The Department for Transport has recently (25 April 2022) appointed former Conservative MP Stewart Jackson to be the HS2 Residents’ Commissioner, will the aim of ensuring the Government meets its core principles of respecting people and places as the construction of HS2 progresses. Mr Jackson and will be responsible for “driving open and transparent communication with residents” along the planned route of HS2.
This appointment comes at a time when HS2’s treatment of residents has been under close scrutiny. In a recent article for the Telegraph, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, Rob Behrens, was quoted as saying that HS2 has treated concerned residents as a nuisance and without sufficient respect. Mr Behrens went on to describe the HS2 complaints system as “sub-optimal”.
With this in mind, you would be forgiven for thinking that the appointment of a Residents' Commissioner is the creation of a new role. In fact, Rail Technology Magazine led with an article titled "HS2 appoints new role to connect contractors with local communities", despite Mr Jackson replacing the outgoing Deborah Fazan who had been in the role since 2015. It is perhaps fair to say that the existence of this role was not previously as well-publicised as it might be.
The appointment of Mr Jackson will be of particular significance to landowners along the proposed HS2 route between Crewe and Manchester. If (or more likely when) the High Speed Rail (Crewe – Manchester) Bill passes into law, it will grant powers to HS2 Ltd (the company behind HS2) to build and maintain the HS2 network, and importantly, to compulsorily acquire land along the route. The Government will be hoping that Mr Jackson’s appointment will work to build relationships with the communities affected by HS2 and feedback concerns raised, to facilitate the smooth development of the network. The intended outcome is that the construction of HS2 should be tailored to fit around the specific concerns raised by those communities. Whether this is in fact what will happen remains to be seen.
Having been a local councillor in West London, an MP for 12 years, and Vice President of the Local Government Association, Mr Jackson ought reasonably to be seen as a good selection, bringing with him a wealth of public support experience.
In reality, residents and landowners, many of whom feel ignored by HS2, will hope to see the two-way engagement and communication programmes which have been promised, coming to fruition. Whether these schemes will actually lead to an overhaul of the “sub-optimal” HS2 complaints system, remains to be seen. Ultimately, many landowners are still going to feel hard done by when their land is compulsorily acquired, for a project they may not support, regardless of the levels of engagement with their communities.
Common means of engagement have historically been through MPs, the petitioning process and local panels. However, the groups that have been affected by poor engagement from HS2 should now be thinking about escalating that engagement in light of this appointment - the true test of Mr Jackson's success in this role will be in how these approaches are dealt with. We are happy to discuss how we might be able to assist with that process.
For a roundup of the other key HS2-related developments this year, see Richard Flenley’s recent post here: HS2: Let's get up to Speed.
If you are concerned that HS2 might impact you (or indeed if you are currently affected), we would be pleased to assist in protecting your position and helping you navigate the developments moving forwards.
"There is a common element in many of the cases that we see about a lack of respect which [government] departments have for people. And that's what we want to change in the complaints standards initiative which we have, which is heavy on rigour, on learning, on openness, and on compassion. Which is not a word I see used a great deal in central government." - Rob Behrens in the Telegraph.