Lessons from history, part 16

(… continued from Lessons from history, part 15, posted on 31 Aug 2014).

On the odd occasion in past postings I have had a bitch about the difficulties of “engaging” with HS2 Ltd, something that I had cause to repeat as recently as in part 15 of this blog series. If you search through the petitions listed on the parliament website for those petitioners that are likely to have experienced face-to-face meetings with representatives of HS2 Ltd, such as action groups, residents’ associations and local councils, you will see that frustration with this process is an oft-repeated theme.

The level of disillusionment with what has gone on is succinctly set down in petition 0902, deposited by the Wells House Road Residents’ Association. Wells House Road is a cul-de-sac in West London that, in the words of the petition, would suffer the impacts of the construction of Old Oak Common station “up to the property borders on all three sides of the street for up to ten years”. The lack of proper engagement with HS2 Ltd runs as a constant theme throughout the petition, but is summarised in paragraph 77:

“After our experience over the past three years of HS2 ‘community engagement’ we have little confidence in the consultation process and responsiveness of HS2. Although they have met with residents regularly, they have often failed to provide responses to residents’ questions, have omitted vital information … and provided often inaccurate and misleading information … The process, overall has been time consuming, complex, costly and frustrating. Our trust in HS2 has diminished and we have little confidence in their provision of fair and honest measures without intermediary intervention.”

Even a couple of Conservative Members of Parliament, both with personal experience of the community forum meetings, have picked up on this theme. Attorney General, Jeremy Wright, states, in paragraph 12 of petition 1791, that he is “disappointed that none of the mitigation measures raised by his constituents have been properly considered”. Backbencher Dan Byles is more specific in his criticisms in petition 1483.

In paragraphs 11 and 12 of his petition, Mr Byles complains that, whilst one of the action groups in his constituency has “made every effort to engage with HS2 Ltd for four years”, the group’s “reasonable mitigation proposals have been stymied at every opportunity”. He makes the further accusation that “HS2 Ltd has failed to answer … concerns from the community forums and have failed to address the issues of the village”. Altogether, he identifies three action groups in his constituency that have “met with HS2 Ltd engineers throughout the four years but have never had their questions answered, nor have they had proper justification of the projected costs which were used to deny their mitigation proposals”.

Perhaps even more serious is his claim that, when his local action groups were driven to employ the Freedom of Information Act to obtain information, “the figures they received were inaccurate or incomplete”.

In paragraph 13 of his petition, Mr Byles grumbles about the plight of his constituents who would be affected by the Kingsbury Road railhead, under proposals he says “were only first raised in September 2013”. HS2 Ltd refused to discuss the impacts of HS2 with residents for four years on the grounds that they “would be part of next phase”. When HS2 Ltd changed its plans and included the railhead within Phase 1, it was, as Mr Byles points out, “after the programme of Community Forums and so these residents could not engage with the process”.

The North Warwickshire MP also complains, in paragraph 14 of his petition, about his “constituents who have been communicated with poorly by HS2 Ltd”. He cites letters sent to the wrong address, and gives the example of one of his constituents “who [only] found out that her home was under the proposed Kingsbury Road railhead when she saw a map at a consultation event”.

It may be some, but possibly not much, comfort to these petitioners, and everyone else who shares these sentiments, to learn that similar complaints were made to the Crossrail Hybrid Bill Select Committee, and that the Committee felt it necessary to record its “dissatisfaction at the lack of information given at times by the Promoter to the public during consultation periods” in paragraph 25 of Volume 1 of its First Special Report of Session 2006‑07. A footnote to that paragraph steers the reader to comments made by Mrs Jil Cove (paragraph 10917 on page Ev 1043 in Volume III of the Committee’s report):

“We also believe, as I have said before, that consultation with Crossrail has been inadequate and meaningless. The supposed benefits to residents of Tower Hamlets in general and Spitalfields and Whitechapel in particular are negligible. The documents provided are insipid, disingenuous, obtuse and sometimes absolutely wrong in containing out-of-date information.”

I suspect that the transcripts of the Crossrail proceedings are littered with such complaints. Certainly, the record for Tuesday 13th June 2006, the day that I reported on in part 4 of this blog series, contains its fair share. There is, for example, this complaint from Ms Zoe Hudson, reported in paragraph 10060 on page Ev 967 of Volume III:

“Dealing with Crossrail has been extremely frustrating and when they have produced information it has been misleading. Most professional bodies have rules of professional conduct and I am sure Crossrail must have some but my analogy for dealing with Crossrail is that they were a doctor I think they would have been struck off.”

Or Mrs Sandy Critchley, recorded in paragraph 10078 on page Ev 969:

“We do not trust anything that Crossrail says. Their local consultation process was pathetic …”

And, as Mr Aulad Miah pointed out, Crossrail couldn’t even get the mechanics of consultation right (paragraph 10107 on page Ev 971):

“We feel that very little has happened in terms of engaging with the BME [black and minority ethnic] communities, particularly in Spitalfields. The choice for venues like a pub or a brewery is not ideal to attract Muslim men and women.”

And:

“We feel that information was not made … available to people who could not speak English, considering that they were very well aware that a lot of the people in that area would be of Bangladeshi origin, considering that throughout the route of Crossrail within one kilometre radius approximately 30-odd per cent would be Asian.”

It would seem that important lessons that should have been learnt from the Crossrail experience have not been.

(To be continued …)

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