The people’s champion?

During the announcement that the Promoter’s Lead Counsel, Tim Mould QC, made to the HS2 Select Committee at the start of its first session following the public launch in January 2015 of the discretionary compensation package for HS2 Phase 1 (see footnote 1), he drew the attention of Members of the Committee to the Residents’ Charter that “went live” coincident with that launch. He said that the intention of the Charter was “to help to ensure that residents are treated in a fair, clear, competent and reasonable manner”.

The requirements of the Charter are, for the most part, fairly insipid, in that they impose no greater commitments upon the way that HS2 Ltd should treat claimants for compensation than are the bare minimum that you would reasonably expect. So, for example, HS2 Ltd is expected to “promote awareness” of the compensation schemes that are available. There is also a commitment to “communicate in the plainest, non-technical language possible”, although no mention is made of seeking the award of the Crystal Mark of Plain English Campaign, which would provide a reasonable assurance that this commitment had been achieved. There are also target times for responding to enquiries and routine equality and access conditions.

There are however two specific undertakings in the Charter that I welcome as being potentially helpful to applicants. These are that a named case officer will be appointed to each applicant, and that residents will be offered a private meeting with a HS2 Ltd property specialist to review the available options.

But I am unable to find anything in the Charter that justifies Mr Mould’s use of the adjectives “fair” and “reasonable” in his description of the aims of the document.

The occasion of the January launch was also used to announce the appointment of Deborah Fazan as the Residents’ Commissioner, whose remit is summarised in the Residents’ Charter. Ms Fazan is an independent chartered surveyor who specialises in land acquisition and compulsory purchase. She has previous experience of the HS2 project, as she was appointed an independent member of the Panel of adjudicators for the exceptional hardship scheme. The list of EHS Panel members published by HS2 Ltd tells us that she previously “specialised in airport commercial property” and that:

“She established and managed property blight schemes for BAA in connection with the second runway at Stansted Airport as well as managing the land acquisition for the project. She also advised Heathrow on their blight strategy for the third runway. Now a consultant surveyor, she works with a range of clients on property and blight related matters including EDF Energy, Thames Tideway Tunnel and London Southend Airport.”

According to a House of Commons written answer (see footnote 2) Ms Kazan will not be an employee of HS2 Ltd – presumably she will serve as a consultant on a fee basis – and will receive a remuneration of “£590 per day [plus expenses] based on an average time commitment of 8 days per month”. She will report directly to the Chairman of HS2 Ltd.

The role of the new Commissioner, as set out in the Residents’ Charter, appears to be to maintain a watching brief over the operation of the compensation schemes, and to report in writing to the HS2 Ltd  Chairman on this every quarter – I assume that these reports will be published, but this is not confirmed. In addition, she is required to “provide a mechanism by which people’s concerns can be put directly to the HS2 Chairman”, although it is by no means clear how this will be operated other than residents will be able to “write to the Commissioner about any issues that affect you and that relate to HS2 Ltd’s communication about the property schemes”.

The Residents’ Charter is clear that the Commissioner will not intervene in individual cases, nor will she give advice on matters relating to petitioning. Disappointingly, there will still be no independent appeals process for residents who feel that they have been unfairly treated by HS2 Ltd or the NTS Panel. The only recourse will remain a reference via the distinctly not independent HS2 Ltd in-house complaints procedure.

When Joe Rukin, Campaign Manager for Stop HS2, appeared before the HS2 Select Committee for an area review some comments that he made about the role of the Residents’ Commission fuelled a small debate by Members that also involved Tim Mould (see footnote 3). Mr Mould sparked some adverse comment by describing the Commissioner as “an independent champion for residents” (see footnote 4). Unsurprisingly, some Members of the Committee did not entirely buy this description.

Ian Mearns MP commented that it seemed to him that, if the description was correct, “the residents’ champion or the Residents’ Commissioner would actually be able to accept calls and act on behalf of residents, even in an advisory capacity” and, if that was not the case “possibly we should be thinking about calling them something different”. He quipped “if you open a tin of beans and there’s spaghetti in there, it feels not quite right” (see footnote 5).

And Mr Mearns is right, of course, and there is a further dimension to this matter that it would probably not have been appropriate for the Members to question, but I will: just how “independent” can we expect the particular appointee to be? After all, her past experience places her firmly on the developer side of the fence, she is conditioned to think as an EHS panel member, she will be receiving payment from the very organisation that she is expected to critique and her continued engagement will be at the behest of the Chairman of that organisation.

Whilst these circumstances do not render her taking an independent view impossible, they can hardly be viewed as reassuring.

Footnotes:

  1. See paragraph 7 of the transcript for the afternoon of Monday 19th January 2015.
  2. Written question 221593 tabled by the Rt Hon Cheryl Gillan MP on 21st January 2015 and answered by Robert Goodwill MP on 26th January 2015.
  3. Joe Rukin’s original comments about the role of the Residents’ Commissioner are recorded in paragraph 542 of the transcript for the afternoon of Monday 9th February 2015. The subsequent discussion is recorded in paragraphs 597 to 620 of that transcript.
  4. See paragraph 604 of the transcript for the afternoon of Monday 9th February 2015.
  5. See paragraphs 611 and 615 of the transcript for the afternoon of Monday 9th February 2015.

PS: There is some evidence that the role of the Residents’ Commission may have been reduced from that originally envisaged. In a blog on the Government’s HS2 North-South rail line site that dates from spring last year, Lisa Levy, HS2 Ltd’s Head of Community and Stakeholder Engagement, promises that the Residents’ Commissioner will offer “impartial mediation on all aspects of the property compensation scheme”.

Important Note: The documents from which the quotes and extracts reproduced in this blog are taken include 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 in such instances, and it may therefore be subject to changes being made in the light of any such corrections being requested.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: