By: Claire Bergin
An Anglican vicar chained herself to a tree in London on Thursday in protest at the environmental damage that will be caused by the HS2 rail development if it goes ahead.
Rev Anne Stevens from St Pancras Church, Euston, joined a group of protesters who said the planned construction work to redevelop and expand Euston for high-speed trains linking London, Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, is expected to last up to 17 years, and will cause massive congestion and pollution. The remains of 60,000 people buried in St James Gardens, a burial ground from 1790 until 1853, will have to be moved. More than 500 trees will be cut down.
Rev Stevens said: "We've been to parliament, committees, endless meetings, it's a last attempt to hope HS2 will see reason. I don't entirely oppose the project but the way it's been brought in here is devastating, and has enraged the local community. The people losing this green space are in the middle of a construction project which will have an enormous impact on air quality and their health. There is something soul-destroying about seeing so many trees lost."
Protesters accused HS2 and the government of conducting a land grab of the surrounding area, with subsequent redevelopment helping to pay for the £55bn high-speed rail network.
John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, was among the protesters. He said the design of HS2 was causing unnecessary environmental damage: "These are beautiful trees in one of the most polluted areas of London. The HS2 line itself is threatening 100 ancient woodlands. Environmental arguments were made to switch to rail, instead of domestic flights. All we are seeing now is airport expansion and HS2."
An HS2 spokesperson said HS2 would create a green corridor of new woodland and habitats along the route. He said: "Supporting the natural environment is just as important to us as building stations, regenerating city centres and supporting the economy. HS2 will provide much-needed extra capacity at Euston … while also creating thousands of jobs and acting as a catalyst for economic growth across the UK."
Rev Stevens said: "As the local parish church we're standing side-by-side with the local community to protest what HS2 are doing here. This project is having a devastating effect on homes and local businesses - particularly on our green spaces. We've said this at consultation meetings, but we we haven't been listened to all the way through the process."
She said the heavy duty chains were a "symbol of the powerlessness the local community are feeling in the face of this project."
Rev Stevens is the first woman vicar to serve at St Pancras Church. She moved there in August 2012.