being mooted, hundreds of petitioners made their points to the Select Committee, and brought about important modifications, including extra tunnelling and a new station at Woolwich. We can influence the HS2 Select Committee in the same way.
So we do have a say, after all. We can make a difference. It’s not a done deal, and we’re far from doomed. Central government is not some kind of faceless juggernaut that we’re powerless to resist. And a year from now, after the General Election, the political picture might look very different. We’ll still be around, but where will they be?