Late in the evening of Monday 22nd February, the HS2 Hybrid Bill Select Committee published their final report on HS2. After nearly two years of petitioning and hearing from nearly 1,600 petitioners, the committee declined to recommend many changes, and the changes they did recommend were minor most changes recommended.
In addition to five changes highlighted in a public session earlier on Monday, the committee also criticised the environmental approach from HS2 Ltd, including that it was up to HS2 Ltd and the Department for Transport to decide whether an environmental effect was significant. Finally the committee recommended a review of the process of Hybrid bills, citing the ‘Victorian language’ required, and the need for petitioners to both deposit paper copies of petitions in Parliament and to appear in person before the Select Committee.
The report can be downloaded from the committees website: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cmhs2/129/129.pdf
The Committee’s recommendations, outlined in the report, include:
- a longer Chilterns bored tunnel with a north portal at South Heath;
- greater noise protection for Wendover;
- better construction arrangements in Hillingdon;
- a remodelled maintenance depot at Washwood Heath to maximise local job opportunities; and
- amendments to the operation of the discretionary compensation schemes with a view toward greater fairness and a more functional property market in areas near to the proposed line.
The next stage of the process is line by line scrutiny of the bill be a separate Parliamentary committee. If it passes third reading, the stages will be repeated in the House of Lords.
Penny Gaines, chair of Stop HS2, said,
“Since HS2 was first announced, ordinary people affected have tried to engage with HS2 Ltd to solve issues with the plans that affected them. But they were fobbed off because they were told the HS2 committee would look at them. However in many cases the committee have gone along with the scheme as presented to them.
“The committee flagged up huge environmental concerns, and they are right to be concerned that it is HS2 Ltd who get to decide whether an environmental effect is significant or not. They also flagged up the lack of independent environmental input. This was left to charities like the Woodland Trust and the Wildlife Trusts.
“The committee recognised that petitioning has put a huge pressure and financial costs on many people. And they are right to recognise that the Victorian language and complex procedures of petitioning, including the need to go in person to the Houses of Parliament, belong to a bygone era. However we are concerned that replacement procedures will give too much weight to making MPs lives easier, and not enough weight to the people who are directly affected by infrastructure schemes like HS2.”
Stop HS2 Campaign Manager Joe Rukin responded:
“Two years ago, we had great hopes that the HS2 Committee would see how badly planned HS2 has been and make significant changes. However, after almost two years, next to nothing has been demanded by the committee, and those changes which have been made are minor. In their summing up almost two years of sittings, the committee mentioned just five places where they have asked for improvements to the design and construction of HS2, as well as asking for the compensation scheme to work better.
“The way petitioning has operated has meant that some local authorities and large landowners, who could afford barristers have got limited concessions, but the general public and environmental organisations have largely been ignored, as they have been for the last six years.
“We are incredibly disappointed that the feelings of communities along the route of HS2 have largely been ignored, as HS2 has been railroaded through. We can only hope the House of Lords take our concerns more seriously when petitioning there starts in a couple of months.
“Besides asking for a couple of extra studies here and there, they have very much decided that the big issues petitioners brought up are irrelevant and that HS2 Ltd can be trusted. People who have had to deal with HS2 Ltd over the last six years have been ignored and downtrodded, but after hearing over a thousand people repeat that point over the last two years, the MPs have decided that HS2 Ltd can be trusted.”