The Committee of MPs who will hear the petitions of people wanting changes to the HS2 Hybrid Bill has announced that there will be four days of hearings in July, which will solely be concerned with HS2 Ltd challenging the right of people and organisations to be heard by the committee. There will then be two days of hearings concerning the petitions of Birmingham City Council and Centro, both staunch supporters of HS2, before the Committee breaks up for the summer recess, until reconvening in September.
Anyone who is ‘directly and specially effected’ by the HS2 Hybrid Bill has the right to appear before the Committee, but HS2 Ltd have decided to challenge a significant number of people and groups about whether they have this right, known as ‘locus standi’, even though there are provisions in the Hybrid Bill which could affect anyone, anywhere in the country. HS2 Ltd intend to get all the letters notifying petitioners of locus standi challenges by the end of next week. Apart from these challenges, petitioners should have four weeks notice of being called to appear before the Committee.
Whilst the Committee will not meet outside of London, they will conduct site visits, which petitioners can attend, staring with Birmingham and Lichfield on July 15th. The Committee, which will meet three days a week, will hear petitions on a geographical basis, going from the north to south after they have concluded in Birmingham. Although the committee decided in the main not to hear national issues first, they have agreed to hear from a noise expert from the HS2 action groups early into the process, after they visit a sound lab.
In the last week, a lot of petitioners have been complaining about the fact that HS2 Ltd want them to sign up for a secure email system to view the document outlining the response from HS2 Ltd to their petition. While the Committee did not order HS2 Ltd to scrap this system, they ‘strongly urged’ HS2 Ltd to allow petitioners to be contacted by post or normal email. The way the Committee announced this, we would expect that petitioners will have to be proactive and say they do not want to use the secure system by emailing SystemsPMOTeam@hs2.org.uk
Perhaps the most significant revelation was concerning ‘additional provisions’. At some point, HS2 Ltd are going to make ‘additional provisions’, which are intended to be amendments to the current plans. In many cases will be making right current mistakes, but will also incorporate changes in the design, such as the rebuild for Euston. It had been suggested that places subject to additional provisions, which when announced will trigger a new period for people to submit written petitions, should be skipped over as they will mean petitions from some places are heard twice. However, the Committee has decided not to do this as in the words of Chair Robert Syms MP “Almost all localities will be subject to additional provisions.”. This could significantly increase the time petitions will take to be heard, and could give some petitioners a second chance to petition.
- The committee will sit on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays 9.30-12.30 (11.30 Weds) and 2.00-5.00. Some Thursday afternoons may be cut in place of additional Tuesday evening sessions.
- The committee will not meet during the summer holidays, but may meet in some recess periods. They have already stated they will meet in w/c 15th September, when Parliament is in recess due to the Scottish Independence Referendum on the 18th.
- With each area, the Committee will hear petitions in this order: County/unitary councils, district/borough councils, parish/town councils, community groups, businesses, individuals.
Stop HS2 Campaign Manager Joe Rukin said:
“The people who have submitted almost 2000 petitions against HS2 now know what is coming. We welcome the chance to put our case to the Committee, as no-one has been listening for the last four years, and we are certain that they will, and they will be shocked by how badly HS2 has been planned. It is amazing that the Committee think almost everywhere will be hit by ‘additional provisions’, and this just shows that HS2 has been rushed through so far and HS2 Ltd haven’t been competent enough to get things right. The Committee will see this as clear as day.”
“We are surprised that HS2 Ltd have decided to schedule 22 hours to challenge the right of people to be heard. We would think that as are such widespread powers in the Bill, even people on Phase 2 of the route can easily say they are affected, so it will be interesting to see what they come up with, but we are ready for the challenge.”
Penny Gaines, chair of Stop HS2 said
“We are very pleased that the committee have listened to what people objecting to HS2 have said about overall timetabling issues. However we are concerned that they may be relying too much on HS2 Ltd, for both expert advice and on detailed timetabling issues. Since HS2 was announced, individuals affected have been brushed off on the grounds will be able to make their points about the devastation HS2 will cause their lives during construction and operation to the bill committee. But with HS2 Ltd in charge of timetabling we are really concerned these individuals will not have time to make the details of their case clear to the committee.”
“In addition, HS2 Ltd have used spin and obsfuscation to hide the downsides of HS2. We are concerned that the committee may end up with a one-sided view of many of the issues people are raising, unless they have their own experts in these matters.”