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HS2's hybrid bill: Where are we now?

The third reading in the House of Lords of HS2’s hybrid bill is due this week – so what does that mean for its progress?

High Speed 2 has been long in the planning – and construction has not yet started.

The enabling legislation was presented to the House of Commons as long ago as 25 November 2013 but now sits with the House of Lords, with its Third Reading due to take place this week.

While I expect that the Third Reading will go ahead as planned, the future progress of the bill could of course depend very much on the progress of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill which is currently going through the House of Commons.

Many will be aware that this is the bill the government was forced to introduce as a consequence of the decision last week of the Supreme Court that an Act of Parliament is required for the government to trigger the withdrawal from the European Union.

Exactly what that means for the HS2 phase one bill is unclear. There may be no delay, or further delay may be caused. Whatever the case, though, there is no certainty on the timelines.

For the past four years, many parties adversely affected by the HS2 phase one proposals have lodged petitions against the bill before both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

Indeed, shortly before Christmas, the House of Lords select committee published its final report and, as part of that report, it made amendments to the bill. Here are the key amendments:

Clause 48 amendments

Before the House of Lords select committee, leading counsel for HS2, Mr Mould QC, sought to argue that the associated regeneration and development provisions should remain as drafted (and slightly amended by the House of Commons select committee to add the consultation provisions in Clause 48 (2)) on the basis that the power of compulsory acquisition in this regard is nothing more than a “backstop power designed to prevent ‘ransom strips’ obstructing regeneration”.

“The House of Lords select committee concurred with the petitioners, meaning that HS2 Ltd will no longer be able to acquire land that might be considered suitable for regeneration or development”

However, in opposition to that argument, the petitioners (the lead petitioner on this issue being Camden Council) argued that (i) compulsory purchase powers should only be granted when they are clearly needed and (ii) there is no reason why the transport secretary should have such wide powers indefinitely simply because of some degree of proximity between the land in question and the proposed railway.

The House of Lords select committee concurred with the petitioners, meaning HS2 Ltd will no longer be able to acquire land that might be considered suitable for regeneration or development.

They will only be able to acquire such land as is needed for the construction and operation of the railway.

This is an important change, as there was a previously held concern that HS2 would be acquiring land for development purposes, depriving landowners of the opportunity to develop such land themselves or sell to developers.

In fact, the committee described those provisions as “unnecessary and undesirable”.

Additional points of importance

The committee formed the view that the bill will become law soon but, notwithstanding that, the committee made it clear that:

  • This only represents the end of the beginning for this project;
  • Effective and timely consultation and engagement with affected parties is imperative to ensure that, as far as possible, disruption and inconvenience are kept to a minimum;
  • Time and time again, it was reported to the committee that public consultation could be improved.

Wider compensation

Finally, the committee considered that the property compensation scheme “does not at present strike a far balance between town and country residents, mainly because it is based on the incorrect assumption that it is inconvenience and disruption during the operational phase that is the sole or main grievance for those who live close to the line of the route”.

They have therefore recommended that households in Camden and other urban areas should be treated in the same way as if they were within 120 m of the line of the route in an area where the rural support zone applies.

This is a significant recommendation, as it brings potentially thousands of households within the discretionary compensation schemes offering them a way to advance compensation rather than having to wait for the line to be operational.

It now remains to be seen which of those amendments survive the next round of the parliamentary process.

Richard Flenley is a senior associate at Charles Russell Speechlys

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