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HS2 select committee calls for hybrid bill reform

The High Speed 2 select committee has called for an overhaul of the hybrid bill process, describing the system as “not fit for purpose”.

The committee, which has heard more than 1,600 petitions over the last two years, said the process needed reform to speed up delivery of future major infrastructure projects.

In the report, MPs said the current system, which requires a committee stage, was inefficient, with members complaining that several petitioners often raised identical points.

It recommended stricter guidelines on who could petition to reduce the number being heard by the committee, as well as the introduction of an electronic system so that petitioners did not need to be heard in person.

MPs called for a review so that the committee had more control over the process.

They said committees should have discretion over programming, be able to impose limits on the number of petitions, and be given the power to group together petitioners as a means of speeding up the process.

The committee said: “We urge the house and ministers to consider such changes in good time before the next hybrid bill is introduced. Suitably drafted, such revisions should make the process simpler and less time-consuming.”

A number of proposed transport infrastructure projects are likely to require a hybrid bill.

HS2 phase two and HS3 could all be subject to the process, with some suggesting that a proposed new runway at Heathrow Airport could also require a hybrid bill before construction starts.

The committee said: “With the prospect of several more hybrid bills in the near future, these and other procedural updates will be worthwhile, and needed.”

Transport minister Robert Goodwill said: “We will consider carefully the recommendations in the report and respond shortly.

“I also recognise the demands this process has placed on petitioners. We have listened to those affected by the scheme and in many cases we have been able to make the changes they have been calling for.

“I am happy to say that HS2 remains firmly on schedule, and today’s report marks another significant step towards getting spades in the ground for this transformational project.”

Following the end of the committee stage, the bill will pass on to the report stage before a third reading in the House of Commons.  Royal assent is expected later this year.

Meanwhile, the National Audit Office has launched a fresh study into the value for money of HS2.

The spending watchdog said: “This study will look at how well-placed the [Department for Transport] and HS2 Ltd are to achieve value for money from High Speed 2.

“This will include the latest position on costs, schedule and programme scope, the readiness of the department and HS2 Ltd to deliver the programme, progress with plans for realising the programme’s strategic benefits, and management of the main risks to value for money.”

A previous NAO report in 2013 unearthed a £3.3bn funding gap in the project, which at the time had an estimated construction value of £17.3bn.

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