There are serious questions to answer about HS2
Yesterday, I had a visit to Upton Cressett from Caroline Bedell, Regional Director of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) which used to be known as the Country Landowners Association until a couple of years ago when they decided their image of rural landowning squires was too posh and they wanted to promote themselves as being more business friendly. In the countryside, 'business' friendly means farm friendly.
Anyhow, Caroline drove up to the house in her Audi with an anti-HS2 car sticker on the back window. I'm especially interested in the HS2 debate as part of our new Spear's Save Britain's Historic Landscape debate is to examine (without getting hysterical) the circumstances in which ripping up large swathes of the countryside, whether it is for wind turbine installation or building HS2 railways tracks, may be acceptable, or even a good idea. Is it possible to be anti wind energy but pro HS2?
Caroline represents the West Midlands and has been spending time on the front line talking with families, landowners and businesses whose lives could be blighted by having the HS2 track ’ estimated to cost ’30 billion and currently supported by the government ’ cutting past their homes and their countryside. It's only when you have a similar problem in your own area that you begin to understand the violation that the HS2 will have on some unfortunate people's lives.
I only learned yesterday that anybody living in Warwickshire or Oxfordshire will not get the chance to even benefit from the HS2 train, and will ’ madly ’ have to drive all the way to Birmingham if they want to take the HS2 train to London. That is despite the fact the train may be hurtling past just a few hundred yards from their house. The other thing I didnt realise is that although people in the Chilterns, Warwickshire, Northants and Buckinghamshire are getting 'compensation' from the government for having their house values decimated, this really only applies to land value and compulsory purchase by the government. So if you have a small garden and a house that is near to the HS2 track but no land, you suffer on all counts.
The other problem is that financial 'compensation' can never replace the sense of a generational home or small farm that a family may have spent decades building up. Some people ’ such as farmers or owners of local businesses that are sited on land ’ face serious practical obstacles to moving, and no amount of money can really replace the priceless value of the serenity and peace they had before the HS2 nightmare entered their lives. You cannot compensate for such a sense of family violation.
Ever since the 'project development' officers from Natural Power in Wales showed up at the Upton Cressett gatehouse uninvited about a month ago to say they were having a snoop around for the purposes of an 'impact assessment' survey they were doing for a wind farm project that would be sticking two giant turbines within view, I have started to think that this modern compulsion to always make everything faster – travel, ’Broadband width, petrol pumps – doesn't necessarily make anything better.
If anything, it just adds to a sense of general panic, which is one reason why I like living here in our medieval hamlet at Upton Cressett where mobile signal is patchy and sometimes it doesn't ring for three days (I mostly have it turned off).
I always am amused when guests arrive at our gatehouse (which is occasionally let as well as being the home of the Upton Cressett Foundation literary retreat), go up to their rooms and then emerge about half an hour later with a look of horror on their faces when they realise they have no signal and are cut off from the outside world. Where's the Wi Fi, they ask?
I then send them off in the direction of a converted cottage next-door which does have Wi Fi. Although these guests are paying good money to enjoy a mini-break or week's holiday in a turreted Elizabethan gatehouse in unspoilt countryside, many end up spending most of their day sitting in this cottage hunched over their lap-top. I can't see the point.’
The magic of a hamlet like Upton Cressett is that it is like returning to the middle ages, only with satellite TV, four star plumbing, heating and water. I was quite proud the other day when one of the owners of the Aman hotel group came to stay and he walked into breakfast with a smile on his face and said, 'This is the first time I have ever stayed in an English country house where the hot water pressure is actually better then in one of my hotels.'