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HS2 company treated residents with ‘unjustified defensiveness’, inquiry finds

HS2 company treated residents with ‘unjustified defensiveness’, inquiry finds

🕔26.Apr 2016

Householders affected by the planned high speed rail line between London and Birmingham were treated with a lack of engagement and “unjustified defensiveness” by the HS2 company, an independent inquiry has found.

Ian Bynoe, a former Independent Police Complaints Commissioner, has published his report into the way HS2 handled complaints, concluding that communities affected by the line were little more than an afterthought for the company.

Mr Bynoe was commissioned to produce an independent report following an investigation by the Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsman into the high speed rail company’s treatment of families near Lichfield who stood to lose their homes. The Ombudsman found HS2 Ltd guilty of maladministration.

It is the second follow-on report from the PHSO investigation, after the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee found last month that there was a “culture of misinformation” within HS2 Ltd.

Mr Bynoe found there are insufficient staff working on community engagement, recommendations from the Residents’ Commissioner are being acted on very slowly, and that six years after HS2 was first announced, HS2 Ltd still have no fully approved corporate strategy for community engagement.

His report states:

Residents experienced administrative delay, prevarication, and a lack of candour about what the company was willing or able to do and when. They encountered an unreasonable and unjustified defensiveness when they complained that the standard of response they were getting and its timelines were unacceptable.

HS2 Ltd is charged by Ministers with delivering a designed railway by a fixed deadline to a largely pre-determined budget. It is about to acquire from the Secretary of State legal powers to alter forever the ordinary lives of people in the way of the railway.

It is not hard to envisage that, amongst the pressures and priorities of an organisation given this task, high quality community engagement may, from time to time, take second place and that performance of a consistently high standard will prove elusive.

A draft community engagement strategy document does not provide an overarching plan with timescales, milestones and clear targets which would enable the Executive Management Team and Board of Directors easily to monitor progress, effectiveness and the quality of the work undertaken, Mr Bynoe found. His report added:

There is no sense from reading the strategy document supplied to me that from 2014 until 2016 the company planned to retain a capacity for proactive and continuous community engagement with the affected communities where consultation had taken place in 2012 and 2013, prior to the Hybrid Bill entering Parliament.

It is surprising and very disappointing that it is only after four years have elapsed since the Government announced its intention to proceed with Phase One of the project that staff have now been recruited to develop community engagement development plans for the local areas affected by the necessary planning of the detailed design of the railway, its construction and operation.

This is all the more so given the need to try to recover and restore better community relations in certain areas where trust had been lost.

The report continues:

I did not see any evidence that the company had issued instructions that mobile numbers be used to contact senior staff when enquiries were urgent, only that the contact number for one staff member had been supplied in the circumstances. I recommend that HS2 Ltd issue instructions accordingly.

Simon Kirby, HS2’s CEO, said:

It is inevitable that a project on the scale of HS2 will impact communities. I am acutely aware of how stressful and difficult this can be for those affected and fully understand our responsibility to engage proactively and sensitively with them.

Stop HS2 Campaign Manager Joe Rukin said:

Despite repeated promises from HS2 Ltd over the last six years that they will get better, this report concludes what we have always expected, that when construction is due to start the way they treat people might well get worse.

The report can be found here.

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