Meeting at the Forum

In my blog Standing up for the environment (posted 1 Apr 2012), I mentioned that HS2 Ltd is employing forums to facilitate “ongoing dialogue and engagement with relevant stakeholders”; I also said that I will “describe how [this process] works and give some initial reactions based upon my own involvement” in this blog and the one that follows.

The “engagement structure” that is being employed by HS2 Ltd is described in a briefing note that was circulated to local authorities but was not, as far as I can determine, published generally. The structure is illustrated in the graphic below, which is taken from that briefing note.

HS2 engagement structure (source: HS2 Ltd)

This diagram gives the impression of a flat structure, and HS2 Ltd has been at pains to stress that no hierarchy is intended. However if only on grounds of the number of bodies of each type that are envisaged, it is probably more appropriate to regard the organisational structure as a pyramid.

Obviously at the summit of this pyramid is the National Environmental Forum, which will “assist the development of environmental policy for the development stage of HS2”. The briefing note identifies the membership of the Forum as HS2 Ltd, the Department for Transport and other government departments and statutory environmental consultees; all represented at senior management level. The briefing note gives examples of the statutory environmental consultees as the Environment Agency, Natural England and English Heritage. This is as one would expect, but I venture to suggest that some of the national voluntary environmental bodies, such as the Wildlife Trusts and the Woodland Trust, could make an important contribution to the Forum in the form of a voice that is independent of the Government and should not be excluded.

It is also envisaged in the briefing note that “technical sub groups”, covering specific matters, may be set up to support the work of the Environmental Forum.

In the centre of the pyramid, or so it appears, there are six (Local Authority) Planning Forums, each covering a different section of the route; for example, one will cover the route through my own County of Warwickshire. The briefing note describes their function as “to facilitate discussion of design development, planning issues, environmental impacts and mitigation principles”. We are also told that the Planning Forums will “involve officers from local authorities and other transport and planning bodies” (as well as HS2 Ltd, of course); all will be represented by senior management and senior officers. Where appropriate to the area covered by an individual Planning Forum, other authorities may also be represented; the briefing note cites the examples of the Greater London Authority, Transport for London, Centro and the Chilterns Conservation Board. The briefing note also envisages that Network Rail, the Highways Agency and local officers of statutory environmental consultees may also contribute “on an invitation basis”.

It is interesting to observe that the briefing note envisages that local authorities will be represented on the Planning Forums only by paid council employees, not the elected representatives of the citizens living in the area administered by the council concerned.

Further, by way of explanation of the role of the Planning Forums, we are told that they “will act as the focal point for HS2 Ltd’s engagement” with the member organisations and “would be supplemented by ongoing engagement undertaken by geographically focused development teams within HS2 Ltd”. Areas of discussion will include “location specific constraints, design and impacts, including construction, spatial planning considerations and proposals for mitigations”.

The briefing note also says that Station Working Groups for each of the four Phase 1 stations will be set up “in parallel to the Planning Forums”. These will “enable issues such as land use, infrastructure, access, connectivity, investment, funding and implementation to be addressed in specific regard to station development”.

Definitely at the bottom of the pecking order (sorry, I mean pyramid) are the Community Forums. These are intended “to represent local communities” along the route. Each typically represents about ten kilometres of route section and they number twenty-five. The briefing note gives a long list of likely members, comprising: local authority, parish councils, local residents/resident groups, local action groups, local business groups/Chambers of Commerce, transport bodies, local environment/heritage groups, schools/educational facilities and local farmers/landowners. Of course HS2 Ltd will also be represented.

HS2 Ltd sets out its aspirations for the Community Forums in the briefing note, as follows:

“Community Forums are one mechanism that we hope will help us to build a relationship with local communities. We hope Community Forums will highlight the concerns of the wider community and provide another channel to disseminate information about consultations and other project news.

“We want local communities to have influence as we gain more detailed environmental information, design a more detailed route and develop blight policies.

“In particular, Community Forums will have a remit to make specific local recommendations on mitigations and solutions and to identify local benefits and activities that could be linked to this project.

“We seek to work closely with local authorities and parishes in developing the plans for Community Forums.”

Since it appears to be the only level at which the communities affected by HS2 will be able to interact directly with HS2 Ltd, I will consider the workings of the Community Forum further in my next blog.

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