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House of Lords committee delays HS2 Bill programme

Out-Law News | 22 Jan 2014 | 9:37 am | 2 min. read

The deadline for responses to the consultation on the potential environmental impacts of High Speed 2 (HS2) has been postponed for a further two weeks after a House of Lords committee found errors in the  distribution of the Environmental Statement.

The ruling by the Standing Orders Committee follows a similar ruling by MPs in the House of Commons, published last week. The Department of Transport (DfT) and HS2 Ltd, the company behind the scheme, have been ordered to advertise the new deadline on 27 February 2014 in the same newspapers as they published notice of the original consultation.

Robbie Owen, an expert in hybrid bills and other procedures for major infrastructure planning at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that the delay would have a knock-on effect on the progress of the legislation in Parliament. It would now be impossible for the second reading of the Hybrid Bill to take place in the House of Commons before its Easter Recess, he said; "given the need for the ES Assessor to summarise the comments on the ES and for MPs then to receive the summary at least 14 days before the debate".

"The next available slot for Second Reading would be at the end of April once the House has returned from the Easter Recess and before the May Day Recess, " he said. "If that slot is missed, then I would expect Second Reading to be delayed until early June, after the European and local elections on 22 May and the Whitsun Recess."

"No reason was given for the extension by the Committee but two interested parties at the Committee spoke a lot about the fact that although the missing material was put on deposit on 16 December, in practice people couldn't really look at it until after Christmas: they noted that the House itself rose on 18 December. Another point made by the interested parties was the fact that the material that had been replaced hadn't yet been advertised, so those who went to look at it would not have known of the changes and additions," he said.

The Government published the Environmental Statement for HS2 Phase One, setting out the likely significant environmental effects of the new railway, in November; alongside the publication of the Hybrid Bill. The Bill, officially titled the High Speed Rail (London to West Midlands) Bill, has been described by the DfT as the "planning application" for the scheme.

The DfT has said previously that it intends for the Hybrid Bill to achieve Royal Assent by the end of the current Parliament in 2015, allowing construction of Phase One to begin in 2016 or 2017. This initial London to Birmingham section of the route is currently scheduled for completion in 2026, with a proposed second phase connecting the line to Manchester and Leeds envisaged by 2033.

Ben Ruse, a spokesperson for HS2 Ltd, reiterated that the proposed new line was "the most significant infrastructure project the UK has seen in modern times and a project the country cannot do without".

"We were happy to comply with the ruling of the Commons Select Committee that has already extended the consultation on the Environmental Statement," he said. "Ministers will now need to consider [this] ruling before deciding on how to respond."