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HS2 Company Criticised For Council NDAs

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28th January 2019

HS2 Company Criticised For Council NDAs

The company behind the new HS2 rail link is requiring local authorities to sign gagging orders keeping residents in the dark regarding the high-speed rail line’s construction, a new review has found.

During a review of England’s planning system, the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) found that 26 local authorities had signed non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) with HS2 Ltd at the early planning stage. 

Amongst these authorities are Warwickshire, Staffordshire and North Yorkshire county councils. A Freedom of Information Act last year revealed that 28 NDAs were in force in total, 27 of which became effective after 2013 and have no end date. 

Former Labour planning minister Nick Raynsford, who headed the report, has criticised the “widespread use of confidentiality agreements by the HS2 company,” blaming the practice for building a “corrosive sense on the part of the public, that planning is no longer protecting their interests.”

An anonymous council leader questioned by the TCPA in the report meanwhile states that the gagging orders are “not in the public interest,” despite “the commercial benefits of such agreements.”

The review panel acknowledges that the NDAs “may serve a legitimate purpose in the eyes of those charged with the delivery of the project,” but counters that they have “created real anger among local politicians and even more resentment from affected communities.”

HS2 Ltd however has defended the decision, with a spokesman asserting: “Non-disclosure agreements help to avoid placing homes and businesses in unnecessary blight, protect commercially sensitive information, and help protect the personal information of those potentially affected.”

HS2 construction reportedly ‘several billon pounds’ over budget

First proposed in 2009, the HS2 network is aimed to facilitate faster travel between London and Manchester and Leeds, with trains reaching speeds of 250mph. However, construction of the network has been complicated and is now expected to be delayed by over a year due to budgeting concerns. 

Costs for the “mains works civil contracts” covering the route from London to Birmingham and including bridges, tunnels and embankments are reportedly “several billion pounds” over the official budget of £6.6bn. 

Ministers have refused to approve any extra funding for the network however, with HS2 Ltd instead negotiating with contractors in order to reduce costs. Responding to the reports, a spokesperson for the Department for Transport acknowledged that the railway construction was inevitably complicated as the “country’s biggest and most demanding infrastructure project.” 

A spokesperson for HS2 Ltd. meanwhile affirmed that the group is “working closely with [its] supply chain to keep the project on track.”

A report on the project by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority however warned last year that the expected deadline of 2026 “is driving an unacceptable programme schedule and is compromising the accuracy and quality of the programme’s outputs.”

Former exec says HS2 undervalued land purchase costs

The reported under-budgeting of the project is blamed by former HS2 executive Doug Thornton on a deliberate undervaluing of land purchase costs for the project in estimates given to MPs. In a BBC Panorama investigation, Thornton accused the company of deliberately undervaluing land and homes needed for the line in order to cut costs and not budgeting at all for thousands of other necessary properties.

The former executive says the resulting budget was “enormously wrong,” with “a gap of almost 100% in terms of the numbers, wrong numbers of properties that the organisation had not budgeted for.”

HS2 have denied the claims, with the government still expecting the project to be delivered for £56bn.

After investigating the project’s land and property programme in 2018, the National Audit Office concluded that estimated property costs were significantly too low aftermarket fluctuations, but concluded that HS2 was not obliged to provide updated estimates to MPs.

Contact our HS2 compensation claims experts today

If your home or business is in the proposed pathway of HS2, or is likely to be adversely affected by the construction of this controversial rail route, we can help.  Speak to our HS2 compensation solicitors on 03456 381381.  Alternatively, email us propertydisputes@ibblaw.co.uk.

 

Needs Dev Jon Mowbray

Contact

jon.mowbray@ibblaw.co.uk
01895 207988