HS2 Select Committee Hearing

Brian Thompson  |  Published: Jul 15th 2015

Do you know the saying ‘be careful what you wish for…?’ Well we had a good example of it this week. About the end of June a bright spark noticed the latest timetable from the Select Committee had a series of sessions  on the Chiltern Long Tunnel with the various promoters. One interesting point was that REPA – a South Heath action group who had proposed a short extension to the existing tunnelling  by HS2 as a fallback to a fully bored Chiltern tunnel was also invited. Clearly if it is good enough for South Heath, then it is good enough for Wendover and we had a fallback tunnel as well – admittedly it was a green tunnel extension but the principle was clear. It seemed clear to us the Select Committee were minded to make a decision on the Chiltern Tunnel sooner rather than later (either towards the end of July or early September).  Now REPA were the only ones being heard on 21 July and we assumed if they offered to hear us it would be on that date. So we wrote  representing the POP Group (Wendover Parish Council, Halton Parish Council, The Wendover Society and Wendover HS2) asking to be heard.

So when the Select committee said OK we will hear you on 14 July (as the only available date)you have a choice – either  to step up to have your voice heard or to leave it to others. That decision did not take very long. Collating the evidence, preparing the presentation, selecting local witnesses and briefing them, finding  a QC, lining up technical experts and getting ready took a little longer and a huge amount of work.  All this was rushed and with debates over whether we had appointed the right QC, and should we mention extending the green tunnels as fall back options at all, you can imagine it became a little fraught. However a strict deadline does make everyone focus on what needs to be done. The evidence and presentation had to be submitted 2 clear days before the hearing, so a hearing on 14 July, a Tuesday meant the submission date was the Thursday before hand i.e. 9 July.

So come the day we arranged to see the QC in the morning to have a briefing – we were in need of sharing the points and presentation given how little time we had had. So the briefing is going well and then…we get the message that the Select Committee were waiting for us and expected us to be in the Houses of Parliament and not at the QC’s chambers. It is moments like that, that your heart sinks and you grit your teeth.

So we rush over to the Select Committee room, for a 2 o’clock appearance (the time in fact we had been informed we needed to be there).  It is a bit daunting in that as witnesses you have to swear or affirm to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but. Duly sworn our nine witnesses entered the committee room. Now the committee room is laid out with a horseshoe shaped  table which the MP’s sit around, the witnesses sit in the middle of it and the HS2 Ltd QC and the Petitioners QC sit across the open end. So there were Bob Duggan and I sitting in middle, feeling a bit as if we were in the ‘sin bin’.  That impression is heightened by the Chairman coming in and telling us we only had one hour to present our case. I have to say our QC did a wonderful job of pushing the witnesses through and drawing out the pertinent facts.

In fact we were obviously interesting enough that they did listen to us and all in all we had two and a quarter hours hearing. This was a little bit more succinct than we had planned but we got all our messages across. We should be thankful that the Chairman of the Select Committee allowed us the extra time.  At the end of the day we all did the best we could and we could not ask anymore.

My impressions of it are the select committee asked quite a few questions and were interested. They clearly had remembered their visit to Wendover positively. I thought we might get something but the committee did not give much away. The one discordant note for me was the HS2 QC Tim Mould who had made little headway against our acoustician when peak noise was discussed, chose at a later stage to show an average noise map of Wendover to say we did not need any more mitigation, ignoring completely the peak noise issue. Now you may say he would say that wouldn’t he, but he is suppose to tell the truth – maybe the select committee have learnt to take what he says with a pinch of salt!

Let’s hope we hear something  positive either at the end of July or start of September. A thank you to all involved in making our appearance at the Select Committee work.

To see the Parliament TV coverage click here

Update

I expect some of you have already received your Petitioners Response Documents from HS2 and may have seen the timetable.  The Select Committee are trying to push through the petitions they need to hear. They are trying to persuade people to group together to save time. I would suggest that no one groups until we hear what their decision is on the Chiltern Long Tunnel and any other mitigation they may offer. The timetable looks crazy to me but we will see.

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