It brought a wry smile to my face when commentators said, on the day the HS2 Bill received Royal Assent, that this was the end of a three-year marathon.
As you, the readers, will know, the process began years before that, with a ‘back of an envelope’ scheme thrown together by a Labour peer, which has affected the lives of countless people along the line of the route. More and more fellow Parliamentarians who have constituencies along the Phase 2 and the Y routes are beginning to realise what their constituents are “in for”.
The HS2 story and the marathon is not over with Royal Assent. For people in the Chesham & Amersham constituency, there have already been problems with the pre-construction phase, including mud on a fast section of road and damage to a constituent’s property which was observed as it happened by the constituent, standing at a window!
Our councils, from parish to district to county level, are being faced with a disproportionate burden of cost at a time when local government funding is already under financial pressure. That was why, with only about an hour to go to the Bill becoming an Act of Parliament, I was in the Commons urging the Transport Secretary to give his assurances that they will get recompensed for the extra costs which they incur because of this major national infrastructure project.
As the construction phase begins, I have insisted that the Minister at the Department for Transport agrees to operate an MP Hotline, so that I and other MPs whose constituencies are affected can get rapid responses to reports of problems.
Engagement between HS2 Ltd and our local communities has left a lot to be desired and HS2 Ltd have got to improve their record on this. With a huge turnover of personnel amongst the top tiers of HS2 Ltd, it really is essential that the culture of engagement with communities is embedded throughout the organisation, at all levels. That should apply to the Code of Construction, so that any problems which arise are dealt with promptly and resolved.