Greg Smith MP writes about the Transport Select Committees six monthly HS2 review meeting which took place on 6th January 2021...
On a cold, wet January morning under lockdown, I can appreciate that for many the allure of Holly and Phil or yet another property show detailing the conversion of a flat above a shop in Peckham into an improbably high number of studio apartments may catch viewers eyes. But on 6th January, I am sure everyone (across Buckinghamshire, at least) was tuned into Parliament TV for the Transport Select Committee.
Why was this particular session so important? Because it was the committees sixth monthly dive into all matters HS2. A major driver in my wish 12 months ago to get myself elected to the Transport Select Committee was to ensure scrutiny of HS2 remained central to their work. Not a day goes by when I do not raise a number of local issues relating to HS2 directly with HS2 Ltd or the Department for Transport. Such is the volume of issues that need addressing with this project, that within my office I have a full time member of staff purely working to support me on HS2 and East West Rail matters. However, on top of that work, in order to get maximum exposure of failings and to secure positive change, hearings of the Select Committee, as well as use of the main Chamber of the House of Commons, is also vital.
To that end, I was very pleased to persuade fellow committee members to focus this session to the realities of what is happening on the ground, in communities like ours, where the railway is sadly being built. I was especially pleased to have been able to secure as one of the witnesses Cllr Phil Gaskin, who is Chairman of Calvert Green Parish Council, to represent the experiences of not only Calvert Green, but also neighbouring parishes of Charndon, Steeple Claydon, Twyford and Edgcott.
As Phil presented the facts so well, I was under no doubt that fellow committee members were extremely shocked by just how bad the disconnect is between commitments made by HS2 Ltd and the reality. “Good neighbours” HS2 Ltd and their contractors most certainly are not. From unannounced road closures, to HGVs rattling along routes other than those permitted, to the lack of wheel washes on compounds leading to unacceptable levels of mud on our roads, the list of issues is considerable. Issues detrimentally affecting everyone’s quality of life.
A couple of practical suggestions to come out of the session included the concept of a local HS2 Sherriff, with real power and authority to clamp down on HS2 contractors misdemeanours in real time, along with breaking down the barriers to access things like the promised £1 million environmental mitigation fund were raised. I will be working with the Parishes to ensure we get these important changes delivered and fast from both the Department for Transport and HS2 Ltd.
The work goes on.
You can watch the session back at https://www.parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/758ddcb0-db0a-4b11-b07f-3067e1adc625