UK: Paving The Way For HS2

Last Updated: 12 June 2013
Article by Oksana Price

This blog entry reports on the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill (see here) and examines why the Government has brought this bill forward and what is, and is not but might have been, in it. This is an abbreviated version of an article that appeared in Planning Magazine, for the full article see here (subscription required).

What's in the name?

Paving legislation is generally very short, comprising only a few clauses but its passage through Parliament can be controversial and in this case it is likely that it will result in a debate on the whole principle of high speed rail.

Paving Bills are normally brought forward in order to provide a government department with authority to spend money in a preparatory manner i.e. to develop a proposal, in this case high speed rail, which has not yet secured approval in principle from Parliament. The need for such a Bill generally arises when the government wants to spend money on a major project before the project itself is authorised.

Some examples of recent paving legislation included the British Rail and British Coal (Transfer Proposals) Act 1993 and the Planning Gain Supplement (Preparations) Act 2007.

The High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill

The timing of the Paving Bill may seem surprising given that the Phase 1 Hybrid Bill will be relatively 'hot on its heels' at the end of this year.

The Bill is essentially introduced to deal with the politics of the project, particularly to show progress and to retain the support of the northern cities and to prove the Government's commitment to HS2 and a whole high speed rail network. It is clearly intended to secure some political momentum behind HS2 before the Phase 1 Bill arrives, providing confidence that Phase 2 will follow and so shore up the Phase 1 business case.

Also, following the recent judicial reviews (even if hailed as successful by the Government) and the National Audit Office's rather damning report on the HS2 business case, the Government has been on the back foot and the Paving Bill is clearly an attempt to regain the initiative and to stress the positives of HS2.

The Bill is only a very short one, and the details cover less than two pages. However, it is highly symbolic and its content is very significant:

  • The Bill is seeking spending powers in respect of both Phase 1 and Phase 2 even though a Hybrid Bill for Phase 2 is not expected to be deposited until 2017/8.
  • As anticipated, the Bill provides the SoS with spending powers in preparation for both Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the project.
  • Less expected, the Bill also allows expenditure in preparation for potential future extensions to this network (possible extension to Scotland perhaps?).
  • The Bill permits expenditure on preparation for the construction of a railway line and any other infrastructure proposed to be included in the network and on preparation for the provision of services as part of that network.
  • The Bill also imposes a duty on the SoS to prepare an annual report on expenditure.

What is interesting, however, is what the Bill does not include:

  • The Paving Bill does not create any duty on the SoS to promote a high speed rail network, which some had been expecting.
  • Neither does it provide any general powers for HS2 Ltd or the SoS to enter onto land in order to carry out environmental and engineering surveys before the main bill is enacted.

The reasons for this are somewhat unclear but it may be that imposing a duty on the SoS to promote a high speed rail network was considered to be too much of a political hot potato and the power to enter and survey the land was also going to prove too controversial.

As the Bill is a normal government bill there will not be any opportunity for individuals to petition against it in the same way as with the Hybrid Bill, but MPs whose constituencies are badly affected by the proposals are sure to make their views known.

In June the Bill will be debated on its Second Reading in the House of Commons. The Bill is likely to give rise to discussion in Parliament of the underlying proposal and so despite its brevity, its passage through both Houses could be time consuming and troubled.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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