Clause 36 - Noise

High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 1 March 2016.

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

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

A theme is developing for what we are doing to limit, mitigate and manage the disruption for people in the areas in which construction is taking place. We are talking about not only the urban environment in Camden, but the rural locations where many people regard the peace and tranquillity of their area as central to their ability to enjoy their homes and community.

The clause introduces schedule 26, which modifies existing legislation on construction noise, giving a defence to the nominated undertaker against statutory nuisance claims in respect of works carried out in phase 1 of HS2. Unsurprisingly, similar provisions were included in the Crossrail Act 2008. Appeals against either the service by a local authority of a notice imposing noise requirements, or a local authority’s refusal to give consent under the Control of Pollution Act 1974 are the modifications that the schedule makes to noise legislation in respect of phase 1 work. They are to be determined by the Secretary of State or, if the parties agree, by arbitration, rather than in a magistrates court.

A defence is provided for failure to comply with a noise abatement notice in respect of noise caused by the construction, maintenance or operation of phase 1 of HS2 and cannot reasonably be avoided. An order cannot be made by a magistrates court in proceedings for statutory nuisance in respect of noise caused by phase 1 works if the works are being carried out in accordance with a notice or consent issued by the local authority under the 1974 Act, or if the noise cannot reasonably be avoided. In that regard, we are modifying certain sections of the 1974 Act and of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

The reason why we are making the modifications is that, given the scale of HS2 phase 1, it is appropriate for the Secretary of State or an arbitrator to determine appeals against refusal to give consent to work. If local authorities have given consent under the 1974 Act, the works may be carried out without impediment. Again unsurprisingly, all works must be done in accordance with the environmental minimum requirements.

On redress for people disturbed by noise from construction work associated with HS2 phase 1, the Secretary of State will ensure that a construction  commissioner is appointed by the time that phase 1 construction begins. If individuals have a complaint during construction that cannot be resolved through the nominated undertaker’s complaints process, they will have the option to refer their complaint to the construction commissioner. Further information on the role of the commissioner is provided in information paper “G3: Construction Commissioner”. I assure the hon. Member for Middlesbrough that, should I still be the Minister at the time, I will take a keen interest in the appointment of someone who will be seen as a champion of the people affected, not as someone on the side of the project. That is important. Similarly, with the HS2 residents’ commissioner, we have a person appointed who will be seen as being on the side of residents and able to further their concerns effectively.

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Minister (Transport)

I thank the Minister for that, because it was extremely helpful, especially when he referred to the commissioner. I hope that later in our sittings we will get the chance to explore the independence of the commissioner in greater detail.

I note what the Minister said that was specific to the Control of Pollution Act 1974, but I wonder whether he shares my concern for the residents of Camden. Areas such as Drummond Street and Cobourg Street, which I had the privilege of visiting a few days ago, are remarkably quiet. There seems to be a misconception that people who live in central London are somehow well used to noise and bustle and therefore cannot be afforded the same sorts of facilities as those who live in quieter, more rural, pastoral circumstances.

Will the Minister give some thought to ensuring that some sort of parity of esteem between urban and rural areas filters through everything done in the name of HS2? There is no justification in my mind for people living in such areas as Cobourg Street—many of them elderly and disabled—having to suffer a level of noise that would not be tolerated under the scheme in rural areas. I do not know whether he can give me any assurances about that, but that is certainly something we are looking for.

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

I am not sure whether I can give the hon. Gentleman any assurances or reassurances, but I can explain why we have a different compensation package for rural areas from the one for urban areas. Although property might be quite a long way from the railway in many rural areas, there may be nothing in between. In urban areas, someone could be 120 metres from the railway, but with two streets of houses in between.

Although the hon. Gentleman was in Drummond Street in Camden on a quiet day, it is a bustling urban environment, and the value of the houses there relates more to the central London location and the easy connections to other parts of the capital, whereas in more rural areas, people might have bought properties for the rural tranquillity. I understand why we need to have different compensation packages in place. I hope he realises that if one lives in a large metropolis, such as our wonderful capital, one does rather expect that there will be a lot of construction going on from time to time. That is not the case in many rural villages, where the green belt would be extended and where there may be areas of outstanding natural beauty, or where there may be conservation areas in the centre of the village.  I think we are looking at a different situation, but that said, we do need to ensure that where people’s lives are disrupted, we make efforts to mitigate those effects where we can.

I have already talked about lorries, street works and so on, and we will do everything we can on that, working with local authorities to ensure that we limit the impact on people. As I have said, we have already purchased some properties that, although not required for the project, would be so detrimentally affected by the construction process that we felt it was not fair to allow those people to stay in their houses.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 36 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 26 agreed to.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Jackie Doyle-Price.)

Adjourned till Thursday 3 March at twenty-five minutes past Eleven o’clock.