‘Violent and disruptive HS2 protests cost taxpayers £75m’

Around £75 million of taxpayers’ money has been spent dealing with HS2 protesters, the project’s boss has said.

HS2 Ltd chairman Mark Thurston told MPs that people have “every right to peacefully protest”, but the action has become “increasingly violent and disruptive”.

Police have arrested approximately 300 people, leading to nine prosecutions, he said.

Protesters have taken place along several parts of the route.

It took an entire month to remove activists from a network of tunnels dug in Euston, north London, earlier this year.

Giving evidence to the Commons’ Public Accounts Committee, Mr Thurston said: “We’ve spent somewhere in the region now of £75 million worth of public money in dealing with the implications of this action.”

Protests have “drawn resources away” from the emergency services “at a time when the country’s got probably other priorities for those”, Mr Thurston said.

“We are very exercised about this.”

Mr Thurston said he met with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Department for Transport officials “to make sure that we bring all the resources of Government together” to deal with the activists.

He went on: “This needs to be a cross-agency response.

“There’s only so much HS2 Ltd and our suppliers can do here. We’re not really geared up to deal with the sort of extensiveness of this.

“Thus far, we’ve done a reasonable job of protecting the programme in the round. But nevertheless, we don’t expect this issue to go away any time soon.”

The Financial Times reported on Monday that HS2’s costs have jumped by another £1.7 billion in the past year as the coronavirus pandemic adds further pressure to the project.

Mr Thurston told the PA news agency on Wednesday that the figure was “not true”, but admitted the virus crisis is one of several “cost pressures” the project is facing.