DESPITE Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin’s pledge to “fast track” legislation to get HS2 built, the project is facing massive challenges to meet Parliamentary requirements.
For the first 140 miles (225km) of the new railway — from London to Lichfield, including a branch-line connection into Birmingham city centre — Mr McLoughlin must introduce a Hybrid Bill into Parliament by December next year.
If everything goes to plan, this Bill will then be approved by both MPs and the House of Lords before the next general election in May 2015.
But the Hybrid Bill will need to be supported by masses of documentation — especially the Environmental Statement, which is expected to run to 50,000 pages when it is published for public consultation in Spring 2013.
This will set out in detail any likely significant effects of the new line, coving aspects such as biodiversity, water resources, geology and visual impact; archaeology and historic sites; townscapes, traffic and other transport, waste and resources; and noise, air quality, community, property and agriculture.
“This reflects the complexity of building a new railway through some of the most beautiful parts of England,” according to Clinton Leeks, Director of External and Parliamentary Affairs for HS2 Ltd — the government agency now tasked with developing the detailed plans for the first stage of HS2.
To develop all the details for the Hybrid Bill, as well as plan the second stages of HS2 to the North West and North East, HS2 Ltd is now employing some 1,400 staff and has set up — just for the first phase alone — 26 community forums “for local representatives to discuss local issues.”
Six planning forums, involving local authorities, have also been set up — but only five of them are functioning as the councils in Buckinghamshire have refused so far to cooperate, such is their opposition to HS2.
Buckinghamshire County Council leads the opposition and heads the 51M group of councils opposed to the project between London and Lichfield.
Despite the enormous complications of progressing a Hybrid Bill through Parliament, it will be far from sufficient to achieve all that HS2’s proponents want to see achieved.
A Hybrid Bill is actually very limited in what it allows. It principally gives outline planning permission for a major project and authority to acquire the necessary land. But when it comes to the detail of what is to be implemented, such as a new bridge, a cutting or a new station, detailed planning permission must still be obtained from local planning authorities along the route.
External Affairs Director Clinton Leeks, who also worked on the Crossrail project which is now under way and is Europe’s largest civil engineering project, added: “HS2 will transform the United Kingdom, but it will have to be done though a long and complicated process.”
And associated projects, which are seen as essential to maximising the benefits of HS2, such as major commercial developments around the new stations proposed for Old Oak Common and near Birmingham Airport and the National Exhibition Centre, cannot be included in the Hybrid Bill and other mechanisms to bring them about must be created.
According to Douglas Oakervee, chairman of HS2 Ltd: “There can be no provision in the Hybrid Bill for land beyond the requirements of HS2 — yet there are huge surrounding development opportunities.”
Mr Oakervee, who previously headed Crossrail and steered its Hybrid Bill through Parliament, said the Greater London Assembly and the four London boroughs surrounding Old Oak Common believed there is potential to develop “another Canary Wharf in West London.” This could be dealt with by the Government creating an Enterprise Zone or by the development of a Mayoral Development Corporation, he said.
• HS2 Ltd has been using fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters to undertake aerial surveys. The “true scale vertical imagery” that these are producing will be used to create detailed maps at a scale of 1:500 for inclusion in the Hybrid Bill.