Since the announcement to change the route of Phase 2b of HS2 through Yorkshire, there has been one ‘fact’ HS2 Ltd have claimed that has led to more derision and scratching of heads than any other – that the new route will impact fewer properties than the old one.
Charitably, we’ve always thought that maybe when they were sat in their offices in London, looking at out of date maps from 2011, HS2 Ltd engineers may well have thought that was true. This was because the maps they had didn’t include the new houses and other things that had been built since 2011, a point which we, and others such as the Chesterfield Canal Trust, had made when they used out of date maps during the Phase 2 consultation in 2013.
But it seems there is more to it than just the sheer incompetence, which meant HS2 Ltd only knew of the existence of the Shimmer Estate in Mexborough a week before they announced what has become known as the ‘M18 Route’. As all those who have had HS2 dumped on them last year will sadly come to learn, what is at work here is not just incompetence, but what can only be described as a bare faced lie.
In November 2016, S D Cross sought to get to the bottom of things, submitting a request under the Freedom of Information Act to get the facts, specifically asking for a number of properties in each community within various distances of the 2013 consultation route and the M18 route, and a parallel request was made regarding the number of actual people impacted by the two HS2 proposals via Yorkshire. The second request received the same outcome as the first one [below], but categorically made sure HS2 Ltd knew this was a matter of public trust, stating:
“On 2nd November 2016, Paul Griffiths, HS2 Phase 2 Development Director, stated in a news items on the ITV Calendar regional new programme that there would be ‘two thirds more people within 100 metres of the route on the Meadowhall [2013 consulted] route than there are on the M18 eastern route [announced 7th July 2016]’.”
The response from HS2 Ltd to the first request tells you everything you need to know about how HS2 Ltd operate:
“I confirm that we do not hold the information in relation to your request of the breakdown, by category and by community, of the number of residential properties for the Meadowhall 2013 consulted route nor the M18 eastern route. Based on indicative appraisal, the number of dwellings within 100m of the surface route for an alternative Meadowhall route is approximately 1,000 and 600 for the M18 route. Based on indicative appraisal, at this very early stage in design, there are broadly 40% fewer dwellings within 100m of the surface route for the M18 route compared to an alternative Meadowhall route. The numbers and percentages provided are estimates.”
So basically, not only has the ‘fact’ there are fewer homes and people impacted by the new route been totally guessed, even that isn’t true, as there was never a comparison between the M18 route and the 2013 route the public were consulted on, but the guessed comparison was between the M18 route and ‘an alternative Meadowhall route’, i.e. a route that no-one outside of HS2 Ltd has ever seen. Just to absolutely confirm that HS2 Ltd do not have the information Griffiths went on TV purport as a ‘fact’, the FOI responses both include this statement:
“Where we have stated that we do not hold the information we are relying on EIR exception 12 (4)(a) which is subject to a public interest test. However, the Information Commissioner’s Office recognises that it can be impossible to do a meaningful public interest test (PIT) if the information is not held.”
Not surprisingly this made S D Cross rather cross, responding:
“The 7th July 2016 M18 Eastern Route is being promoted by HS2 Limited as one that has lower adverse impact on residential property, from Sheffield to Leeds, than the previously consulted 2013 Meadowhall route. The purpose of my FOI request was to confirm, beyond doubt, the validity of HS2 Limited’ claim by directly comparing the impact numbers for the first consulted scheme against those for the second consulted scheme.”
“Not only have HS2 Limited confirmed (or potentially falsely claimed) that they do not hold the information regarding impact, they have added insult to injury by making a comparison to ‘an alternative’ Meadowhall route, and not the 2013 consulted Meadowhall route that is the subject of my FOI request, against which the M18 Eastern Route is currently being promoted by HS2 Limited.”
“The reply to this freedom of information request is therefore entirely misleading to Government, stakeholders and the general public and it appears that the M18 Eastern Route is being promoted by HS2 Limited under false pretences. We are now at consultation stage and confirmation of the number of properties that would be adversely impacted on both routes, the M18 Eastern Route, and the 2013 consulted Meadowhall route, from Sheffield to Leeds, urgently requires clarification in order for a fair and just consultation to take place.”
“If you do not currently hold this information, it is in the interest of Government, stakeholders and the general public that HS2 Limited should forthwith undertake a count and publicise the numbers in a transparent manner that facilitates simple verification of the numbers, one scheme versus the other, by individuals, stakeholders and Government. If this information is not provided, the current consultation process may be placed in jeopardy.”
Cross subsequently submitted requests for internal reviews, responses to which came this week. Regarding the question of how many people live near the route, HS2 Ltd have stuck to their ‘we do no hold this information’ stance, confirming that Paul Griffiths lied through his teeth when he went to TV.
With their response to the number of houses impacted, HS2 Ltd have pulled a trick which was been commonplace on Phase 1, saying they didn’t publish their alternative updated Meadowhall route ‘to avoid unnecessary blight’, and that despite it was subject to the 2013 consultation, they never knew how many houses were impacted by the original route.
However, they have promised that at least for the full length of the M18 route and the unknown Meadowhall route, they will try and figure out how many houses are impacted, saying they hope to have this information this week, on Friday 13th January.
We eagerly await the outcome!