A busy few months
It has been a while since I have updated you on HS2, but this has been because it has been a very busy few months.
Towards the end of last November the Government finally got the Phase 1 hybrid Bill into the House of Commons; you may have read about the 50,000 page document in multiple volumes that was published in support of the Bill as required by environmental law. This Environmental Statement (ES), although rather daunting by virtue of its sheer size and technical complexity, provides a valuable, if not entirely balanced, assessment of the impact that HS2 would have on our local environment. It is the outcome of the detailed environmental impact assessment that HS2 Ltd has undertaken along the whole route between London and the West Midlands.
The procedures of the House of Commons require that the ES is subjected to a public consultation and a report summarising the feedback from this consultation is written to inform Members of Parliament before the hybrid Bill can be debated at Second Reading. This consultation, which is the reason why things have been a trifle hectic for us, has now finished and we are waiting for the summary report. The consultation period was originally scheduled to end in January, but HS2 Ltd made some errors in depositing information and the Government had to accept an extension to 27th February, so already the Bill is “running late”.
Submitting our views
Although we have had a number of opportunities to submit our comments to a public consultation on HS2 in the past four years, the one that we have just completed was rather different. Previously the consultations have all been run by HS2 Ltd on behalf of the Government, and it is the Government that has been judge and jury on the outcome. This latest consultation has given us, for the first time, the opportunity to address our comments direct to parliamentarians; we will have to wait and see whether this produces a more satisfactory outcome.
Our submission to the consultation was a joint effort by our local community, supported by the following organisations:
Cubbington Action Group against HS2
Cubbington Parish Council
Eathorpe, Hunningham, Offchurch and Wappenbury Joint Parish Council
Offchurch HS2 Action Group
Weston-under-Wetherley Parish Council
The parliamentary process ahead
The next big event will be the Second Reading in the House of Commons of the hybrid Bill for the London to West Midlands section of HS2. The earliest that we can expect this to take place is the end of April. This hybrid Bill will eventually give HS2 Ltd all of the powers that it needs to construct the railway, including compulsory purchase and road closures.
The Second Reading will be a very significant milestone in the progress of HS2. If the hybrid Bill clears this hurdle, and we can’t realistically expect that it won’t, then the House of Commons will have given its backing to the project in principle. However, this does not mean that the next government cannot cancel the project, so we will still have hopes that it won’t happen.
Following the Second Reading a Select Committee will sit on the hybrid Bill to consider petitions from organisations and individuals that will be affected by HS2. Petitioners will be able to appear in front of the Select Committee in person to plead their case. If any such petitions are accepted by the Select Committee, then they can recommend that changes are made to the hybrid Bill.
The right to petition
Anybody affected by HS2 can petition, and we hope that you as local residents will take advantage of this procedure. Individuals will find the process quite simple – you do not need to appoint a lawyer and there is plenty of advice on the parliamentary website. Your action group will also be available to help you.
The five local organisations that co-operated to make a submission to the ES consultation are also working together to prepare for petitioning the hybrid Bill to seek improvements that will reduce the impacts upon our local environment. We are hoping to employ a special lawyer, called a parliamentary agent, to help us get the best out of the petitioning process. Although, like any legal advice, this will not be cheap, by sharing the costs between the five organisations we hope to get good value for money.
If the HS2 project goes ahead, the petitioning process will have represented the last chance that we have to seek improvements in the proposals that will lessen the impact. This is an opportunity that we simply cannot afford to miss, and hope that our residents will be right behind our decision to petition. We will also be hoping for financial support from our donors to allow us to meet our legal costs, and if you can help us in this way I will be very grateful.
If you would like to help with a donation please contact our Treasurer, Jan Tye (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Read Peter’s blogs at HS2 and the environment.