The Information Commissioner has ruled that a Project Assessment Review, which gave HS2 it’s first amber-red rating must be released in both the public interests, and to comply with Environmental Information Regulations. The review took place in November 2011, and is not due to be released until 2 years after compilation. There have since been another two assessments carried out by the Majority Projects Authority (June ’12 & Nov ’12) which have also rated HS2 as an amber-red risk, with another review due this month (June ’13). The Government could be forced to publish in full all the amber-red assessments of HS2 as a result of the ruling.
Dr Paul Thornton from Burton Green, near Kenilworth in Warwickshire, initially requested publication of the report which provides the details of why HS2 was given an amber-red rating under the Freedom of Information Act in May 2012, and after a series of challenges, the information commissioner has ruled in his favour and demanded the Cabinet Office release the information in the public interests. The Cabinet Office has previously defended non-release of the data under environmental rules because it did not contain any information relevant to the environment, but the commissioner made it clear that HS2 has environmental implications.
The description of an amber-red rating is; “Successful delivery of the project is in doubt, with major risks or issues apparent in a number of key areas. Urgent action is needed to ensure these are addressed, and whether resolution is feasible”. There have now been three consecutive amber-red ratings. The Information Commissioner made his ruling on 6th June, meaning the Government have until 4th July to respond or appeal.
Today (10th June 2013), a legal appeal against HS2 on environmental grounds will commence, whilst HS2 Ltd continues a road show on its environmental statement consultation, with an event in Kenilworth.
Campaigners are now calling for the three Major Project Authority (MPA) reports which have all rated HS2 as ‘amber-red’, along with the one due this month, to be published before MPs debate a planned paving bill in Parliament. Campaigners are concerned that a vote on what they dub a ‘blank cheque’ for HS2 will be rushed through before the publication of these reports and before the Public Accounts Committee debate the highly critical National Audit Office report on HS2, which is due to take place on July 1st.
Stop HS2 Campaign Manager Joe Rukin said:
“The Government have tried as hard as they can to keep the fact that HS2 has had three consecutive amber-red assessments buried, with not even the first hint that they would actually disclose the details of the reports. All we know is the overall ratings, not any of the detail. The Information Commissioner has been very clear, the details of why the Major Projects Authority think HS2 is a disaster waiting to happen must be released in the public interests. It is a disgrace to think that even MPs wouldn’t be told just how badly the project has been thought through before being asked to sign a blank cheque for it. It is not in the public interests and therefore completely undemocratic to withhold this information, the reports must be released, and the Public Accounts Committee must have their say before there is any vote on HS2.”
Dr Paul Thornton said:
“The details of why HS2 got its amber red warnings should be fully shared with the whole country, especially MPs who are being asked to vote on the project. It is not acceptable to say one thing in public while withholding their private reality.”
The text of the ruling from the Information Commissioner can her found here; http://stophs2.org/?attachment_id=8673 The Government has 28 days to appeal the ruling.