Standing at the end of the queue

The Chairman of the HS2 Select Committee, Robert Syms MP, made a noteworthy observation recently. The context was the hearing of evidence by the HS2 Select Committee from Mrs Bettina Kirkham, a former Chilterns Conservation Board member and landscape expert, serving as a witness for Buckinghamshire County Council. An important aspect of her evidence was that the land take provisions within the Chilterns AONB that are currently defined in the hybrid Bill “largely [only] reflect the need for construction and operational needs” and that the Bill limits “should be also extended to allow landscape mitigation to be undertaken” (see footnote 1).

It was at this point that the Chairman made the said observation (see footnote 2):

“If it is helpful, I don’t think the Committee are going to be persuaded into extending the land take – because it means more provisioning and it means adding several months to the Bill – unless there is a very good reason for doing it.”

This doesn’t appear to be a comment upon the merits of Mrs Kirkham’s proposals, as such, but stands, I think, rather as a general statement of intent that the Select Committee now intends to apply this test to every new proposal that comes before it. That this is a reasonable interpretation of Mr Syms’ words receives some support from his next utterance (see footnote 3):

“We understand that there is a difficult point, that some of the mitigation was put within the land take when there is logically some that should be outside. There are better areas for doing things, but that is one of the deficiencies of the Bill. I just think that if we start to extend land take we will have additional provisions and additional petitioning and you could add years to the Bill. I don’t know about my colleagues but I would prefer not to be here for more years.”

This appears to be an admission that there may be some merit in Mrs Kirkham’s proposals, but the Committee is not prepared to support them if that will entail delays to the progress of the hybrid Bill.

Ever helpful, Tim Mould QC, Lead Counsel for the Promoter, indicated, when his time came to address the Committee, that he supported Mr Syms’ view that “extending the limits of the Bill … might prove difficult in terms of the timely passage of the Bill” (see footnote 4).

Whilst the Chairman’s remark did not entirely rule out the possibility of changes requiring a further additional provision being recommended by the Select Committee, Mark Lowe QC, Counsel for Buckinghamshire County Council, certainly viewed Mr Syms’ remarks as an indication that the shop shutters were coming down (see footnote 5):

“Because these petitioners come late in the programme, they shouldn’t be disadvantaged over those petitioners who came earlier who the Committee were prepared at least to hear on whether the land take was adequate.”

Although, Mr Lowe’s concern was naturally primarily for his clients, his observation would surely apply to all petitioners who have the misfortune of appearing before the Committee subsequent to Mr Syms’ remark. Indeed, the message appears to have spread, because Michael Humphries QC referred to “both the promoter and the Committee [being] obviously constrained in terms of additional provisions” when he addressed the Select Committee on behalf of his clients, FCC Waste Services (UK) Ltd, a couple of weeks later. He echoed Mr Lowe in opining that “it’s not appropriate or fair that petitioners that happen to have been programmed towards the end of the hearings should be disadvantaged in their ability to have additional provisions” (see footnote 6).

The appropriateness and acceptability of Mr Syms’ remark might best be judged by considering whether it would have been a tolerable comment to be made on day one of the Committee’s proceedings – I suggest that it would, most emphatically, not have been. If that supposition is accepted, then it is an equally unacceptable comment if made whenever there are any petitioners still to be heard, otherwise equal treatment of all petitioners is not assured. After all, the whole purpose of a petition is to pray to the House of Commons that clauses and provisions of the Bill that will, as they stand, prejudicially affect the petitioner and his/her rights, interests and property will be amended by the House; a petition devoid of this possibility becomes nugatory.

I’m sure that the Chairman has our sympathy and understanding if his expressed wish to close down the possibility of further additional provisions was the result of fatigue. It would be much less excusable if he was responding to external pressure from the Government’s business managers.

Footnotes:

  1. Mrs Kirkham’s witness session took place on the morning of Tuesday 13thOctober 2015 and is recorded from paragraph 469 in the transcript and from 12:10 hrs in the video. The quoted phrases have been extracted from paragraph 513 of the transcript.
  2. See paragraph 514 in the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Tuesday 13thOctober 2015.
  3. See paragraph 518 in the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Tuesday 13thOctober 2015.
  4. See paragraph 661 in the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Tuesday 13th October 2015.
  5. See paragraph 521 in the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Tuesday 13thOctober 2015.
  6. See paragraph 85 in the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee that was held on Wednesday 28thOctober 2015.

Important Note: The record of the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committee from which the quotes reproduced in this blog have been taken are uncorrected transcripts of evidence, which are not yet an approved formal record. 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.

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by LesF on November 6, 2015 at 10:02 am

    This goes back to Philip Hammond’s “two million trees” pledge when he was Transport Secretary. He didn’t say where they would go but since they don’t want leaves on the line it won’t be adjacent to the railway. So it needs more land take to accommodate them. Land that was not identified when the pledge was made. It’s another example of HS2 contradicting themselves, like “HS2 will free up capacity for more services on the classic network” while their estimates include the £8.3bn they plan to save by CUTTING existing services.
    Trees near the line are planned to be small or coniferous to avoid leaves on the line, but they also claim the trees will absorb noise. Coniferous trees will not absorb noise, and HS2’s own research shows that a noise from a source you can’t see is more annoying than one from a source you can see. They change their tune according to what they are trying to prove at the time.

    Reply

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