Our Letter to Cheshire Councillors - Message Ignored?

THE FOLLOWING IS A LETTER SENT BY MID-CHESHIRE AGAINST HS2 TO EACH INDIVIDUAL WARD COUNCILLOR IN THE CHESHIRE EAST AND THE CHESHIRE WEST AND CHESTER COUNCIL.

WE HAVE TO ADMIT BEING DISAPPOINTED AT THE APPARENT LACK OF INTEREST OR RESPONSE SHOWN BY THE RECIPIENTS. ACCORDING TO OUR RECORDS ONLY ONE CWAC COUNCILLOR READ THE LETTER AND NO CEC COUNCILLOR READ IT.

WE HOPE WE ARE WRONG AND THAT OUR WARD COUNCILLORS ARE MONITORING WHAT HS2 THREATENS TO DO TO OUR COUNTY. BUT IT DOESN’T LOOK LIKE IT AT THE MOMENT!

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Dear Councillor,

Cheshire East Council has formally resolved to engage in the petitioning process regarding the HS2 Phase 2B Hybrid Bill. On 19 May 2019, Cheshire West and Chester Council resolved to do likewise.

Having lobbied for many years on behalf of residents, Mid-Cheshire Against HS2 (MCAHS2) is relieved to see that HS2 is finally back on the local authority agenda. It is astonishing that so little attention has previously been paid to the largest infrastructure project ever proposed for this county.

We attended the Cheshire West and Chester meeting in May. We felt that our key takeaways from that meeting are as pertinent to Cheshire East as they are to Cheshire West, namely:

• The lack of strategic leadership since 2009
• The paucity of the level of informed opinion amongst members
• A recognition that even at this late stage, neither Council seems capable of appreciating that EVERY ward will in some way be impacted by the scheme (air quality and transport impacts have no respect for ward boundaries and wellbeing, the environment, and food and fuel security are all national concerns).
• Both Councils appear to be far behind where they need to be in terms of plans for mitigation
• Community engagement has been negligible
• Both Councils have missed every opportunity to withhold support for the scheme
• The Councils have no viable idea of what to petition for, nor any idea as to the costs involved

How can the Cheshire Councils hope to catch up, now that the Hybrid Bill clock is ticking?

Councils have resolved, at enormous cost, to engage in the petitioning process – but who is going to brief the petitioning team? We have genuine concerns that the Cheshire Councils are out of their league and in danger of being overwhelmed by the far greater resources and political clout of HS2 Ltd.

To give both Councils the slimmest of fighting chances, changes must be made.

One, Councils need to articulate, at pace, its mitigation plan: how it believes it is possible to mitigate against the vast negative impacts of the project. They need to explain how it intends to manage the decade of construction chaos. They need to include an estimate of the costs to the local economy.

Two, Councils must treat this as a county-wide problem and a) set up a robust, cross-county forum that includes Cheshire West and Chester Council, Warrington Borough Council, and the significant expertise of MCAHS2; b) call on a coordinated involvement from Cheshire’s MPs; and c) provide residents with a clearly communicated plan and seek opinion and feedback.

Three, we believe that the vote on Thursday 19 May 2022 gives a clear mandate to put a fresh vote to full Council to ask members if they wish to withdraw their support for HS2, before the petitioning process even begins. N.B. This is plenty of justification for a change of strategy – the Hybrid Bill is in tatters. Now that the Golborne link has been axed, no one knows how HS2 Phase 2B will link with NPR – AND how much extra land might be taken from YOUR ward.

Four, make contact with Buckinghamshire County Council in order to get ahead of the curve and anticipate some of the likely issues that Councils will encounter based on Buckinghamshire’s experience. They know that they withdrew their support for HS2 too late to stop the appalling destruction of their county that is happening right now. Here in Cheshire, we have a short window of opportunity to ensure that this unwanted and unneeded railway is not built north of Crewe. During a recent meeting with Cheshire East Council, it was made very clear to us that Crewe Station – the sole economic benefit of HS2 – is a ‘red line’ for the Council. We were told that a new station and a minimum of 5 stopping trains per hour is the prerequisite for CEC’s support. Obviously, the plans for HS2 Phase 2B include neither. This begs the question: what is the justification for local authority support given that neither Cheshire West and Chester Council nor Cheshire East Council can point to either a single economic gain or one environmental benefit.

Five, set out a robust parish council engagement strategy to share the Council’s mitigation plans – and be prepared to provide the resources to ensure local feedback and ideas are incorporated.

And finally: councillors need to acknowledge that they are complicit in a county-wide scandal by continuing to defend the indefensible and wilfully glossing over the massive negative impacts. HS2 Phase 2B has been whittled down, with the abandonment of the West Midlands to Leeds section, the demise of the Golborne Spur, the absence of third-party funding to make a Manchester Airport station viable, 90% of the route still unsurveyed…the hybrid bill is riddled with uncertainty. As we speak, swathes of Additional Provision notices are being received by parishes along the route. HS2 is already seeking to amend the Bill to include additional powers to take over even more land and highways than they’d already identified.

ENOUGH IS NEVER ENOUGH !

Can you not see that you have been misled by the honeyed promises of greater speed, more capacity, more connectivity, more trees…when none of the claims stands up to robust scrutiny nor are any of them contrasted with the as-yet uncosted enormous challenge and disruption of constructing the railway across the salt district? It is not too late to stand up and defend the county.

The petitioning process will be over before the next round of local elections. It will be interesting to see how the results of the former will influence the outcome of the latter.

We look forward to your replies.
Mid Cheshire Against HS2