The Government announced in January 2012 its decision to proceed with HS2. However before construction and operation of the new line can commence, the Government must first obtain the necessary approvals and legal powers. This page gives more detail on how the Government intends to achieve this goal.
The Hybrid Bill
Rather than using the established planning framework in place for large scale infrastructure projects, the Government intends to secure the powers to construct HS2 through Parliament by the passage of a “hybrid bill”. A hybrid bill is a relatively rarely used approach where an Act of Parliament is passed with the sole purpose of authorising a particular infrastructure project.
The hybrid bill is a powerful planning tool which, if passed, would provide broad powers necessary for the construction and operation of HS2. In particular it would entitle HS2 Ltd to operate without reference to usual planning requirements and enable key legal protections (including environmental protection measures) to be bypassed.
Once passed, HS2 Ltd will have all the legal and planning powers necessary to commence construction of Stage One of the route.
The Government will pursue a hybrid bill for each phase of the Y network. The Government intends to introduce the hybrid bill for Phase 1 into Parliament by the end of 2013. The timing of the bill’s progression will be determined by Parliament, although the Department for Transport states the Bill should be passed by May 2015.
HS2AA have significant concerns about the use of the hybrid bill process, particularly as it significantly limits the opportunities for those impacted or opposed to HS2 to make their views known. Specifically, it is not clear how any Select Committee will be required to take into account any environmental impacts of the proposed route. The experience of HS1’s hybrid bill process also highlights that concerns made during the Select Committee process about limiting environmental damage were not then complied with during the construction phase. There appears to be little to ensure compliance with assurances made in the Parliamentary process.
Environmental Impact Assessment
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is an important procedure for ensuring that the likely effects of new development on the environment are fully understood and taken into account before the development is allowed to go ahead. In order to secure passage of the Hybrid Bill, HS2 Ltd is required to complete the detailed design of the route for Phase One, and will carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment. The EIA for HS2 will provide an overall assessment of the significant effects the project is likely to have on the environment and proposals to avoid or minimise any significant negative impacts and must be completed prior to the hybrid bill process beginning. The EIA will involve:
- a scoping stage
- local engagement via Community Forums
- a report called an Environmental Statement
The Environmental Statement will need to be presented with the Hybrid Bill to be submitted to Parliament by the end of 2013.
On 31 January 2013 the Government concluded its consultation on safeguarding. On July it issued formal safeguarding directions for Phase 1 of the route. This means the creation of a safeguarding zone’ either side of the route will delineate the land that HS2 expect to need in order to build and operate it.
With the safeguarding directions in place any planning applications for developments or construction projects within the zone would have to be referred to HS2 Ltd for decision. The existing statutory blight provisions apply to any qualifying owners of land or property within the zone. HS2AA have concerns that proper legal processes are not being followed in respect of safeguarding and our legal team have communicated these concerns to the Government.
Before the Hybrid Bill for HS2 goes before Parliament, HS2 Ltd has been required to work with local authorities, communities and stakeholders to develop the design of HS2 with the stated aim of minimising potential impacts and identifiing opportunities for community benefit.
Local community forums have emerged as HS2’s primary way of engaging with local residents. 26 forums were originally established along the London to West Midlands route. The local community forums first met in March and April 2012. Each local community forum comprises between 10 and 25 representatives of local communities, businesses, organisations and local authorities. Local community forums are supposed to enable HS2 Ltd to present, explain and receive feedback on its work. Feedback from participants is that these meetings are not being used for this purpose and HS2 Ltd representatives do not appear interested in meaningful dialogue but are rather using forums as “box ticking” exercises. HS2AA is lobbying for a more effective approach on mitigation matters.