People in Cheshire hamlet – which either faces demolition or massive earthworks – react to unveiling of rail route
“I’m out of here,” said Simon Vose (video) as an inflatable HS2 white elephant was deployed in front of his home in the Cheshire hamlet of Hoo Green which either faces demolition or massive earthworks from the supertrain’s link between Manchester and Birmingham.
“We’ve already got a new road between the M6 and M56 coming just the other side of the village stores so we’d be stuck on a weird kind of island, even if the houses do survive. What’s the point in staying? I know I may not be around if and when it finally happens, but why stay to find out?”
Vigorous grunts of approval came from Joe Rukin (video), national co-ordinator of Stop HS2 who was wrestling with the elephant’s unco-operative generator.
Between hauls on its starter motor, he said: “This isn’t going to help the north, as some people seem to think. It’s all about London. Every academic study so far shows that it’s the dominant city which benefits from these faster links.”
Hoo Green’s pretty brick and timber houses are squashed in a triangle between the Cheshire motorways where assaults from new, improved transport plans come almost daily. The HS2 joins a long catalogue of attempts at by-passes, dual carriageways and a spur to Manchester’s metro trams which make local environmentalists among the most seasoned campaigners in the UK.
“I shall be having a long talk with our MP as soon as he’s back here,” said Tory district councillor Steve Wilkinson, who calls the route through Cheshire’s Tatton constituency “absolutely devastating to a beautiful place where people want to live in unspoilt peace and quiet.” The MP is the chancellor, George Osborne, so Wilkinson at least has a high-speed route to cabinet decision-makers; and like his neighbours, he is in for the long haul.
“We’ve lived with the motorway link idea for more than 20 years now,” said caravan site owner Rob Ditchfield (video), in between selling his free range hens’ eggs to fellow members of High Legh golf club. “It’s a disgrace, the way they keep these things hanging over you and the consultation hasn’t been worth the name. When the road’s route was shifted nearer to my farm and the caravan site, I wasn’t even told.”
A weakness in the opposition is that sort of divide and rule – the tweaking of lines on a map to avoid one area at the expense of another. Hoo Green’s scattering of houses and other clusters closer to High Legh resent what they see as the clout of Mere, a wealthy commuter village two miles away whose golf resort has just had a £15m revamp.
The complex’s owner Mark Boler is aware of the potential damage of the supertrain route and chooses his words carefully while voicing support in principle for faster connections to the north. He said (video): “It’s terribly important that they respect the environment as much or even more than they say they will and we are very much with our neighbours in Cheshire on that.
“But in business terms, I feel that it will be a fillip for this area and the north more widely. Not just on this side of the Pennines, but over in Sheffield, too, where quicker travel is surely going to give them a hand.”
Eric Lovett who runs a furnishing business in Stoke-on-Trent and was having a break with his wife at the Mere resort, took the same line. He said (video): “In some ways it seems daft in a country as small as this, chipping an hour or less off the journey time, but I’m sure it’s going to happen. And when you live somewhere which has taken a lot of knocks, like Stoke, you’re in favour of anything which will give the local economy help.”
Route planners have been canny in their research, judging by the reaction from Mike Herrieven who has run Mere village stores in a wooden cabin at Hoo Green for 20 years, but doesn’t expect to last another five. Like many properties in the area, the shop is rented and its owner is looking to develop the land, which has ‘Cheshire value’, a premium due to the strength of the Manchester commuter market that any compensation for HS2 would have to reflect. “2032? I don’t think I’ll be around then,” he says. “I wouldn’t agree with it if I was, but we’ll have left long before then.” But like others who may not be personally affected, he was keen that the government’s guarantees of sensitive environmental work would be honoured, if the project does go ahead.
That was just mumbo-jumbo in the view of farmer Phil Clarkson, calling in for groceries at the store with his wife Jane. Forced out of keeping dairy cattle by low prices and high costs, they now run livery stables for the many enthusiastic horse riders who live nearby. Phil said (video): “Environmentally friendly? See that tree over there? It’s at least 100 years old. How do you chop down a tree in an environmentally friendly way?
“Once you lose land for something like this, you’ve lost it for ever. You don’t get it back, and Cheshire land is very good and too valuable to lose.”
Back by the obstinately uninflated elephant, Simon Vose clambered in to his van and set off on another callout for his house maintenance business.
“There will be a big battle against this,” he promised. “It’s not over yet.”