‘We will not be coming out any time soon’ says HS2 tunnel protesters

Luke Powell, PA
·5-min read

Protesters who have dug tunnels under a central London park in opposition to the HS2 rail development say they will not be coming out “anytime soon”.

At least four activists remained in the 100 foot network of tunnels dug under Euston Square Gardens on Wednesday evening despite efforts to evict them from the site.

The HS2 Rebellion campaigners claim the small green space outside Euston Station will be built over with a temporary taxi rank before being sold to developers as part of plans for the high-speed railway.

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A protester in a climbing harness carrying a sleeping bag, is led away from the encampment in Euston Square Gardens in central London (Aaron Chown/PA)

Bailiffs from the National Eviction Team, a subsidiary of the High Court Enforcement (HCE) group, began evicting protesters in the early hours of Wednesday morning and continued to take down the makeshift camp throughout the day.

The HCE group said on Wednesday evening that its team was adopting a “safety-led” approach to removing activists and that it would “take time, careful planning and the work of skilled personnel to resolve the situation in a safe and controlled manner”.

But 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.

“We are warm, it is much warmer down here than it is on the surface.”

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

He said digging work on the two tunnels began in September last year and that at least two other demonstrators were elsewhere in the tunnel system.

Only a handful of activists remained above ground in the park on Wednesday evening, with some remaining in tents placed high-up in trees, while others sat on the roof of a makeshift wooden camp in the south side of the site.

A spokesman for the so-called Euston Square Garden protection camp told PA that four people were still in the tunnel network and that the “plan was to keep digging”.

Enforcement officers used aerial platforms to dismantle tents erected in the park’s trees and had managed to coax three protesters down by 4.30pm.

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 spokeswoman for HS2 Ltd said the company could not comment on the specifics of protesters’ activities as it is yet to take possession of the land, but that “illegal” actions could be a danger to people’s safety.

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HS2 Rebellion protesters in a tree, part of an encampment in Euston Square Gardens in central London (Aaron Chown/PA)

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 work is due to begin this month 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.

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

HS2 Rebellion, which is an alliance of groups and individuals campaigning against the planned high-speed railway, said an “illegal eviction” of the camp began shortly before 5am on Wednesday.

It said bailiffs from HS2’s private contractor, the National Eviction Team, “entered the camp under cover of darkness” and that “tree protectors” had entered the tunnels and were “prepared for a lengthy siege”.

The HCE Group said that the activists’ inexperience was exposing them to “significant risk” in the tunnel and that it was aware of a previous collapse and “water ingress”.

It said protesters were also in danger of potentially “intercepting nearby gas and water pipes, leading to risks of suffocation, flooding and drowning”.

Specialist equipment is being used to circulate air in the tunnels and to monitor conditions inside.

HS2 Rebellion previously said they believed they “can hold out in the tunnel for several weeks and hope in this time that 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 have written to HS2 “advising them of the illegality of any such eviction attempt at this time”.

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A protester is removed, by police officers, from the encampment in Euston Square Gardens in central London (Aaron Chown/PA)

The Metropolitan Police said officers were at the site to prevent any breach of the peace but added any potential eviction would lie with the landowner.

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

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 their 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.