The Government is trying to gag the two national groups opposing HS2, by challenging their right to appear in front the committee of MPs which will examine the details of the HS2 Hybrid Bill (the legislation required to build the line from London to Birmingham). HS2 Action Alliance and Stop HS2 both received official notice from Government solicitors late on Friday 20th June that they were opposing their right to be heard by the Hybrid Bill Committee, despite the fact both groups have already appeared before the Committee, when they were called to give evidence at their first public session on Tuesday May 13th.
The two groups represent over 100 action groups across the country opposing the £50 billion line, and work closely with councils, individuals and businesses affected by HS2. There will be now be hearings to decide whether Stop HS2, HS2 Action Alliance and other groups and individuals whose ‘locus standi’ has been challenged can petition, and explain in detail the failures of the current plans in terms of environmental damage, impact of noise, poisoning drinking water and property blight. These hearings will take place over four days in July.
As well as both groups having already been called to give evidence to the HS2 Hybrid Bill Committee, they were also approached to give evidence by two other committees in the House of Commons: the HS2 Paving Bill Committee and the Environmental Audit Committee. Stop HS2 also requested to be heard by the House of Lords Standing Orders Committee, who agreed with the argument that the consultation on the HS2 Environmental statement should be extended, following a catalogue of errors from HS2 Ltd.
Commenting in the Government’s attempts to neuter the democratic process, Joe Rukin, Stop HS2 Campaign Manager said;
“We are absolutely amazed that the Government wants to block us from giving evidence to the Hybrid Bill Committee. We work on behalf of over 100 action groups, yet HS2 Ltd are trying to claim that we do not represent anyone affected by HS2! I would have thought that as the HS2 Hybrid Bill Committee, like the Environmental Audit Committee and the HS2 Paving Bill Committee before them, approached us and asked us to appear before them as representatives of those affected by HS2, it has already been accepted that we represent those affected by HS2.”
“After we gave evidence to the Hybrid Bill Committee in May, they agreed with our suggestion that a sound expert from our side should be called early in the process, and they agreed with the point made via correspondence that plans for a secure email system should be scrapped. When we went to the Lords Standing Orders Committee, they agreed with us that the environmental consultation should be extended, and it is also the case that the Environmental Audit Committee agreed with pretty much everything we said when they made their report, so it’s pretty clear why HS2 Ltd and the Government don’t want us to give evidence, because we know what we are talking about and they have seen that Parliamentarians have listened to us in the past. It is that simple, HS2 Ltd do not want us to appear because they fear what we will say, and are trying to squirm away from MPS hearing the truth about their incompetence and arrogance over the last four years.”
Hilary Wharf, Director, HS2 Action Alliance, added;
“We’ve got used to being insulted by Ministers and treated with contempt by HS2 Ltd but the Government is sinking to new lows by trying to deny us the right to explain to the Hybrid Bill committee the very serious issues with the current plans. We’ve spent four years studying HS2 and have a very clear and practical set of recommendations that need to be considered.”
“But of course if you know that what you are selling is fatally flawed you are tempted to resort to any action, democratic or not, to make sure that you force it through. It is sadly just further evidence that HS2 is all about politics rather than transport.”
“This is the last in a series of undemocratic actions from the Government as they try to force through the highly controversial line with the absolutely minimum of public scrutiny. Previously a veto last used in the Iraq war was used to keep the findings of a Major Projects Authority report secret as they would have caused the Transport Minister, Patrick McLoughlin ‘political and presentational difficulties’. The Government has also rejected the findings of independent Parliamentary bodies and committees on HS2 including the National Audit Office, the Public Accounts Committee and the Environmental Audit Committee.”