The HS2 Hybrid Bill has now been given a second reading by the House of Commons, signifying that the principle of the first phase of HS2 from London to the West Midlands has been approved by the House of Commons.
Given the nature of the Bill, i.e. one affecting particular private interests for example through compulsory purchase as well as dealing with a matter of public policy generally, those who are ‘specially and directly affected’ by it now have an opportunity to take part in the next stage of the Parliamentary process, which is a Select Committee charged with hearing all of the petitions that have been deposited.
This process is expected to start in early July and will go on for many months, up to and beyond the general election, sitting like a public inquiry, and hearing evidence from petitioners and the government in response and submissions by the parties’ parliamentary agents or counsel.
The equivalent House of Commons select committee on the Crossrail Bill – the last hybrid bill before this one – was in existence for some 22 months, and so it’s clear that the HS2 Select Committee has its work cut out for it, especially bearing in mind that HS2 is much more controversial than Crossrail and it is looking like there are about twice as many petitioners.
The government will try to reach agreements with some petitioners but others will be asking the committee to require minor route changes and other alterations to the Bill.
The committee cannot, however, do anything that goes against the principle of HS2, which includes its broad route alignment and the proposed stations.
Quite apart from changes that the government is already working on, for example relating to Euston station which will involve Additional Provisions (AP) to the Bill, the Select Committee can also be expected to make their own requirements for other Additional Provisions.
Whether brought forward by the government voluntarily or required by the committee, APs have to go through a process in order to be added to the Bill, which includes a petitioning opportunity as well.
All of this means that the Bill cannot hope to complete its passage through parliament until towards the end of 2016, at the earliest, especially as there will be a repeat of the process in the House of Lords.
Robbie Owen is partner and Roll A parliamentary agent of Pinsent Masons