HS2’s opponents are targeting 2014 as a crucial year when the £50 billion project could be massively delayed, altered or even thrown out.
Although the HS2 hybrid bill is likely to be backed by MPs when they vote in the new year, the committee stage which follows in mid-2014 will be pivotal to its future.
It is here that the proposal will effectively go on trial before a panel of ‘neutral’ MPs who can call for sweeping changes or even demand it to be scrapped altogether, with the government likely to take note.
The Supreme Court is also likely to rule on HS2 Action Alliance’s appeal against the legality of the government’s environment impact assessment early in the new year.
Campaigners hope judges will send the case to Europe, massively delaying the scheme and giving a new government in 2015 the chance to scrap the trainline before it is too late.
The committee will hear from local residents and action groups, as well as the scheme’s proponents.
Aylesbury MP David Lidington said: “ It is a very important part of the whole process.
“It has the power to make recommendations to change the bill very significantly.
“For example the case for additional tunneling which Wendover is pushing for is something which could come up from that.
“It is conceivable it will say from the evidence it has heard, it has doubts about the entire scheme. Certainly the Crossrail bill was altered and at one stage the first Crossrail bill 20 years ago was actually in effect thrown out by the committee altogether. It would be pretty difficult for the government to simply reject something that came with a powerful endorsement from the cross-party committee.”
Mr Lidington said he wanted to give action groups ‘as much help and support as I can’ to ‘present a compelling case’ to the committee.
Martin Tett, chairman of the 51m group of authorities opposed to HS2, said he was hopeful the Supreme Court will find in their favour. Opponents are appealing the High Court’s decision to dismiss their case that a full environmental assessment should have been carried out to gauge the impact of HS2.
Mr Tett said: “The Supreme Court’s decision has been long-delayed and that is hopeful – the longer they take the more likely it is they will be disagreeing (with the government) which means more chance it will be referred to the European Court which the government will hate because it will bog it down for months, if not years.”
He said such a delay ‘will give the new government in 2015 the chance to think again on this’.
Mr Tett said committee stage – if it does reach that far – will offer Bucks the chance to call for enhanced mitigation from HS2. The example of changes made to Crossrail gave cause for hope, he added.
The outcome of a consultation on compensation is also due next year.