No matter how ‘sustainable’ or ‘progressive’ the argument for HS2 could ever be, it fundamentally relies on, and perpetuates a model of continuous economic growth. In this writing, I want to give an example of how human rights, land rights and water rights have become worthless under that model. I also want to briefly highlight the priorities of the criminal justice system when the choice is between human rights and the ideology of continuous economic growth.
Initially, I hope that we can draw more connections between HS2 and the prison system. Ultimately, I hope we can make stronger links with as many neglected forms of life struggling under this same abuse of power that shakes the earth with meaninglessness.
First, here’s a back-story for the future of water instability around London. Hillingdon borough will be host to the shiniest most expensive section of the HS2 line, with a curving viaduct over the lakes in the Colne Valley. One of the reasons this area is so vulnerable to HS2 is its rare chalk aquifer. ‘England boasts to hold 85% of the world’s chalk streams (which emerge from chalk aquifers), yet 77% of them fail to meet good quality status’. (1) The Mid Chilterns Chalk aquifer is a natural filter for around 3.2 million people’s drinking water in and around London, (2) it sits on 60 million year old bedrock and
filters the water sometimes as slow as 2″ a year through complex fissures. It’s a precious habitat already under stress from over abstraction and it plays a huge part in keeping rivers and Eco-systems healthy.
The thing that makes the aquifer so vulnerable is the 80ha landfill site on its doorstep – a special site of contamination. (3) To build this curving viaduct, ALIGN (civil engineers for HS2) are drilling hundreds of 70m+ holes down into the aquifer as we speak, (4) which will allow leachate (soluble particles) from domestic and commercial waste from the
landfill site to seep through the aquifer into the drinking water. But ALIGN haven’t considered this necessary to add to their water risk assessments; this information had to be found independently by campaigners from an expert on water contamination. (5) In 2012 Affinity Water Ltd – the water suppliers of the Mid Chilterns drinking water – warned that 1,150 million (1 billion 150 million) liters per day could be entirely jeopardized by the project without huge changes to HS2 plans (due to contamination of the chalk aquifer after pile driving) (2).
After this warning was presented, the Department for Transport just paid Affinity Water Ltd a financial indemnity for the loss of pipes and pumps – rather than buffering the destruction while HS2 re-planned the route. (6) Affinity Water Ltd has recently revealed to be one of hundreds of companies and public bodies to sign HS2’s ‘gagging orders’ (non disclosure agreements. NDAs)(7) .
Blackford pumping station (one of six effected by the line (8)) provides 20 Million Litres of water per day and because of its close proximity to the HS2 line, right now there’s an application pending to close it down. Of the 20Ml per day currently abstracted, only 10Ml to permanently replace it has a known source. (9) The future water security of South East England is in question and even the UK laws requiring ‘No Deterioration’ of water sources are being ignored. (10) When Freedom Of Information requests are sent to Hillingdon council, they’re saying it’s the responsibility of HS2 to ensure water safety – not the council’s. It’s become necessary for people on the ground fighting the project to find out what’s really going to happen to their drinking water. HS2 will need 6-10 million litres each day for their tunnelling in this area. That would provide 40,000-70,000 people each day of drinking water. (11) But let’s not talk about that.
While the consequences for protesters are being seriously heightened with injunctions banning access to HS2 land grabs, there’s increasingly less chance water safety will be prioritised. At the minute (12/2020), the public don’t know who will do the research into this, or whether the research will be done independently from profit makers. How could they know the independent research will be in the public long term interest?
Just to make clear – a civil injunction is a customized law, purchasable by a company, for when low penalties like aggravated / anti trespass laws aren’t consequential enough to deter the likes of meddling anti-HS2 protestors from slowing down work. If you’re caught knowingly breaching an injunction (which could be stepping onto a particular piece of land, or temporarily blocking a road into a compound) you might be charged with ‘contempt of court’ which can be punishable by imprisonment or having your assets seized for up to 50 years into the future. (12)
Surely with ‘a high level of uncertainty associated with the risks to future water availability’, (13) you might think the courts would have sympathy for the protestors, but in reality an injunction has been served with protestors individually named on it. This seriously heightens the chance they’ll be charged with contempt of court for protesting in those areas in the future because HS2 can argue they know exactly what the rules are; they defended against it in court. (14)
And for the cost of speaking to defend themselves in court – still without a proper hearing- a fine of £42,000 for the smaller group of named protestors has been considered a reasonable price by justice David Holland. This is the justice system. This isn’t just a one-off case of working class people becoming marginalized by the courts. Those gripped so tightly under the feet of our capitalist state don’t have to try to imagine; that the courts are just as complicit in depriving people of basic water rights as these profiting shareholders and contractors doing the work.
It’s no accident that people of the lower classes have no power over land use, when there are 92 hereditary Lords in UK parliament and some of those families go back many centuries with power and wealth. ‘Estates such as those of the Grosvenor family in Cheshire, or the Clintons in Devon, were formed in the century immediately after the Norman invasion of 1066, and are the living roots of the country’s history. They were also the structure that nurtured the British nation, for good and ill.’ (15) At least 30% of England today is owned by 25,000 people
in aristocracy; 18% by corporations; 17% by oligarchs and city bankers. A measly 5% by England’s homeowners. (16)
Something fundamental about a capitalist economy is its natural ability to mesh tightly with governing structures, and while land is continuously privatized and increasingly inaccessible to the public, the prison system is growing overcrowded partly as a result of an increasingly powerless and disconnected population. While UK prison numbers have risen by about 150% since 1970, in the US its risen about 277%. (17)
In the US, the ‘Kids for Cash‘ scandal is a tragedy, and seemingly rare. But in a social structure mediated by money, we feed our collective consciousness with exactly that dissociation. It’s profitable for prison numbers to swell, while unprofitable practices like: common land rights; community solidarity; direct democracy; transformative justice; wildlife regeneration – that bring meaning to life and help prevent harmful behaviour, are nowhere near the focus. A variety of versions of kids for cash is very literally what’s being created. There’s a lot we can all learn about the reasons and practicalities for prison abolition – CAPE is a really good place to start.
One small yet massively impactful thing we can practically do is support those facing cruel and torturous injustices by writing to prisoners. Glasgow Prisoner Solidarity is raising funds to make this more possible for people up there, please spread the word of this vital work and donate if you can.
The courts and our current legal system rely on a model of punishment, often of traumatised individuals – when much harm in society comes from a long history of state violence. Not just the courts but most aspects of our society help to decentralise the punishment for the damaging symptoms of our history of state violence (both fast and slow). An example of slow violence is institutionalised racism within the education system – this leads to disproportionately high numbers of black children being excluded from schools, while school exclusions are shown to have strong links with mental health and youth offending. 61% of children who are excluded from school go to prison.(18)
Connecting with people, meeting their immediate and long term needs, and beginning to break down cycles of inherited trauma and the causes of those traumas that are living in the wider system – all of this could start to grow real justice in our society.
This can never be just a struggle against HS2 Ltd. It’s the same interwoven struggle against the criminal justice system and every overarching structure that enables the capturing of the natural world, human and non-human life everywhere, under patriarchal capitalist white supremacy.
The 13 people left to pay the £42,000 court costs for the injunction have just sent in a pledge of non-payment in protest to the sheer insanity of corporation bought injunctions.
During the court case for this injunction, some of the defendants entered the hearing via skype on a mass trespass into an injunction zone, with 35 others dressed in white suits, sitting on diggers chanting ‘shove your injunction up your arse’ (19) to the courtroom. It was a beautiful thing to witness such a solidarity action for those in court, and for Jelly Tot who recently closely escaped an injunction related prison sentence after an attempt to be ‘made an example of’ by HS2 and the National Eviction Team. (20). These kinds of laws are silencing people fighting for the right to life. The law is not engineered to protect us, and for as long as people fight in numbers to delegitimise these laws with action, they cannot stand as impenetrable, but only be publicly deemed fucking horrendous.
(2) https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cmhs2/petitions/0474.pdf (see paragraph 23)
The water table is highest in Colne Valley so they don’t have to pump from further depths, which makes it a uniquely beneficial location for pumping.
(3) DSTR02587 Contaminated Land Special Sites. SKWhite DEFRA. 40, New Years Green landfill is permeable by rain because the top soil above it is only 1m deep and it is not capped, which means the ground nearby is susceptible to leachate.
(4) We asked the workers for ALIGN (on behalf of HS2) on site, and officially they can drill 70m but they said they went down 100m
(5) James Talbot’s report ASSESSMENT OF THE REPORT ReportJames Talbot Hydrogeology Report“HYDROGEOLOGICAL AND SURFACE WATER RISK ASSESSMENT FOR LOAD TEST PILING LOCATION 2” IN THE CONTEXT OF THE SITE OF SPECIAL CONTAMINATION confirms the omission of the landfill site and known contamination.
(6) See attachment -CONTINGENT LIABILITY – DEPARTMENT FOR TRANSPORT, AFFINITY WATER. Paragraph 4.
(8) The other pumping stations are West Hyde, Northmoor, Springwell, Mile End, and Ickenham. They aren’t all seen to be effected in the eyes of Hs2. Some of the details are blacked out in this official ALIGN document. 1MC05 Options for mitigation of the effects of piling on groundwater.
(9) Technical notes
// https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/affinity-water-limited-npswr027731-application-made-to-abstract-water/affinity-water-limited-npswr027731-application-made-to-abstract-water 10 million litres per day will come from Thames water, lesser quality and further away. Blackford pumping station according to HS2 is only supposed to be temporarily closed until the turbidity is back to normal after the chalk drilling, which again, doesn’t take into account the landfill site pollution. see – (5).
// For HS2 ignoring the laws visit (3) – James Talbot’s report
(14) the case is yet to be taken to a ‘fair’ trial where the HS2 reps
can be cross examined, yet the injunction has already been applied.