UK: HS2 - A Guide To How You Can Influence The Project

Last Updated: 26 July 2013
Article by Angus Walker

This briefing sets out how you can effectively engage with the approval process for the High Speed 2 rail link from London to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds if your interests are affected.

Background

A second high speed rail line - HS2 - is being planned to run north from Euston Station in London in two phases. Phase One will run to the West Midlands and re-join the existing railway near Lichfield.

Phase Two will continue the Phase One railway in a Y shape to Leeds and Manchester. Britain's first high speed rail line runs from the Channel Tunnel to St Pancras Station in London and there are also plans to link the two lines.

Each phase of High Speed 2 is due to be authorised by an Act of Parliament. The parliamentary process of considering the proposals includes an opportunity for outside individuals and organisations affected by the project to make objections and be heard by a committee of MPs and peers.

This represents a genuine chance to influence the project and secure changes to it. The parliamentary process for Phase One is due to start by the end of this year, when a Bill to authorise the project is presented to Parliament. The Bill for Phase Two is not expected until 2015 at the earliest.

Before the Bill is Introduced

Even now, there are opportunities to engage in the authorisation process for High Speed 2. Recent consultations have taken place on the draft 'Environmental Statement' for Phase One, and on some changes to its design and route. These both closed on 11 July 2013, but there will be further opportunities to engage before the Parliamentary process starts. For example, consultation on the planned route for Phase Two is currently under way until January 2014. This will give you the chance to influence the finalised route for Phase Two.

If you have tried to sell your property and cannot do so except at a reduced value then you may be able to take advantage of the 'Exceptional Hardship Scheme', where the government buys your property at a non-HS2 price. For more details see http://www.hs2.org. uk/developing-hs2/property/ exceptional-hardship-scheme

The Exceptional Hardship Scheme will eventually be replaced by a new compensation scheme, although this has been delayed following a successful judicial review of the compensation proposals in the courts. It is also now possible to claim statutory blight, which would result in a higher payment than using the Exceptional Hardship Scheme.

Once the Bill is introduced in Parliament

The Phase One Bill is likely to be deposited in Parliament towards the end of 2013, and this is known as the 'first reading' of the Bill. Various documents will accompany it, including the finalised Environmental Statement. The main debate on the principles of the Bill - the second reading debate - will take place around 3-4 months later.

At the end of the second reading debate there will be a vote on whether the Bill should continue. If that vote is carried then the Bill continues, but because Parliament has agreed to its general principles objections cannot be made by others to the project in principle and must concentrate on the detail.

Petitioning

Shortly after the second reading debate, there will be an opportunity for outside individuals and organisations who are affected by HS2 to object to its impacts on them and suggest changes. This is known as 'petitioning' against the Bill, and there is a special way of doing this. You can draft a petition yourself, but if you want to pay someone to do it for you they must be a 'Parliamentary Agent'. Bircham Dyson Bell has a standing status as professional Parliamentary Agents and has specialist experience in this area.

Petitioning is the best chance you have of influencing the project and gives you a negotiating position that you would not have otherwise. If you don't petition you will most likely be ignored.

Once the petitioning deadline has passed, the petitions will be published on the Parliament website.

The government can challenge petitioners on the grounds that they are not affected by the project, but may choose not to do this, as was the case for Crossrail.

Bill Committee

The next stage is that a committee of MPs will be convened to consider the petitions. The MPs appointed to the committee cannot have a constituency interest in the project to ensure that they are disinterested (rather than uninterested!), so they will all represent areas of the country away from the route.

Everyone who lodged a petition will be entitled to be heard by the committee and most take up the opportunity. As with petitioning, you can be represented by a lawyer or can appear before the committee on your own. There is an art to making a persuasive case to the committee and that is where specialist lawyers can help you.

Once it has heard all the petitioners who want to be heard, the committee will produce a set of final recommendations, which the government usually accepts.

Significant changes can be recommended - more of HS1 was put in tunnel than the government wanted, and a new ticket hall was required to be built for Crossrail. The Bill will then pass through its remaining stages in the House of Commons just like any other Bill.

Side negotiations

Between the time that you petition and appear before the committee, the government is likely to get in touch with you to establish whether your concerns can be met by giving a letter of assurance or reaching a legally binding agreement rather than trusting to whatever the MPs might decide. The risk of the MPs deciding against the government gives petitioners a useful negotiating position where some concessions are made in exchange for agreeing not to appear before the committee, but this will be a short period. If you are considering an offer that has been made to you, it is important to get legal advice on whether any concessions being made are enforceable before you give up your right to appear before MPs.

Second House

Once the Bill has passed the House of Commons it starts again in the House of Lords. Unless the government seeks to change the standing orders of Parliament to speed up the process, the same sequence of events will occur in the House of Lords as the House of Commons: first reading, second reading, petitioning period, committee of Peers to consider petitions, committee to consider Bill clauses, report stage and third reading. It is possible to petition the Lords whether or not you petitioned the Commons, and it is possible to raise the same issues as well as new ones. Having said that, changes to the project are more likely to be made in the Commons. Once both Houses have agreed the same version of the Bill, it will receive Royal Assent and come into force.

There will be further opportunities to affect the project once the Bill has been enacted, but these do not present nearly as significant a chance of making a change to the project as the Parliamentary process.

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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