We’re all in it together

In my previous blog, which I posted on 2 Sep, I reported on remarks made by Cllr. Martin Tett, leader of Buckinghamshire County Council, speaking at a rally held at Great Missenden on 8thMay 2011. I reported in my blog that during his speech (see the video here) Cllr. Tett expressed his frustration at the attitude that the Government had displayed during meetings with local government representatives.

He went on to explain how the local authorities had reacted to the Government’s refusal to respond properly to the representations that the local authorities had made:

“Rather than in any way becoming fatalistic, that has actually renewed our enthusiasm to fight this campaign and we realise that we have to reach out beyond the Department for Transport to a much wider audience across not just the Chilterns, but right the way up to Birmingham and beyond and indeed as Cheryl (Cheryl Gillan MP) has said right across this Country.

“What we have done is we have united now, not just across Buckinghamshire, but with every local authority right the way up to Birmingham. We have formed what we call the ’51m group’. That 51m alliance is because we have calculated that for every single constituency in this Country, including Scotland and Wales (and yes still Scotland at the moment), that will cost the constituency, the taxpayers, £51m; for every single constituency.”

This 51m alliance is very important to all those who, like me, oppose HS2. It is the only grouping against HS2 that has the resources to take the Government on and have the chance of making a real impact. We all have a part to play as infantrymen in this fight, but 51m is the heavy artillery.

Martin Tett continued:

“To us that emphasises that this is not a ‘nimby’ discussion. This is about value for money and whether this a good use of the money that comes from every taxpayer and every business in this Country at a time of austerity, when we are seeing hospitals, youth services, libraries and other services under a lot of fire financially, whether we can really, really invest £51m for every constituency in this Country. And that is an alliance that we have formed. We started it with thirteen local authorities; it’s grown to fourteen and now to sixteen.”

At the time of writing this blog the 51m membership count has risen to seventeen. The local authorities in the alliance are: Buckinghamshire County Council, Aylesbury Vale District Council, Chiltern District Council, South Bucks District Council, Wycombe District Council, London Borough of Hillingdon, Oxfordshire County Council, Cherwell District Council, Lichfield District Council, South Northants District Council, Warwick District Council, North Warwickshire Borough Council, Warwickshire County Council, Stratford-on-Avon District Council, Leicestershire County Council, Harborough District Council and Three Rivers District Council. Martin Tett serves as its chairman.

This alliance has allowed a substantial “war chest” to be gathered. I believe that this is a seven-figure sum; this is small beer compared with the resources that are available to the Government to promote HS2, but is sufficient to finance a spirited, well-researched and effective opposition. The sixteen local authorities listed above have each decided that contributing a share to alliance funding is within its reach. Some would argue that in these cash-strapped times local authorities should not be spending money in this way; my view is that they have little choice if they are to protect the interests of those they represent and that, by working together and sharing the costs, they are getting good value for the money that is being spent.

The money has allowed the 51m alliance to employ consultants to augment the in-house skills available to it. This has allowed two major documents to be produced: a submission to the House of Commons Transport Select Committee inquiry into high speed rail and a response to the public consultation on HS2.

The other use for the war chest that Cllr. Tett promised to the Great Missenden rally was “a legal challenge”, but he was guarded about revealing any details:

“I will not go into the details of that for obvious reasons; we do not want to warn the Department for Transport in any way about what might happen there.”

In my next blog I will take a look at the document that the 51m group submitted to the public consultation on HS2.

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