An hour ago I referred vaguely to the concerns that the first high speed rail bill (covering London to Birmingham) may not even get through Parliament before the next general election – which is critical to the coalition’s plan to start work in 2015.
The details are worth explaining. The issue is this: because it is a hybrid bill, any landowner affected by the scheme has the right to come to Westminster and put his or her case to a joint committee of the Lords and Commons. With 440 homes likely to face compulsory purchase, that means endless hours of consultation. The whips are facing the difficult issue of finding MPs and peers (who must have no relevant interests) willing to sit on the committee for three or four years.
The government is putting forward £50m for an “exceptional hardship” fund. But that may only be the starting point for the eventual compensation paid out. Protest by landowners – and environmental groups – is expected to be fierce, especially in the Chilterns (pictured) and Warwickshire. Philip Hammond has admitted in private that it is an “ambitious timetable”; under Labour’s plans work would have started two years later, in 2017.
UPDATE: Worth mentioning that this first stage will not be built until after 2026. The second part – taking the line further up to Manchester and Newcastle – is unlikely to be finished until the 2030s, ie, in a quarter of a century’s time. By which point I will probably be a pensioner.