High-speed rail link will slash through equestrian world

  • Support is growing within equestrian circles to fight government plans for a high-speed rail link between the West Midlands and London that would scythe through prime horse country.

    The Aston-le-Walls horse trials venue, Leamington Spa Polo Club, Stoneleigh Park, Whitfield point-to-point course and hunts including the Bicester with Whaddon Chase and the Warwickshire are just a few of the many businesses, breeders, trainers, owners and riders that will be affected if the £25billion project goes ahead.

    Horse owner and Grafton hunt follower Lizzie Williams founded the Stop HS2 campaign, which last week persuaded the government’s transport select committee to undertake an economic review of the project.

    But if it goes ahead, Ms Williams said the rail link will be “devastating” for the horse industry.

    “It runs through the flood plain, across agricultural land all the way from just north of Lichfield to London,” she said.

    “It has to be a flat, dead straight line, so will be constructed of massive cuttings or huge viaducts, decimating everything in its path.”

    In Buckinghamshire, home to the Chilterns area of outstanding national beauty, the HS2 will slice through 79 rights of way, including 11 bridleways, 67 footpaths and one byway.

    Hunts along the proposed route will be forced to rethink their boundaries and meets. The track will slice through the Bicester with Whaddon Chase’s country, making it one of the packs worst affected.

    Route to go through ‘virgin land’

    Chairman Christopher Hodgson told H&H: “It’s been chosen to go through virgin ground so by definition it goes through consistently good hunting country. Until we see the consultation next April, we don’t know what type of fencing will be around it.

    “It will be very disruptive while it’s being built and there are major safety concerns when it is.”

    A number of groups have been set up to oppose the HS2 project, including Lichfield Action Group against HS2 High-Speed Trains and HS2 Action Alliance.

    But hunts and riders are predominantly supporting the Stop HS2 group, run by owner of four horses Lizzie Williams, who in September walked the entire length of the route.

    She said: “Anyone who loves horses or rides in this country must oppose HS2. It will affect us all.”

    The government has set up a fund to compensate those whose business and homes are affected by the line, but the level of pay-outs is not yet known.

    • Ms Williams has set up an online petition to call on the government to have a referendum on the scheme. To sign up visit www.gopetition.co.uk/petitions/stop-hs2/sign.html

    A full version of article is published in Horse & Hound (4 November, ’10)

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