Yesterday, The House of Commons Hybrid Bill Committee met to decide various issues concerning petitioning. While we don’t know what they will have decided until tomorrow (Thursday 12th June) morning, what we do know is what HS2 Ltd want.
Speaking at the Annual Conference of the Compulsory Purchase Association was Trevor Robertson, who is the Head of Property Acquisitions for Phase 2 of HS2. The first thing of relevance Robertson said was that HS2 Ltd might not be the only body to deliver HS2. This piece of potentially unintended honesty is extremely relevant regarding the issue of potential negotiation between HS2 Ltd and petitioners. Stop HS2 has been very clear since the start that if petitioners do negotiate with HS2 Ltd, they must be wary that ‘assurances’ are pretty much worthless, and petitioners should only be happy with ‘undertakings’, which would be added to the provisions of the Hybrid Bill. The fact that HS2 Ltd might not be the only body responsible for delivery further undermines any ‘assurances’ which they could provide, as if they aren’t then ones who end up being responsible, any new body would be able to completely ignore any ‘assurances’ made by HS2 Ltd.
The big shock was that Robertson said HS2 Ltd are assuming that the Hybrid Bill Committee could get through eight petitions per day. He did qualify that saying each would ‘take as long as it takes’ and that major landowners may take half a day, but assuming that ‘ordinary’ petitioners could be dispensed with at a rate of eight per day seems grossly optimistic. Bearing in mind that when sitting in Parliament, the Hybrid Bill Committee will be at the whim of the division bell which will call them off to vote at sporadic times throughout any given day, a rate of eight per day would mean each petitioner would only get around half an hour, maybe three quarters of an hour to be heard. This just seems totally unrealistic.
The final thing of relevance that Robertson said was that HS2 Ltd will be challenging the locus standi of ‘quite a lot’ of the petitions. Given the widespread scope of the powers contained in the Bill, notably clauses 47 and 52, which have implications all over the country, and also given that HS2 Ltd recognised Action Groups as being representative of communities via the community forum and bilateral processes, it will be interesting to see if ‘quite a lot’ of challenges happen, and on what basis.
We will know more about the petitioning process, but not necessarily the answers to these questions, after the Committee meet on Thursday at 11.05am. You can watch the meeting via this link.