HS2 should leave a legacy of road and broadband improvements in the areas it cuts through, while its compensation scheme should also be made fairer to older people, an influential committee of MPs has said.
After 160 days of sittings, the HS2 select committee has heard nearly 1,600 petitions against aspects of the scheme and late last night it published its final list of recommendations.
Most of the mitigation measures for Bucks were already known, having been secured by the county council last month. And the committee once again ruled that there was no case for an extended bored tunnel under Wendover.
However, in its overall conclusions about the scheme, it proposed that councils should be able to bid for government funding for highways improvement work.
It said: “Such schemes might include improvements not just for motor vehicle users but for cyclists, horse riders and walkers, as well as better provision for the young, old or disabled. In any event, we would like HS2 to leave a legacy of improved road traffic risk identification and safety improvement along the route.”
It also criticised the government’s commercial approach to installing superfast broadband in affected communities. It said: “The Government is wrong to believe that the test for providing broadband and mobile access is whether the telecommunications industry can be offered a commercially viable market in such localities. If commercial propositions are not speedily forthcoming the Government should fund the provision. We direct that, one way or another, the provision of a modern railway is to be associated with achieving modern high-speed communication along its route.”
It said it should be easier for older people to sell their homes close to the proposed line to the government under the Need to Sell scheme due to the unique financial burdens they face, inability to generate new income and need to downsize due to physical disability. “We believe these realities should more significantly inform the starting assumptions of those assessing scheme applications...It is difficult to imagine justification of less than 90% acceptance on applications by those over 70 or who will be over 70 when the project commences.”
Robert Syms MP, Chair of the High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill Select Committee, said: “With this report on Phase One of the High Speed Rail programme, we have endeavoured to add substantial environmental, social and design benefits to the scheme, in balance with good use of public money and a viable engineering design.“
Mr Robert Goodwill MP, Minister of State at the Department for Transport, said: “I welcome the report today from the Select Committee and would like to thank members for their significant time and efforts over the course of the hearings. We will consider carefully the recommendations in the report and respond shortly. I also recognise the demands this process has placed on petitioners. We have listened to those affected by the scheme and in many cases we have been able to make the changes they have been calling for. I am happy to say that HS2 remains firmly on schedule, and today’s report marks another significant step towards getting spades in the ground for this transformational project.”
The Wendover HS2 action group said it was ‘deply disappointed’ but not surprised the bored tunnel options was not recommended.
It said the community would now considering a challenge to the European courts to ensure proper processes are followed by HS2 Ltd, which it said had demonstrated ‘gross incompetence’.