(… 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.
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.
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 …)