A bit of a rushed job

A recent article in the Sunday Telegraph picks up on a comment made by the new Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, in his first newspaper interview since taking the reins at the Department for Transport. Apparently, the Secretary of State accepts that the outcome of the recently-appointed Davies Commission, tasked with “identifying and recommending to Government options for maintaining this country’s status as an international hub for aviation”, may have implications for the best route for HS2. Although the Davies Commission is not due to publish its interim report until “no later than the end of 2013” and its final report “by the summer of 2015”, Mr McLoughlin admitted that the route of HS2 may have to be “adapted” – meaning, according to the Sunday Telegraph, redirected towards Heathrow – once its recommendations are known.

The article in the Sunday Telegraph speculates on the implications that any such adaption so late in the day might have upon the timescales for the HS2 project. Very interesting as this speculation is, it was something else in the article that really caught my eye:

“The directors of HS2 Ltd, the quango set up to deliver the scheme, have admitted they are finding the timetable set by ministers ‘very challenging’. Officials are struggling to inspect the land and complete all the design work in time to lay the hybrid Bill before Parliament next year.”

In support of this assertion, the Sunday Telegraph quotes from the published minutes of the HS2 Ltd Board:

“It was agreed that the time-frame [to deliver the hybrid Bill] was very challenging and that the board agenda will be set so as to allow progress to be monitored closely.”

This is no surprise to me; it is obvious from the discussions that have taken place in my local community forum that, although the representatives of HS2 Ltd that attend dare not admit it, things are not going according to plan.

My main concern is the environmental impact assessment (EIA) and the environmental specification (ES) that will be published summarising the findings of that assessment. According to the HS2 Ltd timeplans, a whole year has been allowed for the EIA, running from March 2012, allowing a draft ES to be published for consultation in the spring of 2013. At least a year is necessary for the EIA exercise since, as well as this being a great deal of work, much of the field survey exercise has to be undertaken in the appropriate season.

The EIA cannot be effectively carried out without access to private land, and this requires the consent of the respective landowner. The problem is that HS2 Ltd appears to have made a complete pig’s ear of obtaining landowner permissions. The extent of the cock-up that has occurred can be appreciated from some figures released to my local forum by HS2 Ltd. These relate to the state of play of landowner permissions sought in my area at September 2012, approximately half-way through the twelve-month period allowed for the EIA work.

  • Land parcels for which landowner permission is required 88.
  • Permissions obtained 22
  • Permissions refused 7
  • Permissions still outstanding 59

So far then HS2 Ltd has only been successful in obtaining 25% of the permissions that it requires to do all of the work that it has planned for the EIA.

So why have things gone so badly? This matter was discussed with HS2 Ltd representatives during a recent visit to my area, during which we provided them with the opportunity to talk to affected landowners about the requests for access that they had received. The grumbles that they heard included:

  • The complexity of the documentation that had been received.
  • A “one size fits all” approach for the documentation.
  • A lack of information about why access was required and what activities would be carried out.
  • The “blanket” nature of the access that HS2 Ltd required.
  • Insufficient notice being provided for in respect of each access requirement.
  • Difficulty in obtaining any useful advice from the HS2 Ltd helpline and no response to letters, even one’s from MPs.

The feelings of landowners is best summed up by a conversation that the HS2 Ltd representatives had with one of our local farmers, as recorded in HS2 Ltd’s own notes of the visit:

“Mr X described his frustration with the way people have been treated by HS2 to date. The letter for survey and associated contract for example was seen as being offensive in its tone. HS2 should have engaged and spoken to farmers much sooner.

“He stated that just 24-hour notice before access for surveys over the two years of access agreement is not a reality and can not be agreed to. Mr X contacted HS2 Ltd about his concerns at the end of February 2012 but received no response.”

The way things have been mishandled, I cannot see how the EIA work can be completed, to anything like an acceptable standard, in time to publish the ES next spring. I have raised this concern a number of times and the attitude of HS2 Ltd staff appears to be that they will publish something to schedule, but will then have a further six months to collect further data and knock the ES into shape in time to meet the timetable for the presentation of the hybrid bill to Parliament.

I don’t think that this is acceptable. The ES that is put out to consultation should be HS2 Ltd’s best effort, not a “dummy” document put up just to meet the Government’s timescales and tick another box. This is, it seems, another example of the cynicism with which proper process is being treated by the HS2 gang; it should have ceased to shock me by now, but I am still disturbed by every new revelation.

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9 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by hs2isright on October 2, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    You complain when EIA was not done to your liking and now you complaining again, Hs2 are trying to undertake the EIA, you can’t have it both ways. Why should Hs2 ltd tell you anything about what work that will undertaken as long the work does not affect or damage the property, 24hrs is sufficient notice for any landowner and one standard document is also suitable.

    Reply

    • Judging by your comments “hs2isright” you don’t appear to have read my blog very carefully.
      I expressed no opinion about the rights and wrongs of the way that HS2 Ltd has approached dealing with landowners. I was merely reporting on what some of our local landowners had said to HS2 Ltd when they had the opportunity.
      The concern that I expressed was that the mishandling of landowner access was going to affect the quality of the EIA work and the resulting ES. It appears to me that this is an irrefutable fact; if HS2 Ltd can’t get on the land, the proper work that is required will not be done.
      And before you ask, I have not been going round encouraging local landowners to refuse access. Whenever I have been asked by any landowner for advice on this issue, I have stressed the consequences to the EIA from not allowing access and said that it must be their decision. The 59 landowners still holding out from granting access are doing so for their own reasons, not mine. Despite your protestations that “HS2 is [always] right” it appears that these 59 folk have formed their own opinions about who is right and who is wrong.

      Reply

      • Posted by hs2isright on October 2, 2012 at 7:15 pm

        Yes is its a shame the EIA quality will be affected by these Landowners but all this will be doing is to Make Hs2 make an assumptions. Hopefully the hybrid bill will have a clause to make the landowners to give access. All these landowners are doing is trying to delay the inheritable access by HS2.

      • You really don’t understand what is going on, do you “hs2isright”. Of course your ignorance does not stop you pontificating. I have talked to affected landowners – have you? Most farmers are too busy running their businesses to play politics. All that they want is a reasonable dialogue with HS2 Ltd to allow them to determine the likely impacts on their farms of allowing surveyors on. Absolutely no one that I have talked to is playing a delaying game; as you say access is “inheritable”, or should that be “inevitable”, once the hybrid bill has received Royal Assent.

  2. Posted by chriseaglen on October 2, 2012 at 7:54 pm

    There is no inquiry or appeal in the hybrid bill period and the EIA /ES is unlikely to deter the MPs from forcing the process to a bill conclusion. It is necessary in a civilised nation to have checks and balances and perhaps the farmers are astute to realise there is not fairness, impartiality and openness in the process and their reactions are nromal. In addition many farms have reduced people on the farm and the HS2 demands cannot be accomodated. HS2 is an unfortunately poorly configured route and the 2 tracks are inadequate for the longer term needs, another unrealistic indication of land take. Farmers and some landowners are able to reason these situations themselves and know when the dice are loaded against common sense.

    Reply

    • Posted by hs2isright on October 2, 2012 at 8:07 pm

      What has the staffing levels got to do with giving access for Hs2, in many cases all they require is access to the land and dont require any help from the farmers. yes in a civilised nation to have check and balances but route have been desgined and is final, yes the route has only 2 track I would have liked it to have four or even six outside of the london

      Reply

      • Would you allow strangers into your home “hs2isright” without keeping an eye on what they are doing? I am sure that farmers and other landowners will want to do the same regarding their land and this has staffing implications.
        You seem to be under a misapprehension that the route is “designed and is final”. Just pop along to nearest community forum when it next meets, if HS2 Ltd will let you in, and you will see that it is very much a work in progress. Recent announcements about sidings and construction compounds and the investigation that HS2 Ltd is currently carrying out into tunnelling in west London illustrate that this is the case. As I reported in my blog, even the new Transport Secretary appears to think that the route may have to be “adapted” to take account the Government’s aviation policy (when it has one, of course), so he clearly does not think that the route is “final” – please pay attention to what I put in my blogs “hs2isright”.
        You are right to agree with Dr Chris Eaglen that we need checks and balances in a civilised nation – the way that these “checks and balances” (chiefly set up by the EU, rather than due to our governments) are being manipulated and avoided by HS2 Ltd demonstrates perhaps that the UK cannot claim this accolade.
        My comments on two tracks versus four will be posted in a new blog in the next few days.

      • Posted by hs2isright on October 3, 2012 at 11:26 am

        I am under no misunderstanding about the route, I do believe the route is final but I do agree that the New transport Minster is looking at the proposed route but until he tells HS2 about any changes the present route is final. Additionally saying I don’t know what is only on is say funny and a very low insult.

        So you are saying that landowner will need to keep a eye on Hs2 all the time when they are on their property, can i ask you have a window cleaner ? and if you do you have to watch him every second he is on your land? Do you know what surveying is a how much damage it will cause, I think not.
        I see why you are so upset and construction site when Chuddington has been chosen but these site will be put back to their original state after the project is finished. This show again not in my back yard. What recent announcements about sidings I may have missed this.

      • I’m sorry “hs2isright” that you appear to have taken exception to something that I said. Unfortunately the last sentence of your first paragraph is unintelligible (please read it again if you don’t believe me) so I’m not really sure what you are complaining about. I will try and remember that you have a very low tolerance threshold to criticism. Have you ever thought that you might be too sensitive for the social media environment?
        The dictionary meaning of “final”, or at least the relevant one, is “having no possibility for further discussion, action, or change; conclusive; decisive”. So the route can’t be “final” if there is any possibility that it might be changed.
        You still don’t seem to grasp that the views that I have expressed about land access are not mine, but are those of some of my local farmers. They are probably better placed than you (not I assume a farmer or substantial landowner) to judge about such matters. I have deliberately avoided giving a personal view on these issues, other than expressing my fears that the quality of the ES may be badly affected, as I do not feel qualified to comment on the problems that the farmers say they are having.
        For the record I live in Cubbington, not “Chuddington”. The press release that the Cubbington Action Group against HS2 put out on the construction compounds quotes me as saying “We can anticipate that the compound site will be temporary, only functioning during HS2 construction, and expect that the land will be restored to its previous condition when the compound is no longer required”, so it looks like I anticipated your point.
        I will give more information on the “sidings” in a blog that I have scheduled for posting on 10 Oct 2012 (currently, but things change). This blog includes the following explanation:
        “It appears that HS2 Ltd is alert to this potential shortcoming of a two-track design, and has come up with the solution of inserting short (approximately 2 km) sections of four tracks into the otherwise two-track railway – not something that was in the design that was submitted to public consultation, of course. The candidate locations for these ‘sidings’ were announced to those communities affected during the September round of community forum meetings.”

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