Clause 14 - Exclusion of new rights of way

High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 1 March 2016.

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Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Minister (Transport) 10:30, 1 March 2016

I beg to move amendment 11, in clause 14, page 7, line 8, at end insert—

‘(3A) Nothing in this section shall prevent the nominated undertaker, or other owners of railway stations, from establishing any new right of way within or over railway stations that are used for Phase One purposes.”

This amendment would provide that Clause 14 shall not prevent the nominated undertaker or other owners of railway stations from establishing new rights of ways within or over railways stations used for Phase One purposes.

I rise to reassure people that I have not lost the power of speech and to give you something of a rest, Mr Hanson. Clause 14 deals specifically with the exclusions of new rights of way. Our amendment would add new subsection (3A) to the clause. The clause as drawn is accurate and proper, but we simply want to leave a permissive option for new rights of way to be created. The amendment speaks primarily to the issues arising at Euston station and the concerns expressed by Camden Council and a number of local groups and individuals who may be impacted by construction works as the station is developed, but it is also applicable to any other station on the network.

As regular travellers to London, I am sure that each of us has used Euston station at some point, although the Minister and I are more regular users of the sister station at King’s Cross. I hope that the wonderfully ambitious structure at King’s Cross will ultimately be mirrored by something of equal measure at Euston. One thing that would strike you, Mr Hanson, on walking around Euston station is how imposing the station is for the communities on either side of it; it splits the area in half and sits there like a huge obstruction in the community. If planners and developers had a blank sheet of paper, they would not come up with that sort of design today.

HS2 Ltd has been engaged with Camden Council on the issue and there have been a number of assurances, one of which is a commitment to maintaining pedestrian rights of way. When Euston station is redeveloped, a right of way through the station would be desirable. That would prevent the station from obstructing travel for those who live near or wish to pass by, as is presently the case. When redeveloped, it is important that Euston station is as permeable as possible for local residents, whether they are cycling or on foot. I note that in his opening remarks the Minister made a comment about the need to protect and encourage cycling and walking routes as the station is developed. It is important that the station is as permeable as possible, but the Bill, as drafted, might frustrate any such moves. Clause 14 states that:

“No right of way may be acquired by prescription or user over land which—

(a) forms an access or approach to any railway infrastructure.”

Our concern is that the Bill might prevent a right of way being established through Euston station. That is what this amendments seeks to rectify, and not only for Euston, but for everywhere else. It is not just about the prohibition on the creation of rights of way, but more specifically about the ability deliberately to permit the creation of a right of way, where appropriate, that will address the needs of communities such as the ones  around Euston. I do not wish to be too unkind, but Euston is not the prettiest or the most access-friendly station for the residents of Camden. They have the station in their midst and suffer the inconveniences caused by its impermeable mass. It is for those reasons that we consider the amendment to be entirely sensible and appropriate. It caters for that very contingency.

The amendment does not presuppose where such rights of way may lie, but one would hope that they would address the permeability issue at Euston and facilitate not only east-west access, but north-south access. I stress that the amendment does not dictate where these rights of way should be but, in the context of this clause’s discussion of the exclusion of new rights of way, it provides for the contingency of the nominated undertaker to create new rights of way that would address these issues. I trust that the Minister can follow the sense of this. Having been at Euston himself, he will understand the point I am addressing. I hope that he will accept the amendment.

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

I think that I can allay the hon. Gentleman’s fears. Clause 14 prevents rights of way from being

“acquired by prescription or user over land which…forms an access or approach to any railway infrastructure, and” which is held for phase 1 of HS2. It is important to understand precisely what the term “acquired by prescription” means. It refers to the legal process of a right of way becoming established through use over a period of at least 20 years. It refers not to a new right of way but to a right of way that has been used in a certain part of the country. The process could be operated if a landowner tried to prevent that land from being used, because it could be argued that the right of way had been firmly established over 20 years. The term “acquired by prescription” does not refer to other types of right of way or access that the operator of the station may allow.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to focus on the tremendous opportunity that the borough of Camden and the area around Euston will have in the development of the station. Indeed, one immediate benefit will be that the new underground station will enable a connection between Euston Square underground station and the main Euston station, which is currently a short walk across the traffic-choked streets of London. That connection will be of immediate benefit to the people of Euston.

On how people can access routes through the station, a number of considerations will need to be taken into account, not least compliance with fares and security, to ensure that people cannot access the railway or get on trains without tickets.

I reassure the hon. Gentleman that the clause does not prevent a railway station owner from allowing the public access over, under or through a station. If a station owner wants to provide an officially designated right of way, they can do so by following the existing process under the Highways Act 1980. Throughout the Bill, we have sought not to legislate where processes already exist, except when necessary for the expeditious delivery of phase 1 of HS2.

I hope that my clarification will reassure the hon. Gentleman that the measure applies to a specific way in which a right of way can be established, which I suspect could be used by those who might want to frustrate the  delivery of the railway. It therefore makes a lot of sense to exempt that process from the Bill, so I hope that he will withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am grateful to the Minister for his assurances, which have gone some way towards satisfying me. If I have interpreted his remarks correctly, he is saying that there is a power elsewhere to grant a right of way and that the amendment is therefore unnecessary, but we have an opportunity here, because the amendment would not detract from that ability. He may say that it would not add to the existing ability, but it would be merely permissive. The amendment would say that new rights of way are possible and—not that we are here to send out messages—make it abundantly clear in the Bill that the significant issue of access and egress for the residents of Camden is within the contemplation of HS2, the Bill’s promoter and everybody else, and that it has been properly thought through.

I am reassured to a large degree, but it is still important to state in the Bill that Euston and other railway stations have the ability to address residents’ concerns about being cut off from each other in the way that I described. Unless the Minister is able to assist me further, I intend to press the amendment to a vote .

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

I hope that the hon. Gentleman understands that rights of way, bridleways and so on exist in several areas where the railway will be built, and that this is not just about stations. We have done everything in our power to ensure that rights of way are protected. Indeed, there will be expensive infrastructure in many cases to ensure that rights of way are not cut off. We want to go further and use the opportunity presented by the corridor that we are acquiring to connect existing rights of way or create new rights of way, which will be a great facility for local communities. I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman’s point about Euston, and we may need to address that issue, particularly during the construction phase. We are absolutely determined to work with communities to ensure that businesses are not cut off from their customers, because many people who use the station will use businesses in the vicinity.

However, clause 14 refers to a specific process that can be used to establish a right of way. If we did not have this exclusion, my concern is that those who might wish to frustrate the delivery of the railway through legal processes could come up with the argument that a particular right of way has been used for 20 years, and it would then be our job to disprove that claim. I hope the hon. Gentleman will understand that we are trying to prevent a legal mechanism. I do not think that there are many rights of way within the Euston area that would not be considered rights of way and thus might require the process to be used. However, it might be used in other areas on the railway, and we might find that it was a legal minefield. That is why we have included the measure in the Bill.

I hope that that has reassured the hon. Gentleman. It is absolutely our intention to do everything possible to ensure that those affected by the construction and delivery of the railway can continue with their normal way of life and have the access that they currently enjoy to property and businesses. The railway is all about accessibility and getting people moving around the country; it is not about preventing people from moving where they wish.

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Minister (Transport) 10:45, 1 March 2016

I acknowledge what the Minister has said. To clarify, I am not suggesting for one minute that the clause be remitted or excluded; I simply want to add to it. This is not either/or, it is just about providing the permissive ability to create new rights of way. I stand by my remarks and, with your indulgence, Mr Hanson, I will press the matter to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 9.

Division number 2 Christmas Tree Industry — Clause 14 - Exclusion of new rights of way

Aye: 6 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

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

I will briefly reiterate what the clause does. It prevents rights of way from being acquired by prescription, which is a legal term that I have described whereby if it can be established that a right of way has been used for 20 years, it is an established right of way. Under the clause, we are removing that power.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 14 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.