HS2 protesters hope to occupy Euston tunnel for weeks

The activists who secretly built a tunnel under a busy London square by Euston station have said they believe they can withstand eviction attempts and occupy it for weeks.

Despite a number of police evictions from the protest site, at least at least four protesters remain inside the long tunnel which was constructed in order to try to prevent the next phase of work on the HS2 high speed rail link from taking place.

Digging activities mostly took place at night, underneath the cover of a tent, with the earth being smuggled out. Somehow, despite being next to one of London’s main railway terminals, no one had detected the digging activity.

One of the activists currently inside the tunnel says that Wednesday’s protest is “the most important moment” in his life so far.

Larch Maxey is a veteran activist and tree protector. He spoke to the Guardian today from inside the tunnel. Sounding cheerful and resolute Maxey said that he and other activists were well prepared both physically and psychologically for a long stint inside the tunnel.

At 48 he is the oldest of the four inside the tunnel. Blue Sandford, 18, who is on school strike for the climate is also inside the tunnel along with a third activist known as Scotty has had previous experience of life inside a tunnel to protest about environmental damage. The fourth protester occupying the tunnel has asked not to be named.

Along with ample supplies of food, water and other essentials all four plan to lock themselves onto tubes in the tunnel if the eviction team used by HS2 – High Court Enforcement – each them inside the tunnel.

Eviction proceedings began at around 4.30am on Wednesday.

One of the activists above ground told the Guardian: “Living in a tunnel is dangerous. But when people are really, really desperate this is what they are forced to resort to. We are all going to die if action is not taken to address the climate emergency.”

The activists say they are committed to non-violent direct action and that the Euston tunnel action is to defend the park in front of the station and its trees against HS2 which wants to build a temporary taxi rank there.

The protestors describe the high speed rail project as ‘the biggest land grab in modern British history”.

According to the protesters the entrance to the tunnel is concealed by a large, fortified stronghold built from pallets complete with towers nicknamed “Buckingham Pallets”.

They say a big group of tunnellers have worked round the clock using pickaxes, shovels and buckets with shifts of two-12 people. The tunnels are shored up with wooden joists and thick boards. There is a main chamber where activists are living and food and water stashed along the tunnel’s length, tins of beans, pasta and vegetables.

Speaking from the top of the down shaft, Maxey said: “Our building processes have definitely been a real feat of engineering, much more organic and handmade than HS2’s version. We have taken a pride in our work and have used a mix of modern techniques such as impact drivers and piping to get air in and basic carpentry. We are doing this to tell the truth about the climate emergency. What is happening to the climate is akin to a horror movie.”

He said it had been powerful for the four protesters who had worked together alongside others to build the tunnel before moving into their subterranean home together.

“It has been a very bonding experience working on this and telling the truth about the climate emergency. We have got very close very quickly. I feel very privileged to be involved with this. I think it’s the most important thing I have done in my life so far.”

Sandford, said she felt the need to act was urgent because the climate emergency was ‘stealing her future’.

Elodie Berland, of Streets Kitchen which provides meals to homeless people in central London, got to know some of the environmental activists who joined rough sleepers who have been camped outside the station for a long time.

“We were very worried when they first arrived about our friends who are homeless but they have been amazing with them and have formed a really nice little community with support.”

Maxey said that the group of four tunnel dwellers had tried to plan both physically and emotionally for their time below ground.

“We’ve bought books down here with us. I’m hoping to read the autobiography of Martin Luther King, although I think we’ll be quite busy down here. We’ve brought treats too like dark chocolate. And if we have to go without food at some point I’m prepared to do that.”

He said that his years of activism to protest about the climate emergency have put him in the best physical shape he has been in in his life. He hopes his fitness will help him withstand the challenges of life underground.

He said: “I’m mentally well prepared for this. Getting up close with the earth while digging the tunnel has meant engaging with another dimension of nature in a physical, visceral and intimate way. This is the greatest threat humanity has ever faced and HS2 is accelerating that emergency. Let’s wake up. We all need to step up.”

The tunnel has been reported to be anywhere between 35ft and 100ft long.

Maxey said he believed this protest could be a game changer in terms of the HS2 project and would help to increase public opposition to it. However, HS2 sources said it was business as usual as far as the project was concerned with tunnel boring machines being put together to build in the Chilterns part of the project. HS2 is waiting for royal assent on phase 2A of the rail project.

An HS2 Ltd spokesperson said:“To ensure HS2 is able to deliver its major benefits to the UK on time, certain works must take place at designated times. HS2 has taken legal temporary possession of Euston Square Gardens East in order to progress with works necessary for the construction of the new Euston station.”

“These protests are a danger to the safety of the protesters, our staff and the general public, and put unnecessary strain on the emergency services during a pandemic. The protesters are currently trespassing on land that is legally possessed by HS2.”

They added that their security team are trained in use of force and wear body cameras.

A spokesperson for the Metropolitan police said they were on site to assist where needed.