That’s it then, we’re off, part 4

(… continued from That’s it then, we’re off, part 3 posted on 25 Mar 2016).

The final report of the HS2 Select Committee comments that “there is work to be done [by HS2 Ltd] in improving approaches and responses to the public” (see footnote 1). In contrast, according to the Promoter’s Lead Counsel Tim Mould QC, the Select Committee went about its work with “unfailing courtesy” (see footnote 2). However, there are those that seek to differ with this description of the way that petitioners were treated, and who appear to see the Select Committee as also failing in this respect. According to a press release from the Wendover HS2 action group on 22nd February “some members of the Select Committee had been exceptionally rude, bullying and disruptive as Petitioners presented their case”.

I have to say that I agree with my Wendover colleagues. In particular, it is surely a gross discourtesy to petitioners, who may have spent many hours preparing exhibits and have psyched themselves up for the considerably daunting task of addressing the Committee, to throw them into disarray by instructing them to change the intended order of their presentation. This occurred with many, and I can’t believe that it served justice or even speeded up the process. I was particularly miffed when the same tactics were applied to a number of the very informative and expert presentations on the environmental impacts of HS2 that the HS2 Action Alliance (HS2AA) brought to the Committee in February (see footnote 3).

As I complained in my blog Facing a brick wall, part 2 (posted 1 Oct 2015), my own petition hearing suffered from similar treatment: not only was I effectively prevented from delivering my carefully crafted presentation, but I was not given the opportunity to show the majority of my exhibits, which in consequence have been omitted from the public record (see footnote 4).

I am fully aware that some petitioners were guilty of being repetitive and long-winded, but this does not justify bullying petitioners who were genuinely trying to present, as best as they were able, evidence that was extremely important to them. The treatment that some received betrays an attitude of some Members of the Committee that is in marked contrast to the praise in the final report for the “huge efforts” and “immensely hard work” put in by petitioners (see footnote 5).

Another area where I find the attitude of the Committee to be extremely worrying is the way that it has approached the considerable harm that HS2 will inflict on our natural environment and its ecology – it has become clear that the Committee does not begin to qualify for the descriptor “environmentally friendly”. In the press release marking the publication of the Select Committee’s final report that I referred to in part 2 of this blog series, HS2AA complains that the report “provides little comfort to anyone hoping the Committee would push for better environmental outcomes in relation to the HS2 project” and that the points made to the Committee by HS2AA “in relation to environmental mitigation barely feature in the report”. The press release adds that “requests made by other environmental organisations and local authorities to improve route wide effects are all rejected”.

I am sure that the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee will be similarly disappointed with the Select Committee’s efforts. In my blog SEA views, part 6 (posted 28 Jun 2014) I reported that the then Chair of that committee had written to her counterpart for the HS2 Select Committee reminding him that the latter “plays a vital role in fully addressing the environmental impacts” of HS2 and requesting him that his committee “should comment and report to the House [of Commons] on any issue relating [to those impacts]”. Those seeking such “comment and report” in the final report are likely to be disappointed: there appears to be one section, of seven paragraphs (302 to 308) that addresses route-wide impacts upon ecology, and the only specific affects that get a mention are the threats to bat populations and barn owls. Extending the search to the Committee’s interim report will, I venture, fail to unearth anything that adds to this. Very significant route-wide ecological effects, such as the damage to ancient woodland and veteran trees, the fallacy that new woodland planting can compensate for the loss of these “irreplaceable” natural assets and the inadequacy of proposed measures to restore wildlife corridors are largely ignored.

It is perhaps symptomatic of the Committee’s attitude to the natural environment that a witness who doubted, from the contents of the Environmental Statement, that “trees are being treated seriously as environmental and amenity assets and that they would be protected adequately during the process” was told by Sir Peter Bottomley (see footnote 6):

“If you knew as much as we know about an old pear tree halfway along the route, you wouldn’t have said it quite that way.”

I don’t feel the need to offer any apology to Sir Peter and his colleagues if they have found, as his retort would appear to indicate, that the publicity that we have generated for the Cubbington veteran pear tree has been the cause of some irritation. I do, however, deeply regret that, despite our best efforts in this respect, the Select Committee has so obviously failed to get the message.

(To be continued …)

Footnotes:

  1. See paragraph 346 in the Select Committee’s final report.
  2. See paragraph 9 in the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Monday 22ndFebruary 2016.
  3. See the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Monday 1stFebruary 2016. In particular, the evidence of Philip Branchflower on air quality (and the interjection at paragraph 479), Julie Gartside on carbon emissions (and the interjection at paragraph 560), Jon Berry on trees (and the interjection at paragraph 952) and Nigel Cronin on waste (and the interjection at paragraph 1011).
  4. The hearing for my petition was held on the morning of Wednesday 21stJanuary 2015, and I am first on in the video of that session. To get a feel for the way that I was “invited” to present my case refer to paragraph 5 and paragraph 9 to paragraph 36 of the transcript. The exhibits that may be downloaded from the Select Committee website omit seventeen of the total of twenty-nine slides that I submitted.
  5. See paragraph 403 in the Select Committee’s final report.
  6. See paragraphs 967 and 968 in the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Monday 1st February 2016.

Important Note: The record of the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committee from which the quotes reproduced in this blog has 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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3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Mike on March 29, 2016 at 9:24 am

    I wonder if the requested change to the order of the presentation (“start at the end”) isn’t a request to start with a summary or the conclusions, rather than starting at the beginning of a lengthy narrative.

    Reply

    • Whatever may have been the motivation for the interventions Mike, I think that there is ample evidence in the videos of a number of hearings, including mine, that significant disruption resulted to the petitioner’s intended presentation of evidence.

      Reply

  2. Posted by Paddy Fell on March 29, 2016 at 11:09 am

    ‘Nemo judex in sua causa’. Wholly unqualified as I am to criticise analysis of the quality evident in this blog, I nonetheless have to comment on your use of the word ‘justice’. The quasi-judicial nature of the petitioning proceedings in the Select Committee has lead many – myself included – to assume that the process would have something to do with justice. But the Select Committee process conspicuously violates one of the bedrock principles of natural justice, that ‘no man should be judge in his own case’. The Committee was populated with a majority of members interested in expediting the passage of the bill on schedule and with minimal change, most particularly with reference to costs. That majority accurately reflects the views of the House of Commons as a whole and is to that extent justifiable. However it precludes any possibility of justice prevailing. In every case heard by the Select Committee the Government and the Promoter, whose interests are effectively identical, and who together constituted one of the two parties in each case, were themselves judge, jury and executioner. Such is the sovereignty of Parliament as exercised in the hybrid bill procedure.

    This would not be so bad if the proposals had emerged from a clear process which had openly and thoroughly considered the nature of the problem to be addressed and a full range of options. Unfortunately that was not the case. The proposals came from nowhere, were presented as the only show in town, and were rushed through a legislature preoccupied with weightier matters. There has at no point in the HS2 process been an authoritative, objective and open assessment of what has been proposed. For petitioners there is no justice and for the electorate and for tax-payers there is simply no way of knowing whether they are paying for a golden goose, or for just a turkey, or for a classic white elephant.

    Reply

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