The news that the Government has awarded HS2 contracts worth £6.2bn, alongside the announcement of the final route of Phase 2, implies that matters are progressing at a rapid pace and all is well.
But this is not the case for those involved in Phase 1 who have spent a number of years seeking better mitigation through the parliamentary process in the House of Commons and House of Lords Select Committee. Huge efforts have been made by local authorities who have worked together tirelessly to secure some big wins such as the extended tunnel in the Chiltern. They continue to work together as they prepare for the construction works to commence.
Little progress has been made since the bill secured Royal Assent on 23rd February this year with the announcement of the election and then the recovery period after that. Many authorities have only just started to receive their Context Plans which are meant to help local authorities and communities plan whilst the construction stage is rolled out.
The appointment of the main works contractors means that the real work on the design of the scheme, the track, the stations, the landscaping etc will now begin in earnest. This means that those involved in securing changes to the route, securing assurances and undertakings, and looking at potential new impacts, will still be heavily involved in the project moving forward. The timetable set out by HS2 and the actual delivery of this phase of the project will be closely watched as there has been concern from the outset of the timetable about the benefits and the costs of the project. These concerns remain justified as delays are experienced on a number of fronts.
For Phase 2, the process is at the early stages, but much is to be gained by ensuring that careful negotiations on assurances and undertakings from the outset ensures that that end result brings about the additional measures being sought. This simply cannot be underestimated.
As the project moves forward slowly, experience of the project so far is that whilst the parliamentary process is long, drawn out and cumbersome – for those affected it is the only means of securing change on the route once pronounced by the Secretary of State. It is worth all the time and energy spent on preparing and understanding the impacts of the proposed scheme, understanding what changes can be sought, what the effects will be, what the costs implications will be, and ultimately what you are seeking.
Since the confirmation of Phase 2a and 2b routes between Crewe and Manchester and from West Midlands to Leeds, many are already preparing for challenges on the route, its impact, and securing changes that they see as vital. The achievements secured during the Phase 1 parliamentary process on the compensation packages, the noise impacts and better mitigation secured generally has secured some comfort for those impacted on Phase 2, but this does not mean that the process will be any easier.
No doubt those affected will be looking to secure any entitlements to compensation under the Express Purchase Scheme, Exceptional Hardship Scheme (Phase2b), Need to Sell Scheme, Cash Offer or Voluntary Purchase Scheme or Homeowner Payment Scheme. The expectations on local authorities, parish councils and resident groups will also be intense to ensure that they carefully consider the impacts of the scheme, consult with those affected and lead on securing mitigation and change on the proposed routes where ever possible through the parliamentary process.
There is much to be gained from those involved in Phase 1 as they battled for extended tunnels, stations, relocation of the route, relocation of tunnels, vent shafts, bridges etc and much is to be gained from working collectively as the scheme progresses.
It does not matter whether you support the scheme or not, whether you benefit from it or not, what matters now is that the stakeholders play their part fully as those in Phase 1 have done and ensure they secure the maximum for those impacted. For with the announcements come the expectations that those in positions of responsibility and power will do their utmost for their communities.
Setfords Senior Consultant Planning and Parliamentary Agent