CGI of an HS2 train on a viaduct at speed over leafy Warwickshire countryside with father and child walking beneath on path

HS2 not being paused, but being ‘bulldozed’ says insider

The HS2 company has been criticised by objectors who claim it is an environmental blight, but the company has strongly refuted such claims and says it will be respectful of the natural surroundings, such as in this visualisation of the landscape around Balsall Common Viaduct near Birmingham (HS2) Image HS2 media centre

There has been disappointment from supporters, and delight from detractors, over the news that construction of Britain’s high speed rail project, HS2, would be “paused” over much of its length, with the exception of the core route between London and Birmingham. However, according to sources inside the project, the enabling works already underway on the sections from Birmingham to Crewe and onwards to Manchester are not being paused at all. They say that instead of mothballing the environmental and preparatory works, sites along the route are being demolished, and installed infrastructure is being junked, at cost to the UK taxpayers. The HS2 project company has however been at pains to promote its environmental awareness during the construction of the railway.

On 9 March, the UK government confirmed that HS2’s construction between Birmingham Curzon Street station and Old Oak Common station in West London would be prioritised. The government said that construction works on the West Midlands (ie: Birmingham) to Crewe (Phase 2a) section of the railway will be deferred. They said that it would be “paused” to allow a longer constriction timeline, in an effort to spread the rising cost of the project. The Government has said it is clear that this section of the railway will still be built and HS2 will be delivered, in full, between Manchester and London Euston. Whistle-blowing sources say that may still be the case, but actions being taken in reaction to the pause, will make that more expensive to achieve.

Habitat creation works already underway

It is fair to say that Britain’s second high speed railway project has been controversial in its whole history. Spiralling costs and questions over the viability of the project have never been far away. Changes, often design cutbacks, have been an unwelcome distraction from delivering what will undoubtedly be a very high-tech and high-specification railway. Long since dropped ideas included connections to Heathrow Airport and an expensive link to HS1, formerly called the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. However, by far the most controversial move has been the government’s decision in March to, as Westminster put it, pause work on the route north from Birmingham. The possibility that the likes of Manchester would miss out brought savage criticism from civic leaders and business stakeholders alike. However, both the government and the HS2 company are adamant that the northern sections will be built.

Orange suited HS2 worker tending saplings in plantation
Suitably orange fruity suited HS2 Finemere Woods Environmental Site in Buckinghamshire (HS2)

Despite this pause in work on the sections north of Birmingham, not all work on the so-called Phase 2a route is on hold. According to HS2, habitat creation works that are already underway will be completed, alongside work on three live utility diversions. Furthermore, the company formed to deliver the entire engineering project, HS2 Limited, says it is still actively working on the remainder of the route. “Our land acquisition programme, to ensure we have the land we need to build the new railway, will continue, using the compulsory purchase powers provided in the Phase 2a Act”, said a statement made by HS2.

Vital preparations will be completed

Even so, in refuting the claims of the company, a strongly worded statement, supplied by an inside source, has called the actions since that government decision a “national disgrace that is happening here on HS2”. The sources agree that the UK government has said that the works are being paused to spread the costs. “What we see happening is the opposite. We are being told that we are to simply ‘bulldozer’ all of the sites that have been constructed”, claimed the source, purporting to have working knowledge of the environmental enabling works. The source expressed profound concerns about the additional costs incurred as a result. “We are being told to rip things out and flatten everything, and take out things that have been constructed. They have made it clear that they don’t care and want everything gone within the next couple of weeks”.

A visualisation over the sculpted wetlands outside the HS2 Old Oak Common station in West London
Although the reality is still a building site, HS2 proposes to make the surroundings of their stations green landmarks in their own right. A visualisation over the sculpted wetlands outside the HS2 Old Oak Common station in West London – which is set to be the interim terminus of the line from Birmingham

However, that is not the opinion expressed by HS2. “The Government has reaffirmed its commitment to delivering HS2 from Manchester to London Euston”, said an HS2 spokesperson. “While main civil [engineering] works between the West Midlands and Crewe will be paused, vital preparatory works already underway will be completed. This includes completing live utilities works and habitat creation sites – in line with seasonal wildlife cycles.” HS2 has also made much capital of its use of rail freight as a prime mover on the project, expecting to generate several tens of thousands of train movements, instead of road traffic.

Heartbreaking trashing everything

The sources contacting this news service claim that costs running to millions of pounds will be incurred because of what they say will mean “ripping out things that have cost the tax payer millions and millions of pounds to construct and isn’t something that would be done if works were planned to be picked back up in the future”. They believe the government has plans for HS2 to run from Birmingham to London only. “It will be heartbreaking to see the bulldozers and diggers trashing everything that so many people have worked so hard to create on the basis of government dishonesty”, claim the sources. “If the government were truly just wanting to delay Phase 2a then the only sensible and cost effective way to do this would be to complete the early environmental works and leave these to bed in to make a planned recommencement of main works easier to deliver.”

Nevertheless, the company is quite clear that it is working to implement the government’s pause decision. “We are working closely with our supply chain to implement these changes and will keep local communities informed”, an HS2 spokesperson said. “We encourage people to contact our Helpdesk, which is open all day, every day, if they have any questions or concerns.” The overall promoter of the HS2 development, the UK government’s Department for Transport, has been approached for further comment.

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Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is UK correspondent for and

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