Compliance with standards

High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:04 pm on 8th March 2016.

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(1) The Secretary of State shall require the Nominated Undertaker and its contractors to report on their compliance with agreed air quality and pollution standards for the project, any Code of Construction Practice in place, Traffic Management Plans, and other guidance and standards agreed.

(2) The Secretary of State shall lay a summary of this report before both Houses of Parliament on an annual basis from the year after Royal Assent until the conclusion of the construction period.—

This new clause requires the Nominated Undertaker to comply with agreed air quality and pollution standards, codes of construction practice, traffic management plans and other standards and guidance agreed. Compliance must be recorded by way of an annual report to Parliament.

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.

New clause 38 requires the nominated undertaker to comply with agreed air quality and pollution standards, codes of construction practice, traffic management plans and other standards and guidance, and it requires compliance to be recorded by way of an annual report to Parliament. Again, this new clause is informed largely by the concerns and anxieties expressed by Camden Borough Council about the potentially significant increases in pollution levels that the workings may produce.

There is considerable concern about the air quality in London generally, but in addition there are justifiable concerns about the extra pollution that may arise as a result of the necessary works involved in HS2. There are concerns not only about the disruption and turmoil caused to the atmosphere by the very nature of demolitions and excavations and so on, but by the additional heavy goods vehicles that will be using Euston’s roads for some considerable time, together with other major plant and equipment.

Happily, vehicles such as the HGVs that I mentioned, and as the Minister has advised me, have the capacity for on-board filtration apparatus that can often mean such vehicles can be less offensive to our lungs and other organs in terms of the air we breathe than some private saloon cars. I acknowledge that. Seemingly, it is not as easy to find ways of installing such sophisticated filtrations and treatments in an ordinary car simply because of the space that such units take up, and they can be better accommodated on board larger HGVs. I hope the Minster will give the Committee assurances that the HGVs that will be visiting the sites will be so fitted.

All of that is readily acknowledged, but again we are into the cumulative impact areas of discussion: not just the vehicle emissions, important as they are, but the air pollution caused by the construction itself and the cumulative effect of the activities involved in the workings. It is a reasonable submission simply to require in the Bill that the nominated undertaker and their contractors report on their compliance with agreed air quality and pollution standards for the project, any code of practice that is in place, traffic management plans and agreed guidance and standards.

Requiring the Secretary of State to lay a summary of such a report before both Houses of Parliament on an annual basis, from the year after Royal Assent until the conclusion of the construction period, will give all of us, particularly the residents of Camden who are in such a densely populated area in what must be one of the most concentrated construction areas of the entire HS2 development, a great sense of reassurance that pollution levels not only are being assiduously observed, but are within the limits imposed by the various standards. This speaks directly to the health issues discussed earlier in our debates. Not only are respiratory and other physical health issues being addressed, but the psychological issues of anxiety about pollution.

It is clear that many people have concerns about pollution levels, as evidenced by the ubiquitous face masks worn by cyclists and increasing numbers of pedestrians on the streets of our capital city. If physical and psychological health issues can be monitored and ameliorated in that work, it would be a beneficial move. I trust that the new clause, which would simply give effect to the assurances offered by the promoter, will find favour with the Government.

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

We seem to be having a Camden-centric afternoon, and the safeguards and protections will apply along the line of route—it is not just in central London where we need to be aware of traffic congestion and air quality problems. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that air quality is a real issue in certain hotspots in London. Indeed, he has just said that some cyclists and pedestrians wear face masks. Car drivers should be aware that they are not immune to that air just because they are sitting in their car. Car air intakes, which pump warmed air into the cabin, are at a height likelier to have high levels of pollution than for a cyclist or pedestrian, who travel at a position slightly higher than some exhausts.

Managing the environmental effects of its construction and operation has been at the centre of the development of HS2 and the discussions with petitioners, and has resulted in many commitments being given on the environment. Those commitments are contained in the environmental minimum requirements, which are enforced in a number of ways. First, the contractual obligation on the nominated undertaker to comply with the environmental minimum requirements will provide a mechanism for the Secretary of State to ensure that the requirements are complied with. Furthermore, the environmental minimum requirements require that the nominated undertaker and their contractors have environmental management systems, a set of processes and procedures for which international standards exist, that ensure the nominated undertaker and their supply chain meet the requirements that have been set.

Should there be an issue with compliance, however, mechanisms exist for concerned parties to seek resolution to the problem. Assurances, including those relating to the environmental minimum requirements, will be enforceable against any person appointed as a nominated undertaker through the Secretary of State’s undertakings, which means that, in the event of failure to comply with an assurance, recourse will be through the Secretary of State, who is answerable to Parliament for securing compliance. If it is felt that a contractor undertaking works authorised by the Bill is not meeting the environmental minimum requirements, steps can be taken to ensure that there is an investigation and that any corrective action needed is taken. A clear legal process exists to ensure compliance with the environmental minimum requirements and other environmental commitments, and it has been shown to work for other projects such as Crossrail. As a result, there is no need for the proposed new clause.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned HGVs, and it is encouraging that compliance on NOx pollution from HGVs is of the order of 90% because, as he said, they can be fitted with selective catalytic reduction systems or exhaust gas recirculation, which reduces pollution levels. As we have seen in recent reports from the United States, some passenger cars do not meet that level of compliance. Of course, central London, where Euston lies, is within a low-emission zone. HGVs that do not meet the most stringent requirements are not allowed to be there, so he can be assured that vehicles used in the construction of the project will be state of the art. I therefore believe that his concerns have been addressed, and I hope that the new clause will be withdrawn.

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Minister (Transport)

The Minister focuses on the Camden-centric nature of many of our proposed new clauses. I simply point out that Camden is one of the hotspots, and it has particular pollution issues that need to be addressed. I would not want to apologise too much for seeking to have those issues thoroughly investigated. As with other clauses, our preference is for these issues to be included in the Bill, rather than simply relying on the assurance and other schemes. An annual report should be laid before the House, but I recognise that he and his colleagues will not be persuaded, so I will not trouble the Committee by pressing the new clause to a vote.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 39