Thursday July 15th, 2021
Although I am a keen supporter of Brexit and campaigned for it in 2016, many friends of mine voted to remain in the European Union. They respect the decision of the British people – 59% of those who voted in the referendum in Lichfield and Burntwood voted to leave – and they hope the country will take full advantage of the freedoms Brexit now gives us. They are the ‘Remainers’.
There is still a small minority who reject the referendum result, continue to criticise Brexit, moan about the nation’s “foolish” decision, and hope that we will rejoin the EU. They are the ‘Remoaners’.
I need to be careful that I am not becoming an HS2 Remoaner.
I resigned from the Government in 2012 over HS2. It is not just the horrendous cost, over £100 million, but also the question of whether it is still needed. Covid has taught many of us that the daily commute is no longer necessary with video conferencing.
But my main criticism is the route the line is taking. It crashes through hitherto unspoilt woods and fields and is remarkable through its sheer lack of connectivity. More of this in a moment.
Yet despite all this, only 40 or so MPs, including myself, rebelled and voted against HS2 when it was debated. The Labour Party, Conservative Party, and Liberal Democrats all whipped their parties to vote for HS2. The legislation went through Parliament with a majority of 10 to 1.
A couple of weekends ago, I joined a group of demonstrators in Beacon Park in Lichfield who were about to walk from Lichfield to Wigan protesting about HS2. I told them that the original plan for HS2, now abandoned, was for it to be routed alongside existing roads and rail tracks so avoiding most of the environmental damage the line currently causes. It would have linked directly with the Channel Tunnel and Europe and gone to mainline stations so replacing air travel for destinations like Paris and Brussels. Instead there is no connection with Europe, nor Heathrow, and in Birmingham instead of going to New Street station, HS2 ends up in a stand-alone station in Curzon Street. What a wasted opportunity! The crowd in Beacon Park gave me a big cheer and I waved them on their way.
But despite their enthusiasm, I fear HS2 is here to stay. The best we can do is mitigate the damage done to our part of Staffordshire.