Engagement on permanent replacement of open space: London Borough of Camden

High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 8th March 2016.

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The Secretary of State shall require the Nominated Undertaker to actively engage with the London Borough of Camden to ensure the provision of high quality permanent replacement open space and play space within the design for the authorised works in the London Borough of Camden in so far as is reasonably practicable within the limits of the Bill and without impacting the timely and economic delivery of the railway.—

This amendment would require the Nominated Undertaker to engage meaningfully with the London Borough of Camden to ensure the provision of high quality permanent replacement open space and play areas.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Minister (Transport)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time. The clause deals with engagement on the permanent replacement of open space, again in the London Borough of Camden. It obliges the Secretary of State to require the nominated undertaker to actively engage with the London Borough of Camden to ensure the provision of high quality permanent replacement open space and play space within the design for the authorised works in the London Borough of Camden, in so far as is reasonably practicable within the limits of the Bill and without impacting the timely and economic delivery of the railway. The object is to ensure that there is indeed meaningful engagement between the nominated undertaker and Camden, in order to secure the provision of high quality, permanent replacement open space and play areas.

High Speed 2 will see the permanent loss of some valued and historic open spaces in Camden, including St. James’s gardens which are on the site of an historic burial ground. Over 10,000 square metres of green open space with mature trees will be lost forever. In total, 20,000 square metres of open space will be lost in Camden. Open space is a valuable amenity in the urban environment: a place to sit and relax, play and exercise, and a green lung to counteract pollution. In its assurances to Camden Council, HS2 has agreed to provide high quality, permanent replacement open space and play areas of equal quantity to those which are lost in construction in the London Borough of Camden. That includes specific proposals to provide permanent replacement open space which will be subject to resident consultation. HS2 Ltd will replace all the trees lost to the scheme, and replace the open space lost temporarily during construction.

HS2 will fund improvements to various existing open spaces, which can be subject to resident consultation and agreed between the Secretary of State and Camden Council. Given that open space can range from green parks to concrete squares, consultation is especially important. There will be unanimity across the Committee as to the importance of open space and play areas in any and all of our communities. No doubt hon. Members have been petitioned in their constituencies about such matters, and will fully appreciate the strength of local feeling about such key issues of green lungs in our communities and open spaces to give blessed relief from dense development. That is even more critical in the magnificent metropolis of our country’s capital city. Our wonderful parks and open spaces characterise and enrich the quality of life in London and distinguish it from other major world cities, which are all too often wall-to-wall urban sprawl with no relief or counterpoint.

In Camden in particular the loss of open space is dramatic, not only due to the impact of the whole development but the sheer scale of the areas lost. The community of Camden is sacrificing a great deal for HS2 and the greater good of our country. It is right and fair that every effort be made to reassure that community, which has undoubtedly felt somewhat beleaguered since the development is happening whether it likes it or not.

At the very least, the new clause would enable the community to have a voice in ensuring that the permanent replacements of open spaces lost through the works are of the highest quality. Camden would have a significant say in the nature of the replacement open spaces it needs for the community benefit and civic restoration after HS2 construction. We do not want only the pear tree to have life after construction; we also want Camden to have that.

My new clause is fully cognisant of the practical limits of what can be done. We shamelessly borrow the language of the HS2 assurances in acknowledging what is reasonably practicable. We make the explicit acknowledgment that, whatever steps are taken, it cannot impact in any way on the timely and economic delivery of the railway. The new clause accords with the stated aims and objectives to secure a total development of the highest quality. The quality of open spaces is a key component of that objective.

Equally important is taking the community along with the project, giving it a real sense of ownership. This measure will contribute to enabling the Camden community to feel that HS2 is not something that is being done to the community but something that the community is an integral part of.

For all those reasons, I trust the Minister will demonstrate to Camden that its concerns about the need for high-quality open spaces have been fully recognised, by embracing this new clause, which I trust finds favour with him and his colleagues.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

The hon. Gentleman talked about the importance of green lungs to our cities. I agree that many of our cities benefit from their open spaces and parkland. Coming as he does from a city where they are called smoggies by their footballing friends from Newcastle and Sunderland, he is well placed to understand the importance of clean air and green spaces.

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Minister (Transport)

I cannot let that go. Smoggies is a term of endearment and harks back to heavy industrialisation when the air was impure. It is now extremely clean and beautiful. People are often surprised at how green and pleasant the area is in and around my constituency. I would welcome the Minister’s visit to test that theory; he will not find any significant pollution whatsoever.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

Having been the parliamentary candidate for the Redcar constituency in 1992, I can attest to the wonderful environment. When I am next in Middlesbrough, either to watch their football team or to avail myself of a cheese parmo, I will make sure that I breathe in the clean air, which is much improved on the industrial days when the steel and chemical industries were spewing out.

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Minister (Transport) 3:00 pm, 8th March 2016

I warn the Minister: the air is okay, but I would really caution him against the parmos. They are a heart attack on a plate. If he wants to keep healthy, he should avoid them like the plague.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I will not digress on the culinary delights of the Middlesbrough area. We recognise that HS2 works will remove or impact on some of the existing open space in the area around the proposed station at Euston. HS2 Ltd will take steps to create a range of new or improved open spaces appropriate to the needs of potential users, the location and local character. I include civic spaces and public realm, play space and local green spaces. In view of this, an assurance has been agreed with the London Borough of Camden that the promoter will require the nominated undertaker to engage actively with Camden to ensure the provision of high-quality permanent replacement open space and play space within the design for the authorised works, in so far as reasonably practicable within the limits of the Bill and without impacting the timely and economic delivery of the railway.

Commitments given by the promoter during the passage of the Bill are included on the register of undertakings and assurances held by the Department for Transport and finalised at Royal Assent. All commitments, including the register, will be binding on the nominated undertaker and the Secretary of State as the project is taken forward. Sufficient mechanisms are therefore in place to deliver the intent of new clause 33. Throughout the Bill, we have sought not to legislate where there are existing processes, except where it is necessary for the expeditious delivery of phase 1 of HS2. I hope this clarification reassures the hon. Gentleman that he can withdraw new clause 33.

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Minister (Transport)

I have listened intently to the Minister and he has demonstrated throughout every element of the new clause that provision is in place and those concerns have been properly recognised. I note that the methodology currently exists to ensure that the undertakings and assurances are fully implemented. For those reasons, notwithstanding my earlier indication that I would press the matter to a vote, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 34