On Monday 28th April, more than four long years after the government announced plans to build a high-speed train between London, Birmingham and beyond, the HS2 ‘Hybrid Bill’ had its Second Reading in the House of Commons, and another landmark was passed en route to the dreadful day in 2017 when construction is scheduled to begin.
That ugly word ‘Hybrid’ is annoyingly important: it’s a mechanism that enables major projects such as HS2 (advertised at £50 billion but likely to cost considerably more) to be developed, without getting bogged down for years by planning objections along every metre of the route.
So it’s a ‘done deal’ then?
Not a bit of it. The day after the Second Reading actually triggered a new phase of resistance by HS2’s many thousands of active opponents. That was the day the three-week ‘petitioning period’ began, when individuals, groups, businesses and organisations who believe they will be ‘directly and specially’ affected by Phase 1 of HS2 (between London and south Staffordshire, with a spur to Birmingham) can submit written objections to the Bill, along with their proposed alternatives.
Unfortunately the one thing petitioners cannot request is that the whole project is scrapped. Having passed the Second Reading stage the principle of HS2 has now been accepted by Parliament, and this can’t be challenged – until, that is, the legislation arrives in the House of Lords.
Happily we live in a democracy, not a dictatorship, and we do have a major say in the next stage of the Hybrid Bill’s journey through parliament. Anyone who feels they would be ‘specially and directly affected’ by HS2 can submit a petition to a Commons committee, stating their grievances and their proposed alternatives.
Local authorities such as Buckinghamshire and Hillingdon are currently preparing lengthy submissions, full of technical detail on noise, pollution, the effect on the environment and ecology, working hours at the construction camps, land take and many other pressing concerns.
At the same time, action groups such as Denham Against HS2 are putting together a more localised set of objections in connection with our immediate area, including the permanent damage HS2 would cause to the Country Park, the loss of ancient woodland and productive farmland, and the threat to the rivers Colne and Misbourne.
The third group of petitioners, who have until Friday 23rd May to submit their forms to Parliament, consists of the legions of ordinary folk who face years of disruption to their daily lives and lifestyles, whether it be traffic hold-ups on their way to and from work or school; the loss of their favourite footpath; noise, light and dust pollution round the clock, and the dramatic impact construction would have on the green and scenic Colne Valley.
Some may also wish to take issue with the inadequate compensation arrangements that have been put in place for people who need to sell their house below the market value because of job relocation, natural downsizing, bereavement or ill-health.
HS2 can be challenged on all these points, and if a petition is correctly presented (there are a few archaic rules and regulations, but we’re wise to them) the committee of MPs is almost certain to consider it over the next year and a half or so. Petitioners who are daunted by the prospect of appearing in front of the committee– though it’s not nearly as scary as you might think – can appoint a third party, or agent, to appear on their behalf.
Judging by the scores of local people who turned up at our petitioning seminar at the De Vere Denham Grove hotel last month, Denham and Harefield will be well represented at the hearings, which will probably reach our neck of the endangered woods towards the end of the year, but if you missed the event and you’re thinking of submitting a petition, you can find out all you need to know from our national campaign group, STOP HS2. The link you need is www.stophs2.org/toolbox, where you’ll find a comprehensive guide and the necessary forms.