Rail link protesters told to start new petition


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Protesters trying to prevent the construction of a high-speed rail link from London to the Midlands collected more than 100,000 signatures for a petition – only to be told by the Government that they have to start all over again.

Organisers of the Stop HS2 campaign want to use the petition to force a debate in the House of Commons, which they believe will strengthen the case against the £34bn project. If built, the line will cut more than 20 minutes off the fastest rail journey from London to Birmingham, and will eventually connect to Manchester.

Under a new parliamentary rule, online petitions which attract more than 100,000 signatures are referred to the Commons backbench committee to be considered as subjects for full scale debates in the Commons.

But although the Stop HS2 campaign collected 104,000 names, only about 50,000 were gathered online, with the rest coming through old-fashioned methods such as running street stalls and going door-to-door. They have been told that the petition is therefore void.

A similar campaign to force the release of thousands of documents relating to the 1989 disaster at the Hillsborough football ground looks a near certainty to succeed after more than 100,000 people signed the e-petition on the Downing Street website. Another calling for convicted rioters to lose all their benefits has also passed the 100,000 threshold.

One of Stop HS2's organisers, Joe Rukin, from Kenilworth, has started a new e-petition which has been on the Downing Street website for more than three weeks, but so far it has attracted fewer than 5,000 signatures.

It calls for the project to be scrapped, or at least subjected to a public enquiry, on the grounds that "there is no environmental case and at this time of cuts and austerity, there is clearly no money to pay for it".

Mr Rukin said: "It's a real pain as not only will many people believe they have signed so won't do it again, but also it is clear from feedback many supporters don't have internet access or an email address which is needed to verify signatures."