Our Whitehall insider imagines what’s going on inside the minds of the mandarins at Great Minster House, home of the DfT

There was progress of some kind on the high speed rail front, with the hybrid bill being introduced into parliament on November 25. Second reading of the bill is scheduled, I’m told, for March or April. I was talking to one of the technical people involved with the project last week and he swore blind that the bill would get Royal Assent by May 2015. If the HS2 people are operating on this basis they are in for a major shock. There is so much opposition to this project and there will be so many petitions against it that my hunch is it will take the best part of three years to get the bill through parliament. For goodness sake, the Crossrail hybrid bill took over two years to take through parliament and that was for a project that everybody supported!

Why is it that we simply can’t face up to reality? With projects like this we set, from the outset, delivery milestones that we all know are unattainable, but we push out these statements and hold to policy lines which are no more believable than suggesting that the world is flat, or that John F Kennedy was assassinated – as has recently been suggested – by his own chauffeur!

Our ability to bury our head in the sands on issues like this simply make us look foolish and out of touch. More worryingly, they give the impression that we are determined to steam roll this bill through parliament and restrict the rights of those affected by it to be properly heard through the petitioning process. I have a real fear that we will try and make the grounds of petitioning so narrow (trust me, there are parliamentary procedures which enable us to do so) that we will make Marxism look like a positively democratic political movement!

We would be much better off taking more time to get the bill through parliament, allowing affected parties to have a real say through the petitioning process and in that way buy some good will and greater acceptance of what we are trying to achieve – and in the process still keep to the deadline of 2026 for completion of Phase One. Instead, right now, we are in danger of making it look like we are simply going to steamroller this thing through and damn everything that gets in the way – a strategy that could do us much more harm than good.

 

This article, and many others, appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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