(The views expressed are those of the author and do not represent the policy of Friends of the Earth (Birmingham) Ltd or of Birmingham Friends of the Earth. Comments are welcome.)
The Climate Crisis requires all of us to take some action. What the action individuals must make, has not been quantified. Acting in a way that slows adverse changes to life on our planet, is a voluntary gesture. A journey made by public transport is usually argued as the ‘right’ way to act, but can be very inconvenient, and can take longer. Car minimisation earns no brownie points. With current UK society conventions, flying public transport receives general approval whereas rubber tyred ground public transport (the bus) is regarded as something to be avoided.
Transport convenience is a ‘weakest link’ situation. This was recognised by Highways England, HE, (who control and fund motorways and trunk roads) with their Strategic Road Network (for which billions per annum are in the pot for expansion). The Strategic Road usually ends at a road junction miles from a town, unlikely to be the destination. There needs to be a ‘whole road experience’. HE just a few years ago did a consultation that identified the roads of others (the county councils) that go to real places. Selected by HE, that means they are Major Roads. HE can instruct what happens with ‘Major Roads’ for instance instructing that their capacity be expanded.
Contrast Highways England with the railways. The railway has its network but it cannot go beyond that. Take the train and expect to reach Middlewich or Bridgnorth on a Sunday – think again. A private car journey is possible every day but by public transport it is not. So the setup is not ideal for transfer of travel from private car to bus and train, and yet if the cliff we fall off with climate change is to be a small one, transfer has to happen.
Heading North from Crewe one August day, I spied a small drilling rig in a field, sampling the ground to establish how suited it is for a new use. In this case, the purpose may be for a new high speed railway, HS2. The railway is a new kid on the transport block that was consulted upon many years ago. In line with the outcome of many consultations, it is perceived that the responses did not have any effect; the golf course at Aylesbury still gets spoiled for instance. Near Birmingham Airport a vast car park with a station attached is erroneously named ‘Interchange’. HS2 is certainly flawed, as are the multiple road schemes currently under construction. It is doubtful that HS2 or the road schemes would pass the President of the Institution of Civil Engineers (Rachael Skinner) observation on works constructed now. Skinner requires work built now to meet the needs of the future low carbon World. What we have in HS2, however, is a transport mode that could be slowed down and that can allow transfer from rubber scuffing road onto a railway network that is currently overloaded.
In June 2021, the Poors Piece protest camp had an airing in ‘The Railway Magazine’. It was an adventure in journalism aimed at giving all an airing. The British political system was identified by an eloquent protestor identified as Goldi, as ‘hurting a lot of the people, the land and animals’. I think Goldi has a point as recent encounters with the British countryside have large areas of bleak monoculture efficiently growing food at the expense of wildlife. My employer’s supportive ‘wellbeing’ messages are recognition of all not being well with the humans. As Goldi said, the Poors Piece protest is not just about HS2 but part of a wider protest movement which includes anti airport and road expansion plans. HS2 is, by using up finite resources, part of the climate emergency, and part of a half baked muddle that includes biomass as ‘carbon hypocrisy’.
The Poors Piece stance is even that having space on the railway to carry goods that currently lumber up motorways (that have at least twice HS2 land take), does not justify HS2. Why are so many goods being moved, and ‘do we need it ? This very question, and the resultant warehousing next to motorways, was challenged in the past by Birmingham Friends of the Earth in responses to consultations.
Poors Piece, Goldi, and a host of other groups opposed to the new HS2 railway (that is environmentally mitigated even to the point of including 10 miles in tunnel under the Chilterns), come under the banner of StopHS2. The website, the lobbying and the relentless scrutiny of facts and falsehoods, is impressive. As with anything large and complex, StopHS2 makes mistakes. A ‘detail’ such as the exhortation to attend the rally at Kenilworth but no mention made of travelling there using the frequent bus (or of the train service), can alarm. The Kenilworth organisers hired out fields for parking; the anti public transport gesture does make me wonder whether the common cause is a blanket over unlikely bedfellows. Other people, in another campaign, may have thought they were campaigning together. Inspired together by reading the message on a bus painted with promises for NHS funded to the hilt. If the StopHS2 outcome is achieved, it could be that many of the united effort will later find the slogan bus not there, its promises flushed away.
All the effort for all the right reasons and left with no way of getting home as it’s Bridgnorth and it’s a Sunday.
By John Hall