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Publication of HS2 Hybrid Bill signals start of "three years of scrutiny", says expert

Out-Law News | 26 Nov 2013 | 9:46 am | 3 min. read

The Government can expect "severe testing" of the Bill that will, once passed, give it the power to construct and operate a new high speed railway between London and the Midlands, an expert has said.

Robbie Owen of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that the provisions of the new Hybrid Bill would be subject to "intense scrutiny" over the next two to three years, given the number of people that the High Speed 2 (HS2) national rail link would affect.

"The Bill's provisions will face much greater opposition than other recent rail projects that went through the same process, such as the HS1 rail link to the Channel Tunnel and Crossrail," said Owen..

"It's likely we will see a severe testing of the Hybrid Bill process because of the sheer number of people who will want a say in it. As a result this could even change aspects of the alignment or the details of the proposed stations. We expect to see the first real point of friction in the Second Reading debate in the House of Commons in spring 2014," he said.

A hybrid Bill is one which has elements of both a public and a private Bill. They tend to be used for large infrastructure projects which are deemed to be in the national interest, but which are likely to affect a large number of private interests; for example, because they give the authority for a large number of compulsory purchase orders over private land.

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. However, the hybrid process will also 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.

Alongside the Hybrid Bill, the Government has also published the environmental statement for Phase One of the project, setting out the likely significant environmental effects of the new railway. The statement also includes details of the measures proposed to avoid or reduce these effects. These include extensive tunnelling, landscaped earthworks and at least two million newly-planted trees to integrate the line into the landscape; as well as noise reduction and efficiency measures.

"Following publication of the Bill there is now an eight-week consultation period before the Second Reading debate for all those affected to comment on the Bill's Environmental Statement," said Owen. "Then there will be an opportunity for those 'specially and directly affected' by the Bill to deposit petitions against its detailed provisions and then to be heard by a Select Committee of MPs."

"As we go into 2014 and the Bill starts its Parliamentary journey, we expect the ride for HS2 to get far bumpier than in recent months, which had hardly been a smooth one," he said.

The DfT has said that it intends for the 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 of the project connecting the line to Manchester and Leeds envisaged by 2033.

According to the latest estimates, the project is expected to cost £46.2 billion with an additional £7.5bn for rolling stock. The Government published its updated business case for HS2 at the end of last month, setting out the urgent need for additional rail capacity on the main routes into London and the anticipated economic benefits of the scheme.

"HS2 is the most ambitious and important infrastructure project in the UK since we built the M25 30 years ago, and in 30 more it will be just as integral a part of the nation's prosperity," said Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin.

"The Bill will give us the powers we need to get the railway built and start delivering the extra room on our railways that this country so desperately needs. It will also start the process of rebalancing the economy and bringing our great cities closer together. That is why the Bill is so important – it marks the move from aspiration to delivery," he said.