So it’s not just me then, part 1

In part 16 of my blog series Lessons from history, I identified some remarks made in petitions against the HS2 Phase 1 hybrid Bill about the quality of the engagement process with HS2 Ltd. Similar comments are starting to be recorded in the transcripts of the hearings held by the HS2 Select Committee.

The undertones were there right from the very first session that the Committee held to hear petitions. Andrew Tait QC, counsel for Curzon Park Ltd, opened his submission by affirming that his client “welcomes HS2”. However, it was clear that those representing Curzon Park Ltd had been disappointed by their dealings with HS2 Ltd, so far. Mr Tait intimated that his appearance before the Committee should not have been necessary, but had been forced by his client’s requests for “limited comfort” having been ignored by HS2 Ltd (paragraph 14 in the transcript).

On the second day, hostel owner Brian Mullen, petitioning on his own behalf, was more overt in his criticism. He treated the Committee to a fairly detailed appraisal of his experience of the community forum process, which he summarised as follows (paragraph 26 in the transcript):

“It was very frustrating and it seemed that High Speed 2 were just going through a process, ticking boxes and showing they had consulted, but without us really feeling that we had been heard. They were listening but they really weren’t hearing.”

Now I have heard colleagues from the campaign against HS2 express very similar sentiments, using almost identical words, but you might think that such people would find it expedient to criticise HS2 Ltd in any way that they could. However, Mr Mullan is, as far as I am aware, just a regular citizen with no particular agenda against the promoters of HS2, and I have certainly not seen his name connected in any way with the campaign.

Mr Mullan was followed in the same session of the Committee by Phil Burrows, presenting the petition of Friends of the Earth (Birmingham) Ltd. He also appeared to be not entirely satisfied with the community forums, referring to the “very little feedback that we received during the forums” (paragraph 302 in the transcript).

At least one Member of the Select Committee picked up on these signals. In the very same session that we heard from Mr Mullan and Mr Burrows, Yasmin Qureshi MP remarked that witnesses had seemed to be suggesting that “HS2 are really not listening to what people are trying to say”. She went on (paragraph 385 in the transcript):

“[HS2 Ltd has] obviously got a tunnel vision that they want to build their railway, but everything else that happens as consequences of it, the petitioners do not feel they are being listened to, and they feel as if they’re being ignored, and nobody’s actually coming to the table and confidently saying, ‘Look, we will do this’, or ‘We will do that’, or ‘I intend us to do that’. It all seems to be very woolly like, ‘Yes, we will do …’ but nobody wants to deal with (a) the specifics and (b) to answer these people, about what their fears and worries – which seem to be, from what we hear, very justified – that they’re actually being taken seriously.”

These impressions appear to be in marked contrast with what HS2 Ltd thinks it is doing, or rather says that it is doing – I don’t think that even the Company really believes much of what it puts out for public consumption. The latest example of corporate fantasy published by the Company in this context is Information Paper G1, which bears the title Consultation and Engagement. In paragraph 1.1.4 of that document we are informed that “HS2 Ltd has sought to be flexible in its approach and continues to learn from experience”.

In paragraph 1.3.1 the document identifies one of the aims of the consultation and engagement process as:

“To develop an improved scheme and propose steps to avoid, reduce or, where reasonably practicable, off-set any significant adverse effects that have been identified.”

Strangely enough, I think that most petitioners are trying to achieve that very thing, and I am sure will be reassured to learn that this aim is shared by HS2 Ltd. However, I also feel that many petitioners will agree with me that, if this is truly something that HS2 Ltd is trying to achieve, it sure has a very strange way of going about it.

(To be continued …)

Important Note: The account of the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committee that is given in this blog is based upon uncorrected transcripts of evidence, which are 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 October 2, 2014 at 9:13 pm

    The assumption of separation of powers has long gone. Writing legislation for the past decades has achieved the removal of the awkward matter protection, or the reinterpretation of the text in favour of the exception by distinction. The idea of HS2 aiming to improve is cost limited and is not the practice. The once through design is hardly the best engineering solution particularly when there is no site data.

    All these points arise with the growth of irrational behavior to which the rationalist has little hope, unless the judge determines there may be an issue as occurred in the Court of Appeal with Justice Sullivan. A short lived respite and hope to be lost in the politicised Supreme Court review which sufferred from no right of appeal to the European Court except by way of the complaint route.

    Lord Wolfe advised on the human rights the value of the appeal option beyond the national supreme court being important to enable an external reference across Europe. With HS2 free of this threat the slide was only going to get steeper into the one sided judgement. The Select Committee has simply greased the slide by not having the powers to force changes. Now the lack of teeth, or tooth emerges.

    Sorry state of affairs when coupled with if and but promises by the main party politicians where the slide is into more debt, wrong infrastructure priorities and too much focus on the words in such context.


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