Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, part 2

(… continued from Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, part 1, posted on 12 Sep 2014).

So why does the Government think that it needs the “new and unprecedented general power” with which Clause 47 of the HS2 Phase 1 hybrid Bill will empower the Secretary of State for Transport?

The justification, in so far as there is one, may be found in one of the High Speed Two information papers that have been issued to respond, in a general way, to many of the issues that have been raised by petitioners against the hybrid Bill. Paper C.11 in this series, bearing the title Regeneration, Compulsory Purchase Policy and Over Site Development, is the one that we must consult, and specifically section 3 of that document.

That information paper helpfully explains that the Government is looking to local authorities with responsibility for areas surrounding stations and depots that would be developed for HS2 to ensure that “the optimum regeneration proposals” are brought forward for those locations “at the earliest opportunity”. The paper assures us that “local authorities will wish to ensure that such regeneration proposals come forward in a cohesive, comprehensive manner rather than in a piecemeal or opportunistic way”.

The information paper informs that that one factor that local authorities will need to ensure is in place is that “there is appropriate provision of land in the surrounding vicinity of stations and depots and that it is appropriately packaged to achieve the wider ambitions of the area”. The information paper concedes that a local authority has the power of compulsory purchase granted by Part 9 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (TCPA) to facilitate the acquisition of the land in such circumstances. Specifically, section 226, subsection (1) of the TCPA permits such purchase “if the authority think that the acquisition will facilitate the carrying out of development, re-development or improvement on or in relation to the land” subject to certain conditions.

The information paper goes on to suggest that there may “be circumstances where local authorities are unable or face very challenging practical difficulties in using their compulsory purchase powers”. The paper actually identifies only one of these circumstances, which is “where the required land falls within the boundaries of more than one authority”. If there are other, unidentified, circumstances then I think that it is a reasonable assumption that these fall within the restrictions that are specifically included in the requirements of the TCPA and which are, presumably intended as safeguards against the overzealous, or inappropriate, use of Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) powers.

The information paper provides the following clarifications of the powers that will be conferred by Clause 47:

  • The clause is intended to provide a “backstop power” to be used “where other avenues have failed” and would be used by the Secretary of State “with the support and collaboration of the relevant local authorities”.
  • The power will only be used “where there is a compelling case that the use of compulsory purchase is required in the public interest” and not “only because it would be expedient”.
  • The power to make a CPO conferred by the clause will be “subject to the same procedures and safeguards as apply in making other CPOs”. These safeguards include requiring a “compelling case in the public interest” to justify the CPO, the landowner having the right of objection and appeal to an independent inquiry, and the need for the action to be proportional in the light of its impact.

It is this last bullet point that, frankly, has me totally confused. If Clause 47 is intended to be a magic bullet to unblock the process when the provisions of the TCPA have failed, then surely it must go further in some way than that Act otherwise it serves no purpose. In “going further” then it seems very likely that it does not provide as much assurance to the landowner served with a CPO as the TCPA. The information paper appears to fail to address this question.

(To be continued …)

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, part 1

It didn’t take long for someone to mention Clause 47 during the proceedings of the HS2 Phase 1 Hybrid Bill Select Committee. The Committee didn’t even manage to get through its first day of hearing petitions without this proposed feature of the HS2 Phase 1 hybrid Bill cropping up; it was first mentioned less than two minutes into the evening session on the first day of the recommencement of public sessions following the summer recess.

The specific part of Clause 47 that proved to be in contention is subsection (1), which states:

  1. If the Secretary of State considers that the construction or operation of Phase One of High Speed 2 gives rise to the opportunity for regeneration or development of any land, the Secretary of State may acquire the land compulsorily.

The Secretary of State referred to in Clause 47 is, of course, the Transport Secretary, not a minister who, in the normal course of events is responsible for regeneration, or planning matters in general. So, even before the implications of this proposed legislative provision are examined, Clause 47 stands out as something of an anomaly.

The Select Committee’s attention was drawn to this proposed feature of the hybrid Bill by a petition (0485) deposited by the Gooch Estate. This petition advises that the Gooch Estate is a grouping of companies and trusts for the benefit of Lady Gooch that “is the freehold owner of land in 15 separate blocks totalling 7.41 hectares (18.39 acres) in the Digbeth area of Birmingham City Centre” some of which has been identified for compulsory purchase for HS2. The petition advises that the Gooch Estate intends to “bring these sites forward for development and regeneration over the next 15 years either in isolation, with development partners and/or with other neighbouring landowners” and that the HS2 proposals will “undermine” these plans.

The petition, which points out that the proposed compulsory purchase powers are “without geographical limits”, describes the provisions as “excessive” and “unprecedented”. It further complains that the “power in Clause 47 is unqualified, meaning there is nothing in the Bill that would ensure it is only used as a matter of last resort or, for example, only with the local planning authority’s agreement”.

The Gooch Estate would appear to have some expert support for these views. An article first posted on the Planning Resource website in November 2013, which I have not linked as it is behind a paywall, quotes Robbie Owen, a partner at Pinsent Masons and a Roll A Parliamentary Agent, describing Clause 47 as “a new and unprecedented general power” and one that has “no spatial limit”. Mr Owen does not however go as far as to describe the powers as excessive; his view is that they are “understandable” as he feels that they will serve “to shore up the economic case”. Notwithstanding, he does express the view that Parliament may “baulk” at the “scope and breadth” of Clause 47. I hope that he is right to anticipate that our legislators will be reluctant to grant these powers to the Transport Secretary. Even if the Commons lets it pass, I have every expectation that Lords will at least raise a noble eyebrow or two.

The Planning Resource article also quotes the views of a partner of another legal firm with an involvement in the HS2 project. Nicholas Evans, from Bircham Dyson Bell, feels that “local authorities will probably want reassurance about how the Secretary of State plans to use [the Clause 47] power”. He argues that, since local authorities are already empowered to employ compulsory purchase powers for redevelopment purposes, they could view Clause 47 as “unnecessary and a little threatening”.

It is common ground between the Gooch Estate and the experts quoted by Planning Resource that the most likely locations where the Secretary of State would exercise the power are in the vicinity of stations, and this is why the Gooch Estate, with development land in Digbeth just a stone’s throw from the site of the proposed Curzon Street Birmingham terminal for HS2, has raised the issue in its petition. Another legal expert quoted by Planning Resource, Simon Ricketts, who is a partner at King & Wood Mallesons S J Berwin, points to the potential for Clause 47 to be employed in connection with a large housing or retail development close to a station. He comments that “there needs to be a clear understanding of what the basis of that power is and how the Secretary of State would use it”.

You may find it hard to lavish any sympathy on an organisation that plans to profit from property development, but it is the contention of the Gooch Estate that this uncertainty regarding how the powers that would be granted by Clause 47 “will result in significant adverse impacts on its interests”. It claims that its property interests in Digbeth are “specifically at risk because of the lack of development in Digbeth, which has been hampered by previous infrastructure and connectivity issues, and the high numbers of properties there which would benefit from regeneration”. It sees the “risk of unlimited and unknown compulsory purchase at a later date” as condemning its property to be regarded as “a risky and potentially unattractive prospect for investors, who are an essential component for regeneration”. The Estate’s petition concludes that “Clause 47 could therefore have the opposite effect to that which was originally intended, by undermining growth and regeneration which is already planned”.

The petition by the Gooch Estate provided the Government with the opportunity to clarify for the benefit of the Estate, the HS2 Select Committee and the concerned legal experts, such as the three that I have named in this blog, just why it thinks it needs Clause 47 and how the Secretary of State proposes to use the powers with which the clause will arm him.

In the next part of this blog I will look at what clarification has been forthcoming.

(To be continued …)

PS: Since I posted this blog I have located a full version of the Planning Resource article here.

A free gift for all my readers

I was impressed by the speed at which the staff of the House of Commons Private Bill Office scanned in petitions against the HS2 Phase 1 hybrid Bill, virtually as they were being deposited in their hundreds, and made them available on the parliamentary website via a listing. Inevitably, as this listing was prepared as petitions were being received, it is a serial inventory, organised by petition number.

I have been using this listing in my preparation for writing my blogs and have found that trying to find a particular petition is problematic, unless the petition number is to hand. It can take more than one run through the nearly two thousand listings to locate the one that you are looking for, as it is easy – at least I have found it easy – to overlook the target petition as you scan through such a long list.

What I felt that I needed was an alphabetical listing, by petitioner. Since there seemed very little prospect of Santa Claus coming early this year, and such a listing being deposited in my stocking, I resolved to make one for myself. I should have thought a little more about the size of the task before embarking on it, but foolishly didn’t, and must confess that I didn’t get very far into the work before I was beginning to regret starting it. However, I stuck with it and the result of my labours can now be shared with you.

Now that the pain of producing this magnum opus has numbed a little, I am very glad to have it by my side. It makes my researches so much easier, and I hope that you will similarly find it useful should you also develop an unhealthy interest in the “who and what” of petitioning the hybrid Bill.

As was my purpose, I have listed alphabetically on the identity of the petitioner, whether that be an individual (or individuals), a commercial company, or an organisation. The key word, or phrase, that I have used for this purpose is identified in bold font in each entry. Where I have considered it appropriate, I have identified more than one key word or phrase for each entry and recorded separate entries for each, with the different key word or phrase used for each particular entry identified in that entry. An example of where I have thought this necessary would be a couple where each has a different surname. Where there are multiple individual petitioners I have used the device adopted by the Private Bill Office of using “and others”, rather than identifying, and indexing, all of those named in the petition.

To give a couple of examples of this approach:

“Jeffrey Patrick Addison and other residents of Hale Road and Hazeldean, Wendover” has three entries: one where the keyword is Addison, one under Hale, and one under Hazeldean.

“The Swynnerton HS2 Action Group, the Whitmore & Baldwins Gate HS2 Action Group, the Madeley HS2 Action Group and William Cash MP” has four entries: one where the keyword is Cash, one under Madeley, one under Swynnerton, and one under Whitmore.

All entries are provided with a link to the petition document, as stored on the parliamentary website – just click on the petition number.

I have included a “comments” column, in which I have recorded any information that I have about the progress of the petition, including scheduled and actual dates of being heard by the Select Committee. I have also provided, where available, links to the video of the session (or sessions) at which the petition was heard by the Select Committee and to the transcript of that session.

I suppose that it is inevitable, in view of the speed with which the staff of the Private Bill Office put their list together, that I have identified a fair number of what I consider to be errors in that list. I have noted these in the “comments” column and have sent a long e-mail to the Private Bill Office listing them, which I am sure they were delighted to receive. Obviously, I can’t guarantee that this will result in the errors being rectified.

It is my intention to update this list regularly, as far as I am able.

Now you have to admit that’s much better than finding a plastic toy at the bottom of your cornflakes box.

Important disclaimer: Whilst I have made every effort to provide accurate information in my schedule of petitions, it is offered for use in good faith only. I can accept no responsibility for any outcome to which any errors in the document may contribute, and this is a condition of making the schedule available for use. Users of the schedule are, accordingly, advised to verify the information provided before making use of it.

Lessons from history, part 16

(… continued from Lessons from history, part 15, posted on 31 Aug 2014).

On the odd occasion in past postings I have had a bitch about the difficulties of “engaging” with HS2 Ltd, something that I had cause to repeat as recently as in part 15 of this blog series. If you search through the petitions listed on the parliament website for those petitioners that are likely to have experienced face-to-face meetings with representatives of HS2 Ltd, such as action groups, residents’ associations and local councils, you will see that frustration with this process is an oft-repeated theme.

The level of disillusionment with what has gone on is succinctly set down in petition 0902, deposited by the Wells House Road Residents’ Association. Wells House Road is a cul-de-sac in West London that, in the words of the petition, would suffer the impacts of the construction of Old Oak Common station “up to the property borders on all three sides of the street for up to ten years”. The lack of proper engagement with HS2 Ltd runs as a constant theme throughout the petition, but is summarised in paragraph 77:

“After our experience over the past three years of HS2 ‘community engagement’ we have little confidence in the consultation process and responsiveness of HS2. Although they have met with residents regularly, they have often failed to provide responses to residents’ questions, have omitted vital information … and provided often inaccurate and misleading information … The process, overall has been time consuming, complex, costly and frustrating. Our trust in HS2 has diminished and we have little confidence in their provision of fair and honest measures without intermediary intervention.”

Even a couple of Conservative Members of Parliament, both with personal experience of the community forum meetings, have picked up on this theme. Attorney General, Jeremy Wright, states, in paragraph 12 of petition 1791, that he is “disappointed that none of the mitigation measures raised by his constituents have been properly considered”. Backbencher Dan Byles is more specific in his criticisms in petition 1483.

In paragraphs 11 and 12 of his petition, Mr Byles complains that, whilst one of the action groups in his constituency has “made every effort to engage with HS2 Ltd for four years”, the group’s “reasonable mitigation proposals have been stymied at every opportunity”. He makes the further accusation that “HS2 Ltd has failed to answer … concerns from the community forums and have failed to address the issues of the village”. Altogether, he identifies three action groups in his constituency that have “met with HS2 Ltd engineers throughout the four years but have never had their questions answered, nor have they had proper justification of the projected costs which were used to deny their mitigation proposals”.

Perhaps even more serious is his claim that, when his local action groups were driven to employ the Freedom of Information Act to obtain information, “the figures they received were inaccurate or incomplete”.

In paragraph 13 of his petition, Mr Byles grumbles about the plight of his constituents who would be affected by the Kingsbury Road railhead, under proposals he says “were only first raised in September 2013”. HS2 Ltd refused to discuss the impacts of HS2 with residents for four years on the grounds that they “would be part of next phase”. When HS2 Ltd changed its plans and included the railhead within Phase 1, it was, as Mr Byles points out, “after the programme of Community Forums and so these residents could not engage with the process”.

The North Warwickshire MP also complains, in paragraph 14 of his petition, about his “constituents who have been communicated with poorly by HS2 Ltd”. He cites letters sent to the wrong address, and gives the example of one of his constituents “who [only] found out that her home was under the proposed Kingsbury Road railhead when she saw a map at a consultation event”.

It may be some, but possibly not much, comfort to these petitioners, and everyone else who shares these sentiments, to learn that similar complaints were made to the Crossrail Hybrid Bill Select Committee, and that the Committee felt it necessary to record its “dissatisfaction at the lack of information given at times by the Promoter to the public during consultation periods” in paragraph 25 of Volume 1 of its First Special Report of Session 2006‑07. A footnote to that paragraph steers the reader to comments made by Mrs Jil Cove (paragraph 10917 on page Ev 1043 in Volume III of the Committee’s report):

“We also believe, as I have said before, that consultation with Crossrail has been inadequate and meaningless. The supposed benefits to residents of Tower Hamlets in general and Spitalfields and Whitechapel in particular are negligible. The documents provided are insipid, disingenuous, obtuse and sometimes absolutely wrong in containing out-of-date information.”

I suspect that the transcripts of the Crossrail proceedings are littered with such complaints. Certainly, the record for Tuesday 13th June 2006, the day that I reported on in part 4 of this blog series, contains its fair share. There is, for example, this complaint from Ms Zoe Hudson, reported in paragraph 10060 on page Ev 967 of Volume III:

“Dealing with Crossrail has been extremely frustrating and when they have produced information it has been misleading. Most professional bodies have rules of professional conduct and I am sure Crossrail must have some but my analogy for dealing with Crossrail is that they were a doctor I think they would have been struck off.”

Or Mrs Sandy Critchley, recorded in paragraph 10078 on page Ev 969:

“We do not trust anything that Crossrail says. Their local consultation process was pathetic …”

And, as Mr Aulad Miah pointed out, Crossrail couldn’t even get the mechanics of consultation right (paragraph 10107 on page Ev 971):

“We feel that very little has happened in terms of engaging with the BME [black and minority ethnic] communities, particularly in Spitalfields. The choice for venues like a pub or a brewery is not ideal to attract Muslim men and women.”

And:

“We feel that information was not made … available to people who could not speak English, considering that they were very well aware that a lot of the people in that area would be of Bangladeshi origin, considering that throughout the route of Crossrail within one kilometre radius approximately 30-odd per cent would be Asian.”

It would seem that important lessons that should have been learnt from the Crossrail experience have not been.

(To be continued …)

Lessons from history, part 15

(… continued from Lessons from history, part 14, posted on 27 Aug 2014).

In part 11 of this blog series I alluded to the considerable number of petitioners against Crossrail who had never actually made an appearance before the Select Committee, an effect that I referred to therein as “wastage”. A remarkable 55% of Crossrail petitioners failed to see their petition through to the ultimate stage of appearing before the Committee. Although I referred to this effect as “wastage”, it is obviously a very desirable outcome as far as the HS2 Select Committee schedulers are concerned and encouraging this phenomenon could achieve a significant reduction in the workload on the Committee and, in consequence, the time taken to complete its work.

Despite encouraging petitioners not to appear being probably the most effective way of shortening the life of the HS2 Select Committee, it is something over which the Committee, and its schedulers, have very little control. It falls to HS2 Ltd to influence whether petitioners appear or not by the success, or failure, of any negotiations between promoter and petitioner that may be held in advance of the latter’s scheduled date of appearance before the Committee.

The importance of such negotiations was referred to in the discussion following the “unanswerable” question posed by Sir Peter Bottomley MP during the session of the Committee held on the afternoon of Monday 21st July 2014 (transcript) that I referred to in part 11 of this blog series:

313. CHAIR: It may well depend on how well the negotiations go between petitioners and Promoters of the Bill this summer.

314. MR MOULD QC (DfT): I think I used the phrase “enlightened self-interest”. Whether it is enlightened or not, there is certainly a degree of self-interest in trying to get those negotiations moving as smoothly as they have so far.

Mr Mould was not specific about which negotiations he regarded as having gone “smoothly”, but I imagine that he was probably referring to those focussing on the petitions by Birmingham City Council (477) and Centro (498). The hearing of these two petitions by the Select Committee was scheduled for Monday 21st July and Tuesday 22nd July, but did not take place and has not been rescheduled in the September/October programme. So it looks like these two organisations are the first petitioners to elect not to appear before the Committee – two down, 1,895 to go!

This decision by these two organisations is explained in an announcement on the Birmingham City Council website:

“Following negotiations with HS2 Ltd, the City Council (by the Leader and Deputy Chief Executive), together with Centro, has reached agreement where the Secretary of State (SoS) for Transport has provided assurances on a number of Birmingham-centric issues – including Curzon Street station, Washwood Heath Depot and others. The City Council will work with HS2 Ltd to ensure that these agreements are taken forward.”

The concessions made by HS2 Ltd are set out in a letter that it sent to Birmingham City Council and Centro – or, more correctly, to their respective parliamentary agents – in mid-July 2014, and are summarised in the website announcement by Birmingham City Council. The HS2 Ltd letter asks the two petitioners to confirm that they will not, “on the basis of” the assurances that have been given, “be appearing in Select Committee”; presumably this confirmation was given.

I can’t imagine that these will have been, by any means, the most difficult negotiations that HS2 Ltd will find themselves required to undertake with a petitioner. Both Birmingham City Council and Centro are fervent supporters of HS2, and the concessions that have been won appear, on the whole, to concern “motherhood and apple pie” issues, where it would have been churlish in the extreme for HS2 Ltd to refuse. It’s also worth noting that the concessions are not totally one-sided; the letter requires Centro to pick up the tab for some of the additional cost of enlarging the design for Curzon Street station to accommodate an interchange with the proposed Midland Metro Birmingham Eastside Extension.

The announcement by Birmingham City Council indicates, however, that not all matters covered by its petition have been resolved, as yet:

“Whilst discussion continues on issues around Birmingham Interchange Station, and elsewhere, the City Council will work to support other petitioners leading on these issues as appropriate; from September 2014 onwards the remainder of those affected by HS2 are anticipated to present their concerns to the Hybrid Bill’s Select Committee, to seek agreements to address those concerns and maximise the benefits of HS2.”

So whilst it looks like we won’t have the pleasure of seeing Birmingham City Council in front of the Select Committee, there is every chance that it could be on the sidelines cheering on others, and I assume that Solihull Borough Council is likely to be in the vanguard of these “others” if agreement cannot be reached with HS2 Ltd on Birmingham Interchange issues.

Considerable effort appears to have been expended by HS2 Ltd in ensuring that just two petitioners do not exercise their right to appear before the Select Committee, and there are hundreds more waiting in the wings. In order to match what was achieved on Crossrail, HS2 Ltd would need to take its part in dissuading the petitioners responsible for 55% of the 1,895 HS2 petitions currently on the table from appearing in front of the Committee; that’s a staggering 1,042 petitions. From my own experience of taking part in face-to-face discussions with HS2 Ltd, I have suspicions that such an exercise may well prove to be beyond the capacity of the organisation. We have already seen, on numerous occasions, that the administrative abilities of the organisation fall short of the demands placed upon it and the management has, so far, driven through proposals rather than consulted on them. It is an organisation that badly needs to develop a pair of ears, and to use those ears to listen to its opponents as well as its friends.

The Register of Undertakings and Assurances document that was compiled for Crossrail allows some appreciation to be made of the task that HS2 Ltd has embarked upon. This register lists 681 undertakings and assurances that were negotiated with petitioners against the Crossrail hybrid Bill. I think that we can expect the HS2 Phase 1 equivalent to be a still larger document, perhaps very much larger.

(To be continued …)

Lessons from history, part 14

(… continued from Lessons from history, part 13, posted on 23 Aug 2014).

Another way in which the HS2 Select Committee might be able to shorten the time that it will take to hear all of the petitioners who want to be heard is to schedule more ambitiously, by which I mean to cram more hearings into every sitting day. The benchmark set by the Crossrail Select Committee is 205 petitions heard over 73 sitting days, or 2.8 petitions per day.

The recently-published programme for hearings by the HS2 Select Committee over the period 1st September to 14th October 2014 provides for 12 days on which 28 petitions are scheduled to be heard, a rate of 2.3 per day. However, the HS2 programme over that period is hearing only petitions from local authorities, businesses and other organisations, but no individuals. I would expect that the rate of hearing petitions will ramp up when the Committee reaches lower down the pecking order and starts hearing from affected homeowners.

The man in charge of scheduling hearing dates for petitioners is a certain David Walker, who is the Senior Legal Parliamentary Clerk at Winckworth Sherwood, one of the legal firms that the Government has engaged as parliamentary agents. I have no personal experience upon which to base this assumption, but I presume that Mr Walker will try and ascertain from petitioners how much time they expect to require to present their petition, and that there is likely to be some pressure and negotiation from Mr Walker to minimise this time.

I think that we can be fairly sure that one of the techniques that Mr Walker will employ to speed up the process of hearing petitions is to follow the precedent of Crossrail and group petitioners with common concerns and/or from the same location to be heard at the same time, or at least in quick succession. The reading that I have done so far of the approaching two thousand petitions that are listed on the parliamentary website leads me to the conclusion that there is considerable scope for combining petitions. It is obvious that in some areas there has been a substantial effort put into organising individuals to petition, resulting in there being a large number of petitions that look very similar to each other. In many cases these petitions use mostly, if not entirely, stock text taken from models produced by the national campaign organisations. In the worst examples of this practice, the petitioner has printed out the typed standard text and merely written his or her name at the head of the petition – yes, really – and other fields that have been inserted into the standard text by its author for the purpose of the insertion of personally-related information by the petitioner have been left unchanged.

I expect that it will not be hard for Mr Walker to convince such petitioners not to bother the Select Committee, Even if he fails in this, it will be very difficult for any such petitioner to follow others of the same ilk without giving the Chairman grounds of either repetition or deviation to shut them up; there will be every chance of proceedings descending into a parliamentary version of Just a Minute!

In part 4 of this blog series I described a day in the life of the Crossrail Select Committee where a number of petitioners from the same area of London (Spitalfields) had been grouped together. In part 9 I expressed concern about the impacts that this practice could have on the right of petitioners to a fair hearing. If the Committee is treated to a large number of petitioners with stereotypical views there is, surely, a very real danger that the odd one that may have an original thought or two could get lost in the general clamour.

One of the jobs that I feel that I really should do, but have so far put it off as it would be a great deal of work, is to analyse the petitions by type of petitioner and issues covered. Without such an analysis it is difficult to assess how many “carbon copy” petitions have been deposited, and what gains there could be in the speed that the Select Committee will rattle through petition hearings as a result.

In part 12 of this blog series I referred to the disruption to the schedule of hearings for the Crossrail Select Committee that had resulted from last-minute decisions by petitioners to withdraw. I said that the Crossrail scheduling team had tended to leave the resulting gaps in the Committee’s programme vacant and commented that I felt that it was “not really fair, or practical, to reschedule other petitioners” in such circumstances. In a letter sent to petitioners by David Walker at the end of July it says that the HS2 Committee “wishes to make full use of scheduled sitting times”. It appears that Mr Walker will be prepared to risk inconveniencing petitioners in the interests of keeping the Committee fully employed, since his letter warns that “the programme may change and petitioners may be asked, within reason, to appear earlier (or later)”.

(To be continued …)

Update: Since this blog was posted the programme for 1st September to 14th October 2014 has been revised. The new schedule provides for 11 days on which 25 petitions are scheduled to be heard, maintaining the rate of approximately 2.3 petitions per day.

Lessons from history, part 13

(… continued from Lessons from history, part 12, posted on 19 Aug 2014).

Paragraph 7 of Committal Motion 5, by which the House of Commons instructed the HS2 Select Committee how to go about its business, grants the Committee “power to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House”. In other words, the Members of the Committee have the dubious privilege of being able to work on whilst their honourable colleagues vacate Westminster in favour of their constituencies or go en vacances.

An appreciation of just how much potential for additional sitting time that this could give the Committee may be gained from the calendar below, which sets out the Committee’s programme for this current year as far as it is known.

HS2 Select Committee - Public Sessions 2014

HS2 Select Committee – Public Sessions 2014

I have used the same coding scheme as I employed in part 12 of this series. So days on which the Committee is scheduled to hear petitions are marked in red and other public sitting days are marked in green. I have introduced a new colour, purple, to indicate the days in July when the Committee heard issues of locus standi.

The number of days within blue dotted lines, indicating recesses of the House of Commons, is substantial. Altogether, 89 weekdays are encompassed by these blue lines. If we exclude Fridays – it seems very unlikely that the Committee would sit on a Friday – that still leaves 66 days lost that would have been otherwise available to hear petitions, or about 30% of the available days in the year. So there is a considerable potential to improve the throughput of the Committee here.

However, recesses are valued by MPs; they not only give opportunities for rest and recuperation and to spend time with family members, but allow Members to catch up with other tasks that are difficult to fit in during the weekdays spent at Westminster, including duties in the constituency. I would imagine that catch-up time will be particularly treasured by the Members of the HS2 Select Committee, in view of the considerable commitment that they will be required to make to hearing petitions. So I think that we can expect Members of the Committee will be reluctant to forgo many of these precious days.

The HS2 Select Committee started its public sittings in earnest in July, and the first recess period to be encountered was the long – although not as long as it used to be – summer break. I was not surprised to see that the Members of the Committee resisted the temptation to delay their departure from Westminster and will not be meeting at all during the recess. Whether this practice is repeated next year, and in possible future years if the Committee is still sitting, remains to be seen, but I would imagine that it is odds on that this year’s precedent will be followed. Although it has not been tested yet, I feel that the same may be true for the Christmas, Easter and May Day recesses.

So far, we have seen one example of recess time forgone by the Committee, which is the plan to sit for two days in public (15th and 17th September) in the first full week of the four-week recess for the party conference season. The Committee is also planning to use that week for a site visit (16th September) and a private meeting (18th September). Working during this week is possible because none of the members of the Committee are affiliated to political parties that will be holding their conference during those four days.

The next recess to come along will be the “half-term” break in November. Since the Committee’s schedule for November has not yet been published, the stance that will be taken on working during this recess is not known. The most common reason for people taking time off during half-terms is child care requirements and, as far as I can determine, none of the Members of the Committee should have issues in this area. So the Members of the Committee may well elect to work during the November recess, but will only gain a Wednesday and a Thursday if they do.

My understanding is that the recess dates for 2015 have yet to be made public, and will be atypical because a general election will be held on 7th May, but I think that it is safe to assume that there will be a half-term break in February, as has been the case in recent years. If the Committee decides to work through the November break then it would appear to be reasonable to expect that the February break would be treated similarly. Whitsun, although also a half-term recess, is a slightly different case as, by practice, it encompasses the spring bank holiday; for this reason, I feel that there is less likelihood of the business of the Committee continuing during that recess.

In summary, I think that the sitting days that are likely to be gained from the ability for the Committee to sit during recesses are likely to be small in number.

If the Crossrail Select Committee had sat throughout 2006 it could have availed itself of 35 weeks in which it was able to sit on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, without encroaching into recess periods. So, ignoring any loss of sitting days due to private meetings, site visits, and the like, the procedures adopted for Crossrail would have provided 105 sitting days.

Assuming, for the sake of comparison, that the HS2 Select Committee had started its sittings immediately after the 2013-2014 Christmas recess, and was working right through 2014, the number of non-recess weeks during which it would be able to sit on Monday afternoon/evening, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday morning would be 34, with a couple of odd days also being available. This equates to 121 full sitting days. If we assume some extra sitting days during the recesses along the lines postulated above, then the number of equivalent full sitting days might be increased to around 130.

So it looks as if the changes in working practice brought in by the HS2 Select Committee, if they maintain them throughout the life of the Committee, could increase the number of days on which the HS2 Select Committee is able to sit by about a quarter compared to the Crossrail Select Committee.

(To be continued …)

Acknowledgement: The background calendars for the two images that I have used to illustrate this blog were generated on www.timeanddate.com/calendar.

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