Anton Rippon Yarns

Divert HS2 Billions to where they are needed

ONE autumn in the 1950s I was in trouble with the police four times in as many weeks: twice for playing football in the street; once for hitching a lift on the crossbar of a pal’s bicycle; then a foolish classmate threw a firework into a garden in Drewry Lane jitty just as a bobby turned the corner. I was only passing, but still went into his pocketbook. By then I was well rehearsed. The officer appeared suspicious that I knew the answers before he asked the questions

How times have changed. I read that most forces now attend shop theft only if the value of goods stolen is more than £200. Otherwise you can wheel your trolley out of the supermarket with a week’s free food and drink. Unless you are a master of disguise you will eventually run out of local supermarkets – but until that point …

When did you last see a bobby down your way? Time was when at 11pm each day a policeman came strolling down Gerard Street rattling shop doors. You could set your clock by his arrival. You could even tell the local station when you were away on holiday. That is a nostalgic view. Like the NHS, today the police serve a different society. Witness those caressing automatic weapons in the Intu Centre before Christmas. It is unrealistic to expect them to spend the night shift checking business premises, fitting it all in around a crafty pint at the discreet end of the bar just after last orders.

But as someone who has long been an advocate of zero tolerance for any type of crime, I still find today’s situation unacceptable. I do not live in the past but I do believe that most people would be happier to see more police on the streets. Criminals should be properly punished for their crimes – and before someone cries: “But Government cuts … ” here is an idea: cancel the railway vanity project that is HS2 and spend the £63 billion elsewhere.

To anyone claiming that HS2 is essential to “rebalancing the economy” I say that the very last thing that should be done to regenerate the north is to make it easier and quicker to get to London. Better east-west transport links are the way to do that. HS2 isn’t worth the cost or the massive disruption it would cause to the hundreds of thousands of people whose homes lie in its intended path. HS2 also threatens 350 unique habitats, 98 irreplaceable ancient woods, 30 river corridors and 24 Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

It is quite a leap from talking about a £200 getaway clause for shoplifters to advocating the cancellation of the biggest single railway project this country would ever have undertaken, but I make the connection: divert the HS2 billions instead to health, education – and ensuring that when you commit the crime you do the time. By the way, I make it 349 shoplifting days to Christmas.

This column first appeared in the Derby Telegraph