Government rules out petitions against scrapping HS1 link as part of HS2 Hybrid Bill process

Out-Law News | 11 Apr 2014 | 3:21 pm | 4 min. read

Those affected by the proposed new high speed rail link between London and the West Midlands (HS2) will not be able to petition parliament about whether or not a link with the existing HS1 route to the Channel Tunnel (i.e. the spur from Old Oak Common to the Channel Tunnel Rail Link) should be scrapped, it has emerged. 

The government has set out proposed details of the petitioning process, including proposed instructions to the select committee that will be appointed to hear petitions. It has proposed that the MPs Henry Bellingham, Sir Peter Bottomley, Ian Mearns, Yasmin Qureshi and Michael Thornton be appointed to the committee, with Conservative MP for Dorset Robert Syms as committee chair.

The motions related to petitions, instructions to the select committee and the appointments to the select committee will be debated on Tuesday 29 April following the Second Reading of the HS2 Hybrid Bill the day before, according to major infrastructure planning expert and 'Roll A' Parliamentary Agent Robbie Owen of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind The government has also confirmed that it will table a motion, the effect of which will be to allow the Second Reading debate to take place for longer than usual, until 11pm on Monday 28 April, following pressure from backbenchers, Owen said.

It has now been confirmed that there will be two petitioning 'windows' in which affected businesses, residents and local authorities will be able to present their concerns but not petition against the principle of the Bill. Local authorities, not including parish councils, and businesses will have from 29 April to 16 May; while the window for "any other person or body" will run from 29 April until 23 May.

The government's proposed instruction to the select committee gives the committee the power to make amendments to the Hybrid Bill, including to leave out the provisions relating to the HS1 link and to "make other consequential amendments to the Bill as it thinks fit". The instruction will also confirm the "principle" of the Bill, to be finalised by the House of Commons during the Bill's Second Reading, and which will not therefore be up for debate during committee proceedings.

Owen said that this 'principle' had been broadly defined in the proposed instruction. According to the draft, the Bill is defined as being for "the provision of a high speed railway between Euston and a junction with the West Coast Main Line at Handsacre in Staffordshire, with a spur from Water Orton in Warwickshire to Curzon Street in Birmingham and intermediate stations at Old Oak Common and Birmingham Interchange". It also covers "the 'broad route alignment' of the railway set out on the plans".

"This is helpful as it gives a lot of scope for petitioning on points of detail," Owen said.

Proposed 'carry-over' arrangements would allow for the Bill to be suspended at the end of this current session of Parliament in May until the start of the next session of parliament on 4 June 2014. When the Bill is introduced in the new session of Parliament it shall stand committed to the select committee of the same members appointed after the second reading, and all instructions made to the committee and petitions that have not been withdrawn will still stand. The Bill can then be suspended until the first session of the following parliament in 2015-16 if proceedings are not completed by the end of session 2014-15.

Under current plans, HS2 is to be built in two stages. An initial London to Birmingham section of the line is due for completion in 2026 while a proposed second phase connecting the line to Manchester, Leeds and Heathrow Airport would follow by 2033. The project is currently estimated to cost £42.6 billion, of which £14.56bn is contingency; with an additional £7.5bn for rolling stock.

The government has already committed to scrapping the planned link between HS2 and the HS1 line to the Channel Tunnel, following the recommendations of HS2 Ltd chair Sir David Higgins in his report on how to deliver the project earlier and at a lower cost. Higgins recommended that £700 million be cut from the cost of the project by dropping the link, while parts of the construction north of Birmingham should be speeded up.

Also this week Golder Associates, the independent assessor appointed to summarise the issues raised during a consultation on the project's environmental statement, published its report (112-page / 6.3MB PDF). The report confirms that the consultation generated 21,833 responses, which will be published online by the DfT "during April 2014". Of these, 12,521 took the form of campaign postcards. Issues raised in the consultation responses included concerns in relation to tunnelling under particular sections of the route, general effects on communities, noise and environmental impacts.

Francis Tyrrell, infrastructure planning and government affairs expert at Pinsent Masons said: "Unfortunately, the report just does what it says on the tin – it only summarises the responses received by topic and there is no detail set out as to the content of the comments made or, most crucially whether the respondents think that the assessment carried out has satisfactorily assessed the possible impacts of the project."

"MP's will, it is understood, be able to inspect the responses received if they wish, but short of doing so it is difficult to see how they can make a properly informed decision on the EIA at the Second Reading (which is what they are supposed to be doing), said Tyrrell."

The High Speed Rail (London to West Midlands) Bill has been described by the Department for Transport (DfT) as the "planning application" for the scheme, and would give the government powers to construct and operate the line once approved. It takes the form of a 'hybrid' Bill, which features elements of both a public and a private Bill. The hybrid process will give those affected by the proposals the opportunity to petition parliament with their concerns and have their case heard by a special committee of MPs.

'Roll A' Parliamentary Agents act for the promoters of private legislation and can assist in opposing it in parliament. There are currently only seven Roll A Parliamentary Agents in the UK.