First HS2 letter to Patrick McLoughlin - October 2012
You are already aware of my views on HS2 and those of many of my constituents. I need not restate them here but I do want to raise some concerns about the operation of the Community Forums which HS2 Ltd are hosting to engage with communities along the proposed route. There are 3 forums in my constituency.
I had cause to write and speak to Justine earlier on this year about the advantages of HS2 Ltd engineers engaging with individual action groups on a bilateral basis to discuss potential improvements to the line, in parallel with the forum process. After some reluctance on the part of HS2 Ltd, I am pleased to say that several such bilateral meetings have now been held in my constituency and I have attended many of them.
I think they are a positive addition to the process of community engagement and I am grateful to Justine for ensuring that they can happen. I should add however that although the process of engagement has been better in the bilateral meetings, it still remains unclear to what extent, if at all, they will deliver better outcomes in terms of route improvements.
The Community Forums however remain a problem. There is a widely held view among those who attend from the communities and local councils affected that there is little consistency in the representation from HS2 Ltd, particularly engineers, that the quality of presentations made by them is poor, that feedback on counter-proposals regarding the line is sparse and that information offered by HS2 Ltd is patchy and 'drip-fed' to the forums. In the last round of forum meetings, members discovered plans for two extra loops of track for maintenance and emergency purposes near Priors Hardwick and the prospect of numerous construction compounds, some of which will be of significant size. It is hard to believe that much of the information could not have been made available much earlier. I would welcome your intervention to make clear to HS2 Ltd that the fragile trust which community groups and councils in my constituency have in the current process of community engagement will disappear altogether if they have the sense that available information on the impact of HS2 is being held back.
There is also a worry, which I share, about the way in which Community Forum meetings are conducted. I make no criticism at all of those who chair the 3 forums I have attended, but HS2 Ltd set the agenda for forum meetings and this often results in large proportions of meetings being spent on matters which are not most important to the community represented, leaving insufficient time for those matters which are. My suggestion is that control of the agenda at forum meetings should be given to the community and to the forum chairman. HS2 Ltd could suggest topics for discussion and Community and Action Groups could decide which matters they wished to discuss and in what order.
I am confident that the groups in my constituency work well enough together to form a consensus on this and the Forum Chairmen can arbitrate if not. This will avoid what is a growing and potentially toxic frustration with a process that many are beginning to feel is more about the transmission of HS2 Ltd's messages than the opportunity to engage the community with the project. I know you will share my view that this would be profoundly regrettable and I would welcome your endorsement of this change in approach, if at all possible before the November round of Community Forums, where crucial discussions of the design of the line should take place. I have written separately on a number of other aspects of HS2, but I hope that you will agree that, however the project develops, it will be important to maintain faith in the Community Forums.