On 23rd May, three weeks of frantic work by anti-HS2 campaigners from all over the country produced a highly satisfactory return of nearly 2,000 petitions – each of them photocopied three times, signed and stapled in the right places, and accompanied by a £20 fee.
The petitioners included County Councils and cricket clubs, residents associations and small businesses, adults and schoolchildren – all of them outlining their suggestions of how the plans for the first phase of the high-speed train could be changed for the better; how HS2’s impact on the people and places who might have to live with it could be lessened.
Other notable petitioners included the Archbishop of Canterbury, Nick Hurd - a junior government minister and MP for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner - and the managers of the Channel tunnel rail link (HS1), who would face eviction from their headquarters in London if HS2 Ltd’s existing plans go through. HS1 versus HS2 is a bruising contest for which we should all demand ringside seats.
It’s a pleasure to report that residents, businesses and community groups in and around Denham and Harefield submitted a raft of petitions containing devastating criticisms of HS2’s plans for the Colne Valley, which faces the prospect of being permanently degraded by a dismal collection of construction camps, storage areas, electricity sub-stations, spoil deposits and all the rest of the gubbins needed to build a new railway line. Unsurprisingly, almost every local petitioner advocated a tunnel under the Colne valley rather than a viaduct across it.
So, what do the 1,925 petitioners get in return for the £38,500 they’ve paid the government for the ‘privilege’ of submitting their objections?
All those petitioners who persuade the specially-formed Select Committee of MPs that they’re likely to be directly affected by HS2 will have the right to appear before the committee, or appoint an agent in their place. Early indications are that the committee, which will start work in Birmingham, will focus on our area in mid-2015, around the time of the General Election next May.
During the election period all unfinished government business is suspended, and if there’s a change of government some of it is abandoned. However, the HS2 ‘Hybrid’ Bill is protected from the political ebb and flow, and the Select Committee (consisting of three Conservative MPs, two Labour and one LibDem) will resume their duties in June 2015, assuming that none of them has been kicked out by the voters in May!
Petitioners who are given the right to appear before the Select Committee at Portcullis House, across the road from Big Ben, will be given four weeks’ notice before being called, with councils in each area going first, followed by community groups, businesses and individuals. Hearings will take place on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
On some of their days off, the Select Committee will carry out site visits (which petitioners can attend) starting in Birmingham and Lichfield on 15th July. The Colne Valley is bound to be visited more than once, and in the months ahead we’ll try to keep you posted about when and where these visits take place.
In the meantime, HS2 will be progressing with their own plans and making amendments where they feel there’s room for improvement. Anyone directly affected by these design changes will have the chance to submit a further petition, which could substantially increase the length of the petitioning period.
How long the whole process will take is anyone’s guess, but based on the two similar Hybrid Bills – for the Channel tunnel link and Crossrail – we’re estimating between 18 months and two years. There’s still a long way to go before anyone even thinks of putting a shovel into our precious countryside to build a railway that less than a third of the electorate actually want, and even fewer will ever use.
If you feel strongly about HS2 and its possible effects on the Colne Valley, please write to our MP, Dominic Grieve, either online at www.dominicgrieve.org.uk, or by letter to his office at the House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA. You can also ask for an appointment at one of his Friday surgeries at his constituency office in Beaconsfield. In a recent reply to a constituent, Mr Grieve said that the correspondence he’d received about HS2 was lower than he had anticipated, which suggested that it was not an especially burning issue for the people of Denham and the surrounding area. It is crucial that we demonstrate to him that the very opposite is true.
Frank Partridge – Denham Against HS2