HS2 Chair Jumps Ship as Lords Deliver Final Report

It has been revealed that the chair of HS2 Ltd, Sir David Higgins, will leave his post next year, on the same day (15th December 2016) that the House of Lords Committee has published its’ final report on Phase 1 of the project, saying more compensation should be made available in urban areas, HS2 Ltd should communicate better, and that a ‘catch-all’ compulsory purchase power should be deleted.

Less than an hour after the Lords Committee published their conclusions after six months of hearing petitions, The Guardian reported that Higgins will become chairman of Gatwick Airport in January, but will stay in post at HS2 Ltd into the New Year, until a replacement for himself and CEO Simon Kirby, who has taken a job with Rolls Royce, are found.

On Monday, Higgins told MPs that HS2 Ltd should look at offering loyalty bonuses to keep people at the company, despite his basic salary being £240,000 for a three day week and Kirby being the highest paid civil servant in the country on £775,000.

Kirby accepted his job with HS2 Ltd in January 2014, but controversially did not join take post until June 2014, meaning he could cash in on a £300,000 ‘loyalty bonus’ from Network Rail. Both he and Higgins were accused at the time by Stop HS2 of leaving Network Rail before the true extent of the mess they had left behind was discovered, which we believe is being repeated now with HS2.

Today also saw the publication of the report from the Lords HS2 Hybrid Bill Committee, which includes amendments that mean that of the Lords pass the Bill with their proposed changes in a month or so, the Bill will have to return to the House of Commons.

The only substantive amendment to the Bill which is proposed is to remove Sections 1-3 of Clauses 48, which would have enabled any future Secretary of State for Transport to issue a compulsory purchase order in regard to any piece of land he or she felt could be developed or regenerated as a consequence of HS2 being built.

There are very few other cases whereby the committee have actually made a direction, using language such as: “We urge the promoter to engage effectively”, “We hope that negotiations can proceed smoothly”, and “We urge that strenuous efforts are made.”

This is the case with a recommendation that homeowners in urban areas have access to discretionary compensation which is available in rural areas, stating:

“We make a strong recommendation, therefore, that those households in Camden, and any in Hillingdon and Birmingham, that are so threatened by construction noise as to be entitled to noise insulation, should be treated in the same way as if they were within 120m of the line of route in an area  where the Rural Support Zone (RSZ) applies. Eligibility to noise insulation is an objective test, involving independent experts.  At Old Oak Common we have specified streets, in view of the wholly exceptional disruption in that area.”

With there being about 1,300 dwellings eligible for noise insulation in Camden, this would affect around 1,500 homeowners, if it were to be agreed to by Government.

There was some criticism for HS2 Ltd, not communicating well with residents, and in many cases sending correspondence on the eve of hearings, but it seemed that the Committee had mostly accepted what HS2 Ltd had said, even going so far as to say “Petitioners who were not persistent about making progress towards a solution may have been storing up trouble for themselves”

The Committee also decided to ignore the report by Natural England that the House of Commons HS2 committee had asked for, and in the case of ancient woodland, they bizarrely criticised the Woodland Trust, saying:

“It is a large and well-respected body, but we were surprised and disappointed by the negativity of its evidence. It was very critical of the promoter, twice using the word “woeful”. That seems unduly harsh in view of the promoter’s achievement.”

The ‘achievement’ cited was that HS2 Ltd had saved one woodland in the Chilterns, as a result of connecting two tunnels to make a longer tunnel, despite the fact 68 other ancient woodlands would be impacted by Phase 1 of the scheme.

Joe Rukin, Stop HS2 Campaign Manager responded:

“After David Higgins and Simon Kirby joined HS2 Ltd, it became abundantly clear that they had jumped ship at Network Rail before the true extent of the mess they had left behind was realised, and now the same rats are doing the same thing with HS2 Ltd, whilst bemoaning that their exorbitant salaries are not exorbitant enough. Higgins and Kirby were brought in to HS2 Ltd with a remit of reducing costs and speeding up the process, and on every count they have failed, with costs rising, increasing delays and cuts to the project. It is only when they, and the politicians who have let them get away with it, are gone that just how big the mess they’ve left behind will be realised.”

“Whilst the Lords Committee have made some positive noises, most of what they have proposed are recommendations which the Government can, and if past experience is anything to go by, will, ignore completely. It also seems very much that they took the side of HS2 Ltd in most instances, with the Chair even saying it had been a ‘joint effort’ to the HS2 Ltd barrister when publishing the report. At the start of the process, many felt that the committee had already decided they wanted to get through things as quickly as possible, maybe do something about the many issues surrounding Camden, and little else. Besides making a recommendation about urban compensation, they seem to have come up with next to nothing.”

Penny Gaines, Chair of Stop HS2 added:

“It seems that the House of Lords committee think that HS2 Ltd can do no wrong.  They praise HS2 Ltd for their engagement efforts in Camden with a list of activities that started in May 2015, but ignore the fact that HS2 Ltd had had five years before that to engage with the communities.   They seem to think that any problems that people have are their own silly fault for not engaging with HS2 Ltd, whilst saying that individuals had to be persistent and that HS2 Ltd would often fail to respond for months.” 

“It is good that the committee criticise HS2 Ltd for offering deals at the last moment.  This has caused immense stress for people, and has also been criticised by a number of other people, including Members of Parliament such as Cheryl Gillan”.

“It’s really disappointing that the committee have been so lacklustre on the environmental issues.  They decided to ignore the report by Natural England that the House of Commons HS2 committee had asked for.  They seem to think that HS2 Phase 2 will automatically be better than HS2 Phase 1, but clearly aren’t aware that Phase 1 effectively tore up the Kent Principles on environmental issues used for HS1.” 

“What’s more they say they are “surprised and disappointed” by critical evidence from the Woodland Trust who they acknowledge as “well-respected”.  But the committee don’t seem to have realised that maybe other people and organisations, including the Woodland Trust, have found HS2 Ltd very difficult to deal with.“

On the subject of David Higgins new role at Gatwick airport, Penny Gaines, chair of Stop HS2 said:

“Like rats leaving a sinking ship, the so-called top team from HS2 Ltd are scuttling off to other high paid jobs as fast as they can.  They clearly don’t want to be around when HS2 starts being built.

“For the last few years Higgins and Kirby have been declaring that HS2 will be built to time and budget, even though the budget has already gone up twice and Royal Assent has been delayed by two years.  But now that someone has to actually build HS2, they are off and leaving the mess for someone else to clear up.”

5 comments to “HS2 Chair Jumps Ship as Lords Deliver Final Report”
  1. Pingback: Cutting out the old wood, part 7 | HS2 and the environment

  2. I’d like to understand what can I do to stop this madness. I do agree that the communication is pathetic. My heart almost skipped a bit when I received a generic leaflet in which it wasn’t clear at all if my house was involved. I had to find better maps (thanks to google certainly not HS2 Ltd) to check that I’m out of the safeguarding zone by few tenths of meters. I didn’t even think it would go ahead… never for a minute I thought construction would cut through southern Manchester and that people cannot apply for need to sell if they didn’t pay attention to what schizophrenic governments decided 6 years ago.

  3. Parish Councils can establish the Community Forums to ensure there are good communications and understanding between all the people directly impacted and all the local people in the community delayed and disturbed by the HS2 works. The two Houses of Parliament have let the nation down with this poorly formed scheme that is now entering more of your real daily lives with more concern to communities and people. You will need to act as one Parish to understand and resolve all issues for a decade.

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