Petition urges MPs to reject HS2 route

06 June 2014

PA

Opponents of HS2 protest in front of Parliament last month, before a House of Commons debate on the proposed link  

Opponents of HS2 protest in front of Parliament last month, before a House of Commons debate on the proposed link  

UNTIL a "decent and reverent" burial is guaranteed for the thousands of human remains currently resting in its path, the proposed High Speed Rail link (HS2) should not go ahead, the Archbishops' Council has told MPs.

A petition from the council to Parliament, published on Monday, urges MPs not to pass the High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill in its current form. It calls for "ecclesiastical safeguards" to ensure that the human remains that will be exhumed in the construction of the line will be buried in consecrated ground "in a suitable manner".

The Bill, published in November, gives the Government the powersto construct the first stretch ofthe proposed railway line, from London Euston to Birmingham. Work is due to begin in 2017, and trains are expected to run from 2026. In the second phase, the line will be extended to Manchester and Leeds.

The construction of the first section of the route will necessitate the exhumation of thousands of bodies, as three consecrated, disused burial grounds will be destroyed: at Euston, St James Gardens, in St Pancras; at the the old church of St Mary, Stoke Mandeville; and at the Park Street/Curzon interchange in Birmingham.

The petition complains that the Bill does not make "adequate provision to ensure that during and after the removal of human remains they are treated in a decent and reverent manner, or that they are subsequently reinterred in consecrated land".

The Church Buildings Council notes that HS2 will "severely impact" St Mary and St Nicholas, Chetwode, a Grade I Listed 13th-century church situated less than 200 metres away from the line. "This exceptionally quiet and serene rural location would be irrevocably compromised."

The Archbishops' Council hopes to secure compensation for individual churches, if the line goes ahead.

On Tuesday, the Rector of Amersham with Coleshill, the Revd Tim Harper, said that if, as planned, the HS2 would go by tunnel under Amersham, there would be "little danger" of structural damage to St Mary's, Old Amersham, a Grade I Listed building, or to All Saints', Coleshill, a Grade II* listing.

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But he cautioned: "The chaos and disruption caused by the construction process in this beautiful part of the Chilterns, itself an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, would be beyond calculation."

On Monday, a Church of England spokesperson said: "The C of E is not opposing HS2 per se. Rather, we are petitioning for a technical change to the Bill, i.e. we are opposing the Bill in its present - in our view, technically deficient - form. It is simply a matter of reinstating a clause which can be found in other legislation relating to development, and has been left out of this Bill."

A Department for Transport spokesman said: "Throughout the development of HS2, burial grounds have been avoided as far as practicable. . . Though the affected burial sites at Euston, Stoke Mandeville, and Birmingham have not been in use for more than 100 years, HS2 Ltd will ensure that the affected remains are treated with dignity, respect, and care."

HS2 has considerable cross-party support, but remains contentious. The Government argues that the line is "vital to meet the urgent rail-capacity needs on the main rail routes into London". It also has the support of the British Chambers of Commerce and the TUC.

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