Monday 4th May saw activists launch a day of disruptive non-violent direct action at sites along the route of the controversial HS2 high speed railway construction project.
Dozens of protesters blockaded 13 vehicle entrances across the country and managed to partially shut down eight HS2 compounds including at Cubbington, Broadwells, Diamond and Crackley Woods. At Crackley Lane, two people remain in a treehouse, and another occupied a cherry picker.
The purpose of the actions was to draw attention to the massive destruction of more than 100 ancient woodlands, serious breaches of environmental legislation, and the escalating costs (already £100 billion and likely to be more than double that) which could be more usefully spent on protecting the NHS at this time of crisis.
While there is nothing wrong in principle with spending money on rail infrastructure that can promote greener travel, campaigners claim that the HS2 line is mainly designed to connect airports and to bring more people to London . A government report shows that it will not even be carbon neutral for more than 100 years. Electrifying the current network and improving local rail lines would have a much more significant green impact and better serve local communities.
While HS2 is accused of putting workers at risk during the coronavirus epidemic, Monday’s protesters were careful to observe social distancing requirements and wore PPE protection.
In London however, police were quick to use Coronavirus legislation and warned protesters holding banners across the Cardington Street site access that they would be arrested if they did not disperse. They also used PACE and SOCPA legislation to demand names and addresses on the basis that they had committed a crime under Coronavirus rules and therefore faced arrest unless they complied.
Real Media has learned that HS2 Ltd is directly funding a massive police project involving 16 forces, the National Police Chief’s Council and ‘partner agencies’ which is sharing intelligence and co-ordinating operations. The scheme is an enhanced police service agreement under which a private corporation pays for law enforcement. Although these agreements have been used before (eg Olympics, Crossrail etc), this one is likely to cost many millions of pounds and is unprecedented in its scale.
It is not known whether the police in London yesterday were directly operating under this scheme, but they were seen liaising with HS2 security and they were at the site in significant numbers, no doubt as a result of intelligence about the planned protests. Some were officers from the Specialist Operations unit, which deals with so-called ‘domestic extremism’ – a label often conferred on peaceful climate activists and other protesters. One of the officers told Real Media that his interpretation of Coronavirus legislation was that ALL protest is banned as non-essential activity.
After the gate protest was dispersed, three activists including former Paralympian gold medallist James Brown used climbing equipment to scale a tree in front of Euston station and drop a large banner with the slogan NHS NOT HS2.