A matter of respect, part 1

I have, out of HS2 necessity, undertaken quite a few trips to London recently and have noticed that the good people who live there are, to their credit, very quick to give up their seats on underground trains and buses to senior citizens. The first time that this happened to me it was quite a shock; you see I don’t consider that I am particularly old and/or frail, although I do concede that I might look that way to those somewhat younger than me.

A couple of months back, I was accorded this courtesy on the tube by a middle-aged gentleman who I discovered in subsequent conversation hailed originally from Pakistan. I assured him, with embarrassment, that I was physically up to the rigours of standing, but he replied that it was not the point in question; he had offered me my seat “out of respect for my age” as was the custom of his mother country. In the UK the adjective “senior” in senior citizen appears to carry only connotations of advancing years; in Pakistan, it would appear, the other meaning of the word, implying higher rank or status, is the operative one.

But, irrespective of “seniority”, in either sense of the word, I think that we all appreciate, and I venture have a right to expect, being treated with respect by our fellow citizens. This is particularly important in any dealings that we may have with officialdom, since it is a feature of making our society work that we bestow officials with sometimes frighteningly potent powers over their fellow citizens. Armed in this way, the decisions made by these faceless ones can disrupt, and even shatter, the lives of others, and this was never as true as in the case of HS2 where the hybrid Bill will give employees of the State virtually untrammelled puissance. Nevertheless, it becomes more evident, day by day, as individuals tell their stories to the HS2 Select Committee, that the face of the Department for Transport for this project, HS2 Ltd, has failed to treat the citizens that its plans impinge upon with sufficient, indeed any, respect.

I was in Committee Room 5 to witness two such accounts, as they were given on the two days that I was there to address the Committee myself. I was very familiar with the story of the first of these petitioners, Bob Edwards (petition 1000), since I had helped him put his exhibits together. Bob told the Members of the Committee that, despite his home being, on his estimate, 175 metres from the track centreline (and therefore outside of the rural support zone), his cottage would be “totally surrounded by industrial commercial works in relation to HS2” and he reeled off a list of these, which included two construction compounds, earthworks, haul roads, the realignment and raising on embankment of a major road and, perhaps worst of all, an earth stockpile (see footnote 1). On the basis of what he was shown, Committee Chairman, Robert Syms MP, was prompted to comment that the area around Bob’s home “looks like Stalingrad” (see footnote 2).

HS2 Select Committee exhibit P3297 (part)

HS2 Select Committee exhibit P3297 (part)

Bob’s plight is perhaps best summarised by the map above, which was one of the exhibits prepared by HS2 Ltd for the hearing. The grey area is the safeguarded zone and, as you can see, it looks like someone at HS2 Ltd had the bright idea of saving some money by “avoiding” Bob’s property, which is the area enclosed by a red line.

But it isn’t just the impact that HS2 will have on his cottage that was worrying Bob. He runs a falconry experience business from his home and keeps three falcons, four hawks and a barn owl in aviaries out the back. By arrangement with local farmers he trains these birds and exercises them on a daily basis over the farmland adjacent to his home, farmland through which HS2 would be built. The noise and other disturbance whilst HS2 is being constructed and the physical danger to flying birds, both during construction activities and when HS2 becomes operational, means that Bob will either have to close down his business or move it, lock stock and barrel, before the HS2 construction gangs move in. Since Bob needs, for security and animal welfare, to live where his birds are kept, this implies that he will need to move his home also.

Finding a new location for his home and business will be very difficult, as the land over which the birds fly has to satisfy precise criteria, but this task had been made completely impossible by the total absence of any offer of compensation, either for the home or for the business, from HS2 Ltd. Bob has met with HS2 Ltd representatives on more than one occasion, and I was present at the most recent such meeting. Apart from some expressions of sympathy from the people from HS2 Ltd attending, all that Bob got when it came to asking them about compensation was a shrug of the shoulders and a “no can do”.

Bob even got his Member of Parliament to write to the Transport Secretary, who wrote back confirming that HS2 Ltd had got it right and telling Bob that “it was not possible to compensate him for an indirect impact HS2 may have on his business”. Mr McLoughlin, or the faceless one that wrote the letter for him to be more accurate, signs off with “[I] trust that you understand the need to balance generosity with the duty to use public funds responsibly”.

Well, I think that Bob felt that the wrecking of his life and business was a fairly direct impact of HS2 and, I guess to put words in his mouth, that he regarded putting things right as a totally appropriate use of public funds. So, basically, Bob was forced to petition and attend Committee Room 5 as a last resort.

(To be continued …)


  1. Bob’s description of the construction works around his home is in paragraphs 23 and 24 of the HS2 Select Committee transcript for the morning on Tuesday 20th January 2015.
  2. The Chairman’s comment is in paragraph 29 of the transcript.

Acknowledgement: The Ordinance Survey mapping upon which the HS2 Ltd safeguarding area is overlaid has been reproduced in accordance with the principles of fair dealing as set out in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. On this basis, this mapping is:

Reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO.

© Crown Copyright. All rights reserved.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by chriseaglen on February 14, 2015 at 8:52 am

    Petitioning is not the last resort. People have a vote in May and there is the Parliamentary Ombudsman, the Court and Arrhus. What is dissapointing is the majority disbelief in this HS2 plan. People are most concerned about the national direction and the inevitable further decline in per capita wealth for the next generation and the aged pensioners not on private pensions. Time to realise it is not correcting in the Select Committee Room sufficiently.


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