Lessons from history, part 15

(… continued from Lessons from history, part 14, posted on 27 Aug 2014).

In part 11 of this blog series I alluded to the considerable number of petitioners against Crossrail who had never actually made an appearance before the Select Committee, an effect that I referred to therein as “wastage”. A remarkable 55% of Crossrail petitioners failed to see their petition through to the ultimate stage of appearing before the Committee. Although I referred to this effect as “wastage”, it is obviously a very desirable outcome as far as the HS2 Select Committee schedulers are concerned and encouraging this phenomenon could achieve a significant reduction in the workload on the Committee and, in consequence, the time taken to complete its work.

Despite encouraging petitioners not to appear being probably the most effective way of shortening the life of the HS2 Select Committee, it is something over which the Committee, and its schedulers, have very little control. It falls to HS2 Ltd to influence whether petitioners appear or not by the success, or failure, of any negotiations between promoter and petitioner that may be held in advance of the latter’s scheduled date of appearance before the Committee.

The importance of such negotiations was referred to in the discussion following the “unanswerable” question posed by Sir Peter Bottomley MP during the session of the Committee held on the afternoon of Monday 21st July 2014 (transcript) that I referred to in part 11 of this blog series:

313. CHAIR: It may well depend on how well the negotiations go between petitioners and Promoters of the Bill this summer.

314. MR MOULD QC (DfT): I think I used the phrase “enlightened self-interest”. Whether it is enlightened or not, there is certainly a degree of self-interest in trying to get those negotiations moving as smoothly as they have so far.

Mr Mould was not specific about which negotiations he regarded as having gone “smoothly”, but I imagine that he was probably referring to those focussing on the petitions by Birmingham City Council (477) and Centro (498). The hearing of these two petitions by the Select Committee was scheduled for Monday 21st July and Tuesday 22nd July, but did not take place and has not been rescheduled in the September/October programme. So it looks like these two organisations are the first petitioners to elect not to appear before the Committee – two down, 1,895 to go!

This decision by these two organisations is explained in an announcement on the Birmingham City Council website:

“Following negotiations with HS2 Ltd, the City Council (by the Leader and Deputy Chief Executive), together with Centro, has reached agreement where the Secretary of State (SoS) for Transport has provided assurances on a number of Birmingham-centric issues – including Curzon Street station, Washwood Heath Depot and others. The City Council will work with HS2 Ltd to ensure that these agreements are taken forward.”

The concessions made by HS2 Ltd are set out in a letter that it sent to Birmingham City Council and Centro – or, more correctly, to their respective parliamentary agents – in mid-July 2014, and are summarised in the website announcement by Birmingham City Council. The HS2 Ltd letter asks the two petitioners to confirm that they will not, “on the basis of” the assurances that have been given, “be appearing in Select Committee”; presumably this confirmation was given.

I can’t imagine that these will have been, by any means, the most difficult negotiations that HS2 Ltd will find themselves required to undertake with a petitioner. Both Birmingham City Council and Centro are fervent supporters of HS2, and the concessions that have been won appear, on the whole, to concern “motherhood and apple pie” issues, where it would have been churlish in the extreme for HS2 Ltd to refuse. It’s also worth noting that the concessions are not totally one-sided; the letter requires Centro to pick up the tab for some of the additional cost of enlarging the design for Curzon Street station to accommodate an interchange with the proposed Midland Metro Birmingham Eastside Extension.

The announcement by Birmingham City Council indicates, however, that not all matters covered by its petition have been resolved, as yet:

“Whilst discussion continues on issues around Birmingham Interchange Station, and elsewhere, the City Council will work to support other petitioners leading on these issues as appropriate; from September 2014 onwards the remainder of those affected by HS2 are anticipated to present their concerns to the Hybrid Bill’s Select Committee, to seek agreements to address those concerns and maximise the benefits of HS2.”

So whilst it looks like we won’t have the pleasure of seeing Birmingham City Council in front of the Select Committee, there is every chance that it could be on the sidelines cheering on others, and I assume that Solihull Borough Council is likely to be in the vanguard of these “others” if agreement cannot be reached with HS2 Ltd on Birmingham Interchange issues.

Considerable effort appears to have been expended by HS2 Ltd in ensuring that just two petitioners do not exercise their right to appear before the Select Committee, and there are hundreds more waiting in the wings. In order to match what was achieved on Crossrail, HS2 Ltd would need to take its part in dissuading the petitioners responsible for 55% of the 1,895 HS2 petitions currently on the table from appearing in front of the Committee; that’s a staggering 1,042 petitions. From my own experience of taking part in face-to-face discussions with HS2 Ltd, I have suspicions that such an exercise may well prove to be beyond the capacity of the organisation. We have already seen, on numerous occasions, that the administrative abilities of the organisation fall short of the demands placed upon it and the management has, so far, driven through proposals rather than consulted on them. It is an organisation that badly needs to develop a pair of ears, and to use those ears to listen to its opponents as well as its friends.

The Register of Undertakings and Assurances document that was compiled for Crossrail allows some appreciation to be made of the task that HS2 Ltd has embarked upon. This register lists 681 undertakings and assurances that were negotiated with petitioners against the Crossrail hybrid Bill. I think that we can expect the HS2 Phase 1 equivalent to be a still larger document, perhaps very much larger.

(To be continued …)

Important Note: The document from which the exchange between the Chairman and promoter’s counsel reproduced in this blog is taken is an uncorrected transcript of evidence, which is 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, and it may therefore be subject to changes being made in the light of any such corrections being requested.

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by chriseaglen on August 31, 2014 at 8:44 am

    The point is being missed the mutual interest negotiations are what Hybrid Bills are about. For personal interests by a house or detrimental impact on surface businesses it cannot not be achieved except by diversion or tunnel where this Committee has too little scope of resources or powers.

    Thank fully for many people the change of the Coalition to a group with a different set of priorities after May 2015 is their only hope.Technical alternative solutions were dismissed by HS2 to their longer term detriment. The race is on to extend the petitioning period by best attendance and mutual support of local petitioners to ensure they can present are the keep steps. Birmingham is a failing City economically needing more and more subsidies and even raising their contribution will be difficult and need local political fixes as some other areas of the UK repeatedly require,

    Reply

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