HS2 exposes flaws in democratic process

The confirmation that HS2 will need a paving bill in order to be able to obtain funds for continued preparatory work shows just how early in the whole process we still are. First the needs to go through, but then there is the much more complex process of the hybrid bill which will take 18 months or so to get through Parliament.

It is rather odd that the government and HS2 Ltd did not realise earlier in the process that a paving bill would be required. While it will be a simple bill that will easily get through, it will offer the opportunity for opponents to raise their concerns in a meaningful way for the first time ever on the floor of the house. That in itself is remarkable. Given this is the biggest engineering project ever undertaken in the UK, it is strange that there has been no opportunity for any debate concerning legislation so far. Nor will there be in the hybrid bill which will be handled by a small committee.

The controversy has so far focused on the Chilterns but now that more details of the route and the associated works are emerging, it is the stations that will raise most concerns. And the biggest row will undoubtedly be over Euston. The recent revelation that a much cheaper option, which will involve retaining and adapting the 1960s monstrosity instead of demolishing it, has already raised hackles and is bound to lead to a much greater furore. Yet,. again, Parliament will not get a chance to discuss this properly.

  • So are you suggesting that major infrastructure projects should go through a pre paving bill, paving bill, then hybrid bill process? Will anything ever get built? The hybrid bill process is well established, and only proceeds after months or years of consultation. Why change it?

  • Dave Berry

    The whole interaction of HS2 with Crossrail, HS1 and existing London lines seems a bit of a mish-mash. I’m sure I read one suggestion that HS2 could instead join Crossrail at Old Oak Common and run under London to a joint station with HS1 (Stratford, maybe?), instead of requiring an expensive tunnel to run to Euston. Do any such proposals actually make practical sense?

    I would certainly like to be able to travel from the North on HS2, transfer straight onto HS1 and under the Channel to Paris. Londoners seem to think that all journeys should end in London and then have a complicated interchange via the tube if you want to continue your journey.

  • Not a pre-paving Bill but a Government should have to get Parliamentary authorisation to spend £250m+ of our money. Appalling that they can spend that much money before bringing it to Parliament.

  • Derekl

    While not wishing to encourage conspiracy theory, it does occur to me that the thought may well have been that they could get away without a paving bill, largely to avoid controversy in the house on the issue. The coalition government is not exactly averse to playing politics with any issue, and UKIP seems to have done rather well on stop HS2 issues in the recent local elections.

  • Nick Evans

    It’s simply wrong to say that there will be no opportunity for debate on the hybrid bill. This will go through all the normal stages of legislation *as well as* the small committee dealing with petitions/objections against it.
    The paving bill is an oddity, and is presumably because the government wants to spend money on the environmental assessment and engineering work for Phase 2, which would all be wasted if the Phase 1 hybrid bill is defeated.
    But, apart from that, I don’t see why you think there should have been a debate on legislation earlier? What would be the point of coming to Parliament with a bill if they hadn’t finished doing the design work? What would be debated, apart from the principles of the project, which have already been raised on numerous occasions?

  • Dan

    “Given this is the biggest engineering project ever undertaken in the UK,”

    Is that true? Surely building say the M1 was a bigger project, or the M25? Or any number of big schemes. Channel tunnel more complex I’d have thought.

    if by biggest = most costly that is not relevant because you have to quote equivalent prices (and that does not just mean inflation.

    HS1 was a branch line of the European HS network. Not sure HS2 is even going to be that without a sensible connection

  • Rich

    “The recent revelation that a much cheaper option, which will involve retaining and adapting the 1960s monstrosity instead of demolishing it, has already raised hackles and is bound to lead to a much greater furore.”

    I should imagine that they’re looking to cut costs, given that your placard-waving jobless chums in the Chilterns who idolise you have been demanding that the whole thing is built in tunnels so it doesn’t spoil the view from their back gardens.

    Anyway, I’m looking forward to someone on your side of the fence explaining to the government how the whole thing will get cancelled because of “Google Cars”. I could do with a good laugh.

  • Paul Bigland

    ‘No opportunity for debate’? Eh? That’s simply not true. Hs2 has been debated in Parliament several times, most recently in the Lords this last February. There was a Commons debate in October 2011 and again in January 2012 and a previous Lords debate in July 2012.

  • Nigel S

    The Paving Bill is certainly an oddity if only because it would confer no new powers on the Secretary of State that aren’t already contained in the Railways Act. This begs the question, what is it for if not simply a cosmetic excercise to suggest that ‘something is being done’. The paving bill is simply a risk without benefit – no new powers, but more delay as the House gets its first chance to vote on HS2. That this will be the first vote is an extraordinary thought given the huge cost already sunk into this project and the impact on the lives of thousands of people on the probable route of Phase 1 who find themselves in limbo over the future value of their properties and unable to do anything about it.
    We already know from the House of Commons Library briefing in March to MPs that the legislative timetable has slipped, we know that the project is already subject to huge reversals (Euston, Ealing) and we know that the budget on consultants is already going out of control. Add to this the context of the bail-out for HS1 due to hopeless passenger forecasting and the recent calls for the nationalisation of the M6Toll due to hopeless usage forecasting and it’s obvious that no private investor will go near this white elephant.

  • Spur Bottom Toad

    Eh? Eh? Eh? Ha-ha! HS2 going under the microscope. Don’t bare up two scrutiny do it? It a big con to rip off the taxpayer and support an aging industry.

  • Big Boy Trainspotter

    Why not be more up front and remind us how you dont want and dont like HS2. You’d rather sit there, head in the sand and do nothing while what spare capacity there is on the WCML gets eaten up. Why is it no one believes what the industry is warning about? Why dont you like progress?

    And while we are talking about the democratic process, how about the abuse of the process by many councils who approve schemes for industrial parks, incinerators, massive housing, and in the case of Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire, a bloody great big theme park based on Robin Hood.

  • No 2 HS2

    “What spare capacity there is on WCML” Clearly you didn’t take note of the governments own admission, finally, in Court that Virgin trains are just 52% full (and 35% in first class) in peak, and that’s before being extended to 11-car. Sad to see you are just dishing up their outdated dirt.

  • Dan

    why? They get authorisation to do all sorts of things (many of which I dislike) from the process of putting a manifesto to the country and getting elected in a general election. Even a no overall majority govt gets this in part because presumably the governing parties agree sections of their respective manifestos.

    The UK has no constitution (is probably open to question as to whether strictly speaking a real ‘democracy’)

    In any case £250 m is not very much in govt spending terms. You don’t say where you would give a cut off. If, say, older people winter fuel bill allowances cost £249m or £251m would that need a parliamentary debate in your view? I accept you might think so, but I doubt there are enough hours in the day for all the debates it would need