Riders fear devastating path of HS2 [H&H VIP]

  • Dozens of equestrian properties, including eventing centre Washbrook Farm, the Aston-le-Walls venue, could be ripped apart by the proposed HS2 route.

    The line will initially link London and Birmingham by 2026 and will then expand north to Leeds and Manchester.

    In Buckinghamshire alone, 11 bridleways will be severed and a further 66 will be within 500m of the 250mph trains.

    Despite the growing swell of anger against the proposed plans, the High Speed Rail (preparation) Bill easily cleared the Commons last week (31 October) backed by 350 votes to just 34.

    This legislation releases funds to pay for surveys, buy properties and evict residents. Crucially it moves this controversial plan a step closer to becoming reality.

    Many hunt countries damaged
    The proposed route will severely damage large areas of hunting country. The first phase will affect the Bicester with Whaddon Chase (BHWC), Grafton, Kimblewick and Warwickshire countries with dozens more hunts in the north of England being affected by the second phase.

    Julian Price is an amateur whip for the BHWC, whose farm will be squashed between the HS2 line and the new East West rail line between Bicester and Oxford if both go ahead. He is passionately against the proposed HS2 route.

    “Going straight through the middle of the countryside is going to affect the lives and livelihoods of so many people,” he told H&H.

    “The Conservatives need to realise that country pursuits go hand-in-hand with country livelihoods.”

    The Countryside Alliance also opposes HS2 on the grounds that it does not offer significant economic benefits in relation to the damage done.

    Countryside Alliance head of policy, Sarah Lee said: “High speed rail projects are hugely expensive and therefore must offer significant benefits to justify investing public money and causing significant effect to the countryside, its communities and important wildlife habitats

    “The Countryside Alliance believes the economic and environmental costs of the proposed HS2 project have not been properly evaluated and the Government has so far failed to make a sound business case.”

    Competition venues
    Alongside bridleways and hunting country, some of Britain’s most treasured competition venues are also under threat. The proposed route cuts straight through Washbrook Farm, home to Aston-le-Walls horse trials, and Stoneleigh Park — where the national dressage championships and Trailblazers finals are held.

    British Dressage confirmed to H&H that it would have to find a new home for the championships after more than 15 years at the same venue.

    Nigel Taylor, who owns Washbrook Farm, home to four British Eventing and many unaffiliated horse trials a year, told H&H he will no longer be able to hold events if the current plans go ahead.

    “It’s not just us,” he told H&H. “The nearby B&Bs and other local businesses also make money out of the horse trials.”

    “They [the government] don’t seem to grasp it’s not like moving a factory from one location to another.

    “A site like this takes years to develop and would cost millions to relocate.”

    Whitfield point-to-pointing racecourse in Northamptonshire and Dallas Burston polo club are two other large equestrian venues under threat from HS2.

    Irreversible damage
    Although funding has been approved to allow planning for the scheme to go ahead, the future of HS2 is not set in stone.

    The scheme needs cross-party approval because a project like HS2 — which will take decades to complete and an estimated £50 billion pounds to build — can only go ahead if investors are certain that a future government will not stop the project.

    There has been growing speculation in recent weeks that Labour might withdraw its support for the scheme, which would halt the project in its tracks.

    But with HS2 currently full steam ahead, the threat and stress for riders in its path is very real indeed.

    This news story was first published in Horse & Hound magazine