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Anti-HS2 groups tell MPs why they should be heard

The two main anti-HS2 groupings, Stop HS2 and the HS2 Action Alliance, say they are being “gagged” because government lawyers are trying to stop them appearing committee of MPs examining the HS2 Hybrid Bill.

The controversy is centred on the groups’ ‘locus standi’ – the right to be heard – and whether the action groups “represent people specifically affected or inhabitants of areas affected”, as opposed to being more general support and campaigning organisations involved up and down the whole line.

The High Speed Rail Committee heard evidence for and against the challenges on Wednesday, from the HS2 Action Alliance in the morning, and Stop HS2 and the West London Line Group in the afternoon.

Hilary Wharf, director of the HS2 Action Alliance, said: “We’ve got used to being insulted by Ministers and treated with contempt by HS2 Ltd but the government is sinking to new lows by trying to deny us the right to explain to the Hybrid Bill committee the very serious issues with the current plans. We’ve spent four years studying HS2 and have a very clear and practical set of recommendations that need to be considered.”

But representing the DfT, Timothy Mould QC told the committee: “I would respectfully refute in the strongest possible terms the suggestion that this is an exercise in trying to stifle debate where it is properly to be brought before this Committee. We have brought these challenges – and this is no different – because we believe that applying the rules of this House and the Standing Orders and looking at the petitions that were proposed by those whom we have challenged that they did not, as a matter of simple fact, fall within the scope of this Committee's work.”

He said there was no “inconsistency” in the fact that other bodies, like Save Britain's Heritage, the Woodland Trust and the Council for Protection of Rural England, have not been challenged.

“It has long been recognised that those bodies are precisely the sort of bodies who fall squarely within the scope of the discretion which Mr Thornton and I were talking about earlier under Order 95-2, because they do clearly represent a specific interest. The subject matter of those longstanding bodies' particular interest is an interest that is affected materially by the provisions of this Bill, as it has been in relation to other Railway Bills in the past where their locus has not been challenged.

“We accept that they have a locus and that the Committee will wish to hear from them. But their role is quite different from the role of Stop HS2 Ltd. Stop HS2 Ltd is acting as an umbrella organisation which, essentially, is providing, as they say, support and seeking to further the work of individual petitioners who have brought petitions before this Committee –

that is completely different – and they can pursue that, in my submission, just as effectively by taking that background support role that I have mentioned this morning rather than outside the rules of this House pursuing a front of house petition.”

Joe Rukin, campaign manager at Stop HS2, quoted Robbie Owen of Pinsent Masons, one of the ‘Roll A’ agents, who said: “It's a perfectly proper part of the Hybrid Bill process but you do wonder why they have done it. Clearly, if the Government can get rid of HS2 Action Alliance and Stop HS2 and the Campaign for Better Transport in particular, they will remove three rather large thorns from their side, but I question the judgment made to the challenges relating to just 1% of all petitions deposited and risk alienating a large swathe of the public from the Bill process and even members of the Committee and undermine the claims that it is a process that fully and fairly involves all affected communities.”

The Campaign for Better Transport supports the principle of HS2, but objects to many aspects of the existing proposals.

Rukin said Stop HS2 feels it is “being singled out for political reasons”.

The Committee – which criticised the lack of “adequate notice” given of the challenges – will make its decision on Thursday, 17 July.

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