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30 November 2016

HS2: the train that is delayed even before it leaves the station

It has long been the stated intention of HS2 Ltd and the Department for Transport that the Phase One Bill would have Royal Assent by the end of this calendar year (although initial estimates put the due date by sometime in 2015) and that we would see “spades in the ground in 2017 as planned”.

The then Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin MP (who made that statement in 2014) has moved on to pastures new and his replacement, Chris Grayling MP, now has to address the failure at least to hit the legislative deadline envisaged at the time.  Some commentators are suggesting construction may not actually start until 2020.

When we first started blogging about HS2, I made the point that – bearing in mind the significant numbers of petitioners who had elected to petition against the Bill (both in the Commons and the Lords) – it could well be longer than envisaged before Royal Assent would be granted.

It is therefore interesting to note today that it is now being acknowledged that there will be some slippage to the parliamentary timetable.

It is currently understood that the House of Lords Select Committee is not expected to publish its findings until 12 December.  Thereafter, the Lords will need to consider those findings prior to debating the Bill at the Third Reading (at which amendments to the Bill can be made by the Lords). 

Currently there is nothing timetabled for this process and, as the Lords rise for the Christmas recess on 21 December, it would seem unlikely that this will take place before the end of the year.  Indeed, the Lords do not return until 9 January 2017 and are then only present until the February recess starts on 9 February.

Even once the third reading has taken place, the Bill will then need to return to the House of Commons for consideration of the Lords’ amendments (assuming amendments are indeed made) and there then follows a process by which each House considers the other’s amendments until such time as there is an agreed form of Bill for Royal Assent (known as “ping pong”).

It is not yet known exactly what stance the Lords will take to the proposed Bill – or the extent of the amendments they are likely to propose.  It will be a developing story that we will provide regular updates on.  Whatever happens, though, the Government will undoubtedly be nervous as to the slippage of time – particularly given the developing Brexit issues and the fact that Easter will be fast approaching if matters have not been concluded by the February break.

The blame for the delay is being laid by some at the door of those who petitioned against the Bill (the total number of petitions laid before Parliament exceeds 3,400).  However, it is important to remember that many of those petitions were made by property owners with very genuine concerns – and in many cases where the impact of HS2 will cause significant loss (as well as some cases seeing all of the pain of HS2 without any of the benefits – a point we have already made before the Select Committee).

Aside from having to deal with this delay, the challenge for the Government is to learn the lessons from HS2 Phase One to try to ease the passage of their plans through both parts of HS2 Phase Two.  The ongoing property compensation consultation may be one step in that process if the Government listens to the genuine concerns that will undoubtedly be raised.


This article was written by Richard Flenley. For more information please contact Richard on +44 (0)1843 252 953 or richard.flenley@crsblaw.com

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