Bill proposes HS2 regeneration powers

A provision in the new High Speed Two (HS2) rail line Bill would allow the government "unprecedented" powers to seize an unlimited amount of land near the line if it believes it contains regeneration and development opportunities.

Curzon Street: land around the line could be seized for regenerative purposes
Curzon Street: land around the line could be seized for regenerative purposes

The HS2 hybrid Bill, which if passed would grant permission for the first phase of the route from London to Birmingham, was published and laid before Parliament on Monday.

Alongside it was a 50,000-page environmental statement outlining the impact of phase one of the project, published for a 56-day consultation.

Experts have highlighted the far-reaching powers proposed in clause 47 of the Bill. This states that if the transport secretary "considers that the construction or operation of phase one of High Speed Two gives rise to the opportunity for regeneration or development of any land, (he) may acquire the land compulsorily".

Robbie Owen, head of infrastructure planning at law firm Pinsent Masons, said the clause appeared to be a "new and unprecedented general power" that had "no spatial limit".

He said: "It is an understandable power for the Department for Transport to be seeking for a project of this size and to shore up the economic case, which is what I imagine lies behind this provision."

But Owen suggested that Parliament may "baulk at its scope and breadth and potentially unintended blighting effect, given the apparent absence of any time limit".

Simon Ricketts, planning and environment partner at King & Wood Mallesons SJ Berwin, said such a power could potentially be used for a large housing or retail development close to a station.

He said: "There needs to be a clear understanding of what the basis of that power is and how the secretary of state would use it.

"Otherwise, there will be a concern that it's going to lead to the secretary of state rather than local authorities determining appropriate opportunities for development around stations."

Ricketts said councils such as Birmingham or Camden in north London might ask whether the government was intending to intervene more in the planning and management of development around the new HS2 stations.

Nicholas Evans, a government and infrastructure partner at Bircham Dyson Bell, said the proposal was "incredibly far-reaching, and probably covers all land in the vicinity of a station".

He added: "Local authorities will probably want reassurance about how the secretary of state plans to use that power."

Evans said that councils already have their own compulsory purchase order powers for redevelopment purposes, and could view the proposal "as unnecessary and a little threatening".

But he said there could be value for such powers at a site like Old Oak Common in north-west London, where a 14-platform station is proposed, because the surrounding land is spread between several local authorities. Evans also pointed out that schedule 16 of the Bill would allow authorities along the route that sign up to a planning memorandum and agree to process the applications in a timely fashion more powers to determine detailed planning matters relating to the project than those that do not.

William Shearer, land and business partner at consultancy Bidwells, said authorities that signed up would have a greater role in determining certain construction matters and take on enforcement powers.

The government has said it aims to achieve royal assent by May 2015, the date of the next election.

But Angus Walker, a partner at Bircham Dyson Bell, said this deadline was "wildly optimistic".

Next steps for HS2 Bill

- A consultation on the environmental statement of the first phase of HS2 between London and the West Midlands closes on 24 January 2014.

- The Commons' Second Reading of the Bill, where the principle of the Bill is debated and voted on by MPs, will probably take place between mid-March and May next year, the government has said.

- If passed, a select committee will be appointed to hear petitions from those directly affected by HS2 seeking amendments. Petitioners will only be able to address matters of detail (such as design, construction, and mitigation proposals), not the principle of the Bill.

- The select committee will report to the government, setting out any recommendations for amendments to the Bill.

- A Public Bill Committee then reviews the Bill, and may make further amendments.

- After this, the Bill undergoes its Report and Third Reading stages in the Commons.

- The Bill then goes through the same process in the House of Lords before returning to the Commons to consider any further amendments.

- Royal Assent. The Department for Transport is aiming for this to be done by May 2015 - about 18 months away.

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