By Jaimielee Rendall: Residents facing the prospect of a high speed rail line passing near their homes have been warning councillors and MPs that the proposals could blight communities in Staffordshire.
A HS2 meeting saw a panel made up of the leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council Mohammed Pervez, Geoffrey Robinson MP, Tristram Hunt MP, leader of Staffordshire County Council Cllr Philip Atkins and Guardian columnist Julian Glover discuss the scheme, while the audience were also given the opportunity to share their views.
The £17billion project has come under heavy scrutiny since the proposals were drawn up in early 2010. Originally to be a link from London to Birmingham, new plans were published earlier this year which included a link to Manchester and Leeds, meaning the HS2 connection would pass through Staffordshire.
Rolfe Pearce, a foster carer living in Colwich admitted he had concerns about the impact the route could have on the village.
“The HS2 line is going to go right past our village,” he said. “The West Coast Main Line will be at our front door and the HS2 will be at our back door. That is going to give us 20 minutes of every single hour – throughout the night as well – of train noise.
“We have the A51 already, so we’re not saying not in our backyard, we’re just saying we haven’t got a voice.
“It’s all been about money and none of it’s been about people. Who’s going to lose out? We as a small community of 5,000 are really going to lose out if this goes ahead.”
His views were shared by Cllr Phillip Atkins who argued: “The three issues are capturing maximum economic benefit, minimising the environmental damage and to make sure that local residents’ voices are heard – that’s why having a debate like this is important because it airs out issues so that people are absolutely clear about it. We haven’t been shouting enough.
“Staffordshire lies in a unique position between three city regions – Birmingham, Manchester and the golden triangle of Derby, Nottingham and Leicester. It’s a known fact that the peripheries of a cities normally benefit economically and we need to capture that.
“We need to ensure that people have a happy life, a healthy life and that there’s a reduction in crime. That isn’t going to come from high speed rail.”
Despite the high cost, many believe that Staffordshire can benefit from HS2 – particularly in Stoke-On-Trent. In the tough economic climate the City Council hope that businesses will be encouraged to relocate to Stoke and people will be more inclined to visit.
Cllr Pervez admitted that his council did support HS2 and added: “Our target here in North Staffordshire should be to get a station here to maximise the benefits from HS2 and work with Cheshire East Council to benefit from national economic growth.
“I agree that the economy is a critical issue, but the estimated £43.7billion profit is a huge benefit compared to the £17billion net cost. The previous Labour government were in favour and so are the current government, and it’s the responsibility of the government to use the benefits on a national level.”
Julian Glover is also in support of HS2 and believes that Staffordshire should stop thinking of themselves as “second class” compared to the rest of England.
He said: “We need to take a leap of faith because transport in Britain is stuck in paralysis and it will eventually stagnate. We need to look abroad to Europe and Japan and see that Britain can benefit from high speed rail.
“We have to do something with transport and put our energies into fighting for a station in Staffordshire. Stoke and Staffordshire are not second class.”
An hour of debate from the panel was followed by questions from the audience. Although the two sides were still divided, Tristram Hunt MP believes that the event was worthwhile.
“I think there was a really interesting discussion about the pros and cons of HS2,” he explained. “There wasn’t that much movement on what the audience think, but I think in terms of the cost benefit, the environmental impact and the physical impact potentially in Staffordshire, all that was aired.
“We’ve got a period of debate next year so this is the beginning of the process.”