HS2 protesters dig secret 100ft tunnel under London park

27 January 2021, 09:29 | Updated: 27 January 2021, 18:09

By Maddie Goodfellow

HS2 protesters have dug a secret 'Great Escape'-style 100ft tunnel network under a small central London park they claim is at risk from the development.

HS2 Rebellion, an alliance campaigning against the planned high-speed rail link, claim Euston Square Gardens, a green space outside Euston station, will be built over with a temporary taxi rank before being sold off to developers.

At least four members of the group are currently in the tunnels despite efforts to evict them from the site, which began on Wednesday morning.

Activist Larch Maxey, 48, who has been living in the park since August last year, said those in the tunnels had no immediate plans to leave.

He told the PA news agency: "We will last as long as we can down here, but we can't put a date on that. Our resolve is clear because we are telling the truth about the climate."

He said the group would "absolutely be spending the night underground", adding: "We will not be coming out any time soon."

Mr Maxey said he was in the tunnel's 9ft-deep "down shaft" with another protester, adding that they all had provisions and torches.

Read more: Family's joy as HS2 route which threatened their home is paused

Read more: Boris Johnson insists HS2 is 'crucial for country' as construction starts

Most of the activists were removed from the camp on Wednesday, with around a dozen enforcement officers coaxing the protesters out of tents placed high-up in trees.

Activist Martin Andryjankczyk, 20, from Erdington in Birmingham, said he had been carried out of the park by enforcement agents earlier in the day.

He said: "This is a HS2 rebellion protest camp, we are trying to protect those trees from HS2 and stop them from being cut down.

"They [the remaining demonstrators] aren't going to give up that easily. This camp will take at least a week or two to evict."

A spokesperson for the protest group said the four people underground planed "to keep digging", earlier on Wednesday they said they believed they could "hold out in the tunnel for several weeks".

Their hope is that in this time "a court will rule against HS2 for breaking the law by attempting an eviction without a court order and during the national coronavirus lockdown."

The group said lawyers for the "Euston Square Gardens Protection Camp" had written to HS2 "advising them of the illegality of any such eviction attempt at this time".

Security guards patrolled the camp on Wednesday evening.
Security guards patrolled the camp on Wednesday evening. Picture: PA
Enforcement officers used arial platforms to approach the protesters, one of whom was attached to a zip line between two trees.
Enforcement officers used arial platforms to approach the protesters, one of whom was attached to a zip line between two trees. Picture: PA

A spokeswoman for HS2 Ltd said it could not comment on the specifics of protesters' activities as it was yet to take possession of the land, but said "illegal" actions could be a danger to people's safety.

A community notification issued in December detailed the need to build an "interim" taxi rank on the east side of Euston Square Gardens to support the construction of a proposed HS2 station.

Construction works are due to begin in January and continue until December.

Tunnellers have worked "around the clock" using pickaxes, shovels and buckets to create the network, code-named Calvin, HS2 Rebellion said.

With the help of local residents, spoil from digging has been used to "fortify the barricades" at the network's entrance and insulate the "pallet fortress" to keep tunnellers warm as they sleep between shifts.

Tunnels are support by wooden joists and thick boards to prevent collapse and inside there are stashes of food and water, protesters said.

Protesters have also climbed in trees in the park
Protesters had climbed in trees in the park. Picture: PA
The encampment is in Euston Square
The encampment is in Euston Square. Picture: PA

HS2 Rebellion claims that the planned HS2 line, due to link up London, the Midlands, the North of England and Scotland, will see 108 ancient woodlands "destroyed" and "countless people being forced from the homes and businesses".

HS2 Ltd said only 43 ancient woodlands would be affected by the railway's route between London and Crewe, with 80% of their total area remaining intact.

HS2 Rebellion called on the Government to scrap the "expensive, unpopular and destructive" scheme "before it is too late" and argued for a National Citizens Assembly to "lead the way out of the climate and ecological emergency".

Read more: Grant Shapps: HS2 will ‘connect country like never before’ as construction gets underway

Read more: HS2 could run £22bn over budget and be delayed by seven years

One protester, Blue Sanford, 18, from London, said: "I'm angry that the Government is still effectively ignoring this crisis despite declaring a climate and ecological emergency two years ago.

"I'm in this tunnel because they are irresponsibly putting my life at risk from the climate and ecological emergency.

"They are behaving in a way that is so reckless and unsafe that I don't feel they are giving us any option but to protest in this way to help save our own lives and the lives of all the people round the world."

HS2 Rebellion protesters have built a 100ft tunnel network which they are ready to occupy
HS2 Rebellion protesters have built a 100ft tunnel network which they are ready to occupy. Picture: HS2 rebellion
Protesters dug the tunnels with pick axes and spades
Protesters dug the tunnels with pick axes and spades. Picture: HS2 rebellion

Construction work started in September on phase one of HS2 from London to Birmingham.

Phase 2a is planned to run from Birmingham to Crewe, and Phase 2b from Crewe to Manchester, and from Birmingham to Leeds.

The Government-commissioned Oakervee Review considered a cost estimate for the project by an external consultant that put its final bill at £106.6 billion in fourth quarter of 2015 prices.

The review commissioned a comparative analysis of this estimate and those by HS2 Ltd and said characteristics of major rail infrastructure cost plans, according to evidence from Network Rail, were "not evident" in the external estimate.

The review said it seemed amounts allocated towards major construction works were too low, and amounts allocated towards rail systems seemed too high.

Despite it running tens of billions of pounds over budget and several years behind schedule, Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave the green light for the railway in February 2020.

Police enforcement officers move in to the encampment
Police enforcement officers move in to the encampment. Picture: PA
Police officers watch a woman standing on top of a lorry blocking the traffic near to the encampment
Police officers watch a woman standing on top of a lorry blocking the traffic near to the encampment. Picture: PA

The spokeswoman for HS2 Ltd said: "Illegal action such as this is costly to the taxpayer and a danger to the safety of the activists, HS2 staff, High Court enforcement officers and the general public, as well as putting unnecessary strain on the emergency services during the pandemic.

"Safety is our first priority when taking possession of land and removing illegal encampments."

She said HS2 provided "a cleaner, greener way to travel, helping to cut the number of cars and lorries on our roads, reduce demand for domestic flights, and help the country to cut its carbon emissions in the fight against climate change".

The spokeswoman said HS2 had been approved by MPs on "multiple occasions", would support Britain's economic recovery and was supporting thousands of jobs.