Protests against the new HS2 high-speed railway line have cost the government £122mn so far and are expected to cost as much as £200mn, its management has revealed.
Mark Thurston, chief executive of HS2, told the public accounts committee of MPs on Monday that the organisation was seeking an injunction to “combat” a spate of demonstrations against Europe’s biggest infrastructure project.
“We are just at £122mn spent to date, all up, in terms of the impact of protesters. Our forecast is that that will probably be somewhere between £150mn and £200mn by the time we’re finished,” he said.
HS2 Ltd, the state-funded body, has appealed to the High Court for an injunction along the entire length of the construction of the line in an attempt to discourage further protests. The hearing will take place within the next fortnight and if granted will potentially make it a criminal offence for any persons to be on any land or property owned by HS2 Ltd without permission.
Last week the government announced in the Queen’s Speech that it would shortly introduce new laws designed to impose jail sentences of up to 13 months for protesters who cause damage to vital infrastructure projects. The policy, aimed primarily at environmental protesters, came after similar plans were rejected by the House of Lords several months ago.
Thurston said on Monday that protesters had “an illegal possession of one of our sites in recent days”. “We are taking all the measures we can,” Thurston said. “We’ve got more organised frankly with the department . . . we’ve got a big security capability now.”
The move follows years of disruption to the construction of the controversial rail link by protesters, who say the project is an unnecessary burden on the country’s landscape and finances.
HS2 Rebellion, a coalition of protest groups, say the new line is the “most expensive, wasteful and destructive project in British history”. It says that 108 ancient woodlands, veteran trees, wood pasture, old meadows and wetlands are at risk and that it will take decades before it is carbon neutral.
Protests have been held throughout the country. These have included a tunnel dug outside Euston station — the planned railway’s London terminus — which was occupied by protesters until January last year.
HS2, which will link London to Manchester via Birmingham, with a spur to the East Midlands, has been hit by delays and been scaled back by the government. The first section to Birmingham will run through the Chilterns and rural areas south of Birmingham and is due for completion between 2029 and 2033 at an official cost of £44.6bn.
The state-run project is currently looking for a new chair after Allan Cook quit six months early in July 2021. The hunt for one of the most senior public service roles in the UK, was relaunched in March after an initial recruitment process was abandoned.