VIEW FROM THE HOUSE
INDEPENDENT monitoring of the HS2 project and HS2 Ltd is essential. I and other MPs whose constituencies are affected have been saying this for a long while and the committee scrutinising the project agree. There have been many breakdowns in communication and in the process for those who need to sell their properties. I would still like to see an ombudsman and scrutinising body specifically for the construction phase of HS2. An internal complaints process will just not do.
The first day of Parliament after the half term Recess saw the publication of the second special report of the hybrid bill committee considering the HS2 Bill. It covers two years of work and many visits by the committee to areas affected by the HS2 project, including the Chesham & Amersham constituency.
The committee considered petitions, several of which I submitted on behalf of constituents. The sheer scale of the numbers of petitions speaks for itself: 2,586 petitions deposited against the Bill, of which the committee heard nearly 1,600. One ‘gain’ from the committee is the area fund set up to safeguard the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, similar to the one set up for the Colne Valley. The funding of up to £3 million will help, although I still want to see 100 percent of tunnelling across the expanse of this nationally-designated sensitive landscape.
There are still further stages for this bill to go through, so we must always think of the communities where this protection has yet to be secured.
Our communities have done a tremendous job in defending the Chilterns. The committee acknowledged the way that our local Councils and champions have worked and they want it to be echoed in the amount of funding available to two funds: the Community and Environmental Fund and the Business and Local Economy Fund. The bill committee is not the only one to be considering HS2. The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs select committee is holding an inquiry following up on the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s investigation into failures of communication by HS2 Ltd. The need for improved communications and engagement with residents is one of the key elements of this inquiry. I’ll be taking part as a member of the committee…!