HS2 and Transport secretary show contempt for local people

The more I talk about HS2 to local people in Woodlesford the more angry I become. There is a legitimate debate to be had about the pros and cons of HS2. There is a legitimate debate to be had about the exact route it should take. There can be no debate about how the consultation and compensation process has been handled. It is a complete and utter disgrace.

It is more than two weeks since the government announced the proposed route for second phase of HS2 yet local people still haven’t been contacted by HS2 Ltd. Both HS2 Ltd and Tory secretary of state for transport Patrick McLoughlin have shown utter contempt for local people that they can’t even be bothered to send letters to the homes that will be immediately affected. David Nagle and I have already written to every home in the immediate area so we can start to collate a list of peoples’ concerns that we will present to HS2 and the secretary of state.

Last Saturday the three Rothwell councillors and Elmet and Rothwell MP Alec Shelbrooke met local residents from the Maltings and Locks estates at two open air meetings attended by more than 100 local people.

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Local MP refuses to speak up on behalf of local people

I’m also dismayed that Alec Shelbrooke doesn’t want to stand up in the House of Commons and ask the prime minister David Cameron and Patrick McLoughlin to answer questions. Local people quite rightly expect more of their MP and it’s not good enough for Alec to glibly dismiss asking questions in Parliament as “just pontificating” as he did on Saturday when I challenged him about this. He’s happy enough to pontificate on taking benefits off working families that need them, but not on behalf of his constituents! As all three political parties support the principle of HS2 I really thought that all local politicians could work together on this.

Alec is the only one of us that can stand up in Parliament and ask those questions. He’s the one we elected to send to Westminster. My colleagues and I would certainly be asking those questions.

The consultation process is so feeble that neither HS2 or the Department of Transport have even bothered to contact local councillors so that we can properly help our constituents. Both residents and ourselves are forced to rely on an inadequate website and residents who’ve emailed HS2 haven’t even had a reply.

The responsibility for this incompetent shambles lies directly Patrick McLoughlin. He might claim the plans for consultation were drawn up under his predecessors Justine Greening and Philip Hammond, but that’s no excuse for not improving them. I’m calling on McLoughlin to start treating local people with some respect and consideration. It is unacceptable that neither HS2 nor his department have yet been in direct contact with local homeowners and local councillors.

The Tory/Lib Dem government has already demonstrated its incompetence in managing transport with the fiasco of the west coast rail franchise so McLoughlin needs to get a grip on his department. I’m calling on him to instigate an immediate review of the consultation and communication for HS2 and to implement a new plan that truly listens to local people and lets them know what is happening.

The route into Leeds through Woodlesford is one of the most important sections of the HS2 line so I’m writing to Patrick McLoughlin to ask him to visit us and see for himself how it is affecting local people.

HS2 route through Woodlesford comes as ‘bolt out of the blue’ for residents and councillors

It’s been a very busy couple of weeks as not only have I been dealing with all of the normal duties of a councillor, but both David Nagle and me have been inundated by people contacting us about the proposal that the new HS2 high speed railway line should come through Woodlesford.

The news came as a bolt out of the blue both for residents and councillors – I found out about when I saw local people talking about it on Twitter and Facebook. Understandably some Woodlesford residents have been absolutely devastated to find out that their quiet, picturesque and peaceful  canal side community will potentially be fundamentally changed with a viaduct to carry a high speed train.

Tory transport minister shows staggering contempt for local people

The news came as a shock to us all, but I’m also angry about the way it has been handled so far. As an elected councillor I’m shocked at the incompetence of the so called consultation as there has been no attempt by the government or HS2 Ltd to contact us directly, simply leaving us to find things out for ourselves and hindering our ability to help and support local residents. Neither have local residents been contacted directly. It shows a staggering contempt for the views and needs of local people and makes me question just how genuine the consultation actually is.

I’d like to praise those residents who have already started to work together and I think that it is essential that myself and Councillor David Nagle, Rothwell’s two Labour councillors, and Liberal Democrat councillor Stewart Golton work together to support local people. All three of us attended the Woodlesford and Oulton Action Group meeting on Wednesday Tuesday which was packed with worried local people. David and me met Andrew Hall, from the Leeds City council transport department on Tuesday Monday for our first briefing on HS2 and despite the short notice I persuaded Andrew to come to the action group meeting the following evening.

So far I haven’t heard anything directly from Alec Shelbrooke our local Elmet and Rothwell Tory MP. If we are to get the best result for local people then it’s important that local politicians put aside their political differences and work together.

I am writing to HS2 Limited and Patrick McLoughlin, the Conservative secretary of state for transport, to ask that they come to Woodlesford to see and hear for themselves how local people will be effected. We’ve had far too little information about the consultation process and we especially need to know far more about proposals to provide compensation to those affected. One of my concerns is that people living just outside the 60m distance from the centre of the track will lose out.

I’m sure that everyone living locally has already seen the HS2 map, but for anyone that hasn’t you can view it on the Department for Transport website and I’ve reproduced the key section here:

HS2 route through Woodlesford and Oulton map

UPDATE: There is a Facebook group for SO WHAT (Swillington, Oulton and Woodlesford HS2 Action Group).

Backing Rothwell Town Forum in speech at full meeting of Leeds City Council

I’m at the full meeting of Leeds City Council. My new ward colleague David Nagle has just given his maiden speech about our fight to save the allotments in Rothwell.

I spoke on setting up the Rothwell Town Forum and this is gist of what I said:

I was elected last year as a Rothwell councillor and it was obvious to me that the town of Rothwell, like many other areas, is crying out for new life. Some of our shops are struggling and we need more footfall down Commercial Street.  I’m passionate about helping to do this. Which is why I called a public meeting to start a Rothwell Town Forum.

We have a fantastic asset in our town centre with some great individual shops which I totally support, god forbid we should end up with our high streets being full of nothing but identical chain shops replacing our much loved individual local shops and no Olywn Fox providing true local service, but instead only Currys with its know nothing assistants; and no Brew tea rooms, but only Starbucks on every street.

We have to make the most of what we have in Rothwell and not only fight to keep our individuality but help our centre to realise its full potential and draw people here. I want to see us build on the unique character that Rothwell has whilst at the same time bringing it into the 21st century. We need to offer people something which cannot be matched by out of town shopping centres or the internet.

We also have other pockets throughout the district including in Woodlesford, Oulton and Carlton with fantastic shops which also have huge potential and also need our support.

There was a huge amount of enthusiasm at the first meeting for the need to do something, despite some of the challenges and setbacks traders have faced in the past. This will only work with the community coming together to help themselves and I’m sure that we can do it.

Some great ideas came out of the meeting like the need for improved signage, a directory and newsletter promoting all local businesses that could be distributed to every house in Rothwell, experimenting with late night opening for one night a week, looking at what could be done to improve the semi-pedestranisation of Commercial Street, how businesses could work together with joint promotions, perhaps creating a ‘Rothwell Pound’ – a special currency that can only be spent in Rothwell, a community notice board and better business support and advice.

And we’ve got our role to play. Keith did a great job chairing the “Commission on the Future of Local Government.” But we’ve got to ensure that it’s more than just words and truly embrace entrepreneurship. Too often our local traders face petty bureaucratic restrictions and as a council we aren’t flexible enough to meet the real needs of people.That has to change. And we here should be that change.

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