Last week, HS2 Ltd announced they were looking for a construction commissioner who will be able to look into complaints from residents during the construction of HS2. On the face of it HS2 Ltd do seem to be learning from their mistakes, as unlike the Reisdents Commissioner who doesn’t talk to residents and reports directly to the HS2 CEO, this commissioner is to be managed outside of HS2 Ltd.
Although it’s not specified what exactly the independent body will be, the job specification does confirm the commissioner will be independent both of HS2 Ltd and the Secretary of State for Transport. While this has to be seen as a specific plus point, what detracts from this, and probably makes the post entirely toothless is what the commissioner won’t be able to do.
First of course is that the commissioner will not be able to look at any complaints until they have been through HS2 Ltds internal complaints procedure, whatever that will be. Given the record of HS2 Ltd so far in responding to any sort of query, and adding in the scale of the project once underway, it isn’t hard to believe that when the commissioner is actually able to start looking at complaints, it will already be too late to do anything about them.
It would also seem that complaints regarding construction traffic are not within the remit, as specifically exempted are “Complaints relating to planning conditions and other matters that are subject to the approval of statutory authorities”. Settlement deeds are exempted, so tough luck if your house falls into a hole. In fact tough luck if your house falls into a hole on two counts, as the commissioner will not be able to look into claims for losses of over £10,000.
However, the exemption which could potentially give a get out clause for more or less everything is the line that the commissioner will not cover “Matters considered by Parliament in approving the project”. With there having been almost two years worth of petitions brought before the committee of MPs looking into the HS2 Bill, with the Lords still to come, surely almost every conceivable issue regarding the construction of HS2 has been put before Parliament, and therefore considered by Parliament, no matter how much petitioners may well feel they were ignored?
If this interpretation is employed by HS2 Ltd, and those of us who have been dealing with them for almost six years wouldn’t put anything past them, then the process of petitioning could be even more self-defeating than is currently felt. It could well be that the very fact a petitioner has gone before the committee and said “This issue hasn’t been thought through properly and is clearly going to cause more problems when construction actually happens” could be the very thing that prevents the commissioner investigating when those problems do happen.
The full list of exemptions from the remit of the commissioner is:
- complaints that have not first been considered by the nominated undertaker’s helpdesk;
- complaints relating to works that are not part of, or associated with, the HS2 project;
- complaints relating to planning conditions and other matters that are subject to the approval of statutory authorities;
- matters considered by Parliament in approving the project;
- matters dealt with by the Office of Rail Regulation, and operational rail matters dealt with by train operating companies and passenger watchdogs;
- matters under investigation by the Health and Safety Executive;
- complaints relating to property compensation issues; claims for losses over £10,000;
- complaints relating to settlement deeds (see Information Paper C3: Ground Settlement & C10: Small Claims Scheme for further details);
- the operation of the HS2 railway or services;
- or matters relating to HS2 Safeguarding Directions.
The full information paper on the Construction Commissioner can be found here.