A LONDON vicar who chained herself to a tree in protest at the start of building works for the new high-speed railway line has described it as a “prophetic sign”.
The Revd Anne Stevens, the Vicar of St Pancras, in central London, was locked to the tree for a few hours last Friday in a symbolic protest, with another activist opposed to the High Speed 2 (HS2) project.
On Monday, HS2 workers sealed off Euston Square Gardens to begin work to cut down hundreds of trees, including the one that Ms Stevens was chained to, in preparation for enlarging Euston Station, which will be the terminus of the new £57-billion railway line.
Many people in the borough of Camden have strongly campaigned against HS2’s plans, which would also involve building over parts of several Church of England graveyards, and exhuming thousands of bodies (News, 27 May 2016).
Ms Stevens said that she was asked to join the tree protest by activists with whom she had worked closely before. “It seemed to me it would be a really good prophetic sign of powerlessness in the face of everything that has happened,” she said on Tuesday.
She said that she did not expect her actions to stop HS2’s plans, but said that it was still important to speak out. “Even if you don’t get what you want in the sense of HS2 being abandoned, the theology of protest is you build such strong bonds with your local community; so you achieve a great deal from it.”
The protest was not intended to hinder work that began on Monday in Euston Square Gardens — particularly as she had to conduct services on Sunday — but simply to draw attention to the concerns of many in Camden, she explained.
“This was a particularly opportune moment, because we were doing it before the felling of the trees is about to begin; so it seemed it would be our last chance to speak up for those trees.”
Besides supporting community activists in her parish, Ms Stevens said that the Church was especially concerned because of the exhumations required to construct the new railway line.
Two years ago, the Archbishops’ Council secured concessions from the HS2 developers about how human remains from three burial grounds in the path of the railway would be respectfully reinterred.
Ms Stevens said that as long as HS2 continued to ignore the concerns of the community around Euston Station, she could not rule out further protest.
She also likened her actions to the Archbishop of York, who cut up his clerical collar and refused to wear it in 2007 until Robert Mugabe was ousted as the President of Zimbabwe (News, 13 December 2007, 26 November).
“I believe passionately that the Church should speak out in the public square more than it does — the odd prophetic sign is always going to be needed,” Ms Stevens said. “A visual symbol that illustrates what is going on. Sometimes that image can come across more than words.”
A spokesman for HS2 said: “We recognise the importance of the trees and gardens around Euston to people living and working near the station and we are working with the London Borough of Camden to ensure that all trees lost during construction are replaced and other open spaces in the local community are enhanced.
“Supporting the natural environment is just as important to us as building stations, regenerating city centres and supporting the economy. HS2 will provide much-needed extra capacity at Euston . . . while also creating thousands of jobs and acting as a catalyst for economic growth across the UK.”