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Chainsaws in the middle of the night as HS2 workers hack away at trees

Rail project said it had to do the work after midnight because it could not close the road

08 October, 2020 — By Tom Foot

A protester in a tree looks down at HS2 contractors as he tries to save further branches

HIGH Speed 2 railway chiefs sent in workers with chainsaws to hack away at mature trees in the middle of the night.

Residents were left shocked and sleepless after the “unbelievably loud” works outside Cartmel on the Regent’s Park estate in Hampstead Road, was spread over six nights – including Sunday – between midnight and 4am.

HS2 Ltd – the company in charge of the controversial £106billion railway project –  said it had “no alternative” to carry out what it described as utility works late at night because it could not close the main road in the day. But its letter to residents did not mention any tree work and sceptical tenants suspect the removal took place under the cover of darkness to outflank HS2 Rebellion campaigners living in a protest camp nearby.

“I’m not a shrinking violet so I went down and told them you’re doing this now to prevent the activists going up in the trees. They said that wasn’t true, but they were reading from a script,” said one resident.

He added: “I was in a third world country running a business for many years. You would have been used to this sort of thing there – people being brow-beaten and the complete abuse of wellbeing.”

Demonstrators trying to save the trees in nearby Euston Square Gardens have been living in makeshift treehouses and tents for more than five weeks as the HS2 works continue.

Carol Hardy, another Cartmel resident, said in a complaint to HS2 about the nighttime works: “People have to go about their work and education the next day.  The use of chainsaws in the middle of the night, surely this could be done at an alternative time?”

Last week, a mature tree in North Gower Street – named after Benedict Cumberbatch – was axed in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Activists scaled trees in Hampstead Road this week before their branches were removed. Camden is one of worst affected areas by HS2, which has set up two decades of demolition and disruption for people living here.

The works will create a new link to Birmingham and later cities in the north, but the project has been regularly criticised for its spiralling costs and by opponents who say the government could use such a colossal outlay better elsewhere. Developers will soon get a chance to cash in on the huge swathe of land around Euston station when regeneration plans are developed further.

The 67 flats in Cartmel, and also those in the neighbouring Coniston and Langdale, were originally supposed to be evacuated because they were considered to be too close to the HS2 site. But a deal was done in 2015 that left residents behind in the flats on the side of the works, in exchange for getting new windows and air ventilation units.

Just 12 per cent of these units have been fitted with these measures so far, despite works beginning three years ago.

HS2 Rebellion’s Dorothea Hackman said: “These trees are just like the North Gower Street tree, the Benedict Cumberbatch tree, which was cut down last Sunday also to clear the path for utilities and services. On Sunday, two of the Euston Tree protectors climbed the Hampstead road trees to delay the felling for another day.”

An HS2 spokesperson said: “HS2 and Camden Council have jointly established the Camden Tree Panel, which reviews and challenges the removal of trees in the area, and they have endorsed these works. Unfortunately this work requires certain traffic management restrictions which would cause significant disruption and therefore are not be possible during the day.

“It was determined that conducting works overnight was the best solution to minimise disruption to residents. Residents in the local area were given advanced notice of these works on September 2. We also have a commitment to replace any trees removed in Camden as close to the location of any removed tree. In addition, we are working with local groups to re-use timber from removed trees where possible.”

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