HS2 boss says £75m of taxpayers cash has been spent on protesters

HS2 boss says £75m of taxpayers cash has been spent on dealing with protesters who are becoming ‘increasingly violent and disruptive’

  • Police have arrested approximately 300 protesters during HS2 demonstrations
  • It took an entire month to remove activists from network of tunnels in Euston 
  • Protests have ‘drawn resources away’ from the emergency services, he said  

Around £75 million of taxpayers’ money has been spent dealing with HS2 protesters, the project’s boss has said.

HS2 Ltd chairman Mark Thurston told MPs that people have ‘every right to peacefully protest’, but the action has become ‘increasingly violent and disruptive’.

Police have arrested approximately 300 people, leading to nine prosecutions, he said.

Protesters have taken place along several parts of the route.

It took an entire month to remove activists from a network of tunnels dug in Euston, north London, earlier this year.

And in another stunt, two Extinction Rebellion activists clambered onto the canopy of HS2’s headquarters in Euston and showered the building’s facade in pink paint while police pleaded with them to come down. 

A general view as ground clearance work is carried out following extensive tree felling at Jones Hill Wood

Xavier Gonzalez Trimmer, 20, and Dr Larch Maxey (pictured together), 48, clambered onto the canopy of building’s lobby in Euston, central London, clutching industrial spray paint machines

Giving evidence to the Commons’ Public Accounts Committee, Mr Thurston said: ‘We’ve spent somewhere in the region now of £75million worth of public money in dealing with the implications of this action.’

Protests have ‘drawn resources away’ from the emergency services ‘at a time when the country’s got probably other priorities for those’, Mr Thurston said.

‘We are very exercised about this.’

Mr Thurston said he met with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Department for Transport officials ‘to make sure that we bring all the resources of Government together’ to deal with the activists.

Local residents and Stop HS2 campaigners were out protesting in Bottom House Farm Lane in Chalfont St Giles

Footage shows the pair showering the facade of the building in neon pink paint, to show their support of the Burning Pink Party, as police tell onlookers to stand back

He went on: ‘This needs to be a cross-agency response.

‘There’s only so much HS2 Ltd and our suppliers can do here. We’re not really geared up to deal with the sort of extensiveness of this.

‘Thus far, we’ve done a reasonable job of protecting the programme in the round. But nevertheless, we don’t expect this issue to go away any time soon.’

The Financial Times reported on Monday that HS2’s costs have jumped by another £1.7 billion in the past year as the coronavirus pandemic adds further pressure to the project. 

Mr Thurston said on Wednesday that the figure was ‘not true’, but admitted the virus crisis is one of several ‘cost pressures’ the project is facing.

Dr Larch Maxey posts a video announcing that he was going to leave the tunnel after bailiffs took his food and possessions 

A gang of five activists lived in a set of tunnels underneath Euston Square Gardens for about four weeks earlier this year in a bid to stop construction of the HS2.  

Dr Larch Maxey, 48, was joined by Swampy, whose real name is Daniel Marc Hooper and became a household name in the 1990s during a variety of environmental protests.

He is best known for spending a week in a complex series of tunnels dug in the path of the expansion of the A30 road in Fairmile, Devon in 1996.

Resisting attempts at eviction by police, Swampy was eventually removed from the network of man-made tunnels.

The pair were also joined by Swampy’s son, Rory, a reformed drugs runner called Scott Breen, a juggler called Lachlan Blase Sandford (known as Lazer) and his sister Blue. 

Blue, whose real name is Isla, is  from the super-wealthy Sandford family and her father is Scottish laird Roc Sandford.  

Dr Maxey is an Extinction Rebellion activist and was a full-time volunteer for the radical group in 2019 and helped organise hunger strike occupations that year. 

When Rory Hooper, 16, came out of the tunnel he was put on a stretcher and carried away to safety (pictured)

 

In an interview with the Guardian, the long-time climate activist said he had a PhD in sustainability and was a geography lecturer and post-doctoral researcher for 17 years.

However, he said he had no income and described himself as a ‘relaxed freegan’ – someone who only eats food that would be going to waste.

The Bristol-based activist has said: ‘I work about 14 hours, six days a week with Extinction Rebellion. My role involves helping develop and implement our strategy and ideas for actions, and linking up with international groups.

Timeline of the Euston tunnel protests  

January 26 – At least six protesters, veteran eco-warrior Swampy, 48, and his 16-year-old son, Rory Hooper;  Dr Larch Maxey, 48; Scott ‘Scotty’ Breen, 47; and Lazer and Blue Sandford, 20 and 18, dig themselves in under Euston Gardens in a bid to stop works for HS2;

6 – Lazer – who had previously locked himself into the tunnels with a metal clamp – voluntarily leaves after bailiffs had been trying to remove him; 

31 – Warnings tunnels could collapse after heavy rain and sleet; 

February 1 – Several collapses are reported in the tunnels;  

2 – HS2 protesters vow to stay in Euston tunnels ‘for weeks’;

10 – High Court rejects demonstrators’ bid not to be evicted;

14 – Breen is removed from the tunnel and declares he is ‘looking forward to a shower’;  

17 – Swampy’s son, Rory, leaves the tunnel and is carried out on a stretcher; 

19 – Part of a tunnel collapses on a bailiff during an unsuccessful eviction attempt;

22 – Dr Maxley leaves the tunnel after bailiffs remove his food and possessions. He is taken to hospital for check-ups.  

‘This is my life’s purpose, and I couldn’t be happier and more fulfilled. I’m happy to spend every waking moment bringing this change about.’  

The HS2 rail project, which is set to link London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, and rebalance the UK’s economy, has been called ‘expensive, wasteful and destructive’ by environmentalists.

Anti-HS2 protesters claimed the line will destroy or irreparably damage 108 ancient woodlands and 693 wildlife sites, and that Euston Square Gardens will be built over with a temporary taxi rank before being sold off to developers.

They added that ‘tree protectors’ were prepared to occupy the tunnels, dug ‘in secret’ over the last few months, and would stay underground ‘for as long as it takes to stop HS2’.

A HS2 spokesman earlier said: ‘We urge the occupants of the tunnel to comply with the court order and remove themselves from the tunnel immediately – for their safety, the safety of the other activists and HS2 staff and agents tasked with removing them from the danger in which they have placed themselves.’ 

It follows Swampy’s 16-year-old son, Rory Hooper, being carried out of the anti-HS2 protest tunnels on a stretcher after living in the underground network for 22 days.

When he came out of the tunnel he was pictured being carried away to safety on a stretcher.

The teenager said: ‘After almost three weeks underground I am coming up. This means there will be more food for the others so they can resist for longer. Dad is staying in the tunnel and will hold out for as long as he can. I am looking forward to seeing mum.

‘I have loved digging and being underground and I will continue to protest, HS2 needs to be stopped. Young people like me have to take action to stop the ecocide being committed by projects like HS2 because we’re in an ecological emergency and our future is at stake.

‘Digging a tunnel may seem extreme but maybe it is the only way.’ 

Swampy – real name Daniel Hooper – had come under fire for allowing him to be in the tunnels, which have suffered a number of collapses prior to today’s.  

Why is the HS2 high-speed rail line project SO controversial? 

 Map of the proposed HS2 rail line 

The Woodland Trust, a conservation charity, calls HS2 ‘a grave threat to the UK’s ancient woods, with 108 at risk of loss or damage’.

But HS2 says only 0.29 square kilometres (0.11 square miles) of ancient woodland will be lost during the first phase. HS2 says it will reduce journey times between London and northern England and add capacity to Britain’s crowded rail network.

Critics question whether HS2 is worth its ballooning price tag especially after a pandemic that might permanently change people’s travel habits.

The first phase linking London and Birmingham is due to open between 2029 and 2033, according to HS2 Ltd. 

In September Boris Johnson joined the front line to see work begin on HS2, as shovels hit the ground in Solihull. 

He said the ‘incredible’ scheme, launched in 2009, would deliver not just ‘22,000 jobs now, but tens of thousands more high-skilled jobs in the decades ahead’. 

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told MPs last year the first trains may not be up and running until 2031.    

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