The House of Lords Standing Orders Committee has ruled that the HS2 Phase 1 Environmental Statement Consultation should be extended to 27th February. This comes less than a week after the equivalent House of Commons Committee had ruled it should be extended to 10th February, from the original date of 24th January. Whilst they will no doubt have no choice but to comply, HS2 Ltd have not as yet agreed to comply with this ruling. This is most likely a case of them not expecting this Lords ruling and being unprepared to comment.
Typical of the level of attention to detail that has got them into this mess, HS2 Ltd issued a statement of reaction to the ruling from the House of Lords Committee, without actually mentioning what that ruling was. Ben Ruse spokesman for HS2 Ltd said:
“We were happy to comply with the ruling of the Commons Select Committee that has already extended the consultation on the Environmental Statement. Ministers now need to consider today’s ruling before deciding how to respond.”
*** UPDATE *** It has been confirmed to Stop HS2 that the only way for this decision to be overturned is by a vote by the House of Lords in full session. As this seems highly unlikely to even be proposed, we are unsure why HS2 Ltd are dragging their feet on accepting this judgement. We have been told that any motion to try and overturn the committee decision would be the first time this has been tried ever in the history of Parliament. It’s a theoretical power which has been never used. As such, we can only speculate that HS2 Ltd are just waiting until after the Supreme Court ruling tomorrow to try and manage a media response. *** ENDS ***
*** FURTHER UPDATE *** As expected, almost 48 hours after the House of Lords Committee made their ruling, and 6 hours after the Supreme Court Ruling, HS2 Ltd issued a statement saying they would comply with the ruling and extend the consultation to 27th February. See HS2 media management tries to hide extra consultation extension under legal ruling *** ENDS ***
Like their Commons counterparts, this was the first time this committee has needed to meet since 2008, and while deciding to dispense with many of the Standing Orders which had been breached, they decided that the failure of HS2 Ltd to comply with Standing Order 27a concerning the Environmental Statement accompanying the Hybrid Bill was too serious to ignore. In total 877 pages had been missed out of copies of this statement, with 875 of them being missing from the electronic formats, with 820 being missing from paper copies.
The Commons committee had effectively ruled that following the correction of errors on December 16th that the consultation had been deemed to restart on that day. The Lords committee did not accept this argument and ruled that the consultation effectively restarted on 2nd January, so therefore the new deadline should be 56 days after that point.
The new deadline would push the date of the second reading of the HS2 Hybrid Bill back again, which now would be unlikely to happen before Easter.
Stop HS2 Campaign Manager Joe Rukin, who along with Marjorie Fox from the Harefield Action Group, appeared before the Lords Committee said:
“HS2 Ltd have had their Parliamentary timetable blown out of the water due to nothing else but their own incompetence. They have always been fixated with doing things quickly instead of properly, and yet again it is a case of more haste, less speed. This will be welcome news to thousands of people who have been struggling with this gargantuan consultation, and it is telling that yet again an independent committee of Parliamentarians has cast an eye over the work of HS2 Ltd, and yet again found that work to be lacking.”
“Those in charge of HS2 have been proved to be completely incompetent, only interested in rushing this white elephant through as fast as possible, and like the politicians who support the project, offering excuses which are weaker than ‘The Dog ate my homework’. A few typos would be excusable, but missing hundreds of pages is gross incompetence, and trying to get away with it is gross arrogance.”
Penny Gaines, chair of Stop HS2 said
“The House of Lords committee have seen that HS2 Ltd and the Department for Transport are pushing HS2 Ltd through for the sake of an arbitrary Parliamentary timetable. But with the huge impact of HS2 on the countryside, as well as in urban areas, it’s vital that the environmental effects are properly assessed. But the consultation should have been longer in the first place and not have to extended almost at the end of it.”
Rae Sloan, Twyford Parish Councillor said
“HS2 Ltd have treated ordinary people with contempt. They claim they tried to be fair, but the committee have seen through their spin. When even the HS2 Ltd representative thinks that the documents are a quagmire, it’s obvious that the consultation period was always too short to be fair. For many ordinary people the stress of HS2 is already damaging their lives, without the added worries of trying to understand complex and unfamiliar documents in a short timescale.”
On Wednesday [22nd January 2014], the Supreme Court will rule on the Judicial Review appeals case relating to HS2, from 9.45.