The exceptionally hard to get scheme, part 1

I have to admit that I have had limited personal experience of the HS2 Phase 1 Exceptional Hardship Scheme (EHS). I am fortunate in not having needed to apply to the scheme on my own account, and have only been asked, in my capacity as a representative of our local action group, to get involved in other people’s applications on two occasions. Things being what they are, people only contact someone like me when things are going wrong, so my experience of the scheme, based upon those two examples, is bound to be a trifle jaundiced. However, my limited exposure to the scheme has led me to suspect that some real injustices are being perpetrated in its name – I certainly feel that applied in the two cases where I became involved, where people facing some trying personal circumstances were dealt with unsympathetically and, to my mind, unfairly.

I gave some reasons why I regard the EHS as falling outside of the normal rules of natural justice as they are enshrined in our legal system in my blog Seen to be done (posted 10 Jan 2013). I should emphasise that my complaints are directed more at the rules of the scheme and the way that they are administered by the scheme secretariat, rather than at the members of the EHS Panel and their deliberations. However, I stand by the verdict that I delivered in that blog that, overall, “the applicant is severely, and unnecessarily, disadvantaged in his dealings with the EHS Panel”.

I hope that recent evidence heard by the HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee will be leading its Members to a similar conclusion to mine. I certainly think that it will be hard for Members to ignore the evidence given by Sandy Trickett on the morning of Thursday 20th November (see footnote 1) – Ms Trickett is someone who has far, far more experience of the EHS than I, but appears to share some of my views of it.

Ms Trickett was introduced to the Committee as the assistant to Dan Byles MP. She told the Members that HS2 would have a “huge impact” on Mr Byles’ constituency of North Warwickshire and Bedworth. She explained that the area was affected by both phase 1 and phase 2, and that the features that these brought comprised a 31-track railhead, the track into Birmingham, the track out of Birmingham, the track straight through and the new international station just to the south of the constituency. She claimed that this meant that “66% of Dan’s constituents are negatively impacted by High Speed 2 in one format or another”.

Ms Trickett advised that Mr Byles had appointed her to “be the conduit for everybody to deal with EHS” in the constituency. She described the excellent service that her office offers to Mr Byles’ constituents:

“Most of the EHS in our area comes through the MP’s office and we handle it from start to finish, right from the filling in the form, gathering all of the information and submitting it to HS2, and also the following up when there are problems, right through to where the property is completed.”

When she was asked to give the Committee “a feel for what the application process is like”, Ms Trickett held up a file that looked to be getting on for three-fingers thick. She said that it was her file for an EHS application “that’s actually been rejected three times from somebody who lives 122 metres away from the centre of the track”, but that it represented “the average size of an application”. She added that it takes her an average of six weeks “to complete an application form with the evidence to the satisfaction of HS2”.

At this point in Ms Trickett’s evidence a “slide” was shown on the video screens that are provided for Members of the Committee, legal representatives, petitioners and members of the public present. Unfortunately the Parliament TV coverage does not show these evidence slides, and they are not reproduced in the printed transcript either (see footnote 2), so I have copied this slide below.

(Source: HS2 Action Alliance evidence to HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee)

(Source: HS2 Action Alliance evidence to HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee)

For the remainder of her evidence Ms Trickett spoke to this slide, and I will report on what she had to say in more detail in my next posting.

(To be continued …)

Footnotes:

  1. Sandy Trickett’s evidence begins at paragraph 344 in the transcript and at about 11.55am in the video.
  2. Links to the evidence packs relating to each day’s sessions are listed on the Committee’s website. They tend to appear a week or so after the date of the session.

Important Note: The document from which the quotes reproduced in this blog are taken is 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.

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