Though the outcome of the consultation into phase 1 of HS2 is still being analysed, some have been thinking about how public engagement could be done better and earlier for other major proposals, in particular phase 2 of HS2.
Engagement is a broader process than consultation. It should involve the public in developing solutions – if not defining the problem – rather than simply having a say once a shortlist of infrastructure proposals has been drawn up.
In December 2011 some Right Lines Charter signatories held a seminar on public engagement and High Speed Rail. A diverse range of experts discussed the range of different experiences and techniques available and the particular challenges for using them in relation to major infrastructure proposals. We are encouraging the Department for Transport to consider the findings and how they could be used in future.
- Note of seminar on public engagement and high speed rail (pdf)
- Presentation by Deborah Mattinson of Britain Thinks (pdf)
Although there is detailed case law in relation to the principles of consultation (as set out in a January 2012 Administrative Law Bar Association seminar), public engagement is a broader, context-sensitive concept that is more difficult to pin down. For example, the right to public participation in decision-making is the second of the three pillars of the Aarhus convention but the least developed. Without an effective remedy to resolve any breach, principles may be more of academic rather practical interest.
The lack of a remedy is a particular issue in relation to major infrastructure projects that are to be authorised using the hybrid bill process. Judicial review is an option of last resort, which means that all alternative remedies – such petitioning against a bill – should be exhausted before an attempt to challenge a decision through judicial review is made. However the concept of Parliamentary sovereignty means the courts cannot overturn an Act of Parliament.
The Right Lines Charter’s ‘Next Steps’ report described the hybrid bill process as outdated and recommended that it be phased out.