So it’s not just me then, part 3

(… continued from So it’s not just me then, part 2, posted on 6 Oct 2014).

In the first two parts of this short blog series I have given examples where petitioners have regarded their dealings with HS2 Ltd as unsatisfactory and, judging by these examples, the chances of securing many of the design and mitigation improvements that communities are seeking, and HS2 Ltd says that it is looking to adopt (see footnote), seem pretty slim. However, since the HS2 Select Committee has become involved there are signs that things may be improving on this front.

Even in the example of the petition hearing about Washwood Heath that I discussed in part 2 of this blog series a small chink of light appeared in that both parties agreed to a further interchange of “factual information” before the Select Committee is called upon to “express a view” about the matter. However, I think that it would be wildly optimistic to expect much change in the fairly entrenched positions taken by both parties.

Nevertheless, there are some indications that negotiations are being held with petitioners behind the scenes, and that a degree of agreement has been achieved. The problem in assessing the extent of the successful negotiation is that these talks are being carried out away from the public gaze. The Select Committee does not publish a list of petitioners that have resolved matters with HS2 Ltd, nor does it comment on the progress of negotiations. The only indication that we have of what might be going is the number of public sessions of the Select Committee that are scheduled but are not subsequently held, and petitioners who are scheduled in a session that is held but then do not appear. Apart from a couple of tweets announcing that sessions “will not take place because of negotiations between the petitioners and HS2 Ltd”, the Committee appears willing to leave us to speculate on the outcome of petitions that are not aired, or commented on, in its public sessions.

It is clear, however, that the sessions scheduled to hear petitions in two days in July and in September have been severely disrupted by petitioners electing to withdraw, or possibly only defer, from having their petitions heard as scheduled. There were twenty-one sessions (morning, afternoon or evening) scheduled over this period. Eleven of these sessions were either cancelled outright or did not hear any of the petitions scheduled. Four of these cancelled sessions were explained as being due to “negotiations between the petitioner and HS2 Ltd” in tweets sent by the Committee. The reason for the cancellation of two further sessions also being down to the progress of negotiations was stated, or may be inferred by statements made, in the session previous. The remaining sessions were cancelled without explanation.

Over this period, by my count, nine petitions were heard. This number is somewhat outweighed by the sixteen petitions that have appeared on the Committee’s schedules at some time, but were not, in the event, heard. This must surely indicate that negotiations in the Birmingham area have, in many cases, either secured an outcome that is satisfactory to both the petitioning party and HS2 Ltd, or that at least negotiations are heading in the right direction and are worth sticking with. Perhaps HS2 Ltd is taking a more conciliatory approach to its dealings with petitioners than has been evident in the dismal “community engagement” exercise that preceded petitioning.

However, in the absence of any real feedback from the Committee it is rather difficult to make a judgement on how successful negotiations have been. We only have details of the offer made to a petitioner in the case of the connected submissions by Birmingham City Council and Centro, and that is only because Birmingham City Council has published an announcement that provides this information. I mention this in my blog Lessons from history, part 15 (posted 31 Aug 2014) and speculate therein that the Birmingham City Council and Centro petitions had been withdrawn in accordance with the confirmation requested in a letter detailing the concessions agreed sent on behalf of HS2 Ltd. I have since been told, by a local government source, that hearing the petitions is merely deferred, so perhaps we will still get to see these two petitioners pleading their case to the Select Committee.

Perhaps the most promising sign yet of a change of attitude on the part of HS2 Ltd comes in an announcement that was issued virtually as I was putting this blog together. It appears that the Transport Secretary has approved a change to the design of HS2 Phase 1 near Lichfield. The proposal provides for the lowering of the track to allow it to pass under, rather than over, the A38, the West Coast Main Line and the Staffordshire Line and changing the alignment – I assume the horizontal alignment – to remove two crossings of the Trent and Mersey Canal. The announcement attributes this change to “partnership working between HS2 Ltd and Staffordshire County Council” and acknowledges that these changes “reflect what many local residents and stakeholders, including the Canal & Rivers Trust, requested during the petitioning process”. The announcement makes no reference to what this change means to the cost of building that route section, but it seems unlikely that this will be a cost-saving amendment.

There are, however, indications that HS2 Ltd is being selective in applying its newly-found largesse. Reports from a couple of action groups at the northern end of line indicate that meetings that they have been invited to attend by HS2 Ltd to discuss their petitions have been totally unproductive. It appears that HS2 Ltd has only been sending junior staff to such meetings with no real intention of proposing any changes to HS2 in response to petitioning points. Just like the community forum process before it, these “petition negotiations” are being described by local community participants as a “box ticking” exercise.

Footnote: In paragraph 1.3.1 of HS2 Ltd’s Information Paper G1 one of the aims of the consultation and engagement process is identified 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.”

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Les Fawcett on October 10, 2014 at 8:46 am

    Thankyou for this Peter. A centro official confirmed only last night that while Centro had withdrawn its petition in the light of the assurances given by HS2 in the letter you mention, they are advising others re their petitions, e.g. B’ham airport. Secondly, that HS2 letter is all about B’ham and not about West Midlands. A Centro official talked last night about the need for investment into B’ham, forgetting that Centro is supposed to serve West Midlands, not just B’ham. Another official described B’ham as a city of 2.6m people. It has 1m people. It’s the W Mids that has 2.6m. Brummies are getting excited about the prospect of a “Greater Birmingham”. They think that by governing a larger area they will be able to grab even more of the development and jobs from the other parts of W Mids than they already have. Would their enthusiasm for HS2 be as intense if they had to pay for it? You may like to do a blog about the means of financing HS2. The French model is for the government to pay the lion’s share, with contributions from the regional and local authorities that benefit from the work. Since Wolverhampton, Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Coventry would gain little from HS2 and in fact be economically damaged by it, Birmingham and Solihull should pay the local contribution. Centro should not be hi-jacked by Birmingham.

    Further to your note about the realignment of HS2 under the canals at Fradley, there’s a rumour that the proposed HS2 out-of-town parkway station at Toton is about to be scrapped. Five years after HS2 were set up, their plans are in tatters. They’ve scrapped the “sub-optimal” tunnel from Old Oak Common, they’ve no viable plan to connect to Heathrow, they’ve ditched two plans for Euston because they couldn’t make them work, they’re now proposing a railway from Old Oak Common to Watford to take some of the traffic out of Euston at extra cost (something like that should have been in the plan from the start). How much longer before the fawning politicians realise they’ve been let down by HS2, and appoint an independent rail expert body to tease out the truth?

    Reply

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