A parliamentary report has accused HS2 Ltd of treating community engagement as “a box-ticking exercise”, and criticised a lack of transparency at the company.
A Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee report, released last week, said that HS2 had not taken “its duty to openly and transparently communicate and engage with the public sufficiently seriously”.
The report accused the company of turning “consultation events into public relations exercises”, while information that was made available to the public was “either too generic to be of use, or was inconsistent”.
Debating the report’s findings in parliament, a number of MPs said that HS2 had failed to properly engage with their constituents or their councils.
In the HS2 Bill, there are 65 pages outlining road and footpath closures and 67 pages on associated works to roads, railways and utilites. Banbury MP Victoria Prentis said that HS2 had given her “no assurance” that it would engage in a timely fashion with road users in her constituency.
”In my constituency, we have had significant problems in engaging with HS2 - and not just me as the member of parliament; the county council and the district council have simply not had their letters answered,” she said.
Notable HS2 critic, Chesham and Amersham MP Cheryl Gillan said that there “continues to be a litany of errors” from HS2 in regard to compensation claims for properties that lie on the route of the £50bn project.
”I still have a large number of constituents who have been negotiating with HS2 for months to get a fair price for their property, and I know from colleagues that it is a similar story up and down the route,” she said.
“I have been appalled at the treatment of individuals, who have had to employ expensive lawyers even to get timely and rational answers from those employed by HS2 or from HS2 itself.”
The report welcomed some steps that HS2 has taken to improve community engagement, including the appointment of a public response manager and 11 stakeholder communications roles.
However, the report added that “the depth and extent of criticism expressed in the vast majority of the evidence that we received highlights the need for a fundamental shift in how HS2 Ltd communicates and engages with the public”.
“We have seen no evidence to suggest that this step change has taken place,” it added.
Responding to the report, HS2 chief executive Simon Kirby said that “more needs to be done” to improve the way that HS2 communicates with the people affected by the project.
“Over the last two months, we have held six public information events attended by more than two thousand people,” he said.
”Five more are planned over the next two months and we are in the process of appointing 11 local community engagement managers who will work directly in the communities they serve.
“However, this is only the start. We know we need to keep improving and we are determined to live up to the responsibility given to us by the government, Parliament and the communities we serve.”
Last week, HS2 named a shortlist of nine firms and joint ventures that will battle it out for the £11.8bn of civil engineering works for phase one of the project.