Ongoing public engagement

High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:03 pm on 25th June 2019.

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‘(1) The Secretary of State must by regulations make provision for ongoing public engagement about the scheduled works.

(2) The regulations may require the nominated undertaker to—

(a) hold public meetings;

(b) make provision for public help and complaints mechanisms;

(c) consult on changes to plans or timetables; and

(d) take other public engagement steps as the Secretary of State sees fit.

(3) Regulations under this section may contain such supplementary, incidental, consequential or transitional provision as the Secretary of State considers necessary or expedient.

(4) Regulations under this section must be made by statutory instrument.

(5) A statutory instrument containing regulations under this section is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.’—

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Matt Rodda Matt Rodda Shadow Minister (Transport) (Buses)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Already it is clear that residents and businesses along the route of HS2, and those affected by the wider construction of the line, need to be involved in this programme, not just with the passing of the Bill but beyond that, not least because the project is being funded by public money and is causing disruption to many communities.

We call on the Government to put in place regulations to ensure, through a statutory route, that HS2 and the Government continue to engage with the public and, through that engagement, respond to concerns raised. Nobody holds a monopoly on wisdom. Through strong community engagement, the project can develop in the interests of all concerned. The tweaks made by petitioners to the hybrid Bill Committee show the power of such consultation.

As the programme moves from the planning to the delivery phase, unseen consequences may, and probably will, occur. Good public engagement is vital to ensure that there is a response to those issues, whether they are environmental issues—for example, noise, dust and pollutants—or relate to congestion. Communities must have a right to engage in public meetings and to engage with proposed changes. Even with the best planned projects, we know that engagement is vital.

It is important to have a direct complaints process, to which HS2 must respond, for the duration of the building of phase 2a and all subsequent phases. Above all, the public need to have confidence in the development of HS2, but there is concern that that has been lacking to date. This must change, and the new clause would enable the Government to ensure that that happens through the establishment of secondary legislation.

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport), Assistant Whip (HM Treasury) 3:15 pm, 25th June 2019

The hon. Gentleman raised some important points. I agree with him that we need strong community engagement and good public engagement, and that the response has to be flexible and responsive.

Let me remind the hon. Gentleman what HS2 is actually doing. This was one of the trickiest parts of my brief when I took over as Minister for HS2, because I wanted to ensure that HS2’s community engagement was on point, especially as further and deeper construction work takes place. The commitment to public engagement is evidenced by the community engagement strategy and the biannual community engagement progress report. For example, in 2018 more than 36,000 people attended over 2,200 engagement activities, including meetings, drop-ins and events across the whole of the HS2 route. The 24/7 help desk dealt with 26,697 inquiries, and nine out of 10 complaints were dealt with within 20 working days or fewer. I constantly put pressure on HS2 Ltd to ensure that it is working as effectively and with as much humility as possible.

Further, as a Minister I have secured meetings in Parliament between Members and HS2, sometimes with constituents. The hon. Gentleman may not be aware of this, so I put on the record that there is an independent construction commissioner and residents’ commissioner. The residents’ commissioner also gave evidence to the Select Committee. A substantial amount of public engagement is already taking place. That must continue and be of good quality. There must be speedy responses to the public’s concerns, in a way that they can understand and digest, given the level of engagement already taking place and the fact that the Secretary of State has made a number of commitments to continue to engage with all stakeholders. All of that information can be found on the HS2 website. It is published online, as is the register of undertakings and assurances.

Of course, we should never take anything for granted and HS2 Ltd should continue to work as closely as possible with the communities that require further assurance or changes in lifestyle. It needs to work with them as efficiently as it can. Considering all the work that is already taking place and will take place, I believe that the new clause is unnecessary and should be withdrawn.

Photo of Matt Rodda Matt Rodda Shadow Minister (Transport) (Buses)

I am grateful to the Minister for running through the existing engagement strategy and, indeed, the volume of correspondence and engagement that has taken place. However, it is somewhat disappointing that the Government are still not pursuing this through regulations and are not putting it on a statutory footing. We will therefore press the new clause to a vote.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

Division number 6 High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill — Ongoing public engagement

Aye: 7 MPs

No: 8 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 8.

Question accordingly negatived.

Bill to be reported, without amendment.

Committee rose.