NASH Ali let loose on Sir David Higgins, the HS2 boss, last week, channeling a bit of Oscar Wilde (price of everything, value of nothing) and Martin Luther King (judged on the content of their character) to make his stand for people living on the Regent’s Park estate. Sir David had suggested that by knocking down people’s homes behind Euston for the high speed rail scheme, the project would actually be healing ‘deprivation’. That in some way, he suggested, the best way to help the neighbourhood was to re-locate people from homes they’ve lived in for a generation and allow ‘big players’ to re-develop the land. Those big players, of course, are unlikely to be building new social housing, if the example of the King’s Cross regeneration site a few minutes down the road is any yardstick.
Nash’s decision to charge his open letter with references to Sir David being a “white Australian”, pitched against the “blot” of Drummond Street curry houses, was a bit uncomfortable. Politicians normally step carefully around such elements. The power of his letter may also have been sapped by the curious addendum of congratulating the man he had just bucketed with anger for his work on the Olympics.
But this was the strongest terms in which Nash has spoken out against HS2, publicly at least. It made some of those who read its content wonder why he had not been so bold before, especially during his two year tenure as council leader. Somewhere down the line, he had been advised that he had to restrict his opposition to the HS2 scheme because his family lived in one of the snatched blocks, as if a conflict of interest made his views wholly invalid. There was a worried slowness to produce a powerful complaint and in the void, he was challenged for the council leadership by Sarah Hayward. He stepped down. She took over – and her time in charge has been stamped, more than anything, by her angry and very public protestations against HS2. In truth, the HS2 debate had grown so big, the issue so perilous, that the petty accusation that any opposition from Nash would’ve simply been an interest in helping his own had been overtaken by the need to ‘save Camden’.
Did he roar too late? If he retains any bitterness, it is not noticeable. While internal Labour Party divisions rarely heal perfectly, he does not set out each week to undermine Sarah in his role within her cabinet. Recently, he seems relaxed and pragmatic, proud still of being in charge when Labour won the council back in 2010 after four years of punishment.
And the point he makes to Sir David is strong. While there were celebrations that the juggernaut Camden Link work had been abandoned earlier this month and that ten years of scary upheaval in Camden Town would not now go ahead, the issue of Euston and the Regent’s Park provides a sobering balance. HS2 now want Euston to be maxed out, to lever in new finance for the £50 billion scheme as a whole. But in presenting his vision, Sir David was wrong to cast the entrenched community around Regent’s Park and Drummond Street as being similar to Stratford which genuinely benefited from the Olympic transformation. Property values. for starters, are contrasting from the starting point they were at in Stratford to what they already are in Euston. Sir David has still not explained how the deprived, a word which was felt as patronising by many who live in the area, will be best helped by having their streets swapped for a forest of tower blocks for familiar multinationals to play in.