Mar 21 2012 By James Cracknell
EXTENDING the proposed High Speed Two (HS2) tunnel under Ickenham "could be looked at", according to officials from the firm which will build the line.
In the first of HS2 Ltd's 'community forum' meetings with stakeholders in Ruislip, a route expert also admitted that a spur link to Heathrow "might never happen" and that they "didn't know where it would go".
Residents who would live above the tunnel were reassured they would not be able to feel vibrations as trains passed underneath their properties at up to 200mph, but might suffer two days of disruption as the tunnel was bored.
HS2 official John Castle told the meeting: "The link to Heathrow might never happen. Connecting HS2 to Old Oak Common will allow passengers to reach Heathrow in 11 minutes. That was our original proposal."
Asked why, if the government did want to extend the line to the UK's biggest airport, the route hadn't already been published, Mr Castle admitted: "It would make things easier."
The community forum event will become a regular chance for interested parties to meet with experts from HS2 Ltd to discuss the development of the line and how it will affect them.
The meeting on Tuesday night was advertised as "invite only" but, in the event, about twice as many people as those on the guest list were allowed into Ruislip Sports and Social Club to take part.
More than 50 people turned out to demonstrate prior to the meeting and there was an angry confrontation as it was due to start, when it transpired that a committee member of Ruislip Residents' Association had been chosen to act as an 'independent chairman' for the discussions.
After agreeing that there would be no chairman, the four HS2 officials attempted to engage with the people in attendance. But there was an underlying anger throughout the evening and a demand that the company should apologise on behalf of previous transport secretary Philip Hammond, who earlier dismissed objectors as "nimbys".
Peter O'Riordan, a HS2 engineer, attempted to calm the unrest: "I agree it was an awful slur on local people."
There was also anger that the responses given during the public consultation last year had been overlooked. Keri Brennan, chairman of Hillingdon Against HS2, said: "How you can expect us to trust you when it is obvious you ignore what we say?"
Mr Castle argued that the modification of the route to include a tunnel under Ruislip was evidence that people had been listened to. He said: "The consultation event in Ruislip was very well attended and it was unanimous from those people we met there that you wanted a tunnel.
"We looked at it a lot more closely and we came to the conclusion that it would cost a bit more but it would be worth it from the improvement to the environmental impact."
Brian Adams, from Ickenham Residents Association, asked why it was necessary to surface the 2.7-mile Ruislip tunnel just prior to the village, where, he said, 1,800 households would be blighted by noise pollution as a result.
Mr Castle responded: "We wanted to go over the River Pinn. The tunnel would have to be taken lower because Ickenham is in a valley." But, he conceded: "I don't know if it would stack up, but a longer tunnel could be looked at."
On the proposal to link to Heathrow Airport, as part of a second phase of HS2, Mr Castle said he didn't know when the preferred route option would be announced.
And he hinted that a factor in the decision not to tunnel under Ickenham was the desire to build a junction west of the village. "The spur to Heathrow would make a tunnel to Ickenham very difficult," he said.