Knock, knock who’s there?

Knock, knock who’s there?

HS2 Ltd.

Well b****r off then.

That’s not much of a joke, I must confess, but it does seem to be a fair summary of the attitude that HS2 Ltd has encountered from quite a few landowners when seeking access to land for the purposes of carrying out environmental survey work. As I reported in my blog Enter Prince Charming, stage right, part 2 (posted 19 May 2014) forty percent of the route of Phase 1 has yet to be surveyed and lack of land-owner permission appears to be the chief reason for this.

We English are very territorial and guard the boundaries of the plots that we call home with ferocity (or, in the case of homes in the suburbs, with Cupressus Leylandii). The list of  bodies that can send people across your threshold is very limited and, except in emergencies, they generally require special written authority. At the time of writing this blog, HS2 Ltd is very definitely not on the list, with or without written authority. So, up to now, HS2 Ltd has had to ask politely if wishing to enter your land, and have tried to persuade you by offering an inducement of one thousand sovs. It would appear however that HS2 Ltd has been unable to persuade in many cases, probably not entirely unconnected with the apparent failing of the organisation to understand the meaning of the word “politely”.

This problem of access was discussed by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee with the panel of representatives of the Government (including HS2 Ltd) that was assembled to give oral evidence at the session held on the afternoon of Wednesday 26th March 2014 (video). This discussion was led by a series of questions from Dr Alan Whitehead MP (Lab, Southampton Test) that begins at Q146 in the transcript.

During this discussion Dave Buttery, Deputy Director of High Speed Rail Legislation at the Department for Transport, admitted that the policy of “engaging with landowners [based upon a] kind of series of commercial payments to allow access to land” had “only been successful to a certain point” (Q152). Another member of the panel, Peter Miller Head of Environment and Planning at HS2 Ltd, thought that things were improving on this front (Q148):

“We have a programme in place at the moment to obtain further access from landowners, and I think generally we are getting a good response from those landowners. As I understand it, we are starting to get an even better response from those landowners who previously have not engaged with us.”

Mr Miller also admitted that “there are some areas of land that [HS2 Ltd] may never get access to, but that lack of access “does not preclude an environmental assessment being carried out” (Q151). Mr Buttery chipped in that whilst “surveying data is an important part of the baseline for an Environmental Statement” it was not, in his opinion, “the be all and end all”, since HS2 Ltd was able to make use of “existing information held by local authorities and held by other groups” to ensure that the assessment is “as robust as it can be” (Q151).

In response to questioning from Dr Whitehead about what steps would be taken in the event that, whilst the hybrid Bill was under consideration by Parliament, further survey information came to light that required changes to the design of HS2 Phase 1, Mr Buttery described the procedure of depositing “supplementary information” and the subsequent re-consultation process that I reported in my blog Enter Prince Charming, stage right, part 2 (Q149).

Mr Buttery was also at pains to point out that the procedures to cover new survey information requiring design changes to be made subsequent to Royal Assent was sufficiently robust (Q150):

“… the way that the Bill is constructed and the way that the environmental minimum requirements and commitments that the Secretary of State gives to the House effectively means that the railway needs to be built within the scope of the Environmental Statement, or it does not have planning permission, or further consent has to be sought. If there is an additional environmental effect that is not identified until after Royal Assent, the nominated undertaker—the organisation building the railway—would be required to get planning permission via the local authority, so there is always a check and a balance. It is not that once the Act is an Act there is carte blanche to do what the nominated undertaker wants. There are inbuilt controls to protect the environment.”

Judging by Recommendation 12 in their report HS2 and the environment, it appears that the Members siting on the Environmental Audit Committee were not too impressed by these assurances:

“HS2 Ltd must carry out outstanding environmental surveys as soon as possible. It should focus particularly on cataloguing all ancient woodland and protected animal species, and as much as possible of the 40% of the route yet to be examined by involving local wildlife groups where possible.”

In my next posting I will look further at the problem of accessing land for the purposes of the survey work required for the environmental impact assessment.

 

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by chriseaglen on May 23, 2014 at 11:57 am

    The attitudes and behaviours are resulting in some people not being permitted to site meetings. A very disturbing state of affairs now resulting in barring. Sadly arrogance can lead to this approach and culture. Not cricket.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Offa on May 24, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    Our problem was not that we didn’t sign an access agreement, but that having signed it and been paid, they never came and then had the bare-faced cheek to say in the EA that no access was allowed! They also said that about the publicly accessible Greenway nearby! It also took them around 7 months to deal with the paperwork for the access agreement and at every point had to be poked into action by our solicitor. A key problem was that they kept sending us an access agreements prepared for farms … and I kept explaining that unfortunately I couldn’t give them the weight of my carrot crop as I’d just eaten them for Sunday lunch!

    Reply

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