DAME Caroline Spelman fought to champion the concern of local residents affected by HS2 in an impassioned final debate in the Commons ahead of the project being given Royal Assent.
The purpose of this debate was to consider the final amendments to the Bill as submitted for consideration by Members of the House of Lords.
Speaking in the House of Commons chamber, Dame Caroline welcomed the significant economic growth and job creation that will come about as a result of HS2, but argued that the fight for further compensation along the line of route – as well as greater environmental protection and local traffic calming measures must continue beyond the formal passage of the Bill through Parliament.
In a speech lasting around twenty minutes, the Meriden MP argued that “every hectare of green space in our green-belt Borough is a matter of great importance to all of us who share completely in the local authority’s motto of “Urbs in Rure” and that local residents – particularly in more densely populated areas like Chelmsley Wood – must be adequately compensated for the loss of green space.
Having worked closely with affected residents, local parish councils and borough councillors in her fight for fairer compensation, Dame Caroline again lobbied the Minister to consider a unique biodiversity offsetting strategy; drawn up by a Professor of Landscape Architecture at Birmingham City University, which will regenerate the Tame and Blythe river valleys.
Speaking directly to the Transport Minister about the plans, she said that the Government and HS2 Ltd have an “enormous opportunity” to offset the loss of green space – citing a promise the Government made back in 2012 to compensate the loss of natural capital to major developments.
The issue of compensation and sustainable development also dominated the debate with cross-party MPs arguing that HS2 placed a disproportionate burden on those directly affected by construction and who have been fighting for compensation due to the direct loss of their land, businesses or homes.
Dame caroline added: “Some of the compensation cases are still outstanding… we need to give some ongoing thought to the fairness of the compensation process”.
Having recently met with the Chairman of HS2, Sir David Higgins, to raise individual compensation cases, the MP told the House of Commons that some residents had reported facing significant pressure to reach financial settlements prior to Select Committee hearings – but that “some of the compensation cases are still outstanding”.
In her closing remarks, she praised hard work and perseverance of local residents living in the affected communities, parish and borough councillors, as well as Neil Caulfield – a clerk of the House of Commons who passed away earlier this year.
Following the passing of this Bill into law, Dame Caroline said: “Since the idea about a possible High Speed line from London to Birmingham was first mooted, I have been working alongside residents to attain the best possible compensation and mitigation measures.
“Meriden gets both the pain and the gain of HS2.
“From campaigning for a tunnel under Balsall Common and Berkswell, to working with affected residents to secure appropriate compensation and lobbying both the Government and HS2 for further noise mitigation and environmental protections, I am confident that we have done all that we could during the legislative process to secure the best possible deal for local residents”.
“I have long said that Meriden gets both the pain and the gain of HS2.
“There is no disguising the fact that this is going to be a life-changing experience for the constituency of Meriden and especially
for those of my constituents who are most directly affected. I would like them to know that I will not give up fighting on their behalf to ameliorate and mitigate the impact of the railway, which will fundamentally benefit our region, but whose impact will fall disproportionately on a few homes”.
The HS2 Phase One (London – West Midlands) Bill has now been granted Royal Assent – allowing HS2 the powers to begin work to complete the line by 2026.
First announced in January 2009 under the premiership of Gordon Brown, the High Speed line reduces journey time to London Euston from Birmingham Curzon Street to just 49 Minutes (and 31 minutes to Birmingham airport).
It will also provide additional means to tackle concerns about the lack of freight and passenger capacity on the West Coast Mainline.
It is forecast that for every £1 invested in the project, the UK economy will receive over £2.50 in benefits and that the construction
alone will create around 25,000 jobs and 2,000 apprenticeships.