‘Working together’ on Camden’s HS2 offensive

06-paul braithwaiteTHE HS2 opposition in Camden sounded quite the love-in this week, Labour and the Lib Dems working together, hand in hand to convince shadow transport minister Maria Eagle to ask for the Camden leg of the rail link to be delayed. Lib Dem Paul Braithwaite explained: “This is an excellent example of the local Lib Dem opposition party working effectively with Camden’s Labour administration and together made a breakthrough.”

Such misty bonhomie, however, was not extended in the Labour reaction to claims that Lib Dems had such an important role in this change of heart. Gospel Oak councillor Maeve McCormack tweeted: “Seriously? That’s like when the Apprentice candidates say they were crucial to the team’s success just before they get fired.”

And the idea of friendly teamwork seems to have been forgotten amid some combative questions laid down for the Labour leadership at next month’s council meeting from Braithers himself. They talk less about breakthroughs and more about expensive defence tactics in ‘silly season’.

He’ll ask:

In January Camden commissioned independent consultants Lambert Smith Hampton, Regeneris and Pell Frischmann to evaluate the costs to Camden of HS2.  That report was presented in draft in early May and finalised at the end of June. What was the total cost of this valuable study, which concluded the replacement housing alone would be £430m and the full cost to Camden would be circa £1bn?
What was the rationale to holding publication back to 6 August, conventionally regarded as the height of “the silly season”?
Camden’s press release on 2 August “invited bids” from journalists for interviews with Councillor Leach and/or Councillor Hayward which would only be accepted from 3.00pm on Friday afternoon.  What editorial coverage was achieved for this expensive and valuable report?
QUESTION 15 (Written)
On 15 April, in answer to a question in full Council from me on the cost of taking the HS2 Judicial Review ruling to the Appeal Court, Councillor Leach’s written answer estimated “the worst case scenario for the appeal is £20,000.”  With hindsight, what was the true cost, including Camden’s share of the government’s costs against award, which it is believed dwarfed that estimate?
For the second time in four months, a decision by the Leader was made behind closed doors with no right of call-in to proceed with hugely expensive legal appeals against the High Court’s judgement against Camden and 14 other authorities in the 51M group which were rejected outright on all nine grounds. Had Camden accepted that ruling in March the legal costs to Camden residents would appear to be of the order of £40,000. Can the Leader confirm that the extra cost of her two unilateral decisions to appeal may prove to cost Camden’s council tax payers, worst case, as much as a further £100,000 if costs against are again awarded?
The Opposition has been denied (at the time of submission) any opportunity, despite repeated written requests, to see the substantiation and officer report, is this the Leader’s idea of democracy in action – with no stress testing examination of the evidence, even from her own backbenchers?
When the leading authority in 51M (Bucks) threw in the towel and backed away from progressing to the Supreme Court, leaving Camden with only five other Authorities of the original 15 to bear the cost, why did not the Leader quit this expensive legal pursuit?

1 Comment on ‘Working together’ on Camden’s HS2 offensive

  1. There’s a differences between agreeing between Camden’s political parties on the strategic objectives against HS2, which we do, and wishing to stress-test the tactics of Labour’s expensive decisions to pursue to the “nth degree” (and hang the cost) appeal proceedings to the Supreme Court.

    Shining the spotlight on questionable decisions is an important role of opposition parties when it comes to rate-payers money. The Labour administration is challenging High Court judgements made in favour of government against 15 local authorities. The Appeal Court also found against the local authorities. At which point the majority of those local authorities walked away, including the leading authority, Bucks. This left Camden and a handful of others taking a big risk of the Supreme Court awarding costs against, which would be a lot of Camden’s good money after bad. The fact is that on this we’re in the dark: There’s been no opportunity for call-ins, no published officer papers to substantiate the decision to proceed and no transparency. Asking questions to full Council is an attempt to throw some light on a decision made behind closed doors. It doesn’t indicate any loss of consensus in fighting HS2 as a united front strategically.

    In the last three years I’ve had literally dozens of letters published, speaking up for Camden Town residents and businesses against HS2 and the Link and I’ve attended countless local meetings on HS2. I recall Theo calling me a “Lib Dem foghorn” eight years ago and I wear that badge with pride.

    Yes, I do regard Maria Eagle’s comments as a breathrough, but I’m working towards Norman Baker MP, the actual under-secretary-of-state for Transport (who is government not opposition) making the same committment – hardly Apprentice stuff!

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