Welcome to another fun-packed year in HS2 Land, part 3

(… continued from Welcome to another fun-packed year in HS2 Land, part 2, posted on 6 Jan 2015).

It probably hasn’t slipped your notice that twenty-six months have passed since the Government published its proposals for the discretionary compensation schemes for Phase 1 of HS2, and we are still waiting for the full package to be up and running. Now some of this slippage is undoubtedly due to the HS2 Action Alliance challenging the legality of the process and securing a victory, but that doesn’t account for a more than two-year delay. You can bet your bottom dollar that, had this been on the critical path for achieving the planned start date for HS2 services, Government digits would have been extracted rather more smartly, but as the payment of compensation has no impact whatsoever on the project’s completion date it would appear that there is no sense of urgency on the part of the Government.

A quick check of the Government website confirms that the only schemes that are open to applications at the moment are the Express Purchase Scheme, the Exceptional Hardship Scheme and the Rent Back Scheme. So we are still waiting for the Voluntary Purchase Offer and Need to Sell Scheme (both originally promised for autumn 2014), the Alternative Cash Offer and the Homeowner Payment Scheme (both promised for the end of 2014, although no payments will be made under the Homeowner Payment Scheme until after Royal Assent).

Accordingly, the latest deadline to have passed was “the end of 2014”. Needless to say, the Government failed to meet this self-imposed target. The Stop HS2 website has published the text of an e-mail set by HS2 Ltd to “some of the residents effected (sic) by HS2”, which seeks to explain the delay:

“Given the busy nature of the Christmas period, with many people away from home visiting family and friends, we want to ensure that residents and communities who may be affected by HS2 do not receive information in a piecemeal way and that everyone is informed at the same time in January.”

I wonder who thought that up; it’s pretty pathetic even by the standards set by HS2 Ltd. Were it remotely plausible, this new-found consideration for our well-being would be most welcome – certainly in the past HS2 Ltd has not been reluctant to give us various tasks to work on over holiday periods. However, it’s not even remotely plausible, and I think we can assume that their homework just wasn’t ready in time.

Although the e-mails went out only a week or so before Christmas, the rescheduling to January was apparently known in November; Sir Peter Bottomley was told on 25th November (see footnote 1).

It also appears that the HS2 Select Committee has become involved in the process. The Chairman made a request that the members of his Committee be given “sight of the proposed Need to Sell scheme as soon as possible” on the morning of Wednesday 26th November 2014 (see footnote 2). However, since this request post-dates Sir Peter being advised of the delay to January, it cannot have been a contributory factor to that delay, although it may now be the cause of further delay.

The request by the Chairman was so that the Members of the Committee can, in the words employed by him, “review the guidance and criteria and make suggestions for improvement”. The Chairman further clarified that “these suggestions might include a change of name for the scheme” – some Members appear to feel that “need to sell” may be too restrictive a description – and that the rules of the scheme “should include a way of obtaining advance clearance”.

On 16th December the Chairman announced (see footnote 3) that the Committee’s request had been granted and that a pre-publication copy of the Need to Sell draft guidance will be made available to the Committee “before Christmas”, but that it will be in confidence “because it is not yet a public document”. He also reported that officials from the Department for Transport will brief the Committee on the proposals “early in the New Year”. On timescale, he confirmed that:

“The plan at the moment is for the launch of the scheme sometime in the middle to end of January on both the Need to Sell and the Voluntary Purchase Scheme.”

He didn’t mention the two cash payment schemes. Although the launch of the Homeowner Payment Scheme is probably not urgent, as no payments will be made yet, it would make sense, I would think, for the Alternative Cash Offer scheme to be launched at the same time as the Voluntary Purchase Scheme.

I think that the promise for January assumes that the Members of the Committee will not find too much to criticise in the proposals – I rather hope that they might. It is unfortunate, but understandable, that we won’t know what input the Committee has had before the schemes are launched, but I trust that the Committee will update us on what went on once the details of the schemes are in the public domain.

So the launch of the compensation schemes is likely to be the first notable event of HS2’s year 2015. However, the HS2 Ltd circular e-mail that I mentioned earlier in this posting also promises a less tangible development. It promises that a Residents’ Charter that will come into force at the same time as the new compensation schemes, “will signal the beginning of a new relationship with the communities along the route of Phase One of HS2”. This document, the e-mail promises, “formalises the aim of HS2 Ltd to improve communication with residents and communities near the line of route” and “will help ensure that residents are treated in a fair, clear and reasonable manner”.

This is welcome, if only in the sense that it would appear to be an admission, by implication, that the treatment of residents up to now has not been “fair, clear and reasonable”. However, it is not the first time that I have heard “we will do better” promises from HS2 Ltd. In my blog Changing of the guard (posted 2 Apr 2013) I reported on a promise made to improve the flow of information through the community forum process. Whilst I was able to report in that blog some improvements that had resulted, looking back these were very short-lived and we were soon back to normal.

However, it appears that signs of a more human approach in the handling of compensation claims are something that we should look out for this coming year.

(To be continued …)

Footnotes:

  1. See paragraphs 83 to 86 and 116 of the HS2 Select Committee transcript for the afternoon of Tuesday 25th November 2014.
  2. The Chairman’s request is recorded in paragraph 320 of the transcript for the Select Committee session held on the morning of Wednesday 26th November 2014.
  3. See paragraph 2 of the transcript for the Select Committee session on the morning of Tuesday 16th December 2014.

Important Note: The documents from which the quotes and extracts reproduced in this blog are taken are 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.

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by chriseaglen on January 10, 2015 at 11:56 am

    For many it is not about cash not about cash but about the wrong route and wrong transport and freight objectives as experienced daily for many standing passengers not near to WCML but faced with daily standing travel for over a decade and now crowded daily standing travel or parked on a Motorway delay.

    Appeasement through cash compensation for the wrong indulgence is not the answer for a nation and society with many other anxieties.

    Reply

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