A matter of respect, part 2

(… continued from A matter of respect, part 1, posted on 11 Feb 2015).

On the day of his petition hearing in front of the HS2 Select Committee (see footnote 1) Bob Edwards got less than half way through his prepared presentation before he was interrupted by, who else but, Sir Peter Bottomley who suggested that “it may be that” instead of Bob “continuing the rest of [his] presentation” that “Mr Mould can help the Committee and [Bob] in some part”. It proved to be the case that Mr Mould was indeed ready to make a very helpful contribution to proceedings (see footnote 2).

It was Bob’s long-standing agreements to use the farmland adjacent to his home to exercise and train his birds that Mr Mould saw as providing a route to a potential resolution of Bob’s problem (see footnote 3). In Mr Mould’s words, Bob is a “lawful occupier” of those fields, and someone who, “but for HS2 there is no reason to doubt”, would have “continued to be able to use” those fields. In Mr Mould’s view, at the point that Bob is “displaced from” the fields by HS2 he will be “entitled” to claim compensation. Mr Mould elaborated:

“He is entitled in principle to recover firstly the costs of removal from that field but perhaps more importantly the second item which he is entitled to recover is the losses that he can show he suffers as a result of being disturbed from that field and being unable to continue to carry on his trade within that field.”

But the Promoter’s Lead Counsel was prepared to go further. He noted that Bob had a “need to live so that he is able to look after” his birds, and conceded to him that “the flying area needs to be relatively close to where you are keeping your birds”. This pointed, the QC concluded, to a need to relocate him, house, aviaries and flying area, to an alternative location where he would be able to continue to carry on his business, untrammelled by HS2. Mr Mould summarised this plan “essentially as being pretty broadly analogous” to how the Promoter dealt with business relocations. He also expressed the hope that it would provide a basis for Bob and the Promoter “to move forward … with a slightly more positive approach than we have been able to hitherto”.

And, subject to negotiating the details, this is what Bob was seeking and he was happy to accept the offer and depart Committee Room 5, but why had a “more positive approach” to Bob’s problems not been possible much earlier? Why had he been told in all of his previous contacts with the Promoter that he could not be helped, and why had this view been supported by the Secretary of State? Why had it been necessary for him to go to the considerable trouble, and personal expense, of preparing his case and attending the Palace of Westminster before he was treated by the Promoter with due consideration and, dare I say it, proper respect?

And anybody who has witnessed more than one or two of the sessions of the Select Committee will realise that this is hardly an isolated example. Indeed, as I mentioned in part 1 of this blog series, I saw a second display of lack of respect for a petitioner during my two days in Westminster; this came just the day following Bob’s appearance.

This time the petitioner was Andrew McGregor (petition 1127) a farmer who is head of a family that owns and farms land in Weston under Wetherley, the Warwickshire village next to my own. He is also the owner of the part of South Cubbington Wood that would be damaged by HS2. Andrew’s main reason for petitioning was to object to HS2 Ltd’s intention to compulsorily purchase one of his most profitable arable fields to turn it into woodland intended as compensation for the losses that HS2 would inflict on his own wood.

I have heard Andrew speak on a number of occasions about his farm and his love of the countryside and he is unable to do this without passion; this was also evident when he addressed the Select Committee (see footnote 4). His eloquence prompted Committee Chairman, Robert Syms MP, to complement him on “a very good speech, a great political speech as well” (see footnote 5). He suggested to Andrew he had “missed [his] vocation”, meaning presumably that he should have forsaken field for debating chamber.

Earlier that morning I had been sitting in the orchestra stalls in Committee Room 5 a few seats away from Andrew. I had finished my spell addressing the Committee and Andrew was patiently awaiting his, when he left the room in the company of a representative of HS2 Ltd; clandestine meetings in the Committee Room Corridor appear to be a favoured device of the Promoter. A little while later he returned with a face like thunder, and when he addressed the Committee just before the lunch recess we learnt why, but I will save that for my next posting.

(To be concluded …)

Footnotes:

  1. Bob’s hearing was the first of the morning on Tuesday 20th January 2015 (video).
  2. Sir Peter Bottomley’s demonstration of his uncanny ability to know what Mr Mould was thinking is recorded in paragraph 29 of the transcript.
  3. Mr Mould’s analysis of Bob’s right to compensation, and the reaction by Members of the Committee, are recorded in paragraphs 71 to 104 of the transcript.
  4. Andrew McGregor’s hearing starts at 12:01 in the video of the morning session on Wednesday 21st January 2015, and I strongly recommend a look to all who love the countryside.
  5. Mr Sym’s remark is recorded in paragraph 435 of the transcript.
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