HS2 committee publishes interim report

This morning the HS2 Hybrid Bill Committee published their First Special Report of Session 2014–15, which summarises the interim decisions and observations of the Select Committee on the High Speed 2 Phase One hybrid bill.

The full report can be downloaded from the Select Committee website – click here.

On publishing the report, Robert Syms, Chair of the Select Committee on the High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill, said:

“We hope this report will be of assistance to petitioners and to others involved in this process. This is not the Committee’s final word on these issues but presents a useful opportunity for the Committee to summarise our interim decisions and observations. Our priority is a working ‘Need to Sell’ scheme.”

Some highlights from the report (although we recommend that everyone affected by HS2 read it for themselves):

Need for timely approaches from HS2

…36. We acknowledge that last-minute settlements offers and settlement discussions at the door of the committee room are probably to some extent inevitable. We encourage HS2 Limited to be more timely in its engagement with petitioners, particularly as there is scope to get ahead with preparation of petition response documents during the election period, and with negotiations thereafter.

Tunnelling generally

…75. The merits of tunnels should be assessed on the basis of their own cost and potential benefit, not their percentage contribution to overall project costs. We have requested that the Promoter make available a guide to tunnel costs to assist petitioners arguing the case for more tunnelling

Farm land take, tax issues and alternative mitigation

80. We have directed that the Promoter reconsider the extent of temporary and permanent land take affecting a number of business and residential landowners who have petitioned. We have taken the same view in relation to agricultural land holdings.

81. There are issues around the temporary use of agricultural land such as whether soil and drainage systems are returned in good condition and whether the farmer should have inspection rights during the period of use for construction. We encouraged the Promoter to develop a model that would take account of these issues. HS2 Limited also committed to developing an alternative dispute resolution system.

82. The Promoter has since taken the view that it would prefer to use its powers as temporary user under Schedule 15 to the Bill. The Country Landowners Association (CLA) has objected to this for several reasons, including that there could be inadequate individual liaison with farmers. These issues remain outstanding at the time of this report and will need resolution in the new parliamentary session. The alternative dispute resolution system is in development.

New ‘Need to Sell’ Scheme

…116. We want the scheme to extend in practice to those having a justifiable reason to move, including those motivated by their “age and stage” in life. The desire to release capital to assist family members is one such motivation, and there will be a wide range of others. It is right that applications be supported by appropriate evidence, but to recognise the trauma experienced by some applicants the evidential requirements should be less onerous. Some humane discretion is called for.

117. For example, there should be a mechanism whereby those in areas of particular blight can avoid the need repeatedly to approach local estate agents for evidence of inability to sell. We have written to the independent panel charged with assessing Need to Sell applications, inviting them to work from a set of assumptions on inability to sell in certain such areas. …

118. We have asked that HS2 write to everyone whose application under the Exceptional Hardship Scheme was rejected, inviting them to consider applying under the new scheme. We have also sought information on how extensively the schemes have been advertised. Rejections under the new scheme should endeavour to help applicants consider how to make a successful further application rather than take a negative approach. HS2 Limited should improve their approach to helping applicants….

…121. On 28 February 2015, Dan Byles’ caseworker, Sandy Trickett, sent us a dossier of cases of alleged procedural defects in the valuation and compensation process. We have heard from Jeremy Lefroy MP about similar matters.

122. The dossier raised several matters. One was inconsistency between grounds of refusal for a sequence of applications under the Exceptional Hardship Scheme. The first applications were refused on one basis, with other grounds accepted. Later applications were refused on the basis of the previously accepted criteria. There may have been changes of circumstance, but if not this inconsistency cannot be right and requires investigation.

123. Another issue was the lack of an adequate expedited process in cases of terminal illness. The new scheme must rectify this. We expect urgent applications to be considered urgently….

Going forward

131. A substantial proportion (10–15%) of the cases we heard should be capable of being addressed through a properly working compensation scheme. This should alleviate much of the stress and hardship we heard about. The Select Committee cannot assess the working of the new Phase One Need to Sell scheme without evidence of how well it is working, however. We encourage petitioners who have a wish to move or to be able to move to apply or at least prepare to apply under the Need to Sell and/or other schemes before coming to the Select Committee. We expect that our successor committee will monitor outcomes and seek reports back.

132. We would like the Promoter to try to consider and find an equitable way to deal with cases such as…

134. We want to see the Need to Sell Scheme working—effectively and fairly—long before the end of the Select Committee process. We want a progress report in time for the recommencement of the process after the general election. Applicants may have to accept some element of detriment, but there must be substantial improvements. A primary aim of the scheme must be to give many residents the confidence to stay, ensuring continuity and coherence within their communities. We have not ruled out the possibility of directing implementation of a property bond scheme if such improvements are not forthcoming.

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