Westminster comes to Cubbington, part 1

For their third trip out of Westminster to familiarise themselves with the proposed route of HS2 Phase 1, the Members of the HS2 Select Committee, plus an entourage of HS2 Ltd employees and others and all ensconced in a coach, visited south Warwickshire and Oxfordshire, over two days. The itinerary published for this visit included an hour to be spent in my home parish of Cubbington.

The arrangements for such trips are at the discretion of the Chairman of the Select Committee, but the preparation of proposals for a provisional programme to be put to him fell to the Commons Private Bill Office, and the staff there, in turn, consulted the Member of Parliament for my area, Jeremy Wright. It was fortunate that Mr Wright considered that it would be prudent to consult the action groups in his constituency about what the Members of the Select Committee should see to make the best use of their time.

So it was that action group representatives, including your blogger, were invited to Mr Wright’s constituency office a little more than three weeks before the visit was due to take place to discuss what we all wanted the Committee to see in our respective local patches. As you may imagine, there was also a fair degree of subsequent e-mail and telephone traffic to fine tune the details right up to the eve of the visit.

My priority for the time spent in Cubbington was to get the Members, at least, to a point in our countryside where they would be on the actual line of route. The best location for this was under the veteran wild pear tree, which has the dual advantages of commanding excellent views across the valley of the River Leam, which HS2 would cross, and being close to the ancient woodland that would be destroyed in South Cubbington Wood. The logistical problem that this posed was that it is a ten-minute walk, each way, from the nearest point accessible by coach. Rather than require the members of the party to slog out and back by foot, and consume valuable time, I proposed that we would provide 4×4 vehicles to give at least the MPs and House of Commons staff a ride in each direction.

This simple proposal turned out to be not so simple, as doubts were expressed about whether MPs would be able to accept lifts from strangers, and, we were told, it would definitely be against HS2 Ltd corporate policy for any employees to take up our transport offer. However, we arranged for vehicles to be available and kept our fingers crossed, and it all worked out on the day.

One of the suggestions that Mr Wright made to the Public Bill Office was that one member of each action group should be allowed to board the coach and act as a guide for the tour through its area. Again, nobody was sure whether this would be allowed, as we had heard that HS2 Ltd preferred to describe the route to the Committee. However, permission for this was granted, although it was not clear precisely what would happen on the coach – would we be fighting HS2 Ltd for control of the microphone, I wondered?

We were fortunate that action groups were due to meet Warwickshire County Council officers and councillors at one of the regular liaison meetings that are held on HS2. One of the Council’s officers had been involved in the previous Select Committee visit to north Warwickshire and she was able to give us some tips about how to present ourselves to the Committee. She had also been present at the earlier meeting in Jeremy Wright’s office.

The advice that we received was that the purpose of the visit was to enable the Members of the Select Committee to experience the lie of the land to assist them with the assessments that they would be called upon to make when our petitions were heard. We were told that we should not consider the visit as an “opportunity to lobby” the Committee, but that Members would be interested to hear the views of local residents. However, we were also warned that “organised moans” and demonstrations of any kind might be counter-productive, and should be avoided and that any barracking of or rudeness to any members of the visiting party was “unlikely to impress the committee”.

It was also impressed upon us that we should organise ourselves to ensure that our concerns were expressed clearly, and that we made sure that we explained our own proposals for improving the situation. To this end, we were advised to nominate a spokesperson, or persons, to lead and “monopolise” any discussions that took place with members of our community. It was stressed to us that any consideration of the rights and wrongs of the HS2 project were outside of the remit of the Select Committee, and that, accordingly, Members would not want to hear representations that it should not go ahead.

(To be continued …)

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by chriseaglen on October 15, 2014 at 8:20 pm

    Sounds most unreal for grown up democracy reactions. Surely some people are devastated by the impacts locally and devastated that the most the Government can arose is a polite welcome. Time people became clear speaking about the mistakes and excess land takes and personal losses.

    Reply

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