The Commission considered a report of the Director of Environment and Transport which provided an update on the Government’s proposals for high speed rail through Leicestershire, information on the Council’s approach to achieving the maximum benefits for Leicestershire from HS2 and an overview of the Government hybrid Bill process. A copy of the report marked ‘Agenda Item 13’ is filed with these minutes.
The Commission also considered comments from Mr S D Sheahan CC, local member. A copy is filed with these minutes.
The Chairman welcomed the Leader of the Council, Mr N J Rushton CC and the Cabinet Lead Member, Mr T J Pendleton CC, to the meeting for this item.
Arising from discussion and questions the following points were raised:
(i) A majority vote of all County Councillors was required to petition the hybrid Bill. The hybrid Bill was not expected to be deposited until Summer 2020 at the earliest, and the vote to petition could not happen before this. The County Council would not be able to submit its petition on the hybrid Bill until after its second reading. It was expected that the petitioning period would last for 28 days after the second reading. The total time between the hybrid Bill deposit and the close of the petitioning period could be as little as three months, though it was more likely to be four to five months. A meeting of the full Council would need to be held once the hybrid Bill had been deposited in Parliament to approve the approach. Given the timescales, it might be necessary to convene a special meeting of the full Council; members were supportive of this approach.
(ii) The Commission recognised that the report focused on the benefits that could be achieved from HS2 by petitioning, as this enabled the County Council to engage proactively in the process. It was recognised that HS2 would also bring disadvantages to the County. The benefits of a proactive approach, based on learning from other authorities, included support to STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects in schools, improved traffic management and reductions in the length of road closures. Small and medium sized business would also be encouraged to tender for contracts and the Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership was already working to provide them with relevant support.
(iii) It would be possible for trains with classic compatibility to run on HS2 lines, but this depended on the views of HS2 Limited. Another challenge to be addressed was the risk that, if all fast routes went through the station at Toton, Leicestershire and the East Midlands Mainline could be left with a worse and slower service.
(iv) Officers were working closely with a range of partners, including ecological organisations, to develop a list of issues to be addressed through the hybrid Bill or petitioning process. The intention was that all parties that were ‘specially or particularly affected’ by the proposal, and therefore able to petition, would be petitioning for the same things. Conversations with parish and district councils were also ongoing to ensure that the County Council would be able to represent their views in its petition and to provide parishes with knowledge, so they could submit their own petitions. The Leader of the Council undertook to discuss the matter at his next meeting with Leicestershire MPs. It was suggested that engagement should also take place with other interested community groups.
(v) The restoration of the Ivanhoe Line would depend on how the HS2 line was built and whether various parts of the existing rail network would need reinforcing. Members supported the inclusion of the Ivanhoe Line in the list of issues to be addressed through the hybrid Bill and petitioning process as it would help to relieve pressure on the road network.
(vi) An example of the benefits of a proactive approach related to Ashby Canal. In the 2018 consultation HS2 Limited had indicated that the canal restoration would require locks to pass under the new railway. The draft design now suggested that it would be allowed free passage. However, officers were working to encourage HS2 to build part of the canal and leave a positive, lasting legacy.
(a) That the update on the Government’s proposals for high speed rail through Leicestershire including the forward programme, subject to the Government review of the HS2 rail project, be noted;
(b) That the Council’s approach to achieving the maximum benefits for Leicestershire from HS2 be noted;
(c) That the Government hybrid Bill process, and the importance of the County Council having a voice in the development and delivery of HS2 to realise its benefits, be noted.