TRANSPORT secretary Chris Grayling has told MPs that HS2 continues to be 'worthy of Parliament’s support', but he has also revealed that some claims for compensation have been reconsidered.
He was commenting on the latest report from the House of Lords about the project, which concentrates on the implications of the construction of Phase 1 of the high speed line between London and Birmingham.
The purpose of the Committee, which was set up in May last year, was to hear petitions from people who feared they would be affected by HS2, and it has heard some 600 cases.
The Lords had reported shortly before Christmas that "it was put to us that the promoter seemed, on occasion, to wish to go back on commitments previously given in good faith. It is impossible for us to come to a judgment on all such allegations, but as the bill moves towards Royal Assent and the building of the railway begins, it will be imperative that communication between the promoter and petitioners is timely and constructive—on both sides".
The response of the government's high speed rail developer HS2 Ltd has been to think again about a number of cases and associated claims for compensation, and it has also set up a new Community Engagement Directorate in response to complaints that it had been 'slow to respond during negotiations and that interaction with the promoter could be sporadic and frustrating'.
Mr Grayling has also simultaneously published a 'Statement of Reasons', which summarises the work that has already been done to assess, control and mitigate the environmental implications of building the line.
Railnews Editor Sim Harris
THE House of Lords has not been a particular fan of HS2 in the past, its Economic Affairs Committee being particularly scathing about the scheme in March 2015, when it questioned the economic justification for building a high speed line at all.
This time, however, the Lords has been playing a different role, because it was not part of the Bill Committee's task to consider whether the project should go ahead. Instead, it was set up to hear petitioners from the affected areas, which range from London to Staffordshire. In other words, it was acting as a court of appeal or even, perhaps, a kind of consumer watchdog.
To gather the evidence, it held 101 public meetings on 64 days, hearing almost 300 'locus standi' challenges (essentially establishing a right to object and to be heard) and over 300 substantive petitions which set out claims in detail.
The Committee said its task had been 'onerous', and that its proceedings were conducted in a courteous and constructive atmosphere.'for the most part'. The HS2 scheme has led to feelings running high on occasion, with the Committee revealing that it had been 'left under no illusions as to the strength of feeling it generates'.
It went on to point out: "As the railway is constructed over the coming years, it will be imperative that the promoter engages effectively with all interested parties to ensure that, as far as possible, disruption and inconvenience are kept to a minimum. In this regard, the promoter faces an enormous task and we cannot stress enough the importance of effective and timely public engagement, something which, we were told time and again, could be improved upon."
This response from the government to the Lords report, although not dealing with the rights and wrongs of HS2 itself, is still an important landmark. At the very least, it is a piece of essential administration, although those petitioners who have won the day will probably regard it more highly than that.
And most importantly, it should be one of the last steps in the process before Royal Assent is given and construction can start in the spring.