On 20 December the Secretary of State for Transport, Philip Hammond MP, announced that the Coalition Government has chosen route three as its preferred option on which to hold a public consultation regarding HS2. This news will have come as a heavy blow to many residents. At the time of the announcement I placed a statement on my website giving my reaction to the proposals (please see post dated 20-12-10).
In his statement, Mr Hammond said that steps to mitigate the impact of the rail line have been taken at Hartwell House, and between South Heath and Wendover. At the former, the Department for Transport is proposing to realign the route away from Hartwell House, bringing the line roughly 75 to 100 metres closer to the outskirts of Aylesbury and Fairford Leys. HS2 Ltd believes that this would not significantly add to the noise impact on those areas. This is a view not shared by residents of Fairford Leys, and I want to see evidence of the noise assessment studies that HS2 Ltd have carried out. Details of the alterations, and a map of the proposed route, can be found on the Department for Transport’s website (please see below). I would be grateful if residents affected by these changes could contact me with their views so that I can make their case to the Department. Broadly speaking the proposals for Aylesbury, Stoke Mandeville and Wendover village are the same as before the announcement.
The public consultation is due to begin in the second half of February and will look at four main areas:
- The principle of high-speed rail
- The choice of corridor
- The detail of the route
- Compensation for blighted properties
To date, there has been no announcement as to how the consultation will operate. On compensation, the Secretary of State has said that the Department are looking at a scheme to assist those whose properties would not be required for the construction of the railway, but who would nonetheless see a significant loss as a result of the building of the line. This of course will be in addition to the statutory blight regime which covers those properties that would be needed to build HS2.
On 5 January the interim Exceptional Hardship Scheme panel was replaced by a permanent panel. As a result HS2 Ltd has now published revised guidance for the Exceptional Hardship Scheme, which includes more details on the qualifying criteria and evidence required for the scheme. This means that constituents who were turned down by the previous panel now have the opportunity to reapply under the new guidelines. I strongly recommend that anyone who has been turned down look at the new guidance and consider reapplying for the scheme. More information about the revised guidelines can be found on HS2 Ltd’s website (please see below). I have recently also written to the Parliamentary Ombudsman to ask whether she can investigate the decisions of the Exceptional Hardship Scheme panel, as their conclusions in a couple of constituency cases seem to me to have been unreasonable.
The Secretary of State has said that when the consultation is launched he will publish a revised business case, a full appraisal of sustainability, noise contour maps and route visualisation. I am continuing to press Mr Hammond and HS2 Ltd to release this information without delay. It is a matter of justice that local residents should be able to study and analyse this data ahead of the consultation. It is crucial that residents respond to the consultation as it is at this point in the policy making process where there is the greatest opportunity for concerns to be heard.
I will be meeting with local councillors and residents’ groups to discuss the best way to respond to the consultation, and to help ensure that Aylesbury constituency gets as much out of the process as possible. I shall of course be contacting residents with further details of the consultation as soon as it is announced, and to urge constituents to take part in the process. Transport Ministers are in no doubt, from my conversations with them, about my opposition to this route and I shall of course continue to urge them to change their minds. Even if you have already written to the Department of Transport, it will be important to make a submission to the public consultation to set out your views. My understanding is that this will be a national consultation, and I expect supporters of HS2 in Northern England and Scotland to make vigorous representations in favour of the project, so it is extremely important that everyone in Buckinghamshire and beyond who opposes the scheme also makes their voices heard. Those of you who are members of national organisations like the National Trust, the Campaign to Protect Rural England and the Wildlife Trusts may want to urge those organisations to encourage their members nationwide to respond to the consultation. The proposed HS2 route affects only a small number of the 650 parliamentary constituencies (and some of those only marginally), and MPs representing other seats are not so far receiving representations from their constituents about the scheme.
In addition, I will be writing to English Heritage, the Environment Agency and the Campaign to Protect Rural England, to find out what work they have carried out on the environmental impact that HS2 will have, especially on the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
HS2 Ltd: Revised Guidance (Exceptional Hardship Scheme)http://www.hs2.org.uk/publications/Exceptional-Hardship-Scheme-Revised-65536
Department of Transport: Alterations to the proposed route www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/rail/pi/highspeedrail/proposedroute/