UK government attempts to accelerate parliamentary approval for HS2 plans

Out-Law News | 25 Nov 2021 | 11:54 am | 1 min. read

The UK government has announced its strategy to speed up the parliamentary approval process for the final sections of the High Speed 2 (HS2) rail project.

In the newly-published Integrated Rail Plan, ministers said they would seek parliamentary approval for the HS2 Phase 2B Western and Eastern Legs, as well as the Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) programme, using a series of hybrid bills.

The UK parliament has previously only considered hybrid bills, which are typically used to secure backing for major government-sponsored transport infrastructure projects, one at a time.

But the government now hopes to challenge that precedent and introduce three potentially “overlapping” hybrid bills into parliament to “expedite the process.”

“Hybrid bills generally take around three years from Bill deposit to Royal Assent,” the plan said, “although timescales can vary and running bills concurrently is likely to realise consents more quickly.”

Infrastructure planning expert and ‘Roll A’ Parliamentary Agent Robbie Owen, head of infrastructure planning and government affairs at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said the planned ‘rule’ change was “particularly significant.”

Owen Robbie_November 2019

Robbie Owen

Partner, Parliamentary Agent

Having the hybrid bills pass through parliament with some overlap will clearly mean that authorisation of the later aspects of HS2, and NPR, will happen sooner than if a sequential approach were taken.  This could save several years. 

“A sequential approach was taken with the HS2 Phase One (2014-2017) and 2a Bills (2017-2021) but this was criticised by those wanting to speed up delivery of HS2.”

He added: “This is the first time I can recall of having a clear programme laid out for future hybrid bills, so I think the recognition by the government of the shortcomings of a sequential approach is particularly significant in the context of its levelling-up programme and ‘Project Speed’.”

According to the Integrated Rail Plan, the first of the government’s three hybrid bills will concern the high-speed line from Crewe to Manchester, while a second will cover the proposed high-speed line connecting the West and East Midlands.

A third hybrid bill will be prepared for the section of NPR new line from Warrington to the HS2 line, and then Manchester to the Transpennine route.

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