With 1,925 petitions against the HS2 Phase 1 Hybrid Bill submitted, the Committee who will consider them have a big job ahead of them, one that could easily last until 2017, if not longer. When the Commons Committee have finished and the Bill goes to 3rd reading, the whole process of petitioning will start again in The Lords.
To put things into perspective, Crossrail only had a quarter of this number; with 457 petitions submitted, but only 205 of those were heard. The reason that the majority weren’t heard was because Crossrail came to some agreements with petitioners meaning they did not have to appear before that committee, whilst some petitioners chose not to appear. Everyone who has put in written petitions had the right to appear before the Committee, unless HS2 Ltd decide to challenge them. In the House of Lords, 113 petitions were made, with 45 being heard.
In the case of HS1, there were a 293 petitions lodged with the House of Lords, with 993, half the number of the petitions HS2 has got at this stage submitted to the House of Commons Committee. There was also an added complication, in that there were a further 41 extra petitions when HS1 announced ‘additional provisions’, which is Parliamentary shorthand for ‘changing things they got wrong’. The Commons Committee took over a year to get through the petitions.
As you might expect, there will be additional provisions for HS2. At this point we have no idea of the scale and scope of these additional provisions, besides the certainty that they will include a complete redesign of the plans for Euston. When the additional provisions are announced, people will have the opportunity to submit written petitions on the issues they cover. We do not know when thsee additional provisions will be announced.
HS2 Ltd will send everyone who has submitted a petition and acknowledgement that they have got petitions, and they have been asked to respond to the concerns of petitioners four weeks before they are called to appear. Getting these responses right will be a tricky one for HS2 Ltd, as it should mean actually reading the petitions and responding on the specific issues raised, opposed to just sending something generic, but don’t hold your breath. HS2 Ltd will/may try and make arrangements with petitioners to sort out their problems and mean they do not have to appear before the committee. If HS2 Ltd do contact you, DO NOT accept ‘assurances’ as they are worthless. What you need are ‘undertakings’.
The big question is whether anything will happen in terms of hearing petitions before Parliament breaks up on Tuesday July 22nd, especially if a reasonable notice period is given to those being called before the Committee. At the first public meeting of the Committee on May 13th, it was confirmed that they had agreed to conduct site visits, but whether or not they would actually meet up and down the line or during Parliamentary holidays was still up for discussion.
At the meeting on May 13th, there was almost complete unanimity from those giving evidence that no-one that any of the agents represent would be ready to give evidence before Parliament returns in September/October. The other big question is in what order the Committee will hear petitions. It may be that route wide issues are taken separately, it may be that the committee hears petitions on a geographical basis, or even both. The one thing that does seem likely is that ‘locus standii challenges’, i.e. HS2 Ltd challenging the right of some people to be heard by the Committee could be heard first, which would be more likely to happen before the summer break than actually hearing petitions themselves. It is worth knowing that with Crossrail there were no such challenges, and there were only 14 for HS1, so there is a possibility that no locus standii challenges will be made.
We will know more after the Committee meet again on Tuesday 10th June.
With regards to appearing before the committee, you can call witnesses and submit further evidence, which will have to be with the Committee by 5pm, two working days before your appearance. You can withdraw your petition at any time in advance to being called, as well as appointing an agent if you wish to do so.