HS2 plans are ‘unacceptable’ say Erewash councillors after heated debate

HS2 will go via Sheffield city centre and the Dearne Valley
HS2 will go via Sheffield city centre and the Dearne Valley

Erewash Borough Council has voted to say that it finds the current proposals for the HS2 high speed rail route “unacceptable”.

In a long and raucous debate at Long Eaton Town Hall, councillors called and “demanded” that the plans – which would see hundreds of homes and businesses demolished – should be sent back to the drawing board.

Councillors, overall, stopped short of voting to state that the authority is formally against HS2, as proposed by the opposition Labour group, which required legal advice to consider.

During the debate, two Conservative councillors stepped outside of party lines.

One of these was one of the executive group of councillors which leads the authority, at a shock to his own ruling party members.

While having a loo break, during a legal discussion within the meeting, Councillor Mike Wallis, lead member for leisure, decided that “he could not stay silent” or “sit on his hands”.

Speaking during the meeting, he said: “I hate HS2, I don’t want it. It is an extremely bad idea. I can think of much better things to spend a hundred billion pounds on than a ruddy railway line.

“The one question I get asked more than anything else is ‘what is the council’s view, are we for or against it’.

“As we have seen tonight, some people are for it, some people are against it, I happen to be against it. I don’t want the damn thing.

“It is a waste of money, it is a public abuse of a hundred billion pounds, because that is what will be the final bill.

“At the end of the day, I think we can make far better use of that. Having a look at our infrastructure, putting police back on the streets, reclaiming the streets from the morons who are out there running riot.”

Coun Wallis added: “I went to the loo, and a lady asked me ‘what is the council’s position, is it for it or against it?’ “This is the one question I get asked. We’ve got to look after our residents and lessen the impact that this proposed railway line is going to have.”

Meanwhile, fellow Conservative councillor Kewal Singh Athwal, who is also a Derbyshire county councillor, felt that the option of a tunnel, instead of a viaduct, should be the chosen option.

His statements were also met with shaking heads from among his party.

He said this would bring all the benefits, but none of the “construction pain”, and that the cost of the scheme – thought to be triple the viaduct cost at nearly £1 billion – is for the government to worry about, not the borough council.

Coun Athwal, who has lived in Long Eaton for 45 years, said: “In my opinion, if HS2 is coming through Long Eaton, the best option is the tunnel option, which will be the best possible thing for our area, for our residents and for our businesses in the area and including the natural habitat.

“I have been assured by officers, senior officers at the county council, that technically it is possible and the only thing that people have been saying against it is the cost element.”

Coun James Dawson, Labour group leader, said that “people power does work” and urged for the council to formally oppose HS2 as a whole, not just the current proposals for the route.

Regarding the outspoken Tory members, he said: “It is encouraging that two of the controlling group sided with us tonight and I think that is the basis of democracy.”

Coun Michael Powell, lead member for regeneration, said that HS2 would have the biggest impact on Erewash that residents will see for many years.

He said: “When I first saw these proposals, many of which I had never seen before, my first thought was one of horror and dismay.”

Coun Powell said that “huge” traffic jams in Long Eaton will affect all Erewash residents.

He says the council’s mitigation plan, which includes plans to move the line of the route to save more than 40 houses from demolition, as well as the axing of the low-level train line, is a list of demands, not requests.

“We are not going to be soft with them,” he said, “we don’t think they (HS2 Ltd) have done a good job.”

Council leader Carol Hart called for the council as a whole to state that “the negative impacts to Long Eaton and Sandiacre from HS2 Ltd’s proposals” are “unacceptable”.

She continued: “There is no way we should be wasting time campaigning for or against it”.

Coun Hart, who is also a county council cabinet member, said a consultation would be costly and “would make no difference to the outcome (of the project)”.

She continued: “We have no power to stop HS2 going ahead, and neither can HS2, only the government can stop this.”

Coun Alex Phillips, Labour, proposed the motion to formally, as a council, oppose HS2 as a whole.

He said the Conservative group needs to make its mind up about whether it is for or against HS2. Tory members said this was “irrelevant”.

Erewash Borough Council’s stance and its requested changes will now be placed with the views of other councils affected by the high-speed rail project and form part of the next HS2 bill to go through parliament.