Camden’s MPs defy Labour whip but HS2 passes its third Commons reading

Keir Starmer defied the Labour whip for the first time

Keir Starmer defied the Labour whip for the first time - Credit: Archant

Camden’s MPs both defied a three line Labour Party whip to oppose the High Speed rail (HS2) today, but the third reading of the bill easily passed through the Commons by 399 votes to 42.

Keir Starmer, MP for Holborn and St Pancras, and Hampstead and Kilburn’s Tulip Siddiq voted against the controversial rail link, which is set to cost in excess of £55 billion and carve its way through the country from London to the north.

Both said they could not support a scheme which they claim will blight the lives of thousands of their constituents.

This was the first time since being elected that Mr Starmer has defied the party whip, and there has been speculation that he could be forced to resign from the shadow cabinet as a result.

Ahead of the vote, he said: “HS2 will have a devastating impact on thousands of my constituents.

“Over 17,000 people in Holborn & St Pancras live within 300 metres of the construction works, and up to 1,600 are at risk of losing their homes.

“Construction will last for nearly 20 years, and will cause extensive damage and pollution of almost every conceivable type to our communities, schools and businesses. I believe that is wholly unacceptable.

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“I speak to each and every one of my constituents in saying I will stand with them and fight with them over the wholly unacceptable damage that HS2 will bring to our communities.

“That is reflected in my vote today.”

Mr Starmer later told the Commons that HS2 would create “a litany of devastation in Holborn and St Pancras”.

Referring to the noise pollution that will be caused by the construction process over two decades, and said that a child born next year in the vicinity of Euston “will grow up knowing nothing but construction works”.

Over 6,000 people had signed a petition imploring the MP to vote against HS2 in the run-up to the vote.

Ms Siddiq has defied the whip previously over welfare reform, and said ahead of the vote that she too would put the well-being of her constituents before party politics.

She said the scheme was “ill-thought out” and that she had campaigned against it for seven years, since she was a councillor in Camden.

She said: “There will be bedlam on our roads, communities will be uprooted, school children will be affected and our local environment will be dangerously compromised.

“I am not convinced of the economic benefits of HS2. The Government’s plans will cost taxpayers billions of pounds, and I believe this money should be spent on projects that will actually bring improvements to living standards across the country.”

Speaking during today’s debate, she told the House: “In Camden, in Alexandra Place, a vent shaft will be built adjacent to crowded businesses and residential properties.

“100 vehicles a day will be emitting dangerous fumes within the confines of narrow roads that are surrounded on all sides by building apartments. Residents of a care home live there.

“Children living in the apartments in Alexandra Place will face increased risks to their health for many years.

“This is my reason for speaking out against a scheme that will affect the most vulnerable in Hampstead and Kilburn.”

Having sailed through the Commons for the third time, the bill will now proceed to the Lords for amendments.

Leader of Camden Council, Councillor Sarah Hayward, said: “We’re bitterly disappointed that plans for HS2 have been voted through by the Commons.

“HS2 plans as currently proposed could leave Camden residents and businesses facing decades of construction disruption without adequate compensation.”

The council has consistently called for a more comprehensive redevelopment of Euston station than the one currently proposed.

Cllr Hayward said: “We will be urging the House of Lords to recognise that, if HS2 does go ahead, we need commitment to accelerate funding for the redesign of the mainline Euston station and to align its development with the proposed HS2 and Crossrail 2 stations and over station development, to unlock the maximum amount of new affordable homes and jobs around a world-class station.”

The debate in the Commons was surprisingly brief, for such a contentious issue, lasting just 40 minutes.

With a consensus between the major parties to support the bill, the 42 rebels were mostly from constituencies where residents will be directly impacted by the construction.

Local campaigners against the line say they are not about to surrender, and plan to hold an “awareness day” this Saturday at the Surma Centre in Robert Street from 12 noon.

Those “specifically and directly” affected by HS2 can petition the House of Lords up until 5pm on Monday, 18 April 2016.

Camden Council are holding two petitioning workshops to assist to help residents with the process.

One will be held on Wednesday March 30 at Netley Primary School in Stanhope Street from 6-8pm, and another on Tuesday April 5 at the Alexandra and Ainsworth Estate Tenants Hall in Rowley Way from 6-8pm.