Petitioning in respect of Phase 2b of HS2 commenced on 21 June 2022. Since the petitioning period closed in August, those who lodged petitions have been waiting to hear when their objections will likely be heard.
We are now informed that the Select Committee for Phase 2b will be appointed imminently. However, to allow time for the newly appointed committee members to prepare, it may be unlikely that the public Select Committee hearings will commence before the new year.
Given Michael Gove’s suggestion as Levelling Up chief at the weekend that HS2 costs will be reviewed ahead of the Autumn Budget now scheduled for 17 November 2022, it seems increasingly likely that the Select Committee will not list hearings before the new year.
Background on the Bill
On 11 May 2022, the High-Speed Rail (Crewe -Manchester) Bill was introduced into the House of Commons. The Bill’s second reading on 20 June concluded with 205 votes in favour to 6 against. That majority triggered a “petitioning period” that ran from the following day, 21 June, to 4 August 2022.
During that time, on 6 July, the Government deposited an Additional Provision and Supplementary Environmental Statement to the Bill in Parliament. Those documents set out proposed amendments to the Bill and additional environmental information. To cater to those affected by those additional documents, a separate petitioning period ran parallel to the first, which ended on 9 August.
Overview of petitioning
The process of “petitioning” in respect of a hybrid bill allows individuals, groups of individuals or organisations to set out how the Bill provisions affect them and how they would want to see the provisions altered to rule out or minimise disruption to them and/or their business operations. It must be noted, though, that the process cannot be used to challenge the principle of HS2 or general concerns on the project, such as air pollution or traffic congestion. To have the “right to be heard”, an individual or organisation must allege and prove that their property or interests are “specially and directly affected” by one or more provisions of the Bill. The Department for Transport has the right to challenge any petitioner who they consider does not have the right to be heard.
Petitioners can submit a petition on their own. However, a large number of those affected choose to seek professional assistance with the process from a solicitor and an agent to carefully construct the petition document and prepare for the next stage. It is vitally important that the petition contains all of the objections, issues or concerns that a petitioner has, as anything not contained in the petition itself cannot be raised when the petition is heard. Petitioners should also avoid including commercially sensitive or personal information - all petitions are a matter of public record and will be published.
A Select Committee is made up of MPs who have no constituency interest in a particular Bill. The appointment of the Select Committee for Phase 2b signals a step forward for petitioners in getting their objections aired and resolved where possible.
Assuming that HS2 make no representations as to a petitioner’s right to be heard, each petitioner will be invited to appear before the Select Committee at a hearing. Before each hearing, HS2 Ltd will produce a “promoter’s response” and will invariably make contact with a petitioner to seek to resolve the petitioner’s objections to the Bill. This can, in many cases, rule out the need for a hearing. However, frequently, a petitioner will still need to proceed with the hearing itself. During the hearing, the Select Committee will seek to resolve issues by proposing that HS2 Ltd offers assurances or undertakings on behalf of the Secretary of State for Transport to ensure that certain changes are made or works done, and it can require amendments to be the Bill to be made to accommodate the petitioners.
Our HS2 advisory team has been involved in all phases of HS2 and acts for petitioners and other land and property owners affected by HS2 and all schemes involving compulsory purchase and compensation. We would be pleased to assist any individual, company or other organisation requiring advice and support.