A Christmas treat

I didn’t get to visit Father Christmas in his grotto this year, but I did get to see the Transport Secretary in his lair. This seasonal treat, just a week before Christmas Eve, came courtesy of my Member of Parliament Jeremy Wright. I was a member of a five-man delegation, consisting of four chairmen of action groups from Mr Wright’s Kenilworth and Southam constituency plus a member of Warwickshire County Council.

The opportunity arose from two letters that my MP had written to the Secretary of State in October. He was granted an audience to discuss these letters and generously responded to the suggestion from us that he might like some company.

The events of the day are a bit of a blur. What seemed like a bit of a route march to an elderly chap like me (my MP is much younger and fitter), from the Houses of Parliament, cutting through Smith Square, and along Horseferry Road to the Department for Transport (DfT) building at the corner of Marsham Street. Then into the lift to the top floor, down the “corridor of power” past the offices of ministers and senior civil servants and a brief pause in a waiting area. Then we were ushered through the outer office where his private staff work and, finally, into the large room that is the Secretary of State’s lair.

I took at seat at the large meeting table on the left-hand side of the room; Patrick McLoughlin was already seated at the far end of the table. Also already seated were two HS2 Ltd representatives, who I have met many times now, and an official from the Department for Transport, whose name I never got. I looked across to the other side of the room; the layout conformed to standard practice as I understand it, with the Secretary of State’s desk in the far corner and a three-piece suite and coffee table at my end of the room. I noticed on the wall behind Mr McLoughlin something that I had heard about – a framed election poster with him in a hard hat and with blackened face, trading on his “mining credentials” (he spent five years working underground).

McLoughlin_election_poster

Of course, the diary of a Secretary of State is fairly rigidly organised and we had been allocated a strict thirty minutes of his valuable time. Jeremy Wright had, again generously, agreed to limit his contribution to a brief introduction and some concluding remarks, but the rest of the time available would need to be strictly rationed between the delegates.

Since Jeremy Wright’s letters had covered four main topics, it was agreed that each action group chairman would take one of these, taking no more than two minutes to present his case. Of the four topics – community forums, mitigation and changes to the route, noise and vibration, and the HS2 business case – guess which one I got. Yep, noise. It was also agreed that the councillor from Warwickshire County Council in the delegation would make some remarks supporting what had been said.

Since I only had two minutes to get my message on noise across, I decided to write my speechlet down. The topics that I covered within my brief were: the lack of quantitative information on noise levels up to now, the inappropriateness of citing HS1 as a model for HS2 noise impacts, the lack of statutory or even voluntary limits for HS2 noise and the lack of any real engagement with local communities on noise issues. Since this was a lot to cram into a two-minute slot, I also prepared a slightly more expansive written submission on the same themes.

Tabling a written submission proved to be an advantage, because Patrick McLoughlin said that he would respond by letter to my document.

All of our submissions were given a fair hearing. When we had all finished, the Secretary of State responded. He said that he recognised the need to make sure in future that there is a better dialogue with local communities. He admitted that further changes to the route would be inevitable, and expressed the hope that some issues of mitigation would be resolved as the route design work progressed. He said that he believes what he has been told regarding capacity problems on the WCML, and that a new railway line is required to solve these problems.

In summary Mr McLoughlin accepted that his department needed to “do infrastructure” better, but said that he felt that the DfT does these things “quite well” at the moment.

The promised response to my written submission has now arrived. I have to admit that I am disappointed, though not unduly surprised, regarding the contents of the Secretary of State’s letter. Of my four points, he only really attempts to reply to two, and on one of those his response covers an entirely different point; I raised the issue of statutory noise emission limits and he refers me to the legislation providing for noise insulation grants – hardly the same thing. On the topic of engagement with local communities on noise issues, I had hoped that he would see that the HS2 Ltd policy of avoiding direct engagement with local communities did not satisfy international standards for projects that have environmental consequences. Unfortunately, the Secretary of State appears, from his letter, to be satisfied with this state of affairs.

So much for “the need to make sure in future that there is a better dialogue with local communities”.

Acknowledgement: The image of the election poster was downloaded from the Total Politics website. I trust that I have not infringed anyone’s copyright, but will remove the image if I am notified that I have.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by kate on January 24, 2013 at 9:29 pm

    Sorry Peter I agree with the Secretary of State he has answered your questions fully.

    Reply

    • Thanks for taking the time to post a comment “Kate” and welcome to the site. Assuming that you have read both my submission and the SoS’s letter that I provided links to, I am amazed that you can draw the conclusion that you have. Perhaps if you provide a more reasoned comment I will be able to understand where you are coming from.

      Reply

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