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HS2 warned over putting community engagement ‘second place’

HS2 Ltd failed to communicate properly with six families who will lose their homes to the high-speed railway development and risk continuing to fail to engage with communities as the project goes ahead, a new report has warned.

Ian Bynoe, a former Independent Police Complaints Commissioner, published an independent report into HS2’s community engagement following a complaint by the families, who live in a village near Litchfield and were set to lose their homes to HS2, which has previously been reviewed by both the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman and the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee.

Bynoe’s report says that HS2 have been too slow to develop a community engagement strategy. Their initial team when they first gained approval for HS2 Phase 1 consisted of five people, and have only now started developing community engagement plans.

“The Residents experienced administrative delay, prevarication, and a lack of candour about what the Company was willing or able to do and when,” said Bynoe. “They encountered an unreasonable and unjustified defensiveness when they complained that the standard of response they were getting and its timeliness were unacceptable.”

He adds that the residents then faced another wait when they tried to complain about HS2, because they had no easy access to an independent monitoring body and complaining to the PHSO took a long time.

Bynoe warns that as HS2, whose Bill recently passed through the House of Commons, acquires new legal powers, it will be easier for it to ignore complaints from communities and individuals.

“It is not hard to envisage that, amongst the pressures and priorities of an organisation given this task, high-quality community engagement may, from time to time, take second place and that performance of a consistently high standard will prove elusive,” he says.

He does note that HS2 has improved how it engages with communities, including hiring new staff, and referring complainants to the Department for Transport independent complaints assessors, but he says he lacks confidence that HS2 can make a “step change”.

He recommends that HS2 approve and publish a strategy for community engagement, centrally record formal and informal complaints and make the mobile numbers of senior staff available to residents who need to make contact urgently.

Simon Kirby, HS2’s CEO, said: “It is inevitable that a project on the scale of HS2 will impact communities. I am acutely aware of how stressful and difficult this can be for those affected and fully understand our responsibility to engage proactively and sensitively with them.”

He promised that HS2 will provide a full update on their progress in implementing the report’s recommendations next month.

(Image c. HS2 Ltd)


Martin Young   22/04/2016 at 12:46

This 'warning' to HS2 is about three years too late! 'Steam-rollering' the controversial at-grade route through the Chiltern Hills, which incidentally are designated as an 'Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty' - (HS2 seemed to have overlooked) must become a tunnel system throughout from Chalfont St Peter to just west of Wendover. The spoil from the tunnels would be chalk, that could be used to infill the many chalk and gravel pits in the surrounding areas to be reclaimed for recreational use, as has been done at Sandgatte near Calais with the spoil from the Channel Tunnel. If we want a High-speed railway, that's OK! But, let's first protect our environment for future generations, and not let the ever present ingenuous 'bean counters' determine or compromise our Engineering competence.

Steve Mcgregor   22/04/2016 at 17:54

No doubting the Engineering competence or ingenuity of the project teams, it's the integrity of the corporate entity when the compensation to the REAL stakeholders, those who live by or are being displaced by the scheme. This report underlines exactly what those affected experience.

Wombat72   24/04/2016 at 13:27

Steve Mcgregor wrote "No doubting the Engineering competence or ingenuity of the project teams" You obviously haven't been exposed to HS2's Engineering or project teams then. . The HS2 engineer responsible for designing our section of route assured our village it was "not possible to put noise barriers on embankments". We sourced suitable barriers used by ICE in Germany and obtained quotes from suppliers within a day. We also found the noise barrier costs used by HS2 were nearly double the costs in Germany. No wonder Network Rail projects like GWR electrification regularly go 200% over-budget if our experience of the UK's "world-class" rail industry engineers is anything to go by.

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