Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, part 4

(… continued from Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, part 3, posted on 20 Sep 2014).

Tim Mould QC, lead counsel for the promoter, can be very persuasive. Certainly, when cross-examining Charles Gillett FRICS, witness for the Gooch Estate, in front of the HS2 Select Committee on the evening of Monday 1st September (see footnote), his skills in this respect were working at full power. He was trying to convince Mr Gillett that the Gooch Estate had nothing to fear from the proposed Clause 47 of the HS2 Phase 1 hybrid Bill. Indeed, according to Mr Mould, the clause had the potential to convey positive benefits to the Gooch Estate and its plans to contribute to the redevelopment of the Digbeth area of Birmingham.

It appeared that his efforts had been rewarded when Mr Gillett eventually conceded that any assistance that the Transport Secretary might be able to offer potential landowner/developers under the provisions of Clause 47 could possibly be of benefit, “in a situation where it’s used to acquire interest to make up a development site”. However, Mr Mould was really pushing at an open door because the Gooch Estate concedes in paragraph 28 of its petition (0458) that “Clause 47 could be a helpful tool for areas around stations where plans for redevelopment are not forthcoming and where land ownership is fragmented”.

However, the Gooch Estate expresses, in the same paragraph of its petition, the view that such a helping hand from the Transport Secretary would be “entirely inappropriate for an area such as Digbeth where the local planning authority and local landowners are entirely in favour of regeneration and are promoting plans themselves with input from local people and where land is owned by a small number of larger landowners … who are engaged in the regeneration process”.

What the Gooch Estate is seeking is an undertaking that the powers afforded by Clause 47 will not be employed “in relation to any land belonging to” the Gooch Estate (paragraph 29 of the petition) and this is what Mr Gillett held out for, despite Mr Mould’s powers of persuasion . So it was a case of no more Mr Nice Guy from Mr Mould:

“I’m not going to give an assurance, because the Secretary of State has set out his policy …”

So far from there being an undertaking on the cards, Mr Mould could not even see himself able to offer a mere assurance.

At least one member of the Select Committee appeared to think that Mr Mould was possibly being unnecessarily intransigent. Yasmin Qureshi MP put it to Mr Mould that “how you define a broad-range policy is open to interpretation” and asked him if it “wouldn’t be easier to give the reassurances required”. However, her intervention saw no change in Mr Mould’s position.

It was left to Sir Peter Bottomley MP to make the most telling points – I must say that I have been very impressed with Sir Peter’s contribution to the proceedings so far, particularly his astute analysis of the matters that have been argued before him. He asked Mr Mould whether there had been an equivalent to Clause 47 in the HS1 Act and was told that there hadn’t been. He then asked the QC whether he had been instructed “that there have been examples of times when the Promoters or Government would have wished to have had this power in a similar kind of Bill or Act”. Mr Mould had to admit that his instructions had not included “any such particular instances in that respect”.

Sir Peter then put what he described as “an observation” to Mr Mould:

“… if this is a power which Government would find useful, it may be something for primary legislation in a direct Government Bill; presumably the Town and Country Planning Act left it out by some sort of mistake.”

And of course Sir Peter is absolutely right. If the Government wants to change planning law to allow the Transport Secretary to become involved in the planning process then it should do so by amending the relevant planning legislation, not by trying to introduce a back-door measure in a Bill that is seeking Parliament’s specific permission to build a rail link.

I hope that other honourable Members will think the same way when it is time for the line by line examination of the HS2 Phase 1 hybrid Bill. Meanwhile, perhaps the Secretary of State should remind himself of the Tenth Commandment, as expressed in Exodus 20:17 (King James Version):

“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.”

Footnote: The relevant section of Mr Mould’s cross-examination of Mr Gillet starts at paragraph 303 in the transcript and at 20:12 hrs in the video and extends to paragraph 333 in the transcript and 20:22 hrs in the video. Mr Gillett’s admission that Clause 47 could be useful comes in paragraph 316. Mr Mould’s refusal to give an assurance is recorded in paragraph 333. Ms Qureshi’s intervention starts at paragraph 334 and Sir Peter Bottomley’s is reported from paragraph 341 onwards.

Important Note: The account of the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committee that is given in this blog is based upon 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.




One response to this post.

  1. Posted by chriseaglen on September 27, 2014 at 11:43 am

    It is doubtful a neighbour would tolerate such behaviour. The processes will fail because the concept of HS2 is of little long term network value and the rising cost now being suggested at over £80B when including adjacent and other works are becoming realised across the counties. HS2 fails to provide the day to day requirements for the travellers trying to exodus Reading on Fridays or to travel into Birmingham and London in lorries, vans and cars. A failed project needing a brave Prime Minister of the future to accept as a mega mistake of a all three main political parties. Time to become realistic and not worry about these conversations in rooms in the Westminster Palace. The Queen may even acknowledge her delight if the retirement home for the horses is saved along with the Union too. Time to change to more realistic projects before the lights go out and the traffic stops.


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