Clause 16 - Use of roads

High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 1 March 2016.

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

I beg to move amendment 12, in clause 16, page 7, line 19, leave out—

“the end of five years beginning with”.

This amendment would remove the power of the nominated undertaker to use specified roads for the passage of persons or vehicles for five years after Phase One is brought into general use.

This is very much a probing amendment—I do not think we will need to divide on it. It is about an issue raised by the right hon. Member for Chelmsford: the project being on time. As currently drafted, the clause leaves the timescales in some doubt. The Opposition agree that the nominated undertaker should of course have the power to use any roads on specified land for the passage of persons and vehicles for the purposes of phase 1 of High Speed 2, but it is not clear why the nominated undertaker will require that power for five additional years after phase 1 has been brought into general use. Once it is up and running, it is up and running. I do not want to put at residents’ doors the spectre of vehicles trucking up and down with materials.

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns Conservative, Chelmsford

As the hon. Gentleman was talking, I was wondering whether extra time might be needed to, for example, continue to clear a site of debris if there had not been the time to do so before phase 1 was up and running.

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Minister (Transport)

The right hon. Gentleman makes a good point, and that may indeed be so, but the clause currently specifies a five-year period beyond the project being completed and effective. Something would have to have gone badly wrong if the clearance of debris and materials took five years.

I keep coming back to the example of Euston. The people in that neighbourhood will necessarily be affected by very considerable building works. We will discuss this in greater detail later in Committee, but some of the works will be really close to people’s homes—within a few metres of retaining walls and retained properties next to HS2—so they will have enough on their plate. I would suggest that the prospect of the project being concluded but there being permission for roads to be used for the specified purpose for a further five-year period will be intolerable.

We are suggesting that the reference to five years be left out, leaving subsection (2) to read: “The power…may not be exercised after the date on which Phase One of High Speed 2 is brought into general use.” The right hon. Gentleman’s point is fair, but the amendment was tabled to highlight the fact that things could literally rumble on for years, long after HS2 is up and running. Will the Minister help us by explaining why it is necessary for the nominated undertaker to be able to exercise the power for such a long time?

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

I shall clarify exactly what the clause specifies for the use of roads. It allows the nominated undertaker to use any road specified in the table in schedule 8, which is for land in which only rights may be compulsorily acquired, or in the table in paragraph 2 of schedule 11, so as to obtain a right of passage for the  purpose of phase 1 of HS2. As we have discussed, the power will end five years after phase 1 of HS2 is brought into general use.

On compensation, I reassure the hon. Gentleman that if access to the roads is required, compensation is payable by the nominated undertaker to the person responsible for managing the road for any loss suffered as a result of its use for phase 1 of HS2. We are not taking a right without understanding our obligations to the owner of the road. Any dispute over entitlement to compensation or the amount of compensation must be determined under part 1 of the Land Compensation Act 1961.

The power will last for five years, to enable the nominated undertaker to carry out remedial works if necessary. Let me assure the hon. Gentleman that that goes beyond what is referred to in the building trade as basic snagging—the alleviation of minor problems. In any construction project, it is essential that the promoter retains the ability to return to the works following completion to rectify any defects that arise. Subsection (1) allows the access rights used for construction to be used after the completion of the works for that purpose. For a major project such as this, a period of five years is considered an appropriate amount of time for such rights to be retained.

Let me draw attention to some of the issues that might come up. The hon. Gentleman talked about hydrogeological issues, such as problems with drainage or subsidence, and asked whether the infrastructure of the line will need to be revisited if faults emerge. We regard five years as a sensible timescale for problems to emerge, and we therefore consider it necessary. I hope the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am grateful for the Minister’s response. There is logic in what he says, and I entirely get the point about the ability to return. One would like to think that the power will rarely be used. He talked about issues arising within five years, but if something untoward takes place further on in the lifetime of HS2—if there is a hydrogeological or electrical problem—the undertaker will have to return to the site.

As I said, this is a probing amendment, and as the Minister has gone a long way towards satisfying me, I am minded to withdraw it. However, given that he has raised the issue, can he describe the nominated undertaker’s power to return to the scene to address construction problems that emerge after the five-year period has elapsed? Presumably they are as relevant as anything that occurs within the five-year period.

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

The first point I would make is that we have a very good way of accessing the high-speed rail line, which is along the high-speed rail line itself. Much of the engineering work and maintenance that will need to be carried out on the signalling or the catenary—the overhead lines—can be accessed from the railway itself. In the vast majority of cases, we will be able to access the line using the line.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that in 40 or 50 years’ time, we may need to carry out other work. Network Rail already has processes to enable that to happen, including negotiation with landowners and permissive use. This clause is specifically about addressing  defects or issues that require more major engineering work than the maintenance that we envisage over the lifetime of the railway. It is sensible to have such powers in hand. We are confident that the railway that will be delivered will be reliable and well constructed. Once again, the braces-and-belt strategy ensures that the power is in place if it is necessary to look at particular aspects of the line and carry out further work to alleviate problems.

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am grateful to the Minister for his reassurances and further explanations. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 16 ordered to stand part of the Bill.