A friendly get-together

On 1st December last year I went to a meeting organised by the Warwickshire branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE). This meeting was held at the Stoneleigh Park exhibition and conference centre, which occupies apart of what used to be the National Agricultural Centre (NAC), the site that was used for the, now defunct, Royal Show. This was a fitting choice, as the proposed HS2 route runs for about 1,200 metres through the eastern part of the grounds of the NAC.

You may wonder, after all that I said about the CPRE in my blogs last summer (e.g. see Pass me my rose-tinted specs, part 1 posted 8 Jun 2012 and part 2 posted 12 Jun 2012) how I could bring myself to break bread with members of this organisation (a “light lunch” was on offer). Well I wasn’t being too hypocritical because my hosts for the day have their own differences with the National Office of CPRE, as I pointed out in my blog So what do you think now? (posted 2 Jul 2012).

The meeting was well attended, at about seventy souls; no doubt, like me, many saw this as an opportunity to let Warwickshire CPRE know how we felt about the accommodating (some might say obsequious) attitude of the CPRE’s National Office to the HS2 proposal. Sure enough, the assembly wasn’t slow to get to grips with this matter, as is testified to by the report of the meeting issued by CPRE Warwickshire:

“Andrew Watson [Sir Andrew Watson, Chairman of Warwickshire CPRE] stressed that the national CPRE body is a separate charity; and that its view is not shared by many Branches or members of CPRE. He has stressed to the Chief Executive of CPRE that the national CPRE stance has changed from applying the ‘Five Tests’ in 2010 to a position of support for HS2, without consultation with the membership. Following the expression of view at this meeting, he undertook to stress to CPRE National Office again the Warwickshire Branch’s opposition to its support of HS2.”

I really must stress that these are not my words, but come from a CPRE document. It couldn’t be plainer, could it? The view of the National Office “is not shared by many Branches or members of CPRE” and the change of stance by the National Office was made “without consultation with the membership”. What on earth is going on within CPRE?

Just to underline the differences between Warwickshire CPRE and the National Office, we had a presentation by Mark Sullivan, Technical Secretary of CPRE Warwickshire, during which he reviewed how the HS2 proposals fared when examined against the CPRE’s “five tests” (refer to my blogs Putting it to the test part 1 posted 20 Jun 2012, part 2 posted 24 Jun 2012 and part 3 posted 28 Jun 2012). Mr Sullivan came to very much the same conclusion as I did in my blogs; the five tests “are not met by HS2”.

In the final part of his presentation, Mark Sullivan introduced what it emerged was the main reason why the meeting had been called. He “outlined an alternative solution for rail development”. This alternative was being championed by rail campaign group Railfuture (or to give the group its full title The Railway Development Society Limited), and had been submitted to the Government in Railfuture’s response to the HS2 public consultation last year.

Mark Sullivan then introduced Ian McDonald, Chairman of Railfuture’s Network Development Committee, who presented to us an outline of this alternative; I will start to tell you more about this proposal in my next blog.

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