Now that the HS2 Select Committee process has finished I thought that you would appreciate an update on the project and the next stages of the process.
As you may know, the HS2 Select Committee were responsible for hearing from constituents along the entire length of the route, who were ‘directly and specially affected’ by the construction and operation of the line. In practice, this has meant that they have heard petitions from almost 1,600 petitioners over nearly two years.
They released their second report on 22 February, before the Committee was finally dissolved. You can find the report here:
This report largely summarises the improvements to the Bill that have already been secured. You can also find their previous report here:
During the process I worked with a number of individual constituents as well as larger organisations ranging from Parish, District and County Councils, to local action groups, to representatives from local schools and churches. We tried to consistently make the strongest case for mitigation and compensation possible and we achieved a number of significant improvements to the original Bill scheme.
During this time I appeared to give evidence on three separate occasions. I appeared twice on the issue of tunnelling, both before and after the Committee expressed their initial view on the issue. I later appeared in January to cover the non-tunnel related issues along the length of the line in my constituency.
You can find the videos for these three appearances here:
30 June 2015:
You can find the transcripts here:
30 June 2015:
During the presentations I covered every area affected by the construction and operation of the line in as much depth as possible. Since HS2 was first announced, in 2010, a large number of modifications and improvements have been added to the scheme. While these are welcome, they will mitigate rather than cancel out the impact of HS2 on our area. Any infrastructure project, especially one on the scale of HS2, will inevitably have a disruptive impact during construction and a longer term impact once operations begin.
Fairford Leys will benefit from substantial 4-5m noise barriers as well as tree planting to shield the barrier visually. I am continuing to press HS2 Ltd to make sure that mature saplings are planted as early as possible to make sure that residents do not have to wait for years with the visual impact of the barrier.
I was also able to secure an assurance from HS2 Ltd that the sports pitches in this area will not be impacted by the line and that play will be able to continue, after initial plans suggested that some or all of the land would be used for construction.
I am continuing to work with Coldharbour Parish Council’s Role B Agent on what further improvements to press for in planned meetings with Ministers and HS2 Ltd.
Aylesbury Town and Hawkslade
There is provision for noise barriers of 3-5m and associated landscaping and screening along the line where it passes close to the west of Aylesbury. The highest barriers will be near Oat Close and Isis Close, at HS2's closest point to the town. Having visited the sound lab of Arup, the consultants to HS2 Ltd, and heard noise simulations that showed the difference that improved insulation can make, I am pressing for residents close to the line also to be offered free double glazing and other noise insulation measures.
The HS2 scheme has been modified to allow for a western section of an Aylesbury ring road to be built once funds are available. This change was supported by Bucks County Council and Aylesbury Vale District Council.
I have supported the National Trust in their efforts to secure the ‘green banks’ scheme of visual and noise mitigation. This is a substantial package of mitigation to shield the house from the visual and noise impact of the line in keeping with the surrounding countryside. Because of the mitigation offered, the National Trust felt able to withdraw their petition.
Stoke Mandeville is faced not only with the line passing close by the village, but also with the ’maintenance loop’, which will be used by rolling stock working on track maintenance during some nights. The original Bill scheme had little mitigation for the village and also included flyovers of Risborough Road and Marsh Lane. The flyovers would have had a huge impact on the village and I lobbied HS2 Ltd and Transport Ministers strongly to support the case put forward by Stoke Mandeville Parish Council and Stoke Mandeville Action Group that a bypass would be a better option with much less impact on the surrounding area. We were able to persuade HS2 Ltd to agree to a bypass for the A4010 which will dramatically reduce the noise and visual blight Stoke Mandeville will suffer. This work will cost an extra £2 million. In addition, HS2 Ltd has also committed itself to provide funding for the local authority should a further extension be needed to take the bypass further to the west.
I am continuing to press HS2 Ltd over further improvements to the mitigation package including a uniform height noise barrier and for the earthworks that are currently planned to end north of the A4010 Risborough Road to extend south past the A4010 for additional noise and visual mitigation.
In addition, the Promoter’s response to the Select Committee’s final report includes the following paragraphs:
The Promoter will review proposals for screening and noise mitigation for the Stoke Mandeville Maintenance loops in line with the Environmental Minimum Requirement commitments, liaising as appropriate with Aylesbury Vale District Council.
The Promoter will make available to the local community in Stoke Mandeville, an approximate sound demonstration of the noise effect of a train passing over high speed points later this year.
The Promoter will inform Stoke Mandeville Parish Council, on behalf of the local community, of the height of the railway once that is fixed.
You can read the full report here:
In Wendover, the Committee's decision to accept HS2's argument that the costs of a deep-bore tunnel (£300-400 million) outweighed the benefits was very disappointing. Local residents had argued that HS2's costings were excessively cautious and that the experience of Crossrail suggested that a tunnel could be constructed much more cheaply, perhaps for as little as £50 million. However, the Committee seems to have felt that the history of major construction projects running over schedule and over budget was such that they were right to err on the side of caution. Given the Committee's conclusion, I think that the only possible way to get the question of a deep tunnel reopened is to argue for an independent review of HS2's costing assumptions. I have suggested to local campaigners that they might petition for this in the House of Lords. I am also arranging to meet the Transport Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to urge them to accept a review.
Wendover has been one of the most difficult cases in terms of finding solutions to the effects of the line as it passes close to the village centre. Although many of the most immediate effects will be solved by the cut-and-cover tunnel, at least once the line is completed, there were still a number of further issues to be raised. Largely, these were to do with noise impact to the north and south of the existing tunnel.
The Committee initially recommended a 700m extension of the green tunnel to the Small Dean viaduct. However they have subsequently produced evidence that many of the same benefits in terms of noise improvements could be achieved with a shorter extension of the green tunnel and a series of 6m noise barriers in addition to a series of additional compensation measures for Wendover as a whole. The Select Committee seemed to find this argument persuasive, one additional benefit of which was that the 6m noise barriers will have a significantly smaller visual impact than an 8m concrete box tunnel. The estimated cost of the noise barriers and green tunnel extension is £10 million.
Additional measures put forward by HS2, which are still under discussion include:
provision of additional car parking in Wendover; green bridge over bypass and railway; appropriate sustainable transport measures for construction workers in Wendover; relaunch of Wendover as a tourist venue after construction; appropriate bus service mitigation, and advance planting of trees.
I am also pressing HS2 Ltd to agree to a package of reassurances sought by the local community over construction practices. These would include:
specific involvement by local people in Local Environment Management plans (LEMPs) and Traffic Management plans (TMPs); additional funding for environmental health practitioners for some HS2 related work; engagement by nominated undertaker in Wendover; responsive road cleaning in Wendover; management of HS2 construction traffic in Wendover; advance notice of HS2 construction works in Wendover; support for local businesses in Wendover; engagement on hydrogeology in relation to concerns in Wendover, and establishing a HS2 emergency services liaison group.
I was pleased to read in the Promoter’s response that they have already begun hydrological surveys to reduce the risk of hydrological problems later in the project. I was also pleased that HS2 Ltd listened to suggestions from the community to design a new crossing to keep Bacombe Lane open permanently.
St Mary’s Church
I have been working closely with Parochial Church Council and the Diocese of Oxford to secure additional sound mitigation for the Church. The church has previously raised almost £1m to pay for improvements to bring the church up to concert standard in a way appropriate to a Grade II* listed building. I have made the point to HS2 Ltd as strongly as possible that the church should be protected from the impact of HS2 so that it can continue to play a role as a community centre and music venue.
HS2 Ltd have provided assurances to the extent of £250,000 to cover sound proofing to the church in keeping with its listed status including insulation to the roof, windows, bell tower and porch. They believe that this sum will pay for all insulation measures that will be needed to ensure that St Mary’s can continue to operate to its current standards as a concert venue. I am arranging a meeting between the Church and HS2 Ltd to try to reach a clear mutual understanding of the detail of the works that would be needed and their cost.
Wendover Manor School
While HS2 Ltd argues that its proposed noise barriers and longer green tunnel at Wendover should protect the school, the head and governors are unconvinced. I am convening a meeting between both parties in the hope that a way forward can be found with which both are satisfied.
Nash Lee Lane, London Road, Wendover Dean and Dunsmore
The Committee took the view that the number of homes affected in these small settlements on the outskirts of Wendover parish did not justify the estimated cost of a deep-bore tunnel – some £300-400 million. There will be some protection in the form of noise barriers for the Nash Lee area but not for the settlements south of Wendover, where the line would run on viaducts and embankments.
I shall continue to give strong support to residents’ petitions for mitigation as the Bill is examined in the House of Lords and ask for an independent review of the assumptions on which HS2 Ltd based it's estimate of tunnelling costs. In the meantime, I shall press for the most generous interpretation of the Need to Sell compensation scheme in these neighbourhoods. It may be that compensation rather than mitigation proves to be the best option here.
Some of the most significant improvements to the HS2 scheme have come with the new arrangements for compensation.
I have spoken vehemently to Ministers and HS2 officials about the unsatisfactory nature of the Exceptional Hardship Scheme (EHS). The standards that individuals had to meet to be seen as suffering ‘exceptional hardship’ were punitively high. There were cases of people not being accepted even though they were seriously ill. Or told that when they could not manage with the stairs due to age or ill health, that they should move the bed downstairs and sleep there.
The new Need to Sell (NTS) scheme seems to be operating much better. While it is not a “wish to sell” scheme – applicants still have to show that they “need” to sell- it is being implemented more generously than was EHS. Currently around 70% of cases are accepted to NTS, which is more than double the rate for EHS. Virtually all of the cases where I have written in support of constituents have been accepted and the input that route MPs and individual petitioners have given to the Committee has clearly been taken on board. The Committee covers the kind of cases that should be accepted to Need to Sell in some depth in both of their reports and if you are thinking of applying, I would recommend that you read those reports closely. If you require further assistance, please get in touch with my office.
I have been working closely with Bucks County Council on ensuring that the problems caused by HS2 traffic during the construction process are minimised. As a result of our petitions HS2 Ltd has released a comprehensive list of roads and junctions that will be subject to traffic management plans and strict monitoring to ensure that they comply.
This will also be a reassurance to individuals in my constituency who raised concerns about potential congestion on blue light routes between Wycombe and Stoke Mandeville hospitals. This is a concern that the Select Committee also felt very strongly and key routes and junctions including the A4010 and the A413 are now protected.
You can read a full list of routes and junctions that are protected in the assurances here:
The Community and Environment Fund and the Business and Local Economy Fund will make up to £40 million available for residents and local organisations to invest in public projects such as the refurbishment of local community centres, nature conservation and measures to support local economies and employment. The initial sum of £30m was increased by £10m as a result of pressure from myself and Bucks County Council.
While this is a welcome step to going some way to provide community compensation for the impact of the HS2, I believe that this is not yet enough. I will continue to make the case in the Lords that this should be increased to £60m, which is still a small fraction of the total cost of the line.
One of the main complaints from people in my constituency has been that they are expected to take all the pain for HS2 but they get no benefit in terms of access to improved transport infrastructure themselves.
At present, there is no provision in the HS2 Phase One scheme for any intermediate station between London and Birmingham. The justification originally given for not proposing any intermediate stations was that to have any intermediate stop would result in a loss of speed and travel time and that this would weaken the cost benefit case for HS2. In the light of the focus on capacity and on the importance of interconnectivity, it seems to me that the strategic case for an intermediate station is worth revisiting. In addition, it seems to me that it would be a missed opportunity for HS2 to cross the new Oxford to Cambridge East-West line without an interconnecting station.
I continue to press the relevant Ministers to revisit this question.
HS2 Ltd's communication with the public
In my evidence session on 26 January (see links above to video and transcript), I explained the enormous frustration and anger felt by local residents as a result of poor communications by HS2 Ltd. While it was always inevitable that there would be strong disagreement between the promoters and local people about the project, much ill-will and mistrust could have been avoided by relatively simple measures like giving affected residents easier and more timely access to technical experts able to answer questions about acoustics, tunnelling and other engineering matters. I believe that there are lessons to be learned both for subsequent stages of the HS2 scheme and for other large infrastructure projects.
There remains overwhelming cross-party support in Parliament for HS2. Indeed, if anything the pressure from MPs in North and Midlands, including some of those whose constituencies will be affected, for it to go ahead and quickly has grown since the election. Although my longstanding doubts about the business case for HS2 remain, I am in a small minority in Parliament. The House of Commons voted by399 to 42 to approve the Bill at Third Reading and send it to the House of Lords.
I was carrying out Ministerial business in Northern Ireland during the debate on the Bill, which had the effect of me abstaining on Third Reading. Several constituents urged me to resign from the Government in order to vote against the Bill at Third Reading, and to do so as a token gesture even though it would have made no difference to the outcome. While I took those representations seriously, I decided against that course of action for a number of reasons.
First, while I am not satisfied with the mitigation yet offered, especially for Wendover, there have been improvements in mitigation and a significant improvement in the compensation arrangements.
Second, the only way to get further improvements is by persuading the relevant Government Ministers of the case. Persuading the House of Lords Committee that will hear petitions on the Bill will help, but any changes that the Lords support will need government agreement. While I can't guarantee getting those further changes, I am absolutely certain that resigning from the government (especially doing so now, given my ministerial responsibilities for Europe!) would kill any chance at all.
Third, I am also very aware of the fact that I have a national ministerial responsibility for Europe at a time when the British people face the most important choice in a generation about our relationship with the EU. In those circumstances, to abandon my post would not be doing my duty to the country.
Fourth, I discussed matters with a number of route MPs like Cheryl Gillan, who are not members of the Government. Their firm view was that I could do more good working within the Government on behalf of my constituents and other residents along the route than I could by walking out of the door. Other Ministers with constituencies along the route have come to the same conclusion.
I shall continue to do everything that I can to get further improvements to mitigation and compensation arrangements as the Bill moves into the House of Lords. Both the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Transport Secretary have agreed to meet me to discuss the further improvements that I want to see.
Any individual or group who would like support with the petitioning process should get in touch with my office. You can also read guidance for petitioners here:
As ever, if you have any comments or concerns about HS2, and in particular if you would like me to support an application for compensation or a petition to the House of Lords, please get in touch with my office on 020 7219 2514 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.