First person: It feels like people are being bullied into accepting HS2

Standing up for communities is often the most crucial part of the job for local news journalists. Here, Editor Hayley O’Keeffe explains why HS2 cannot be allowed to simply steamroller its way across Buckinghamshire and beyond.

HS2 is a giant issue for the people of Buckinghamshire and South Northants.

It cuts through pretty much all of our most loved beauty spots, will snarl up our roads during the construction process and will cut off our housing estates — all the while giving the people of this area no benefit whatsoever.

Our MPs, David Lidington, John Bercow and Andrea Leadsom are all career politicians, and while they would say otherwise — collective responsibility (or in Mr Bercow’s case the role of Speaker) prevents them from making a real dent in any fight against the scheme.Ironically — the three of them hold some of the highest seats in Government — in safe seats courtesy of our loyal votes, so you can imagine the disgust our readers feel on this issue.

Earlier this year HS2 came back into the national consciousness — costs were spiralling out of control.

At a BBC Question Time segment held at Aylesbury’s Waterside Theatre in February a discussion was held on the topic. Of all of the audience members only one supported the scheme, admitting that was only because he was from Milton Keynes 25 miles away, and was not affected — yet residents of Bucks and South Northants are frequently called NIMBYs for their opposition!

As an editor, and as a person I can’t stand bullies — and it feels like that is just what HS2 is trying to do to us.

I wasn’t editor when the project was approved — or when the select committee hearings were held, and always felt that perhaps we should have fought harder on this issue — that we needed to represent the views of our readers in a stronger way.

But in all honesty it really felt like the ship had sailed.

But now here was a chance — the national mood was right and we felt that if we really make a push now, we might effect some real change.

Supported by JPI Media’s Growth Market Weekies project led by Gary Shipton I spent a very productive conference day speaking with other editors about campaigning, and ideas for our HS2: Enough Is Enough Campaign; I left feeling inspired.

It’s times like this that it feels really worthwhile being part of a big company because, even though my team is very small I have the benefit of experience from other editors to call upon and the advice I have received has been invaluable.

As an office we work very closely together — so I was very happy when my team were as enthusiastic about the project as I am.

Aylesbury reporter Thomas Bamford has been out interviewing affected people including The Bucks Goat Centre, The Chiltern Brewery, campaigners and homeowners. And Advertiser reporter Sam Dean has done the same for that area, and joined the campaign in Steeple Claydon where hundreds of residents are up in arms about plans to cut down hedgerows posing a threat to nesting birds.

He also received a thorough dressing down from John Bercow when he asked a polite and topical HS2 question during a children’s event they were both attending — all in good fun, but it shows we are making an impact.

As well as that we have all worked together on providing background research and content. And I have written some hard-hitting opinion pieces for impactful front pages drawn up by our design hub.

We have also set up a HS2: Enough Is Enough Facebook group which now has 1,000 followers (in a matter of weeks) and a letter to David Lidington which we printed in the paper and asked readers to send back has 600 responses and counting two weeks in.

Our team is small, and I think a project like this can seem daunting at first — it certainly did for me.

But in a team like ours I think campaigns can work well — if you work together and closely, tackle key issues well and engage with the public.

But above all — this campaign would not be working well if we hadn’t done our level best as a close-knit team, to show our readers their their big issues matter to us, and are the whole reason we do this job.

Hayley O’Keeffe is responsible for The Bucks Herald, Buckingham and Winslow Advertiser, Bucks Advertiser and Thame Gazette. You can follow her on Twitter as @misshoknews

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