Westminster comes to Cubbington, part 2

(… continued from Westminster comes to Cubbington, part 1, posted on 14 Oct 2014).

The biggest problem with multi-site visits of the type that Members of the HS2 Select Committee are undertaking, in their mission to visit communities along the length of the HS2 Phase 1 route, is time constraints. There has been, initially at least, a tendency to over-estimate what can be achieved in a day, particularly with the nights drawing in now, and there are any number of ways that delays can occur on the day to put the whole programme at risk. When I was first told about the proposed visit to Cubbington I was advised that I should plan for the Committee to be with us for twenty to thirty minutes. The itinerary that I had in mind at that stage, which was really the bare minimum, would have been a bit of a squeeze to fit into such a brief visit, to say the least. So I was very relieved to learn, just a few days after the initial meeting with our Member of Parliament had taken place, that there had been a rethink on how much to cram into the first day of the visit, and that our allocation of time in Cubbington had been increased to one hour. This meant that not only could I feel more confident in achieving my programme, but it was possible to squeeze in a further visit that was really a priority but had been sacrificed as being impossible within the original time allocation.

The moral is that if you don’t think that the schedule proposed by the Private Bill Office is feasible, then say so.

With the route to be taken and the sights to be seen being settled, it was then vital to make all the necessary arrangements and ensure that we were fully prepared to get the best out of the visit. This entailed more than just seeking the agreement of landowners, lining up residents prepared to talk to the MPs and arranging for 4×4 vehicles, and drivers, to be available.

One topic that exercised our action group was, bearing in mind the guidelines that we had been given about how residents should conduct themselves in talking with the MPs and HS2 Ltd representatives, how we could control this situation to ensure that the right message was conveyed and that things did not get out of hand? In particular, we felt that we did not want too many residents to take part, risking a disorderly gathering, but, on the other hand, did not want so few residents present as to give the impression of a lack of interest in the local community. The itinerary, which had been published on the Select Committee’s website and so was in the public domain anyway, only provided one possibility for public access to the MPs and that was by the wild pear tree, which is on a public footpath but is about ten minutes’ walk from our village and the nearest road. So we decided to compromise by e-mailing everyone on our contact list with the details and a brief summary of how to conduct themselves – what the e-mail described as “a few pointers for the visit”.

One item of advice that I had been given was to ensure that all points where the proposed route would cross roads over which the Committee’s coach would pass were clearly marked – there are three such crossings in our area and the route planned for the coach would take in all three. Almost since our group was formed, we have ensured that roadside posters have been displayed at these crossings, and these have become a “permanent” reminder for our residents and visitors. These are, of necessity, set back from the roadside, fixed to convenient trees, gates and posts. We felt that we needed something more obvious for the MPs’ visit, and one member of our Group’s management committee and a neighbour of his spent some time on the day before the visit, in not too pleasant weather, putting up temporary signs right at the roadside and stringing out tape – see the photograph below – and went out again soon after the visit to remove all the detritus so that we didn’t get into trouble with the police or local authorities.

Temporary road crossing markers

Temporary road crossing markers

We were also advised that a display board had gone down well with the Members of the Committee on a previous visit and we felt that we should copy this idea. The answer to the problem of where to site a display board was provided by our neighbours in Offchurch. They were planning to unload the coach at their village hall, to give the visitors a comfort break and a chance to talk to local residents, and generously offered us space on a board that they would be setting up in the hall.

As it turned out, the display board became a joint effort with Offchurch, and with our neighbours from Weston under Wetherley also involved. The exhibits included sections of HS2 Ltd “as built” maps annotated to show issues and proposed solutions, a graph showing how the trackbed height throughout our community forum area has been increased significantly since the 2011 consultation – something that I moaned about in my blog A change of heart (posted 18 Apr 2013) – and some photographs, including spring flowers in South Cubbington Wood and the veteran wild pear tree in blossom.

Gathered around the display board in Offchurch village hall

Gathered around the display board in Offchurch village hall

This board appeared to be a success on the day, and one of the MPs even asked for a short presentation of what it contained. The photograph above shows Offchurch HS2 Action Group Chairman Professor Mike Geddes, who blogs on HS2: The Regional Impact, responding to this request. Committee Chairman, Robert Syms MP, is immediately to the left of Mike in the image, in the blue coat.

(To be continued …)

Westminster comes to Cubbington, part 1

For their third trip out of Westminster to familiarise themselves with the proposed route of HS2 Phase 1, the Members of the HS2 Select Committee, plus an entourage of HS2 Ltd employees and others and all ensconced in a coach, visited south Warwickshire and Oxfordshire, over two days. The itinerary published for this visit included an hour to be spent in my home parish of Cubbington.

The arrangements for such trips are at the discretion of the Chairman of the Select Committee, but the preparation of proposals for a provisional programme to be put to him fell to the Commons Private Bill Office, and the staff there, in turn, consulted the Member of Parliament for my area, Jeremy Wright. It was fortunate that Mr Wright considered that it would be prudent to consult the action groups in his constituency about what the Members of the Select Committee should see to make the best use of their time.

So it was that action group representatives, including your blogger, were invited to Mr Wright’s constituency office a little more than three weeks before the visit was due to take place to discuss what we all wanted the Committee to see in our respective local patches. As you may imagine, there was also a fair degree of subsequent e-mail and telephone traffic to fine tune the details right up to the eve of the visit.

My priority for the time spent in Cubbington was to get the Members, at least, to a point in our countryside where they would be on the actual line of route. The best location for this was under the veteran wild pear tree, which has the dual advantages of commanding excellent views across the valley of the River Leam, which HS2 would cross, and being close to the ancient woodland that would be destroyed in South Cubbington Wood. The logistical problem that this posed was that it is a ten-minute walk, each way, from the nearest point accessible by coach. Rather than require the members of the party to slog out and back by foot, and consume valuable time, I proposed that we would provide 4×4 vehicles to give at least the MPs and House of Commons staff a ride in each direction.

This simple proposal turned out to be not so simple, as doubts were expressed about whether MPs would be able to accept lifts from strangers, and, we were told, it would definitely be against HS2 Ltd corporate policy for any employees to take up our transport offer. However, we arranged for vehicles to be available and kept our fingers crossed, and it all worked out on the day.

One of the suggestions that Mr Wright made to the Public Bill Office was that one member of each action group should be allowed to board the coach and act as a guide for the tour through its area. Again, nobody was sure whether this would be allowed, as we had heard that HS2 Ltd preferred to describe the route to the Committee. However, permission for this was granted, although it was not clear precisely what would happen on the coach – would we be fighting HS2 Ltd for control of the microphone, I wondered?

We were fortunate that action groups were due to meet Warwickshire County Council officers and councillors at one of the regular liaison meetings that are held on HS2. One of the Council’s officers had been involved in the previous Select Committee visit to north Warwickshire and she was able to give us some tips about how to present ourselves to the Committee. She had also been present at the earlier meeting in Jeremy Wright’s office.

The advice that we received was that the purpose of the visit was to enable the Members of the Select Committee to experience the lie of the land to assist them with the assessments that they would be called upon to make when our petitions were heard. We were told that we should not consider the visit as an “opportunity to lobby” the Committee, but that Members would be interested to hear the views of local residents. However, we were also warned that “organised moans” and demonstrations of any kind might be counter-productive, and should be avoided and that any barracking of or rudeness to any members of the visiting party was “unlikely to impress the committee”.

It was also impressed upon us that we should organise ourselves to ensure that our concerns were expressed clearly, and that we made sure that we explained our own proposals for improving the situation. To this end, we were advised to nominate a spokesperson, or persons, to lead and “monopolise” any discussions that took place with members of our community. It was stressed to us that any consideration of the rights and wrongs of the HS2 project were outside of the remit of the Select Committee, and that, accordingly, Members would not want to hear representations that it should not go ahead.

(To be continued …)

So it’s not just me then, part 3

(… continued from So it’s not just me then, part 2, posted on 6 Oct 2014).

In the first two parts of this short blog series I have given examples where petitioners have regarded their dealings with HS2 Ltd as unsatisfactory and, judging by these examples, the chances of securing many of the design and mitigation improvements that communities are seeking, and HS2 Ltd says that it is looking to adopt (see footnote), seem pretty slim. However, since the HS2 Select Committee has become involved there are signs that things may be improving on this front.

Even in the example of the petition hearing about Washwood Heath that I discussed in part 2 of this blog series a small chink of light appeared in that both parties agreed to a further interchange of “factual information” before the Select Committee is called upon to “express a view” about the matter. However, I think that it would be wildly optimistic to expect much change in the fairly entrenched positions taken by both parties.

Nevertheless, there are some indications that negotiations are being held with petitioners behind the scenes, and that a degree of agreement has been achieved. The problem in assessing the extent of the successful negotiation is that these talks are being carried out away from the public gaze. The Select Committee does not publish a list of petitioners that have resolved matters with HS2 Ltd, nor does it comment on the progress of negotiations. The only indication that we have of what might be going is the number of public sessions of the Select Committee that are scheduled but are not subsequently held, and petitioners who are scheduled in a session that is held but then do not appear. Apart from a couple of tweets announcing that sessions “will not take place because of negotiations between the petitioners and HS2 Ltd”, the Committee appears willing to leave us to speculate on the outcome of petitions that are not aired, or commented on, in its public sessions.

It is clear, however, that the sessions scheduled to hear petitions in two days in July and in September have been severely disrupted by petitioners electing to withdraw, or possibly only defer, from having their petitions heard as scheduled. There were twenty-one sessions (morning, afternoon or evening) scheduled over this period. Eleven of these sessions were either cancelled outright or did not hear any of the petitions scheduled. Four of these cancelled sessions were explained as being due to “negotiations between the petitioner and HS2 Ltd” in tweets sent by the Committee. The reason for the cancellation of two further sessions also being down to the progress of negotiations was stated, or may be inferred by statements made, in the session previous. The remaining sessions were cancelled without explanation.

Over this period, by my count, nine petitions were heard. This number is somewhat outweighed by the sixteen petitions that have appeared on the Committee’s schedules at some time, but were not, in the event, heard. This must surely indicate that negotiations in the Birmingham area have, in many cases, either secured an outcome that is satisfactory to both the petitioning party and HS2 Ltd, or that at least negotiations are heading in the right direction and are worth sticking with. Perhaps HS2 Ltd is taking a more conciliatory approach to its dealings with petitioners than has been evident in the dismal “community engagement” exercise that preceded petitioning.

However, in the absence of any real feedback from the Committee it is rather difficult to make a judgement on how successful negotiations have been. We only have details of the offer made to a petitioner in the case of the connected submissions by Birmingham City Council and Centro, and that is only because Birmingham City Council has published an announcement that provides this information. I mention this in my blog Lessons from history, part 15 (posted 31 Aug 2014) and speculate therein that the Birmingham City Council and Centro petitions had been withdrawn in accordance with the confirmation requested in a letter detailing the concessions agreed sent on behalf of HS2 Ltd. I have since been told, by a local government source, that hearing the petitions is merely deferred, so perhaps we will still get to see these two petitioners pleading their case to the Select Committee.

Perhaps the most promising sign yet of a change of attitude on the part of HS2 Ltd comes in an announcement that was issued virtually as I was putting this blog together. It appears that the Transport Secretary has approved a change to the design of HS2 Phase 1 near Lichfield. The proposal provides for the lowering of the track to allow it to pass under, rather than over, the A38, the West Coast Main Line and the Staffordshire Line and changing the alignment – I assume the horizontal alignment – to remove two crossings of the Trent and Mersey Canal. The announcement attributes this change to “partnership working between HS2 Ltd and Staffordshire County Council” and acknowledges that these changes “reflect what many local residents and stakeholders, including the Canal & Rivers Trust, requested during the petitioning process”. The announcement makes no reference to what this change means to the cost of building that route section, but it seems unlikely that this will be a cost-saving amendment.

There are, however, indications that HS2 Ltd is being selective in applying its newly-found largesse. Reports from a couple of action groups at the northern end of line indicate that meetings that they have been invited to attend by HS2 Ltd to discuss their petitions have been totally unproductive. It appears that HS2 Ltd has only been sending junior staff to such meetings with no real intention of proposing any changes to HS2 in response to petitioning points. Just like the community forum process before it, these “petition negotiations” are being described by local community participants as a “box ticking” exercise.

Footnote: In paragraph 1.3.1 of HS2 Ltd’s Information Paper G1 one of the aims of the consultation and engagement process is identified as:

“To develop an improved scheme and propose steps to avoid, reduce or, where reasonably practicable, off-set any significant adverse effects that have been identified.”

So it’s not just me then, part 2

(… continued from So it’s not just me then, part 1, posted on 2 Oct 2014).

As one might expect from such a seasoned politician, the Member of Parliament for Birmingham Hodge Hill, the Rt Hon Liam Byrne, treated the Members of the HS2 Select Committee to an assured performance when he appeared before them on the morning of Wednesday 3rd September 2014. Mr Byrne was appearing as a witness for Friends Life Ltd and Axa Real Estate Investment Managers Ltd at the hearing of petition 0295 . This petition objects to the plans in the Phase 1 hybrid Bill to locate the rolling-stock maintenance depot for HS2 at Washwood Heath in Birmingham, which would entail the compulsory purchase of approximately 25ha of land intended for employment development that is currently owned by Friends Life and managed by Axa.

Mr Byrne is involved in this matter because Washwood Heath lies within his constituency, and, according to his evidence, “it’s in the middle of what is the worst unemployment black spot in the entire country” (paragraph 55 of the transcript). He explained to the Committee that since 2010, when the liquidation of LDV made the site occupied by the van builder available, he has been promoting the use of the Washwood Heath site for employment development, which he described as “the opportunity to create a fabulously connected site that could be home to 4,000 jobs” (paragraph 57). These plans had been stymied by the safeguarding of land for the HS2 depot. He credited this intervention by HS2 Ltd as one that would “destroy 1,300 jobs almost immediately”, because the HS2 plans require some businesses currently on the site to relocate out of Mr Byrne’s constituency. He characterised the HS2 project as offering, in return, “the promise of 650 jobs in a decade’s time, if we’re lucky” (paragraph 59).

To use a phrase that appears to be in vogue at the moment, Friends Life and Axa appear to have gotten all of their ducks in a row in promoting their petition. The case they were making was supported by detailed written evidence identifying two alternative sites where the maintenance depot could be located rather than Washwood Heath, and they put up three experts to give oral evidence to the Select Committee: one on rail operational issues, another on the economic and job consequences, and a third on the planning and the market for the site and the planning ability to assemble the site. This evidence included support for their claim that there were substantial capital savings, perhaps in excess of £100million, to be gained from moving away from Washwood Heath (paragraph 226).

It was clear that Mr Byrne felt that HS2 Ltd had not given the alternative proposals suggested by Friends Life and Axa sufficient consideration; he expressed his frustration with the Company’s “refusal to go into any kind of detail around alternatives” (paragraph 106). In fact, it appeared that Mr Byrne felt that HS2 Ltd was closing its corporate mind to the possibility that someone else could have come up with a better way of doing things. He accused the Company of having “locked itself into a position which, foolishly, it’s trying to defend, rather than thinking constructively about different options …” (paragraph 107).

Confirmation of the reluctance of the HS2 Ltd corporate juggernaut to change course was amply provided on the day that followed Mr Byrne’s appearance, when Timothy Smart, International Director for High Speed Rail at CH2M Hill, but seconded to HS2 Ltd as head of engineering and operations, gave evidence against the petition. During his examination-in-chief he gave examples of operational inefficiencies that would result if the location of the maintenance depot was changed. It was suggested to him in cross-examination that the inefficiency of having to run trains to and from northern destinations into Curzon Street before they could access the depot would be avoided if one of the alternative sites was used and HS2 Ltd were to “alter the timetable”. Mr Smart almost seemed incredulous at the very suggestion, saying that it was “not the basis of the timetable” (paragraph 308 of the transcript). He added, should further proof of the corporate intransigence be required (paragraph 310):

“… yes, if you were going to change the whole circulation and the whole way that High Speed 2 operates as a train service, then clearly you would be able to look at other depots, but we are looking at the circulation plan which achieves the requirements that we are trying to achieve.”

The reaction of Mr Smart’s inquisitor, David Elvin QC, to this was to put it to Mr Smart that his answer resulted from the adoption “for several years” by HS2 Ltd of Washwood Heath as “preferred depot” and that, consequently, HS2 Ltd had “designed [its] timetable around” this assumption (paragraph 311).

In my view, both Mr Byrne’s and Mr Elvin’s observations prompt the question of why HS2 Ltd should, apparently, be so unwilling to consider suggestions for improving HS2. In the past I felt that much of this could well be down to the need to get a design, no matter how suboptimal (to use the word coined by Sir David Higgins about the HS2-HS1 link), into the hybrid Bill within a very demanding timescale. However, that was achieved, and now surely there is time for more measured reflection on how things could be changed for the better whilst there is still time. I can only think that the apparent continuing reluctance to do this is due, in some part, to corporate arrogance and an entrenched “not invented here” syndrome.

(To be concluded …)

 

So it’s not just me then, part 1

In part 16 of my blog series Lessons from history, I identified some remarks made in petitions against the HS2 Phase 1 hybrid Bill about the quality of the engagement process with HS2 Ltd. Similar comments are starting to be recorded in the transcripts of the hearings held by the HS2 Select Committee.

The undertones were there right from the very first session that the Committee held to hear petitions. Andrew Tait QC, counsel for Curzon Park Ltd, opened his submission by affirming that his client “welcomes HS2”. However, it was clear that those representing Curzon Park Ltd had been disappointed by their dealings with HS2 Ltd, so far. Mr Tait intimated that his appearance before the Committee should not have been necessary, but had been forced by his client’s requests for “limited comfort” having been ignored by HS2 Ltd (paragraph 14 in the transcript).

On the second day, hostel owner Brian Mullen, petitioning on his own behalf, was more overt in his criticism. He treated the Committee to a fairly detailed appraisal of his experience of the community forum process, which he summarised as follows (paragraph 26 in the transcript):

“It was very frustrating and it seemed that High Speed 2 were just going through a process, ticking boxes and showing they had consulted, but without us really feeling that we had been heard. They were listening but they really weren’t hearing.”

Now I have heard colleagues from the campaign against HS2 express very similar sentiments, using almost identical words, but you might think that such people would find it expedient to criticise HS2 Ltd in any way that they could. However, Mr Mullan is, as far as I am aware, just a regular citizen with no particular agenda against the promoters of HS2, and I have certainly not seen his name connected in any way with the campaign.

Mr Mullan was followed in the same session of the Committee by Phil Burrows, presenting the petition of Friends of the Earth (Birmingham) Ltd. He also appeared to be not entirely satisfied with the community forums, referring to the “very little feedback that we received during the forums” (paragraph 302 in the transcript).

At least one Member of the Select Committee picked up on these signals. In the very same session that we heard from Mr Mullan and Mr Burrows, Yasmin Qureshi MP remarked that witnesses had seemed to be suggesting that “HS2 are really not listening to what people are trying to say”. She went on (paragraph 385 in the transcript):

“[HS2 Ltd has] obviously got a tunnel vision that they want to build their railway, but everything else that happens as consequences of it, the petitioners do not feel they are being listened to, and they feel as if they’re being ignored, and nobody’s actually coming to the table and confidently saying, ‘Look, we will do this’, or ‘We will do that’, or ‘I intend us to do that’. It all seems to be very woolly like, ‘Yes, we will do …’ but nobody wants to deal with (a) the specifics and (b) to answer these people, about what their fears and worries – which seem to be, from what we hear, very justified – that they’re actually being taken seriously.”

These impressions appear to be in marked contrast with what HS2 Ltd thinks it is doing, or rather says that it is doing – I don’t think that even the Company really believes much of what it puts out for public consumption. The latest example of corporate fantasy published by the Company in this context is Information Paper G1, which bears the title Consultation and Engagement. In paragraph 1.1.4 of that document we are informed that “HS2 Ltd has sought to be flexible in its approach and continues to learn from experience”.

In paragraph 1.3.1 the document identifies one of the aims of the consultation and engagement process as:

“To develop an improved scheme and propose steps to avoid, reduce or, where reasonably practicable, off-set any significant adverse effects that have been identified.”

Strangely enough, I think that most petitioners are trying to achieve that very thing, and I am sure will be reassured to learn that this aim is shared by HS2 Ltd. However, I also feel that many petitioners will agree with me that, if this is truly something that HS2 Ltd is trying to achieve, it sure has a very strange way of going about it.

(To be continued …)

 

Low calorie sweeteners

The shutters will shortly be coming down on the sixth – yes our opinions have been sought on an unbelievable six occasions – public consultation on the Government’s property compensation proposals for the HS2 project. This sixth consultation closes at 23:45 hrs on Tuesday 30th September.

Regular readers of this blog may recall that I went to town on my analysis of the 2012 to 2013 consultation for the Phase 1 proposals – that was the one that was required to be rerun on the instructions of a High Court judge – by sixteen postings during December 2012 and January 2013, beginning with Keeping things safe, posted on 29 Dec 2012.

Within a few months we found out that rerunning a consultation was not the same thing as rethinking the proposals. With the exception that the rerun consultation offered an optional property bond scheme, but one that was half-baked and clearly designed to be easily dismissed by the Government subsequent to the consultation, the proposals were the same old ones dusted off and with a few minor tweaks. Nevertheless, I provided a detailed analysis in twelve blogs posted in October and November 2013, beginning with Time to sharpen your pencil, again, posted on 27 Oct 2013.

So you may think it strange that, as the final few grains of sand trickle through the hour glass for the Property Consultation 2014, I have yet to comment on this latest Government exercise in seeking, but apparently subsequently largely ignoring, the views of the general public and interested organisations. I’m afraid that I have found it difficult to get interested in this latest exercise, something that is very much to my discredit, but there have been more interesting – at least to me – events going on that I wanted to bring to your attention. I also have to admit that I am suffering badly from consultation fatigue, made worse by the feeling that it is all a waste of time. However, this is just not good enough; I – and you if you haven’t responded to the consultation yet – need to pull our collective socks up and send in a response whilst there is still time.

If you are looking for a fairly concise critique of the proposals that you can use to craft your own response, then the HS2 Action Alliance (HS2AA) has produced a four-page briefing note. The same organisation has produced a factsheet that summarises facts and figures that you may wish to quote. Alternatively, if you want to avoid the drudge of thinking up your own words, then HS2AA has made available a standard response that only requires you to fill in name, address and e-mail details and click a “submit” button. Stop HS2 has a similar facility, dubbed a “two minute response form”.

As with previous consultations, if you eschew the two “quick” methods provided by the national anti-HS2 campaign organisations, you can submit your loving-crafted personal response in a variety of ways. The Government website offers a consultation response form, in pdf format, that you can download and complete. Completed response forms submitted by post (see footnote) will be accepted if posted on or before the closing date of 30th September, or you can e-mail the form to HS2PropertyConsultation2014@dialoguebydesign.com. Alternatively, you can register to respond on-line.

The consultation document makes it clear that the Government considers the bulk of the compensation regime for HS2 Phase 1 to be settled, and that it is “not re-opening consultation” on the four schemes: express purchase, voluntary purchase, need to sell, and rent back (paragraph 1.1.3). The consultation is aimed at eliciting views on two new proposals that the Government is proposing to add to the discretionary schemes on offer (paragraph 1.1.1). However, I don’t see why this should restrict you from saying what you think about the complete package that will be in force and both of the “quick” methods provided by the national anti-HS2 campaign organisations express dissatisfaction with the “agreed” schemes as well as the two new ones.

Question 1 of the consultation asks for your views on the proposals set out in the consultation document for an “alternative cash offer”. Question 2 is similar, but asks for views on the proposals for a “homeowner payment”.

The alternative cash offer scheme is intended as “an incentive for property owners to remain in the community” (paragraph 2.1.3). However, this alternative will be on offer only to those who already qualify for the voluntary purchase scheme and only as an alternative to selling under that scheme. Those who opt not to sell would become eligible for a cash offer of 10% of the unblighted market value of their property, subject to a minimum payment of £30,000 and a maximum of £100,000. To describe the alternative cash offer scheme as somewhat unambitious in its scope is probably to flatter it. The HS2AA briefing note estimates that the owners of as few as 348 properties may come within the scope of the voluntary purchase scheme and, thus, be eligible to opt for the alternative cash offer. Setting the cash payment at 10% means also that the cash on offer is unlikely to bridge the gap between unblighted and blighted market value in most cases.

The homeowner payment scheme also offers a cash payment that is, bizarrely, intended, according to paragraph 3.1.2 of the consultation document, to enable some people who would be affected by HS2 to “share in the benefits of HS2, as it would run near them but will not provide them with a direct benefit”. Again the offer is somewhat underwhelming. Whilst it is welcome in that it provides some relief for the owners of properties farther than 120 metres from the line, it only extends the cut-off to 300 metres. The sums on offer are also very miserly. The HS2AA briefing note characterises the claim that the scheme is aimed at allowing HS2-blighted home owners to share in the benefits of HS2 as “absurd” and “an affront to those affected”. According to HS2AA the cash to be shared out by this scheme will amount to £20million, which is “tiny [at] 0.1% of the claimed benefits for phase 1”.

What is clear is that neither of these schemes should be considered as paying compensation. No attempt has been made in the consultation document to relate the level proposed for payments to actual loss. In this respect the proposals do not appear to adhere to the principle of equivalence – a cornerstone of the Government’s statutory compensation policy – that I explained in my blog Crumbs of comfort (posted 4 Jan 2013). All in all it is difficult to see the proposals as anything other than sweeteners, and as I suggest in the title of this blog, if they are sweeteners they don’t have much calorific value.

Footnote: The postal address for responses is:

Freepost RTET-YGJB-GUAY
HS2 Property Consultation 2014
PO Box 70718
London
WC1A 9HS

 

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, part 4

(… continued from Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, part 3, posted on 20 Sep 2014).

Tim Mould QC, lead counsel for the promoter, can be very persuasive. Certainly, when cross-examining Charles Gillett FRICS, witness for the Gooch Estate, in front of the HS2 Select Committee on the evening of Monday 1st September (see footnote), his skills in this respect were working at full power. He was trying to convince Mr Gillett that the Gooch Estate had nothing to fear from the proposed Clause 47 of the HS2 Phase 1 hybrid Bill. Indeed, according to Mr Mould, the clause had the potential to convey positive benefits to the Gooch Estate and its plans to contribute to the redevelopment of the Digbeth area of Birmingham.

It appeared that his efforts had been rewarded when Mr Gillett eventually conceded that any assistance that the Transport Secretary might be able to offer potential landowner/developers under the provisions of Clause 47 could possibly be of benefit, “in a situation where it’s used to acquire interest to make up a development site”. However, Mr Mould was really pushing at an open door because the Gooch Estate concedes in paragraph 28 of its petition (0458) that “Clause 47 could be a helpful tool for areas around stations where plans for redevelopment are not forthcoming and where land ownership is fragmented”.

However, the Gooch Estate expresses, in the same paragraph of its petition, the view that such a helping hand from the Transport Secretary would be “entirely inappropriate for an area such as Digbeth where the local planning authority and local landowners are entirely in favour of regeneration and are promoting plans themselves with input from local people and where land is owned by a small number of larger landowners … who are engaged in the regeneration process”.

What the Gooch Estate is seeking is an undertaking that the powers afforded by Clause 47 will not be employed “in relation to any land belonging to” the Gooch Estate (paragraph 29 of the petition) and this is what Mr Gillett held out for, despite Mr Mould’s powers of persuasion . So it was a case of no more Mr Nice Guy from Mr Mould:

“I’m not going to give an assurance, because the Secretary of State has set out his policy …”

So far from there being an undertaking on the cards, Mr Mould could not even see himself able to offer a mere assurance.

At least one member of the Select Committee appeared to think that Mr Mould was possibly being unnecessarily intransigent. Yasmin Qureshi MP put it to Mr Mould that “how you define a broad-range policy is open to interpretation” and asked him if it “wouldn’t be easier to give the reassurances required”. However, her intervention saw no change in Mr Mould’s position.

It was left to Sir Peter Bottomley MP to make the most telling points – I must say that I have been very impressed with Sir Peter’s contribution to the proceedings so far, particularly his astute analysis of the matters that have been argued before him. He asked Mr Mould whether there had been an equivalent to Clause 47 in the HS1 Act and was told that there hadn’t been. He then asked the QC whether he had been instructed “that there have been examples of times when the Promoters or Government would have wished to have had this power in a similar kind of Bill or Act”. Mr Mould had to admit that his instructions had not included “any such particular instances in that respect”.

Sir Peter then put what he described as “an observation” to Mr Mould:

“… if this is a power which Government would find useful, it may be something for primary legislation in a direct Government Bill; presumably the Town and Country Planning Act left it out by some sort of mistake.”

And of course Sir Peter is absolutely right. If the Government wants to change planning law to allow the Transport Secretary to become involved in the planning process then it should do so by amending the relevant planning legislation, not by trying to introduce a back-door measure in a Bill that is seeking Parliament’s specific permission to build a rail link.

I hope that other honourable Members will think the same way when it is time for the line by line examination of the HS2 Phase 1 hybrid Bill. Meanwhile, perhaps the Secretary of State should remind himself of the Tenth Commandment, as expressed in Exodus 20:17 (King James Version):

“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.”

Footnote: The relevant section of Mr Mould’s cross-examination of Mr Gillet starts at paragraph 303 in the transcript and at 20:12 hrs in the video and extends to paragraph 333 in the transcript and 20:22 hrs in the video. Mr Gillett’s admission that Clause 47 could be useful comes in paragraph 316. Mr Mould’s refusal to give an assurance is recorded in paragraph 333. Ms Qureshi’s intervention starts at paragraph 334 and Sir Peter Bottomley’s is reported from paragraph 341 onwards.

 

 

 

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