The people’s champion?

During the announcement that the Promoter’s Lead Counsel, Tim Mould QC, made to the HS2 Select Committee at the start of its first session following the public launch in January 2015 of the discretionary compensation package for HS2 Phase 1 (see footnote 1), he drew the attention of Members of the Committee to the Residents’ Charter that “went live” coincident with that launch. He said that the intention of the Charter was “to help to ensure that residents are treated in a fair, clear, competent and reasonable manner”.

The requirements of the Charter are, for the most part, fairly insipid, in that they impose no greater commitments upon the way that HS2 Ltd should treat claimants for compensation than are the bare minimum that you would reasonably expect. So, for example, HS2 Ltd is expected to “promote awareness” of the compensation schemes that are available. There is also a commitment to “communicate in the plainest, non-technical language possible”, although no mention is made of seeking the award of the Crystal Mark of Plain English Campaign, which would provide a reasonable assurance that this commitment had been achieved. There are also target times for responding to enquiries and routine equality and access conditions.

There are however two specific undertakings in the Charter that I welcome as being potentially helpful to applicants. These are that a named case officer will be appointed to each applicant, and that residents will be offered a private meeting with a HS2 Ltd property specialist to review the available options.

But I am unable to find anything in the Charter that justifies Mr Mould’s use of the adjectives “fair” and “reasonable” in his description of the aims of the document.

The occasion of the January launch was also used to announce the appointment of Deborah Fazan as the Residents’ Commissioner, whose remit is summarised in the Residents’ Charter. Ms Fazan is an independent chartered surveyor who specialises in land acquisition and compulsory purchase. She has previous experience of the HS2 project, as she was appointed an independent member of the Panel of adjudicators for the exceptional hardship scheme. The list of EHS Panel members published by HS2 Ltd tells us that she previously “specialised in airport commercial property” and that:

“She established and managed property blight schemes for BAA in connection with the second runway at Stansted Airport as well as managing the land acquisition for the project. She also advised Heathrow on their blight strategy for the third runway. Now a consultant surveyor, she works with a range of clients on property and blight related matters including EDF Energy, Thames Tideway Tunnel and London Southend Airport.”

According to a House of Commons written answer (see footnote 2) Ms Kazan will not be an employee of HS2 Ltd – presumably she will serve as a consultant on a fee basis – and will receive a remuneration of “£590 per day [plus expenses] based on an average time commitment of 8 days per month”. She will report directly to the Executive Chairman of HS2 Ltd.

The role of the new Commissioner, as set out in the Residents’ Charter, appears to be to maintain a watching brief over the operation of the compensation schemes, and to report in writing to the HS2 Ltd Executive Chairman on this every quarter – I assume that these reports will be published, but this is not confirmed. In addition, she is required to “provide a mechanism by which people’s concerns can be put directly to the HS2 Chairman”, although it is by no means clear how this will be operated other than residents will be able to “write to the Commissioner about any issues that affect you and that relate to HS2 Ltd’s communication about the property schemes”.

The Residents’ Charter is clear that the Commissioner will not intervene in individual cases, nor will she give advice on matters relating to petitioning. Disappointingly, there will still be no independent appeals process for residents who feel that they have been unfairly treated by HS2 Ltd or the NTS Panel. The only recourse will remain a reference via the distinctly not independent HS2 Ltd in-house complaints procedure.

When Joe Rukin, Campaign Manager for Stop HS2, appeared before the HS2 Select Committee for an area review some comments that he made about the role of the Residents’ Commission fuelled a small debate by Members that also involved Tim Mould (see footnote 3). Mr Mould sparked some adverse comment by describing the Commissioner as “an independent champion for residents” (see footnote 4). Unsurprisingly, some Members of the Committee did not entirely buy this description.

Ian Mearns MP commented that it seemed to him that, if the description was correct, “the residents’ champion or the Residents’ Commissioner would actually be able to accept calls and act on behalf of residents, even in an advisory capacity” and, if that was not the case “possibly we should be thinking about calling them something different”. He quipped “if you open a tin of beans and there’s spaghetti in there, it feels not quite right” (see footnote 5).

And Mr Mearns is right, of course, and there is a further dimension to this matter that it would probably not have been appropriate for the Members to question, but I will: just how “independent” can we expect the particular appointee to be? After all, her past experience places her firmly on the developer side of the fence, she is conditioned to think as an EHS panel member, she will be receiving payment from the very organisation that she is expected to critique and her continued engagement will be at the behest of the Chairman of that organisation.

Whilst these circumstances do not render her taking an independent view impossible, they can hardly be viewed as reassuring.

Footnotes:

  1. See paragraph 7 of the transcript for the afternoon of Monday 19th January 2015.
  2. Written question 221593 tabled by the Rt Hon Cheryl Gillan MP on 21st January 2015 and answered by Robert Goodwill MP on 26th January 2015.
  3. Joe Rukin’s original comments about the role of the Residents’ Commissioner are recorded in paragraph 542 of the transcript for the afternoon of Monday 9th February 2015. The subsequent discussion is recorded in paragraphs 597 to 620 of that transcript.
  4. See paragraph 604 of the transcript for the afternoon of Monday 9th February 2015.
  5. See paragraphs 611 and 615 of the transcript for the afternoon of Monday 9th February 2015.

PS: There is some evidence that the role of the Residents’ Commission may have been reduced from that originally envisaged. In a blog on the Government’s HS2 North-South rail line site that dates from spring last year, Lisa Levy, HS2 Ltd’s Head of Community and Stakeholder Engagement, promises that the Residents’ Commissioner will offer “impartial mediation on all aspects of the property compensation scheme”.

Important Note: The documents from which the quotes and extracts reproduced in this blog are taken include uncorrected transcripts of evidence, which are not yet an approved formal record of the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record in such instances, and it may therefore be subject to changes being made in the light of any such corrections being requested.

Looking sheepish

The HS2 Select Committee has been repeatedly forced to face the reality of the failings of the compensation schemes to alleviate the suffering that HS2 blight can cause, as a series of petitioners have come before it with tales of woe. It is clear that the Members of the Committee are often very sympathetic to the individuals involved – and who wouldn’t be – but appear to be somewhat impotent, largely having to resort to asking the Promoter nicely to look again at specific cases.

However, last November Committee Chairman, Robert Syms MP, made a statement at the beginning of a morning petition-hearing session that appeared to indicate that the Committee was looking to take advantage of the imminent introduction of the Need to Sell (NTS) compensation scheme for HS2 Phase 1 to become more proactive (see footnote 1):

“On compensation, we request that HS2 give us sight of the proposed Need to Sell scheme as soon as possible, so that we can review the guidance and criteria and make suggestions for improvement. These suggestions might include a change of name for the scheme and the scheme should include a way of obtaining advance clearance …”

About three weeks later the Chairman made another “start of the day” statement about the NTS in which he confirmed that the Under Secretary of State for Transport had agreed to provide a pre-publication draft of the guidance notes for the scheme and to arrange for a briefing for the Committee by officials from the Department for Transport early in 2015. The Chairman expressed the hope that these arrangements would give the Committee “an opportunity to look at [the scheme proposals] and to have some input before final decisions are taken” (see footnote 2).

The terms of this offer to the Committee were that, since the information being provided was in advance of the scheme details being made public, the release would be on an “in confidence” basis. Consequently, no details have been published of any exchange of views between the Committee and the Government, and we are left to speculate about what, if any, changes the Committee may have requested to the scheme and whether the government acceded to any such requests.

All of this account so far I have previously rehearsed, in my blog Welcome to another fun-packed year in HS2 Land, part 3 (posted 10 Jan 2015). I also commented in that blog on the inordinately long gestation period of the NTS; the original proposals were put out to public consultation in September 2013, although the scheme was called the long-term hardship scheme in those days (see footnote 3). The details of the scheme were formulated, and published, in April 2014; the revised scheme, rechristened the Need to Sell scheme, exhibited changes in respect of the terms for all five of the NTS eligibility criteria in the light of comments received during the 2013 consultation (see footnote 4).

So what the Select Committee received in pre-publication draft was basically a document that had been on the shelf since April 2014, and any comments that the Committee would have made came very late in the day. It is always hard to get a proposal changed after the formulation stage has passed, and I think that this must have been the case with the NTS; the guidance notes for the NTS that were published in January this year do not, as far as I can see, feature any changes from the scheme as originally conceived for the 2013 consultation that were not foreshadowed in the Government’s April 2014 response to that consultation. So if the Committee did seek any changes, it would appear that the Government was not persuaded to alter the scheme, and, of course, the scheme name has been retained, despite being disliked by the Select Committee.

However, the Committee can take some comfort that two of the changes that were made in response to the public consultation have particular relevance to matters that have been raised during sessions of the Select Committee: permitting evidence to be submitted that estate agents will not market the property (Criterion 3), and requiring a compelling reason to sell to be demonstrated, rather than hardship (Criterion 5).

Notwithstanding, it does appear to remain the case that at least one member of the Committee harbours doubts about the NTS. In a discussion that followed the announcement by Tim Mould QC of the details of the NTS at the start of the first session of the HS2 Select Committee following the public launch, Sir Peter Bottomley returned to a theme that he had raised a number of times before, as Mr Mould did not fail to remind him (see footnote 5).

In a nutshell, Sir Peter is looking for an assurance that property owners that can foresee a need to sell in future, due to failing health or the need to boost retirement income for example, can apply before the need to sell becomes urgent, but delay selling to the Government until the appropriate time. According to Mr Mould, Sir Peter need not fear that such applicants will be rejected, because as he told him (see footnote 6):

“… the scheme allows for an offer made under the Need to Sell Policy to remain open to acceptance, open to being taken forward by the successful applicant for a period of three years after the offer is made, and I am confident that those who are administering the scheme, and who are considering individual applications, will have that aspect of the scheme well in mind when they come to consider individual applications.”

The problem that I have with this assurance, and I am sure that it would not have been missed by Sir Peter, is that the NTS terms have not been written with this requirement in mind and, if applicants are to be accepted in advance of a “need to sell” stage having been reached, the NTS Panel will have to take a very flexible approach regarding Criterion 3, which requires an applicant to have “made all reasonable efforts to sell”.

As well-educated people, the Members of the Select Committee appear to be heeding the advice timeo Danaos et dona ferentes and, in the absence of a specific change to the terms of the NTS, are keeping a watching brief. As Robert Syms put it: “we’ll be monitoring all these arrangements very carefully” (see footnote 7).

This episode reminds me of one of the most celebrated Parliamentary put-downs of the post-war period, when Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healey, now Lord Healey, likened criticism of his handling of the economy in a Commons speech by Sir Geoffrey Howe, now Lord Howe of Aberavon, as “like being savaged by a dead sheep” (see footnote 8). I have concerns, but hope that I am wrong in my opinion, that the Government may regard the HS2 Select Committee as a something of a dead sheep that they don’t really have need to fear.

If they think that, they could be wrong. After all, it was the very same dead sheep disparaged by Denis Healey who is regarded by most commentators as having lit the fuse that led to the downfall of Margaret Thatcher when he made his “broken cricket bat” resignation speech in 1990.

Footnotes:

  1. The Chairman’s statement is recorded in paragraph 2 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 26th November 2014.
  2. See paragraph 2 of the transcript for the morning of Tuesday 16th December 2014.
  3. The scheme details that were put out to consultation may be found in Section 4.3 of the consultation document.
  4. These changes, and the reasons for them, are detailed in Chapter 5 of the document Property Compensation Consultation 2013 for the London-West Midlands HS2 route: Decision document, Cm8833.
  5. The exchange between Sir Peter and Mr Mould is recorded in paragraphs 10 to 19 of the transcript for the afternoon of Monday 19th January 2015.
  6. See paragraph 14 of the transcript for the afternoon of Monday 19th January 2015.
  7. See paragraph 26 of the transcript for the afternoon of Monday 19th January 2015.
  8. See column 1027 of the House of Commons Official Report for 14th June 1978.

Important Note: The documents from which the quotes and extracts reproduced in this blog are taken include uncorrected transcripts of evidence, which are not yet an approved formal record of the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record in such instances, and it may therefore be subject to changes being made in the light of any such corrections being requested.

 

 

Arbre master

In a postscript to my blog At least I’m listening (posted 28 Nov 2013) I mentioned the part that veteran of the World War II arctic convoys Don Hitchcock had played in the Parliamentary lobby that had been held on the day that the Phase 1 hybrid Bill had been deposited in the House of Commons. Just a little over a year later, Don made a second appearance at the Houses of Parliament; this time he was representing the Solihull Tree Wardens Group in front of the HS2 Select Committee (see footnote 1).

I have to confess to my shame that, prior to seeing Don’s hearing, I was not aware of the national Tree Warden scheme, which was, I have since learnt, launched in 1990 by the Tree Council. The scheme operates with more than 8,000 volunteer Tree Wardens in more than 150 local networks that champion their local trees and woods.

The activities undertaken by the Tree Wardens in their local areas include propagating, planting and caring for trees, carrying out woodland management and surveying for species, numbers and state of health of trees, so Don, as Chairman of the Solihull group, was able to offer a wealth of practical advice to the Select Committee.

With another Tree Warden from his group, Richard Lloyd, prompting him with questions, Don was able to offer the Committee a teach-in on planting young trees to replace any that might be destroyed to make way for HS2 (see footnote 2). He told the Committee that this activity needed to be started “right away” and that the planting of “whips” – young plants produced from seed or cuttings, with a central stem and little or no side branching – produced a better success rate than using more mature trees, which were “more likely to die”. He said that a growing whip will “catch up with” a more mature “ball” tree planting, but warned that “you’ve got a miserable outlook for ten or fifteen years before the whips begin to look like trees”, during which time “the ecology has been ruined” (see footnote 3).

Don also stressed the importance of appropriate management of the new trees subsequent to planting. He said that the whips were planted “placed very close together and they grow up as spindles”, so they need to be “thinned”. We also learnt that tree ties can be a problem – trees can sometimes “snap off” – and need to be inspected regularly. Young plants also need to be watered, although Don conceded that, “You can’t go around watering a wood very easily”.

According to Don, “Usually what happens is that nobody manages them; they’re just left, and it’s a sad business”, and we have, I am sure, all seen examples of sorry-looking clumps of scrub that are the result of ill-managed contractor’s planting.

Don also told the Committee that there were two main natural agents that also contribute to the death of newly-planted trees: deer, and rabbits.

All in all, the contrition rate is high, and Don recommended a minimum replanting ratio of five new trees for every one destroyed by HS2.

On a separate topic, Don and Richard gave the Committee an introduction to the CAVAT valuation system that allows a monetary value to be assigned to the amenity value of individual trees. The Tree Wardens put forward this methodology as “a practical system for guiding decision-making” with particular relevance to the locating of “subsidiary things like haul roads, maintenance facilities [and] drainage lines”. However, Don reported that, despite him having brought this suggestion up with HS2 Ltd, he had not “come across anyone who was prepared to even look at it, think about it, or know anything about it” (see footnote 4).

Don and Richard also touched on the issue of maintaining wildlife connectivity and the importance of connectivity mapping, and was able to lend support to what David Lowe, Principal County Ecologist for Warwickshire County Council, had told the Select Committee about six weeks earlier (see footnote 5).

All in all, the display of knowledge and experience that Don was able to summon up from his ninety years on this planet appeared to impress the Promoter’s Lead Counsel, Tim Mould QC, who responded (footnote 6):

“I don’t want to steal the thunder of the petitioners, we found the presentation, for our part, extremely helpful and we can see that there’s a substantial fount of local knowledge that would be very helpful to the project from these petitioners. In relation to three matters in particular: one is in reviewing our mitigation and compensation arrangements in relation to trees and woodland; secondly, in relation to applying our proposals for the protection of trees during the construction phase through the Code of Construction Practice; and thirdly, in terms of making sure that as far as we can we make sure that the species mix that we have for new tree planting is right for this area. We can see that the Tree Wardens will be a very valuable source of local expertise and advice in relation to that, so we would like to engage with them in relation to these issues.”

Which is basically what the Solihull group was seeking, and I feel sure that, if the Promoter does engage with full effect with the Solihull Tree Wardens then the result should be to the benefit of the local environment. I am equally sure that all other places along the line covered by the Tree Warden network could similarly benefit, and urge any of my readers in positions of influence in parish councils and action groups to seek to introduce other local Tree Warden groups to become involved in the HS2 project.

Footnotes:

  1. The Solihull Tree Group is the author of petition 1030. The hearing of this petition starts at 11:18 in the video of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 10th December 2014. The exhibit slides are the A557 and A558 series, starting at page 103 in the bundle for 10th December.
  2. The section of Don’s evidence that covers new planting is recorded in paragraphs 354 to 373 of the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 10th December 2014.
  3. The problems that arise from the interim period before new planting becomes ecologically significant are addressed in my blog Come back when it’s finished (posted 1 Dec 2014).
  4. The section of Don’s evidence that relates to the CAVAT methodology is recorded in paragraphs 327 to 340 of the transcript.
  5. I reported on David Lowe’s session in front of the HS2 Select Committee in my blogs Usel ES s, part 3 (posted 27 Nov 2014) and Come back when it’s finished.
  6. Mr Mould’s response is reported in paragraph 374 of the transcript.

A matter of respect, part 3

(… continued from A matter of respect, part 2, posted on 15 Feb 2015).

The reasons for Warwickshire farmer Andrew McGregor’s displeasure with HS2 Ltd were revealed as his petition was heard by the HS2 Select Committee at the end of the morning session held on Wednesday 21st January 2015 (see footnote 1). The field that Andrew stands to lose to HS2 is not required for the construction of the railway, but is wanted for the planting of tree saplings as a part of the proposed environmental compensation. The field in question is particularly valuable to the family farm business of four generations as it is only 200 yards from the grain store (see footnote 2).

Andrew told the Committee that he had suggested alternative, and less damaging, locations for compensatory planting on his land and that his agents had written to HS2 Ltd describing these proposals in August 2013, but had received no reply. A reminder letter, sent in 2014, had received similar treatment and Mr Mould admitted to the Committee that he did not have a copy of those letters in his bundle (see footnote 3).

But, as I mentioned at the end of part 2 of this blog series, that very morning HS2 Ltd had inflamed the situation further by presenting Andrew with a third proposal, that took no account of Andrew’s own suggestions. Mr Mould advised that the proposal had been sent out “late” the previous afternoon, but, for whatever reason, it was obvious that Andrew had not seen it until the morning of his hearing, giving him little more than an hour to digest and analyse it before having to appear before the Committee.

The proposal as it was presented to Andrew, has now been published on the Select Committee’s website and I have reproduced it below.

Select Committee exhibit P3475(3)

Select Committee exhibit P3475(3)

It is obvious that it had been conceived in a hurry; Andrew described it to the Committee, with some justification, as “something that looks like a three-year-old child’s just drawn”. His initial reaction was that the new proposal “looks seriously worse” in that it would impact on some Grade 2 land in addition to the Grade 3 land affected by the original proposal (see footnote 4).

So it is a mystery to me why HS2 Ltd would have wanted to totally ignore the proposals put forward by the owners of the land. Committee Member, Henry Bellingham MP, appeared to share my incredulity (see footnote 5):

“Surely if the landowner farmer has got an alternative planting proposal, he knows his land far better than HS2 does, with respect. If he has ideas for an alternative area of mitigated planting, surely you should defer to his wisdom, understanding and be a bit more flexible.”

It is so blindingly obvious that Mr Bellingham was talking sense that I can only see two possible reasons why HS2 Ltd did not respond positively to Andrew’s alternative proposals. The first is administrative incompetence, which the organisation has ably demonstrated it is capable of, and the other is arrogance, of which there has always been at least a hint in my own experience of the organisation.

As had been the case with Bob Edwards (see part 1 and part 2 of this blog series), Mr Mould was conciliatory, and promised “further discussions” with the aim of achieving a solution that Andrew “could feel that he would be able to live with” (see footnote 6). But, as with Bob Edwards, we must ask why it took an appearance in front of the Select Committee for HS2 Ltd to be prompted to act in a reasonable way towards a landowner affected by the HS2 proposals.

And it’s not just me that thinks like this. During the hearing of a petition by another farmer, Samuel Burton (petition 1635), Committee Member, Michael Thornton MP, was minded to ask Promoter’s Counsel, James Strachan QC, why an offer to talk by HS2 Ltd “didn’t happen [earlier], so making it unnecessary for the petitioners to have to come all the way here, interrupt a working day, and talk to the Committee?” (see footnote 7).

To my mind however, the signal failure of HS2 Ltd to treat those affected by the HS2 proposals with consideration and respect that has been the subject of this blog series was condemned most effectively by Edward Briggs, acting as Roll B agent for Northamptonshire farmers Mervyn and Douglas Humphrey (petition 0322). Mr Briggs told the Committee that he was a chartered surveyor and land agent, specialising in advising farmers and landowners affected by all aspects of compulsory purchase. He commented (see footnote 8):

“I have to make this point, that in my general experience of 27 years of advising landowners on compulsory purchase schemes never before in such schemes have I had to deal with a process or promoter that has had so little regard to the interests of those directly affected. The lack of communication and dialogue has been startling. If I was cynical I would think that this process had been deliberately designed as such to limit the opportunities for people such as my client to have their fair say. If it is not deliberate, quite frankly it is shambolic.”

Now I hope that HS2 Ltd has got the message, and the last-minute Damascene conversions that we have seen in Committee Room 5 and the considerable list of petitions that have been withdrawn prior to their scheduled hearing dates indicate that they may have. However, HS2 Ltd has a considerable legacy of the bad treatment of those affected by its proposals to overcome and a backlog of rectification actions to put things right. I think that HS2 Ltd staff are finding it hard to keep up with the progress being made hearing petitions in Committee Room 5, and that this probably accounts for the frequent brinkmanship that we see, which has upset some petitioners.

There is a short hiatus in Select Committee sessions for the February recess and a much longer one, starting at the end of March for the general election. Hopefully, HS2 Ltd will use these breaks to catch up so that, where there is a chance of the Promoter and a petitioner reaching agreement, meaningful negotiations can take place with petitioners well in advance of a scheduled hearing date. This could lead to more petitioners electing not to take up the Committee’s time, leaving its Members to concentrate on deliberating in cases where the gap between the two parties is too great to be bridged.

If this is not achieved by the time that the Committee reassembles following the general election, then I think that there will be a strong case for the Chairman suspending sittings until HS2 Ltd has got its house in order.

Footnotes:

  1. Andrew McGregor’s hearing starts at 12:01 in the video of the session.
  2. See paragraphs 376 and 378 of the transcript for the morning session held on Wednesday 21st January 2015.
  3. See paragraphs 417 to 419 of the 21st January transcript.
  4. See paragraphs 407 and 409 of the 21st January transcript.
  5. See paragraph 425 of the 21st January transcript.
  6. See paragraphs 426 to 428 of the 21st January transcript.
  7. See paragraph 247 of the transcript for the morning of Tuesday 27th January 2015.
  8. See paragraph 404 of the transcript for the morning of Tuesday 10th February 2015.

PS: Comments made to the Select Committee by Tim Mould QC, and recorded in paragraphs 139 to 142 of the transcript for the afternoon session on Wednesday 11th February 2015, indicate that HS2 Ltd recognises the need to up its game on dealing with petitioners. So perhaps we can look forward to seeing an improvement, although Mr Mould was not able to forecast the end of “corridor deals”.

Acknowledgement: The Ordinance Survey mapping upon which the HS2 Ltd drawing is based has been reproduced in accordance with the principles of fair dealing as set out in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. On this basis, this mapping is:

Reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO.

© Crown Copyright. All rights reserved.

Important Note: The documents from which the quotes and extracts reproduced in this blog are taken include uncorrected transcripts of evidence, which are not yet an approved formal record of the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record in such instances, and it may therefore be subject to changes being made in the light of any such corrections being requested.

A matter of respect, part 2

(… continued from A matter of respect, part 1, posted on 11 Feb 2015).

On the day of his petition hearing in front of the HS2 Select Committee (see footnote 1) Bob Edwards got less than half way through his prepared presentation before he was interrupted by, who else but, Sir Peter Bottomley who suggested that “it may be that” instead of Bob “continuing the rest of [his] presentation” that “Mr Mould can help the Committee and [Bob] in some part”. It proved to be the case that Mr Mould was indeed ready to make a very helpful contribution to proceedings (see footnote 2).

It was Bob’s long-standing agreements to use the farmland adjacent to his home to exercise and train his birds that Mr Mould saw as providing a route to a potential resolution of Bob’s problem (see footnote 3). In Mr Mould’s words, Bob is a “lawful occupier” of those fields, and someone who, “but for HS2 there is no reason to doubt”, would have “continued to be able to use” those fields. In Mr Mould’s view, at the point that Bob is “displaced from” the fields by HS2 he will be “entitled” to claim compensation. Mr Mould elaborated:

“He is entitled in principle to recover firstly the costs of removal from that field but perhaps more importantly the second item which he is entitled to recover is the losses that he can show he suffers as a result of being disturbed from that field and being unable to continue to carry on his trade within that field.”

But the Promoter’s Lead Counsel was prepared to go further. He noted that Bob had a “need to live so that he is able to look after” his birds, and conceded to him that “the flying area needs to be relatively close to where you are keeping your birds”. This pointed, the QC concluded, to a need to relocate him, house, aviaries and flying area, to an alternative location where he would be able to continue to carry on his business, untrammelled by HS2. Mr Mould summarised this plan “essentially as being pretty broadly analogous” to how the Promoter dealt with business relocations. He also expressed the hope that it would provide a basis for Bob and the Promoter “to move forward … with a slightly more positive approach than we have been able to hitherto”.

And, subject to negotiating the details, this is what Bob was seeking and he was happy to accept the offer and depart Committee Room 5, but why had a “more positive approach” to Bob’s problems not been possible much earlier? Why had he been told in all of his previous contacts with the Promoter that he could not be helped, and why had this view been supported by the Secretary of State? Why had it been necessary for him to go to the considerable trouble, and personal expense, of preparing his case and attending the Palace of Westminster before he was treated by the Promoter with due consideration and, dare I say it, proper respect?

And anybody who has witnessed more than one or two of the sessions of the Select Committee will realise that this is hardly an isolated example. Indeed, as I mentioned in part 1 of this blog series, I saw a second display of lack of respect for a petitioner during my two days in Westminster; this came just the day following Bob’s appearance.

This time the petitioner was Andrew McGregor (petition 1127) a farmer who is head of a family that owns and farms land in Weston under Wetherley, the Warwickshire village next to my own. He is also the owner of the part of South Cubbington Wood that would be damaged by HS2. Andrew’s main reason for petitioning was to object to HS2 Ltd’s intention to compulsorily purchase one of his most profitable arable fields to turn it into woodland intended as compensation for the losses that HS2 would inflict on his own wood.

I have heard Andrew speak on a number of occasions about his farm and his love of the countryside and he is unable to do this without passion; this was also evident when he addressed the Select Committee (see footnote 4). His eloquence prompted Committee Chairman, Robert Syms MP, to complement him on “a very good speech, a great political speech as well” (see footnote 5). He suggested to Andrew he had “missed [his] vocation”, meaning presumably that he should have forsaken field for debating chamber.

Earlier that morning I had been sitting in the orchestra stalls in Committee Room 5 a few seats away from Andrew. I had finished my spell addressing the Committee and Andrew was patiently awaiting his, when he left the room in the company of a representative of HS2 Ltd; clandestine meetings in the Committee Room Corridor appear to be a favoured device of the Promoter. A little while later he returned with a face like thunder, and when he addressed the Committee just before the lunch recess we learnt why, but I will save that for my next posting.

(To be concluded …)

Footnotes:

  1. Bob’s hearing was the first of the morning on Tuesday 20th January 2015 (video).
  2. Sir Peter Bottomley’s demonstration of his uncanny ability to know what Mr Mould was thinking is recorded in paragraph 29 of the transcript.
  3. Mr Mould’s analysis of Bob’s right to compensation, and the reaction by Members of the Committee, are recorded in paragraphs 71 to 104 of the transcript.
  4. Andrew McGregor’s hearing starts at 12:01 in the video of the morning session on Wednesday 21st January 2015, and I strongly recommend a look to all who love the countryside.
  5. Mr Sym’s remark is recorded in paragraph 435 of the transcript.

A matter of respect, part 1

I have, out of HS2 necessity, undertaken quite a few trips to London recently and have noticed that the good people who live there are, to their credit, very quick to give up their seats on underground trains and buses to senior citizens. The first time that this happened to me it was quite a shock; you see I don’t consider that I am particularly old and/or frail, although I do concede that I might look that way to those somewhat younger than me.

A couple of months back, I was accorded this courtesy on the tube by a middle-aged gentleman who I discovered in subsequent conversation hailed originally from Pakistan. I assured him, with embarrassment, that I was physically up to the rigours of standing, but he replied that it was not the point in question; he had offered me my seat “out of respect for my age” as was the custom of his mother country. In the UK the adjective “senior” in senior citizen appears to carry only connotations of advancing years; in Pakistan, it would appear, the other meaning of the word, implying higher rank or status, is the operative one.

But, irrespective of “seniority”, in either sense of the word, I think that we all appreciate, and I venture have a right to expect, being treated with respect by our fellow citizens. This is particularly important in any dealings that we may have with officialdom, since it is a feature of making our society work that we bestow officials with sometimes frighteningly potent powers over their fellow citizens. Armed in this way, the decisions made by these faceless ones can disrupt, and even shatter, the lives of others, and this was never as true as in the case of HS2 where the hybrid Bill will give employees of the State virtually untrammelled puissance. Nevertheless, it becomes more evident, day by day, as individuals tell their stories to the HS2 Select Committee, that the face of the Department for Transport for this project, HS2 Ltd, has failed to treat the citizens that its plans impinge upon with sufficient, indeed any, respect.

I was in Committee Room 5 to witness two such accounts, as they were given on the two days that I was there to address the Committee myself. I was very familiar with the story of the first of these petitioners, Bob Edwards (petition 1000), since I had helped him put his exhibits together. Bob told the Members of the Committee that, despite his home being, on his estimate, 175 metres from the track centreline (and therefore outside of the rural support zone), his cottage would be “totally surrounded by industrial commercial works in relation to HS2” and he reeled off a list of these, which included two construction compounds, earthworks, haul roads, the realignment and raising on embankment of a major road and, perhaps worst of all, an earth stockpile (see footnote 1). On the basis of what he was shown, Committee Chairman, Robert Syms MP, was prompted to comment that the area around Bob’s home “looks like Stalingrad” (see footnote 2).

HS2 Select Committee exhibit P3297 (part)

HS2 Select Committee exhibit P3297 (part)

Bob’s plight is perhaps best summarised by the map above, which was one of the exhibits prepared by HS2 Ltd for the hearing. The grey area is the safeguarded zone and, as you can see, it looks like someone at HS2 Ltd had the bright idea of saving some money by “avoiding” Bob’s property, which is the area enclosed by a red line.

But it isn’t just the impact that HS2 will have on his cottage that was worrying Bob. He runs a falconry experience business from his home and keeps three falcons, four hawks and a barn owl in aviaries out the back. By arrangement with local farmers he trains these birds and exercises them on a daily basis over the farmland adjacent to his home, farmland through which HS2 would be built. The noise and other disturbance whilst HS2 is being constructed and the physical danger to flying birds, both during construction activities and when HS2 becomes operational, means that Bob will either have to close down his business or move it, lock stock and barrel, before the HS2 construction gangs move in. Since Bob needs, for security and animal welfare, to live where his birds are kept, this implies that he will need to move his home also.

Finding a new location for his home and business will be very difficult, as the land over which the birds fly has to satisfy precise criteria, but this task had been made completely impossible by the total absence of any offer of compensation, either for the home or for the business, from HS2 Ltd. Bob has met with HS2 Ltd representatives on more than one occasion, and I was present at the most recent such meeting. Apart from some expressions of sympathy from the people from HS2 Ltd attending, all that Bob got when it came to asking them about compensation was a shrug of the shoulders and a “no can do”.

Bob even got his Member of Parliament to write to the Transport Secretary, who wrote back confirming that HS2 Ltd had got it right and telling Bob that “it was not possible to compensate him for an indirect impact HS2 may have on his business”. Mr McLoughlin, or the faceless one that wrote the letter for him to be more accurate, signs off with “[I] trust that you understand the need to balance generosity with the duty to use public funds responsibly”.

Well, I think that Bob felt that the wrecking of his life and business was a fairly direct impact of HS2 and, I guess to put words in his mouth, that he regarded putting things right as a totally appropriate use of public funds. So, basically, Bob was forced to petition and attend Committee Room 5 as a last resort.

(To be continued …)

Footnotes:

  1. Bob’s description of the construction works around his home is in paragraphs 23 and 24 of the HS2 Select Committee transcript for the morning on Tuesday 20th January 2015.
  2. The Chairman’s comment is in paragraph 29 of the transcript.

Acknowledgement: The Ordinance Survey mapping upon which the HS2 Ltd safeguarding area is overlaid has been reproduced in accordance with the principles of fair dealing as set out in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. On this basis, this mapping is:

Reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO.

© Crown Copyright. All rights reserved.

Welcome to another fun-packed year in HS2 Land, part 10

(… continued from Welcome to another fun-packed year in HS2 Land, part 9, posted on 3 Feb 2015).

One event that you don’t need to be particularly clairvoyant to be able to forecast will happen in 2015 is that the Davis Commission will publish its final report on the provision of additional runway capacity in south-eastern England. That the final report by the Committee was to be delivered in the summer of 2015 was established when its terms of reference were made public in November 2012.

The sceptics amongst us noted that this timescale put the consideration of what might be difficult recommendations for the Conservative Party to adopt until after the general election. Irrespective of what the Commission concluded, this would allow the 2010 Conservative Party Manifesto commitment to “stop the third runway” at Heathrow to be kept for the Parliament to which it refers – in the mind of a politician that would be a promise honoured!

We know, because the Davis Commission published an interim report in December 2013, that the final report is likely to recommend the expansion of runway facilities at either Heathrow or Gatwick. Whilst the possibility of a new hub airport being built in the Thames Estuary has not been entirely ruled out – it is seen by the Davis Commission as a proposal requiring further study – it does seem that the strong likelihood is that Heathrow will continue to be the UK’s dominant airport for the foreseeable future.

The role, if any, that HS2 might serve in improving the experience for the air traveller barely receives consideration in the Davis Commission’s interim report. It is not mentioned in the identified package of “surface transport improvements to make airports with spare capacity more attractive to airlines and passengers” (paragraph 37 in the Executive Summary of the report), and the only expansion proposal that is predicated upon HS2, expanding facilities at Birmingham Airport, was not short-listed by the Commission (paragraphs 6.60 to 6.63 in the main body of the report).

The plain truth is that the last vestiges of the case for a direct high speed link to Heathrow will, in every likelihood, disappear with the publishing of the Davis Commission’s final report. HS2 Ltd has never been able to, or never really wanted to, make a business case for this optional extra (see footnote 1), and the very small additional inconvenience of having to use Crossrail or the Heathrow Express for the final ten minutes of a journey from the North or the Midlands to Heathrow seems a reasonable compromise; certainly this is no more of an inconvenience than the expected HS2-HS1 link accommodation. The case that could be made for fast-linking Birmingham Airport to Heathrow to alleviate congestion at the latter has been turned down by the Commission, and it would appear that the Conservative Party will not require the small fig leaf that HS2 provided to, barely, hide its lack of an airports policy for the south-east of England in this current Parliament.

And yet HS2 Phase 1 is saddled with supporting “future-proofing” for connecting a possible spur to Heathrow, and this is the cause of much anxiety in West London. It is hampering efforts to propose mitigation, and the route for the spur being published means that blight is affecting those in its path.

What I fear is that the proposal for the spur will be kicked into the long grass after the Davis Commission has reported, but that it will not be definitively cancelled. This would mean that effects of both the Phase 1 future-proofing and the blight on the spur route will remain.

Moving on from Heathrow, one 2015 event that we now know that we can look forward too, assuming that HS2 Ltd delivers on a promise, is the publishing of the supplement to the Environmental Statement (ES); this will include all of the additional survey work that was not done in time to allow a complete ES to be deposited with the Phase 1 hybrid Bill. A planned issue date of summer 2015 was announced by HS2 Ltd to the HS2 Select Committee recently (see footnote 2). Of course, when this is published we will all get the chance to waste our time responding to the public consultation that will be triggered and, perhaps more profitably, will be able to deposit a new round of petitions.

Various comments made during the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committee have led to an expectation that another important document will be published this year. We can predict, I think, that the Committee will produce an interim report on issues and decisions up to the dissolution of Parliament as a legacy for the Select Committee in the new Parliament, in case there should be any personnel changes.

Finally, I want to go out on a bit of a limb regarding my final item of crystal ball gazing. I think that it could well be announced towards the end of 2015 that HS2 Ltd is searching for a new executive chairman. I say this in the light of comments made last November by the present incumbent, Sir David Higgins, to the Transport Select Committee of the House of Commons (see footnote 3). I’m pretty sure that if I was in his position I would cut and run before it all gets too messy.

Footnotes:

  1. The report on HS2 that was produced by HS2 Ltd for the Government in December 2009 estimated demand for direct high speed rail services to Heathrow from the West Midlands, North West, North and Scotland to be “just over one train load each way” per day (paragraph 3.3.10 of the report).
  2. This was advised by Promoter’s Lead Counsel, Timothy Mould QC, on the morning of 3rd February 2015 (see Q464 in the uncorrected transcript).
  3. When Sir David was asked by Jason McCartney MP at the Transport Select Committee’s oral evidence session held on Monday 17th November 2014 whether he would be “seeking a contract extension for another three or four years” when his present contract expires at the end of 2015, he replied that he would “want to see what progress we have made next calendar year and what support we have from any Government, whichever Government it is, to take the project forward” (see question Q64 in the transcript).
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 33 other followers