Out-Law News 2 min. read

Second reading of HS2 Hybrid Bill may be delayed after MPs order consultation extension

The next Parliamentary debate on the proposed high speed railway line between Birmingham and London may have to be postponed after a Parliamentary committee ruled that the consultation on the environmental impact of the plans should be extended.

The House of Commons Standing Orders Committee has extended the closing date of the consultation by 18 days to 10 February, following the omission of 877 pages from electronic copies of the Environmental Statement, along with other errors.

"This is just what the Government didn't need but had no option but to agree to," said Robbie Owen, an expert in hybrid bills and other procedures for major infrastructure planning at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com. "There had already been calls from MPs and others to extend the eight week consultation period because it included the two week Christmas break."

"Quite what longer-term impact it may have on the Hybrid Bill's programme remains to be seen. It is just possible that the Second Reading debate can still take place in early April but, if not, there could be several weeks' delay because of the Easter recess. That would only make the Government's stated ambition of Royal Assent by April 2015 even more impossible to achieve," said Owen.

The Government published the environmental statement for Phase One of the project, setting out the likely significant environmental effects of the new railway, in November, alongside the publication of the Hybrid Bill. A hybrid bill has elements of both a public and a private bill, and is most frequently used for the largest infrastructure projects promoted by the Government. The Bill is officially titled the High Speed Rail (London to West Midlands) Bill, and has been described by the Department for Transport (DfT) as the "planning application" for the scheme.

A spokesperson for HS2 Ltd, the company that will deliver the project, said that the Committee had "ruled in favour of [the Bill's] progression and confirmed that it can proceed as planned".

"We are happy to comply with the Committee's instruction to extend the Environmental Statement consultation period for a couple of weeks, to allow for full and proper consultation on some pages that were missing from the original material," he said.

"HS2 is the most significant infrastructure project the UK has seen in modern times and a project the country cannot do without," he said.

The DfT has said 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 from completion in 2026, with a proposed second phase of the project connecting the line to Manchester and Leeds envisaged by 2033. The project is currently expected to cost £42.6bn, of which just over £14bn is contingency money; with an additional £7.5bn for rolling stock.

Also this week, the Supreme Court announced that it would hand down its judgment on a number of legal challenges to HS2 on 22 January. A number of groups consisting of local residents, environmental campaigners and local authorities have challenged the Government on a number of grounds, all but two of which have been rejected by both the High Court and Court of Appeal.

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