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‘A Completely Unnecessary Vanity Project’: The HS2 Protestors Digging In for the Climate

Stuart Spray speaks to the HS2 Rebellion activists underground at Euston Square Gardens

A protestor is arrested for aggravated trespass at the HS2 Rebellion encampment in Euston Square Gardens in central London. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire/PA Images

‘A Completely Unnecessary Vanity Project’The HS2 Protestors Digging In for the Climate

Stuart Spray speaks to the HS2 Rebellion activists underground at Euston Square Gardens

Under the banner of HS2 Rebellion, a system of tunnels has secretly been dug and occupied under Euston Square Gardens in north London.

The aim, says the campaign group, is to protect one of the capital’s greens spaces from the rail project – which intends to build a temporary taxi rank on the site before selling it to developers once the railway is complete. Not to mention that, according to the Government’s own statistics, HS2 will not be carbon neutral for more than 120 years.

This morning as the sun rose over London, on day 13 of the Euston HS2 tunnel protest, at least seven climate change activists are still thought to be underground, resisting eviction.

In a statement via WhatsApp, Dan Hooper, aka ‘Swampy’, told Byline Times: “I vow to stay down here until HS2 is stopped or they drag us out, because this devastating project will dump 11 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. HS2 is a completely unnecessary vanity project, a relic of the 20th Century, which will cost the taxpayer £230 billion – or £7,000 each – money that is needed for the NHS. Yet again the Government is putting short-term profit for the elite over our future.”

Hooper is not new to environmental activism. Many will remember him from the 1990s, when he was famously the last protestor to be removed from a system of man-made tunnels blocking the extension to the A30 in Fairmile, Devon.

Since then, he has taken part in several climate change protests, not least attaching himself to a concrete block outside a fuel refinery in Pembroke in 2019.

Civil Disobedience

Another veteran climate change activist and fellow tunnel dweller is Dr Larch Maxey. 

He describes himself as full-time Extinction Rebellion volunteer and has been arrested many times over the past two years for his involvement in acts of civil disobedience. A brief search on social medial reveals that he has spent most of the COVID-19 lockdown living in, and being evicted from, various treehouses along the route of HS2. 

Maxey messaged Byline Times from the tunnel to say: “I have made this tunnel my home because I’ve tried everything in my power for 25 years to reverse the climate and nature emergency and the most effective action I can take right now is to remain in this tunnel. It is my deeply-held belief that is my moral duty to remain here to try and help reduce the unprecedented loss of human and non-human life that is unfolding before our eyes.”

HS2 refused to acknowledge the protestors as anything other than “trespassers” in its statements to the press.

Dan Hooper and Dr Larch Maxey in the tunnel at Euston Square Gardens. Photo: Extinction Rebellion

The fact that the two activists – both in their late 40s and with a combined total of 50 years of environmental campaigning between them – are still having to hide down tunnels to draw attention to biodiversity loss and the climate emergency should be seen as a failure of successive governments to take these problems seriously.

Indeed, the UK this year hosts the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, yet the Government still appears to be prioritising jobs above the environment.

Last month, ministers rubber-stamped the UK’s first coal mine for 30 years and successfully defended a legal challenge from ClientEarth against its decision to approve planning permission for the largest gas power station in Europe.

Last March, Chancellor Rishi Sunak also announced plans to build 4,000 miles of new road before 2025 and just a few months later Boris Johnson promised to deregulate the planning system to remove red tape for developers.

Cause for Optimism?

According to Maxey, however, a solution could be close at hand – in the form of the Climate and Ecological Emergency (CCE) Bill.

The proposed legislation – presented to Parliament in September by Green Party MP Caroline Lucas and explicitly supported by 96 MPs – calls for “urgent, far-reaching and necessary actions from the UK Government to tackle the climate and ecological emergency”.

The Bill includes a genuine commitment to reducing CO2 emissions and keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees. It also shrines the conservation and restoration of ecosystems – as well as ensuring imported products, which cause carbon emissions or deforestation abroad, are treated as the UK’s responsibility.

The Bill also asks for a citizen’s assembly to assist the Government and Parliament in climate change reform – involving people in decisions that will affect the ecological and environmental health of our country and planet.

Lucas’ proposed legislation has yet to receive much backing from Conservative MPs. But, if the pressure of the climate movement can be applied to wavering law-makers, there is hope for a more promising future.

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