'We will not be coming out any time soon' HS2 tunnel protesters say

Climate activists who spent months digging secret tunnels in opposition to the HS2 rail development have no immediate plans to come back to the surface.

At least four activists remained in the 100 foot network dug under Euston Square Gardens this evening, despite efforts to evict them from the site.

The HS2 Rebellion campaigners claim the small green space outside Euston Station will be built over with a temporary taxi rank before being sold to developers as part of plans for the high-speed railway.

Activists say the line, due to link up London, the Midlands, the North of England and Scotland, will see 108 ancient woodlands ‘destroyed’ and ‘countless people being forced from their homes and businesses’.

However HS2 Ltd said only 43 of these forests would be affected by the railway’s route between London and Crewe, with 80% of their total area remaining intact.

Bailiffs began evicting the Euston protesters in the early hours of this morning and continued to take down the makeshift camp throughout the day.

In charge of the operation was the National Eviction Team, a subsidiary of the High Court Enforcement (HCE) group,who said its team was adopting a ‘safety led’ approach to removing activists.

It said it would ‘take time, careful panning and the work of skilled personnel to resolve the situation in a safe and controlled manner’.

But activist Larch Maxey, 48, who has been living in the park since August last year, said those in the tunnels had no immediate plans to leave.

He said: ‘We will last as long as we can down here, but we can’t put a date on that. Our resolve is clear because we are telling the truth about the climate.’

Insisting the group would ‘absolutely be spending the night underground’, he added: ‘We will not be coming out any time soon.

‘We are warm, it is much warmer down here than it is on the surface.’

Larch said he was in the tunnel’s 9ft-deep ‘down shaft’ with another protester, adding that they all had provisions and torches.

Speaking to earlier today, Larch revealed how a team of 30 activists aged 16 to 70 came together in September to build the underground network in secret. He said at least two other demonstrators were elsewhere in the system.

Only a handful of activists remained above ground in the park this evening, with some remaining in tents placed high-up in trees, while others sat on the roof of a makeshift wooden camp in the south side of the site.

A spokesman for the so-called Euston Square Garden protection camp said four people were still in the tunnel network and that the ‘plan was to keep digging’.

Enforcement officers used aerial platforms to dismantle tents erected in the park’s trees and had managed to coax three protesters down by 4.30pm.

Activist Martin Andryjankczyk, 20, from Erdington in Birmingham, said he had been carried out of the park by enforcement agents earlier in the day.

He said: ‘We are trying to protect those trees from HS2 and stop them from being cut down.

‘They (the remaining demonstrators) aren’t going to give up that easily. This camp will take at least a week or two to evict.’

A spokeswoman for HS2 Ltd said the company could not comment on the specifics of protesters’ activities as it is yet to take possession of the land, but that ‘illegal’ actions could be a danger to people’s safety.

Tunnellers have worked ‘around the clock’ using pickaxes, shovels and buckets to create the network, code-named Calvin, HS2 Rebellion said.

The tunnels are supported by wooden joists and thick boards to prevent collapse and inside there are stashes of food and water, protesters said.

HS2 Rebellion, an alliance of groups and individuals campaigning against the high-speed railway, said an ‘illegal eviction’ of the camp began shortly before 5am on Wednesday.

It said bailiffs from HS2’s private contractor, the National Eviction Team, ‘entered the camp under cover of darkness’ and that ‘tree protectors’ had entered the tunnels and were ‘prepared for a lengthy siege’.

The HCE Group said that the activists’ inexperience was exposing them to ‘significant risk’ in the tunnels and that it was aware of a previous collapse and ‘water ingress’.

It said protesters were also in danger of potentially ‘intercepting nearby gas and water pipes, leading to risks of suffocation, flooding and drowning’.

Specialist equipment is being used to circulate air in the tunnels and to monitor conditions inside.

HS2 Rebellion previously said they believed they ‘can hold out in the tunnel for several weeks and hope in this time that a court will rule against HS2 for breaking the law by attempting an eviction without a court order and during the national coronavirus lockdown’.

The group said lawyers for the Euston Square Gardens protection camp have written to HS2 ‘advising them of the illegality of any such eviction attempt at this time’.

The Metropolitan Police said officers were at the site to prevent any breach of the peace but added any potential eviction would lie with the landowner.

A community notification issued in December detailed the need to build an ‘interim’ taxi rank on the east side of Euston Square Gardens to support the construction of a proposed HS2 station.

Construction is due to begin this month and continue until December. Work on phase one of HS2 from London to Birmingham started in September.

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