HS2 destroyed my parents… now the possibility it could be scrapped makes the pain even worse, writes MELISSA KITE
Sad to leave: Pauline and Maurice Kite at the house
As we closed the door on my childhood home for the last time in March this year, I put my arm around my Mum and steered my Dad past the removal vans on the driveway.
He’d retained a Blitz spirit as the contents of his home of 50 years were loaded up, joking that when the agent from HS2 came to collect the keys, he’d be crouched behind the door with a shotgun.
In reality, the fight had long gone out of him.
This was the final act in a battle lasting nearly a decade, from the first we heard of the new high-speed railway to be sited next to my parents’ house, to the moment we won our fight to be bought out by the Government.
Mum and Dad were moving to a new property where they would try to re-start their lives and salvage something of their retirement years. But the sadness of leaving their beloved home under such stressful circumstances is something I don’t think they will ever get over.
And, at an age when they should be putting their feet up, they still must work part time because HS2 lawyers nailed them down so hard on price.
So to hear yesterday that our new Prime Minister has now ordered a review of HS2, raising the possibility that it may never be built, raises such mixed feelings in me that I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. My father’s reaction was: ‘If it’s true, I’m livid.’
My parents had lived their entire married life in a neat, three-bedroomed pebble-dashed semi, with honeysuckle around the door and roses beneath the leaded windows, near Coventry.
A cherry tree my mother planted when I was born in 1972 had grown tall in the front garden – it had to be left behind, along with so many other memories. On the morning they moved out, I walked my two dogs for the last time in the fields behind the house – once my playground – where diggers had already carved a terrible scar through the farmland bordering our garden. Trees had been cut down and signs nailed up claiming that nesting birds had been re-located – if you believe that.
As we closed the door on my childhood home for the last time in March this year, I put my arm around my Mum and steered my Dad past the removal vans on the driveway (pictured: Melissa, aged two, in 1974 in the garden)
Tears welling in my eyes, I couldn’t bear it. The desecration of the Warwickshire countryside was something I’d tried for so many years to stop, and now I was giving up. If HS2 is cancelled, then the terrible waste of so many years of struggle, not just for my family but for all the hundreds of people whose lives have been blighted by HS2, many of them elderly, truly feels like too much to bear.
I believe this hideous project, dreamed up by Labour’s former transport secretary Andrew Adonis, should never have got off the fantasy drawing board, writes Melissa Kite
I believe this hideous project, dreamed up by Labour’s former transport secretary Andrew Adonis, should never have got off the fantasy drawing board. The spiralling cost – put at £56billion in 2015 – could now be double that. But the idea kept rolling, driven by political hubris of the worst kind and the prevarication of prime ministers David Cameron and Theresa May who ignored those begging them to think again. If I had the funds, I would bring an injury suit against Lord Adonis for what he has done to my family and others with his vainglorious idea.
HS2 is yesterday’s solution to a problem that no longer exists. A Japanese-style bullet train might have been a good idea 20 years ago. Now, with digital technology, conference calls and cheap flights, few people or businesses would pay up to £200 for a ticket to travel at high speed 120 miles for meetings. And in any case, Phase One of HS2 would shave only 20 minutes off the journey time of the existing Virgin service from London to Birmingham. I believe ministers
in successive governments have known for years that this project is so over-budget and so unnecessary that it will have to be cancelled. Yet they let the misery continue for thousands.
Particularly pernicious has been the effect on pensioners, who cannot sell up and retire on the equity in their homes as planned because HS2 has made their properties worthless. But they are by no means the only ones to suffer. A neighbour of my parents ended up living away during the week from his wife and children for years because they couldn’t sell to move nearer his new job.
The only option for anyone outside the arbitrary compensation zone – by which you’d be bought out if the line bisected your property or came within a few metres of it – was to launch a legal fight against the Department for Transport.
Pictured is the HS2rail route, showing phase one (dark blue line), two A (light blue line) and two B (orange line) as well as existing services that will use the network (yellow line)
People moan about lawyers, but I have nothing but gratitude for those who represented us. Despite my parents winning their fight to be bought out under the Need To Sell scheme, HS2 lawyers then tied us up in mind-boggling bureaucracy and waited until the very last moment, when everyone in the chain was packed up and ready to move, to suddenly drop their offer by thousands.
In an email they even had the cheek to tell me that this was in order to get the best deal for the British taxpayer. I sent an email back pointing out that my parents are the British taxpayer. Six months later, my Mum and Dad are just about settled in their new home, although they are still traumatised by their experience.
Perhaps this review will end in cancellation, or perhaps Boris Johnson will approve a more limited version of HS2, but surely someone needs to be held to account for what has happened, the people, businesses and the landscapes damaged, and the grotesque overspend. Today my childhood home stands empty, the once well-tended garden overgrown. But the roses we replanted are thriving in their new home. I only hope my parents can thrive again too.
Melissa Kite is a columnist for The Spectator
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