Petitioners will now have the right to speak out against the HS2 Hybrid Bill, after the government’s solicitors argued that they should not be heard.
Representitives from Stop HS2 had been told that they did not represent anyone affected by the proposed scheme, so the organisations asked members and supporters to send in letters of support, saying that they did think that Stop HS2 represents them.
In just a couple of days, 237 such letters from individuals, action groups, residents associations, councils and other organisations affected by HS2 were submitted as evidence to the committee, with Stop HS2 continuing to receive many more letters of support after the evidence deadline had passed. In addition, many letters were sent direct to the committee by Members of Parliament and national organisations.
HS2 Ltd were represented by Queens Counsel Tim Mould at the hearing on July 9 to decide ‘locus standi’, Stop HS2 were represented by campaign manager Joe Rukin, along with four ordinary members of the public: Marjorie Fox, Jane Penson, David Vick and Ian Barnes, who appeared as witnesses, giving their personal views about the challenge and about the fact that they considered Stop HS2 to represent them.
A week later on July 16, the committee decided that they would allow Stop HS2 and HS2 Action Alliance (HS2AA) to be heard, as ensuring the process is seen to be fair is in the public interest.
In a statement Robert Syms MP, chair of the committee, said: “On balance, we believe that a modern view of locus standi should allow some latitude to petitioners on how they chose the present their case.
“This is a somewhat complex process and there is a public interest in it seeming to be rigorously fair to all. “It seems to us therefore that both HS2AA and Stop HS2 have sufficiently demonstrated that they are representative of the people specially and directly affected by the Bill to have locus standi in relation to the effect on such people and fall within our standing order discretion.
“Notably, their petitions are not just protests against the principle of the bill.
“However they have said that their petitions are about route-wide effects, therefore we find that they will have locus on these matters only. It will be on route wide matters that we look forward to hearing from them.”
Stop HS2 campaign manager Joe Rukin said: “We were flabbergasted when we found out that HS2 Ltd were trying to claim that Stop HS2 does not represent people affected by HS2.
“We are certain that the challenge to our right to be heard by the committee was simply HS2 Ltd trying it on, gambling that the committee would be conned by legal arguments in an attempt to shut us up, but that gamble has failed.
“It seems that when HS2 Ltd claimed that Stop HS2 does not represent people, they did not think that the people who we do represent might have something to say about that. We are certain that the fantastic response from those affected by HS2, and all the letters from people saying very clearly that we do represent them, were crucial when the committee made their decision to allow us to be heard, and we thank everyone who responded to the call.
“Make no mistake, the attempt to silence us was political gamesmanship without credibility, and we are ecstatic that the committee will now hear the arguments which thousands affected by HS2 want us to make on their behalf.”
A Department for Transport spokesman said: “We welcome that the committee has upheld 20 of the 22 petition challenges that were made. The committee has decided on the balance of the evidence that it will grant Stop HS2 and HS2AA a partial hearing of their petitions and we respect that.
“Both have been told they can appear on genuinely routewide matters, as opposed to individual or local issues, but that they should do so after other petitioners have been heard.
“Our reasons for challenging a very small number of petitions was to ensure that those who are directly and specially affected by HS2 are the focus of the hearings.”