Members of Parliament petitioning the Lords HS2 Select Committee

As you may know, Cheryl Gillan MP recently petitioned the Lords HS2 Select Committee on the issue of MPs ‘locus standi’ or the right to appear and petition the Committee on behalf of our constituents. You can view her presentation here:

http://parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/41f505d4-11c0-4ec1-977e-7ccbe3992c41

Unfortunately we were not successful in this. It was always going to be a challenge to convince the Committee that MPs should be allowed to appear as the Committee process was never intended to work in this manner, or to deal with a project of the size and scope of HS2. Lord Walker, the Committee Chair, has said that he hopes that in future the rules governing the Committee process will be adapted to be more flexible, however with the current rules the Committee has decided against awarding MPs locus standi. You can see the decision here:

http://parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/c2ce7006-18ed-4fbd-a478-860779a148e1

It is important to bear in mind that this does not mean that I will not be able to appear before the Committee as a witness to other petitioners and I intend to do this wherever possible. If you are petitioning the Committee and this is something that you would be interested in, please get in touch with my office on 020 7219 2514, or at david.lidington.mp@parliament.uk.

Yours,

David

Updated guidance on the Need to Sell scheme

As you may know the Need to Sell scheme is one of the ways in which many of my constituents are seeking compensation for the HS2 scheme. The Department for Transport have released updated guidance to the scheme which you may be interested in.

You can find a written statement on the guidance here:

www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2016-05-26/HCWS18

You can read in more detail about the changes here:

www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/525850/west-midlands-crewe-property-consultation-2015-web-version.pdf

In particular constituents may be interested to learn about changes to allow them to choose one of the valuers for the need to sell scheme:

‘Valuations for NTS and RSZ - Applicants will now be able to choose any Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) registered valuer as one of the two initial valuers. The second will continue to be from HS2 Ltd’s panel of RICS registered valuers. Should a third valuation be necessary (if the initial two are more than 10% apart), the applicant will now be able to choose the third valuer from the HS2 Ltd panel6. This change will be extended to the exceptional hardship scheme where it continues to operate on the remainder of Phase Two.’

If you have any questions regarding these changes do not hesitate to get in touch with my office at 020 7219 3432, alternatively you can email me at david.lidington.mp@parliament.uk.

Mr Lidington's presentation on Chilterns tunnelling options to the HS2 Select Committee

 

David was able to present the case for an extended Chilterns tunnel to the HS2 Select Committee last month. 

David's presentation can be read here:

http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/hs2/oral-evidence/2015-16/30_06_15_Afternoon.pdf

And viewed here:

http://parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/e6596d26-23f4-4020-a65d-1ab04e662cc7

2012/2013 Compensation Consultation

he HS2 Action Alliance, 51M (a group of councils who oppose HS2), Heathrow Hub and Aylesbury Park Golf Club all submitted judicial reviews against various aspects of the HS2 project and in March 2013 Mr Justice Ouseley ruled in favour of the Department for Transport on 9 of the 10reviews that were brought. The HS2 Action Alliance won their judicial review relating to compensation and. following the judgement the Department for Transport announced the consultation on compensation would be rerun. As a result responses to the 2012/2013 compensation consultation were not considered.

High Speed Two: Property and Compensation for London – West Midlands Consultation

Response

Introduction

As currently proposed the High Speed Two train line will have a significant impact on many areas of my constituency, including the villages of Wendover Dean, Dunsmore, Wendover and Stoke Mandeville, the town of Aylesbury and the parish of Fairford Leys. The town of Aylesbury is the largest population centre outside of London or Birmingham to be affected by HS2 with the proposed route passing within 125m of the town.  The only section of the route in The Chilterns AONB not to be in either bored tunnel or deep cutting is in my constituency, with a 16mhigh viaduct being proposed close to Wendover Dean and Dunsmore. The residents of Stoke Mandeville have also recently been informed that an 850m long maintenance loop will be located close to the village and according to information provided at Community Forums those living in Wendover will potentially have to endure up to five years of disruption while HS2 is built. Although this consultation focuses on compensation for those affected by HS2 I would like to take this opportunity to confirm that the views I expressed in my response to the 2011 consultation on HS2 have not changed.

The impact on the property market due to the HS2 scheme has been significant, one constituent has informed me that they reduced the asking price on their home from £675,000 to £500,000 but still did not receive an offer above £460,000. Understandably since the Government confirmed in January 2012 that it intends to go ahead with HS2 my postbag has been dominated by concerns relating to compensation. The numerous delays to the announcement of these proposals has caused great anxiety amongst my constituents who are being asked to accept in the national interest the development of a major rail network from which they derive much pain but no benefit. Therefore, I am pleased those affected are finally being given a chance to comment on concrete proposals. Well over 1300 constituents have contacted me about HS2 and nearly all of them have said that they expect the Department for Transport to put in place a generous and comprehensive compensation scheme should HS2 go ahead. I share my constituents’ views and think it is a matter of basic justice that my constituents are properly compensated if this scheme eventually goes ahead.  Many local action groups and individual constituents have expressed their disappointment and anger to me that the Department for Transport has refused to release information that would allow those responding to the consultation to determine if the scheme is generous as claimed by the Department. There have also been instances where the Department for Transport has admitted that the data my constituents have requested does not exist.

In my consultation response I refer to various documents, and with the exception of the consultation document and information that is contained within Hansard, I have included these in an appendix to my consultation response.  To comply with Data Protection laws I have removed the names and addresses of certain individuals.

Since the start of this consultation I have held meetings with local action groups, parish councils, elected representatives and constituents to understand their views on the proposals and also attended the Wendover Information Event. The views expressed in this consultation reflect those expressed to me by my constituents as well as my own.

Question 1. What are your views on the proposed advanced purchase scheme?

The Department for Transport has repeatedly claimed that any compensation scheme that is put in place will be generous, as shown in the various Ministerial statements that have been made[1]. I also believe there has been a perception in some sections of the media that a significant proportion of what the Government is proposing in terms of compensation for those properties within the safeguarding zone is generous. However, the vast majority of what the Department for Transport is proposing for those in the safeguarding zone, including the home loss payment, is required under law and are simply the existing legal rights of the property owner. Although there are some concessions by the Department for Transport in relation to the safeguarding zone, the true test of whether the scheme is generous is what the Department for Transport is proposing for property owners not eligible for statutory compensation, but who are still affected by HS2. I shall return to this later in my consultation response.

It is welcome that the Department for Transport has decided to accept blight notices from all property owners whose properties are entirely within the safeguarding zone, regardless of whether those properties are needed for construction. It would have been difficult for the Department for Transport morally to justify forcing individuals to remain in properties which would be extremely close to the line once it is constructed and which would also be severely impacted by the construction of HS2.

However, I am concerned by paragraph 2.6 of the consultation document which states:

For eligible property owners whose properties are only within the safeguarded area we are proposing to consider each Blight Notice on a case by case basis but to limit the issuing of Counter-Notices to exceptional circumstances. For example, under normal circumstances we would accept a Blight Notice where the garden of a typical residential property is within the safeguarded area but the property itself is not. However, where only a very small part of a much larger property is within the safeguarded area we would be more likely to serve a Counter Notice.

What would be considered a “typical residential property” varies from area to area and it is widely accepted that properties and gardens in rural areas tend to be larger than those in urban areas. It is important that the Department for Transport clarifies whether it intends to differentiate between rural and urban areas in what it considers to be a “typical residential property”. I was disappointed to learn from correspondence between HS2 Ltd and a local resident that currently there is no definition of what the Department for Transport considers a “typical residential property” or what it considers to be a “very small part of a much larger property[2].” It is important that this guidance is produced and published as quickly as possible along with the evidence that has been used in drawing up the guidance.  Given the significant impact HS2 will have on those living close to the proposed route the Department for Transport should be generous in what it considers to be a “typical residential property”.  In the absence of this guidance I am unsure how consistency can be achieved in this area. The lack of such information undermines the ability of people to make an informed response to the consultation.

The Department for Transport should also reconsider its decision to not allow landlords or those who own second homes to be able to issue a blight notice. Those property owners who own a second home in the safeguarding zone which is not earmarked for demolition may need to release the capital in their property for a variety of reasons and to deny them opportunity to do this without suffering a financial penalty is unfair. For example, there may be cases where a resident whose job requires him to live in tied accommodation (for example a solider or a clergyman) and for whom the “second home” is the only home he or she owns, with the value relied upon as part of prudent planning for retirement. There may also be cases where a property that is expected to need to be demolished is owned by someone who uses it as a second home or rents the property out and forcing them to wait until demolition of the property is imminent before offering compensation seems an unnecessary delay. 

I welcome the decision by the Department for Transport to waive the clause that required those wishing to issue a blight notice to show that they had made “all reasonable endeavours to sell” their property. This acknowledges the severe impact the HS2 proposals have had on the local property market. Evidence of this impact can be seen in a letter from the Rt Hon. Simon Burns MP to the Rt Hon. Cheryl Gillan MP which confirms that as of the 19th of December of the 409 applications to the Exceptional Hardship Scheme 279 have not received any offers whatsoever on their property[3].

Question 2. What are your views on the proposed voluntary purchase zone for rural areas?

The introduction of a Voluntary Purchase Zone (VPZ) is welcome and is a clear recognition by the Department for Transport that the impact of HS2 on local communities, both during construction and once it is operational, will be significant and extends beyond the safeguarding zone. However, while I welcome the idea of the VPZ in principle, several changes need to be made to the current proposals.

Currently the VPZ is designed to extend up to 60m from the edge of the safeguarding zone, but cannot extend further than 120m from the centre point of the line. As a result, in places where the safeguarding zone extends further than 120m from the centre of the line the VPZ is nonexistent.  HS2 Ltd, in a letter to a local resident confirms that the VPZ has been set at the size it is currently as “the Government believes it is fair to use the same coverage for those affected by HS1.”[4]  However, it is widely accepted that HS2 is profoundly different to HS1 due to the speed the trains will be travelling at, the numbers of trains due to use the line and the fact that HS1 runs alongside a six lane motorway. I do not believe comparing HS2 to HS1 is an adequate justification for the size of the VPZ. Some constituents have suggested to me that the Department for Transport has deliberately set the distance at 60m to keep the compensation bill as low as possible.  

As recognised in the consultation document the impact HS2 will have on properties varies and is based on a variety of factors, including; topography, noise, construction of the line and construction sites. One of my constituents who was accepted by the Exceptional Hardship Scheme (EHS) was deemed as being severely affected by either the construction or operation of HS2 but lived 250m from the proposed line. I have also heard of applicants to the EHS being accepted whose properties are much further from the line. I am disappointed that the Department for Transport has so far refused to release the data relating to the distance each successful application to the EHS was from the line. This data would allow those responding to the consultation to determine, by examining the distance accepted EHS properties were from the line whether the proposals being put forward now are generous as the Department for Transport claims. A common complaint from my constituents is that the Department for Transport is referring to the scheme as generous, but is refusing to release the data that could be used to examine this claim.

Given that the impact of HS2 will vary from location to location, I believe the VPZ should vary in size depending on the impact the construction or operation of HS2 will have on an area. For example, where HS2 is running on a viaduct the impact will be felt further away than when the line is in cutting or green tunnel due to the increased noise and visual effects of HS2. Therefore, the VPZ zone should be increased to take account of this. An increased VPZ should also be considered where there are large construction sites or when the possibilities for mitigation are limited.  Interestingly, the Department for Transport accepts by the creation of a Long Term Compensation Scheme and also acknowledges in the consultation document that there are properties outside the VPZ that are being impacted by HS2.

An example of an area where the VPZ should be is extended significantly is Wendover Dean, which is the only area in The Chiltern AONB where the proposed route for HS2 does not run in either bored tunnel or deep cutting. As currently proposed HS2 will run on a 16m high viaduct as it passes Wendover Dean, which will result in significant noise and visual impacts from HS2 for residents who live on either side of the valley, including Wendover Dean, Dunsmore and Rocky Lane. HS2 Ltd has admitted in meetings with local residents that mitigation options for this particular viaduct are limited and the impact of HS2 will be more significant than in other locations. Therefore, it seems only fair that the compensation arrangements for this area should be significantly more generous than currently proposed.

There also are several locations in my constituency where the safeguarding zone extends away from the proposed route for several hundred metres due to road realignments or major infrastructure work.  It is reasonable to assume that the people who live in the properties which border the safeguarding zone in these locations can expect serious disruption to their lives for potentially the next decade, if not longer. Under the current proposals these people would have to apply to the Long Term Compensation Scheme.  However, it seems only fair that this increased impact is taken into account by the VPZ being extended to include additional properties on Bacombe Lane and Ellesborough Road, Wendover; Nash Lee Lane, Risborough Road, Old Risborough Road and Marsh Lane, Stoke Mandeville; Oxford Road, Aylesbury and other similar locations along the proposed route.

The Department for Transport have argued that those in the VPZ are making the choice to move from their property due to HS2 and therefore are not entitled to compensation similar to that which residents in the safeguarding zone will receive. However, many of my constituents who reside in the current VPZ have made it clear to me that they do not believe any decision to move is a voluntary one as they did not choose to live very close to a high speed train line when purchasing their property. They have also suggested that this decision is a cost cutting exercise by the Department for Transport. I am sympathetic to their point of view as these are the people who will be living nearest to the railway line but there is no provision for them to be compensated for moving should they wish to do so. Many people move to Buckinghamshire due to the peaceful lifestyle they can expect. For those living closest to the line this is being taken away but no compensation is being offered. I believe some form of compensation should be offered to those in the VPZ who choose to accept the Government’s offer of purchasing their property.

The feedback I have received from those constituents who have been successful in their applications to the EHS is that they have concerns over those who are valuing their property. Common complaints include a lack of knowledge of the locality or the type of property being valued. It is crucial that those valuing properties for any compensation scheme that is put in place understand the local market and have experience of valuing the types of property that are likely to be eligible for the scheme in a given area.

As with the safeguarding zone, the Department for Transport is proposing, in respect of properties partially within the VPZ, to take decisions on whether to accept an application for compensation on a case by case basis. It is important, as I indicated in my reply to question one, that the Department for Transport clarifies whether it intends to differentiate between rural and urban areas in what it considers to be a “typical residential property” and publicises the guidance it will be using. It is unacceptable that no thought has yet been given on how to define a “typical residential property.” 

I am also concerned that the Department for Transport has indicated that it does not intend to reproduce maps indicating the location of the VPZ if “minor changes” to the route alignment are made. The Department for Transport does not indicate what it considers to be a minor change. I believe that the Department for Transport should reproduce maps for any changes that are made to the route alignment and inform the relevant property owners that their property is now within the VPZ or safeguarding zone. It should not be left to individual property owners to discover this. I know of one local farmer who only found out by attending the Wendover Information Event that the proposed siding at Stoke Mandeville would take a large amount of his land and possibly make his business unviable. It is morally indefensible that a citizen of this country should be treated in such a fashion by an agency of government. If he had not attended the Wendover event, when would he have discovered HS2 Ltd’s plans? The failure to reproduce new maps for changes made to the route would look like deliberate secrecy by the Department. Given the minimal cost involved and this Government’s commitment to transparency I believe this decision should be reconsidered.

The decision to operate a VPZ until one year after the line has been in operation is welcome, as this will allow those within it to determine if they wish to live with the disruption caused by construction and operation of the line. It is unclear from the consultation document if the one year cut off point is the deadline for applications to the scheme or for sales to be completed. The Department for Transport should ensure this is made clear in any documentation it publishes following the consultation to ensure those living within the VPZ are aware of what the deadline means. I would also expect the one year deadline to be the cut off time for applications rather than sales to be completed. It would be entirely unfair for a cliff edge cut off date to be imposed on people trying to move home due to HS2 when there is no need to demolish the property to construct HS2.

Currently those who are landlords or own second homes that are within the VPZ are excluded from the scheme. However, those who rent out their second homes are likely to lose a significant portion of their income as the market value of the property on the rental market will decrease due to the construction of HS2. There is also no guarantee that once construction is completed the market value will rise to a pre-HS2 level. It is also possible that those with second homes have made the decision to invest in property rather than a pension and under the current proposals these individuals will have to suffer a significant financial loss and sell their property at well below its market value to release the capital in the property for their retirement. I urge the Department for Transport to include landlords and second home owners in their final proposals.

Question 3. What are your views on the proposals for a sale and rent back scheme?

In principle the idea of a sale and rent back scheme is something I and my constituents welcome. It is important that those who have to leave their homes due to HS2 are given as much support while doing so as possible. However, as with the VPZ, changes need to be made to the current proposals.

In the consultation document the Department for Transport argues that there would be a negative impact on local communities should it end up owning a large number of properties as this could change the balance of communities. However, I believe the impact on local communities would be worse should a large number of properties be unoccupied as they have been sold to the Department for Transport and the previous owners have moved. Given the proximity of properties in both the safeguarding zone and the VPZ to HS2 I find it difficult to believe that the Department for Transport will be able to rent out these properties on the open market, especially as construction begins. However, as indicated in correspondence between myself and the Secretary of State for Transport, the Department for Transport has a strong incentive to rent out the properties it purchases where possible[5]. I see no reason why this should not be to the current occupier, who is also more likely to be willing to remain in the property than a new tenant and  believe the sale and rent back option should be extended to all those within the safeguarding zone and VPZ.  It is also important that any rent charged on properties reflects the disruption caused by HS2 to the local area.

The Department for Transport has claimed that this scheme is generous. However, the consultation document confirms a value for money test will be undertaken before a decision is taken on whether to accept a property onto the sale and rent back scheme. This does not seem generous. The consultation document goes as far as saying that unless the Department for Transport, as a minimum, can break even on a property (taking into account repairs required to bring the property up to rental standards) during the time it is expected to be rented out this is not considered good value for money.  Given that it is preferable for a property to be occupied than remain empty and to ensure those who are most affected by HS2 receive as much support as possible, I believe the Department for Transport should look again at their value for money test. It does not seem fair when a scheme costing over £16 billion is being proposed the Department for Transport is arguing over what could amount to a few thousand pounds.  My constituents have said to me that they feel allowing an individual who has to move as a result of HS2 being built to remain in their home while they make arrangements to live elsewhere, which can be a complicated and time consuming process, is an appropriate use of public money. It has also been suggested to me by my constituents that the value for money clause has been inserted in an attempt to keep the cost of any compensation scheme as low as possible.

Paragraph 3.18 of the consultation document covers the tenancy contract and confirms that a tenant would have to give up the property on receipt of reasonable notice. It is important that the Department for Transport clarifies what it considers to be reasonable notice and I would suggest that a tenant be able to give either one or two months notice that they intend to leave, while HS2 Ltd be required to give at least six months notice to allow that the tenant the opportunity to find a new property.

Question 4. What are your views on the proposed approach to the application of the hardship criteria for the long term hardship scheme for Phase 1?

In the 2011 consultation I advocated the property bond scheme as proposed by the HS2 Action Alliance and I am disappointed that the Department for Transport rejected the property bond as its preferred compensation scheme. During discussions with my constituents they have also expressed their view forcefully to me that they believe the property bond should be the compensation scheme that is put in place. Many people make the decision to live in Buckinghamshire as they like the area and the introduction of the property bond would give them confidence to stay on and test what the Department for Transport is saying regarding the minimal impact HS2 will have. If homeowners have the guarantee of the property bond, they will be more inclined to stay in their property to see what the impact of HS2 will be, as they do not have to take the risk of having to sell their home at a significant loss for fear that they may not qualify for compensation in the future. The Department for Transport should re-examine its decision to reject the property bond.

I am concerned that the current proposals do not help those who are in their late sixties or seventies, who are preparing for old age and want to move now before they become too old and frail to cope with their present home or to adjust to moving to a new area. Currently they could be expected to wait under after completion of HS2 (and potentially be in their 90’s) before being eligible for compensation and that would be under the statutory scheme only. 

This is arguably the most important section of the compensation package, as under the current proposals, the vast majority of those affected by HS2 will have to apply to the Long Term Compensation Scheme should they wish to move. Therefore, despite my firm belief that the property bond should be implemented, I also wish to make some comments on the proposed criteria that applicants to the proposed Long Term Compensation Scheme would need to fulfil to be accepted.

As I mentioned in question two, I believe that landlords and second home owners should be eligible for compensation and this also appears to be the belief of at least one of the EHS panels. These properties could be an individual’s sole source of income or part of a pension pot. When a constituent told an EHS panel that they feared that if they rented out their home they would make themselves ineligible for the EHS or a new compensation scheme the panel notes stated   “no, we would make sure this did not happen”[6]. In this case the EHS panel clearly did not understand the Department for Transport’s policy.  The Department for Transport should reconsider its decision to exclude those who own a second home.

The Department for Transport has proposed that there should be no upper limit in relation to the distance properties need to be located from the proposed route for HS2 to be eligible for compensation. I agree that there should be no set upper limit as the impact of HS2 will be different in different locations. However, I believe the decision by the Department for Transport to have no upper limit in relation to distance for applications to the Long Term Hardship Scheme because the impact of HS2 will vary is at odds with its decision to have a set distance for the VPZ.

My constituents have expressed serious concerns over the “Efforts to Sell” criterion as currently proposed. The current proposals require a property to have been on the market for 12 months prior to the application being made and no offers to have been received within 15% of its un-blighted, open market property price. I acknowledge that the new scheme is designed to be able to take into account circumstances which will not be relevant for several years into the future. However, the requirement for a property to have been on the market for 12 months to be eligible for the scheme seems excessive and is incompatible with a pregnancy or the need to take up a new job in a different area of the country.  I note that both of these situations are given by the Department for Transport as examples of people who would be eligible for the Long Term Compensation Scheme.

Any new compensation scheme will also need to cater for those people who would have qualified under the old EHS criteria and have an urgent need to sell. Although the new scheme is designed to be more forward looking, there will still be individuals who develop an urgent need to sell their home but currently would not qualify for the scheme for 12 months. Given the Department for Transport felt three months was appropriate for the EHS scheme and the new scheme will still need to be suitable for those who would have qualified under EHS, I believe the time a property has to have been on the market for should remain at three months.  One alternative, suggested to me by a constituent, was for there to be a six month limit but with the Long Term Compensation Panels given power to waive this limit in exceptional circumstances. If the Department for Transport accepted this suggestion, I think they would need to provide illustrations of when the six month time limit could be waived to help guide potential applicants.

My constituents have pointed out to me that the Department for Transport’s reasoning for setting the time a property has to be on the market for at 12 months is because of the current difficult market conditions. However, as several of my constituents have said, this scheme is due to be in place for over ten years and it is reasonable to expect the market conditions to change (potentially several times) during this period. Therefore, using market conditions today to set the minimum time period a property has to be marketed for to be eligible for the scheme seems unwise.

Turning to the 85% threshold, according to the HS2 Action Alliance’s research using Hometrack data, the average price a property is sold at in Greater London, the South East and West Midlands is 92.5% of its asking price[7]This would suggest that the 85% threshold should be increased to 90 or 95% to better reflect the un-blighted property market.

I understand that as of the 29th of Novemberno application to the EHS has been rejected so far under the “no prior knowledge” criterion[8]. Therefore, while I do not envisage this being a contentious issue I do welcome the fact that exceptions will be able to be examined by the independent panel. One example, highlighted by a constituent, was what would happen if someone inherited a property over the next decade and subsequently wished to apply to the Long Term Compensation Scheme.

One of the fundamental problems with the current proposals is the fact that in order to qualify you have to show that you are experiencing hardship. As a result the scheme automatically excludes those whose primary reason for wanting to move is because HS2 is being built. It seems entirely fair that those who are affected by HS2 and bought their property in good faith before they became aware of the proposals should be allowed to move at no financial penalty to themselves.  If the Department for Transport is unwilling to implement the property bond scheme I believe the hardship criterion should be removed from the Long Term Compensation Scheme. The current proposals will force law abiding, hard working, taxpaying citizens to remain in their properties despite their desire to move because they cannot afford to accept a huge financial loss and move without help from the compensation scheme.  A small number of very rich residents might be able to manage this; most families could not.  

Turning to issues away from the five criteria of the scheme, I am concerned that the consultation document does not make it clear if the Secretary of State, or a Minister acting on his behalf, will continue to be involved in approving applications. It is essential that Ministers remain accountable for the scheme they put in place. A Parliamentary Question tabled by Andrea Leadsom MP[9] confirms that under the EHS a Minister makes the final decision on an application when:

(a)   The majority independent panel does not reach a unanimous decision.

(b)   The Decision Maker (a senior civil servant with delegated authority from the Secretary of State to decide on EHS applications) disagrees with the panel’s recommendation.

(c)     The panel considers that there are extenuating circumstances such that the application should be accepted even though it does not satisfy all of the EHS criteria.

 

I believe that these three criteria should remain in place. However, a Minister should only be able to overturn a decision from negative to positive or rule on a application which the independent panel felt had extenuating circumstances and therefore should be accepted. One of my constituents, at the time of their application, was the only applicant to have the recommendation of the panel to accept their application overturned by a Minister. Given the Department for Transport’s claims that this is a generous compensation scheme I do not believe that Ministers should be able to overturn positive decisions of the independent panel.

As I have commented already it is important that those undertaking valuations on properties have good knowledge of the local area and property market. Constituents who have been accepted onto the EHS have commented to me that they have been disappointed with the valuations given and felt the list of estate agents HS2 Ltd provided was not adequate to ensure a correct valuation.

Paragraph 4.18 of the consultation document states that purchase offers made to a successful applicant be time limited to six months, I believe this is a reasonable timeframe if the paragraph refers to the time an applicant has to decide whether to accept an offer. However, should this paragraph relate to the time an applicant has to complete the sale and move to a new property, I believe this to be unreasonable.

Property purchases are unpredictable and it is entirely possible that circumstances beyond an applicant’s control mean they are unable to complete the sale of their property and move within six months. If this is the Department for Transport’s intention I would suggest that they should extend the sale and rent back scheme to include the Long Term Compensation Scheme.  Therefore, should an applicant be unable to move within six months, they would have the safety net of being able to rent their current home from the Department for Transport.

A common complaint from my constituents with the EHS is that a re-application by an individual, which included additional evidence to address the panel’s concerns over a particular criterion, would be rejected on criteria on which that applicant had been accepted previously. I also raised this in person with the previous Secretary of State for Transport and her officials who had responsibility for compensation. I am therefore pleased that this anomaly has been removed in the new scheme and feel six months is an acceptable timeframe for accepted criteria to remain on an applicant’s record. 

Question 5. What are your views on the proposed process for the operation of the long term hardship scheme for Phase 1?

I welcome some of what the Department for Transport has done to improve the operation of any new scheme that is put in place. However, I do believe further improvements could be made.  

While it is welcome the panel will now see aerial photography to help improve their understanding of the impact HS2 will have on a property, it is important that the proposed route for HS2 is included in the photograph through “photoshopping” the image. I also believe photos from the applicant’s property with the HS2 route imposed should be taken and made available to the panel to give a ground level impression of the impact.

It is disappointing that the proposals rule out site visits by the panels entirely. I would suggest that it should be left to each panel to determine if they feel a site visit would be of use dependent on the circumstances of the application. I can understand the Department’s desire to process applications quickly which has led them to rule out personal appearances at panel meetings. However, many of my constituents who have applied to the EHS have expressed a desire to explain to the panel in person why they need to move. Therefore, if the Department for Transport feels unable to allow personal appearances at panel meetings, it should consider allowing applicants to include a personal statement with their application. This personal statement could be limited to two sides of A4 and be either handwritten or in a stipulated font and size should an applicant wish to word-process their statement. This would give applicants the chance to explain in their own words why they need to move and would add negligible time to the application process. Appeal panels on school admissions deal routinely with such statements (in that case both written and oral) from parents. I do not see why there should be any difficulty over the principle of a personal statement being considered by the Long Term Compensation Scheme panels.

From my experience of dealing with EHS applications through constituency correspondence, one of the chief reasons for an application being rejected has been that the panel felt not enough evidence had been provided to prove one or more of the criteria. This has resulted in some applicants having to submit several applications before being accepted. Therefore, I welcome the intention to publish a detailed guidance document to help those applying to the scheme decide what evidence to include with their application. I would expect this to reduce the number of reapplications as a result of insufficient evidence being provided.

My final comments regarding this question relate to a specific EHS application. One of my constituents who applied to the EHS was asked to prove that they did not have an ISA. It was incredibly difficult for my constituent to prove they did not have an ISA as evidence to prove something does not exist is by definition usually impossible to produce. I would suggest that applicants to a new scheme should not be required, at their own expense, to prove a negative to satisfy the panel. However, should an applicant be found to have deliberately lied on their application then the full force of the law should be used to pursue them.

Question 6. What are your views on the Government’s proposals to restore confidence in properties above tunnels?

Currently the proposed route for HS2 does not pass through my constituency in a bored tunnel and the fact that I have received no correspondence from my constituents related to this question reflects this.

It is important that the Department for Transport ensures that any adverse impacts caused to properties above tunnels as a result of the tunnelling process either during or after it is completed are remedied at no cost to the property owner as quickly as possible.

I would encourage the Department for Transport to ensure that its final proposals ensure this will be the case.

Question 7. What are your views on how the Government should work with local authorities, housing associations and affected tenants to agree a joint strategy to replace any lost social rented housing?

No social housing is due to be demolished or built in my constituency as a result of HS2 and as with question 6 I have received no correspondence on this issue from my constituents.

I welcome the proposal to replace any demolished social housing with high quality replacements and that, where practical, this will be in the same area. I would expect that any new housing that is required as a result of construction of HS2 to be provided before the old housing is demolished and the rebuild of Euston should be designed so this can happen.

Although it is for local authorities and housing associations to decide on housing allocations it seems reasonable that those being forced to leave their current property should be given first priority on the new housing stock.

Conclusions

I welcome the fact that these proposals have finally been brought forward to allow those affected by HS2 to comment. Compensation has understandably been part of my constituents’ thinking on HS2 over recent months and it is crucial that a generous and comprehensive scheme is put in place as soon as possible.  The analysis of the consultation responses and the publication of the Department for Transport’s new proposals should be done as quickly as possible, while ensuring the problems of the previous consultation are not repeated.

Much of what is being described as generous in this scheme by the media and the Department for Transport is already required under law or was used for HS1 and the proposals as a whole have left my constituents with feelings of disappointment and anger. They feel they are being asked to accept a lower quality of life supposedly in the national interest, but the compensation being offered does not reflect the sacrifice they are being asked to make.

It is important that changes are made to these proposals, ideally through the introduction of the property bond or removal of the hardship criteria to ensure those who wish to move because of HS2 are able to do so. The Department for Transport should also give consideration to allowing those with second homes to apply for compensation and recognising the different impacts of HS2 in different locations and adjust the VPZ accordingly.

I look forward to reading the Government’s response to the consultation as soon as possible.

 

 

[1] Hansard 12th July 2012 Columns 61WS & 62WS- Written Ministerial Statement by the Rt Hon. Justine Greening (previous Secretary of State for Transport) and Hansard 25th October 2012 Columns 68WS, 69WS & 70WS Written Ministerial Statement by the Rt Hon. Patrick McLoughlin (Secretary of State for Transport)

[2] Letter from HS2 Ltd to a local resident dated 20.12.12

[3] Letter from the Rt Hon. Simon Burns MP to the Rt Hon. Cheryl Gillan MP

[4] Letter from HS2 Ltd to a local resident dated 20.12.12

[5] Letter from the Secretary of State for Transport to the Rt Hon. David Lidington MP dated 7th of January 2013

[6] Panel notes of an EHS applicant by a constituent

[7] Letter from the HS2 Action Alliance to Alison Munro dated the 7th of January 2013

[8] Hansard 29th November 2012 column 448W

[9] Hansard 13 June 2012 column 425N

2011 Consultation Response

Response from the Rt Hon. David Lidington MP

Member of Parliament for Aylesbury

 

Introduction

I represent the villages of Wendover and Stoke Mandeville, the town of Aylesbury and the parish of Fairford Leys, all of which will suffer serious harm if route three goes ahead, and the villages of Hughenden, Bryants Bottom, North Dean, Speen and Lacey Green, which would be affected by route 2.5.  Up to the 2010 General Election, I also represented the villages of Great Missenden, South Heath and Ballinger and the parish of Ellesborough, all affected by route three.

Since Lord Adonis’s announcement in March 2010, HS2 has dominated my constituency postbag, mailbox and even informal conversations in the constituency.  As of 25 July 2011, I have received letters and emails regarding HS2 from 797 constituents. Five of these representations supported HS2; the remainder expressed opposition to the scheme.  I have attended five packed public meetings, during 2010 in Wendover, Speen and Great Missenden, and during 2011 in Wendover and Stoke Mandeville.   The Speen meeting had to be held outside because no local venue was big enough to hold all those who attended.  At the other meetings, people had to stand outside the hall and try to listen through open windows because the village hall was full. Others had to be turned away.  There have been further public meetings which I was not able to attend in Aylesbury and Fairford Leys and I have received a petition from residents in Walton Court and the surrounding neighbourhood which the organisers are sending in to the consultation.

I have attended the HS2 Ltd roadshows at Stoke Mandeville and Wendover. I have had separate meetings regarding HS2 with local council members and officers and at various times with representatives of Wendover HS2, the Speen Area HS2 Action Group, the Stoke Mandeville Action Group, HS2 Action Alliance, the Chilterns Conservation Board, the Chiltern Society, the Chiltern Countryside Group, the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust, and the National Trust.

This issue has aroused more passionate feeling locally than any other constituency issue in my nearly 20 years’ service in the House of Commons.

While my constituents first took a detailed interest in HS2 because it affects their communities directly, it is also clear to me from countless communications and correspondence that they would be willing (with reluctance) to accept this scheme if they were persuaded that it is genuinely in the national interest.  In fact, as people have studied the case put forward by HS2 Ltd and the Department for Transport, they have become more and more convinced that the economic and environmental case being put forward in favour of the proposal is seriously flawed. 

I do not believe that the questions around which the consultation is structured address properly the environmental or the economic arguments around HS2. Having made that point, I shall nevertheless make my comments within the framework of those unsatisfactory questions and try to summarise the key arguments made by my constituents.

Q1.  Do you agree that there is a strong case for enhancing the capacity and performance of Britain’s inter-city rail network to support economic growth over the coming decades?

While there is clearly a need to improve our national transport infrastructure to encourage economic growth and, in particular, to address the lack of capacity on the southern stretches of the West Coast Main Line, it is very far from clear that HS2 as currently proposed is the right answer to those challenges.  The central point made to me by constituent after constituent is that there are other and better ways to meet these challenges which have the advantage of being less expensive and less environmentally destructive than HS2, and which would benefit a much greater number of people than the minority who could afford the premium fares that HS2 would need to charge.

Few of my constituents would argue that building an inter-city high speed rail network would have absolutely no positive effect on economic growth, but they are clear that such a proviso alone is not enough to justify any capital project at any price.  Rather, the return on investment must be significant enough to justify the financial and environmental cost, and the evidence indicates that HS2 would not create enough economic growth to make it justifiable. (I try to address this issue in more detail under question two).

The majority of representations made to me regarding HS2 express concern and even disbelief at the Government’s proposal to commit £17.1bn of taxpayers’ money at a time when the country is facing major spending cut-backs.  Of course the bulk of the spending would not be required until after the current Parliament, by which time it is anticipated that the structural deficit will have been eradicated.  Nevertheless, my constituents feel that the level of public spending associated with HS2 is entirely at odds with the Government’s message of fiscal restraint.  They feel that lessons should be learned from the level of debt that Britain managed to accumulate in recent years, and that public spending commitments of this magnitude should only be undertaken if absolutely necessary. 

Many of my constituents have argued that the link between improved inter-city transport and economic growth will be weakened in the future, as advances in technology will lead to lower demand for inter-city travel for business purposes.  This is because businessmen and women will be able to communicate through improved broadband connections and greater use of video-conferencing rather than face-to-face meetings.  Even if this trend were not to lead to a fall in real terms in the future demand for rail travel, it may still mean that current estimates for future growth in demand are over-optimistic.  Given the major shifts in the way people have communicated over the last two decades, it does not seem unreasonable to expect that further advances will have taken place by 2026, when the Birmingham leg of the proposed network is supposed to open.

Many constituents have also questioned the relationship between improving inter-city transport and achieving increased productivity.  This may not be improved by shorter rail journeys: many have pointed out that as the route to Birmingham terminates at Curzon Street in the city’s Eastside regeneration area, much of the 35 minute time-saving in the journey from London would be lost in the onwards journey into the New Street area.  Many constituents have pointed out that time spent on a train is productive anyway due to the use of laptops and blackberries, and a small number even claim that time on a train is among their most productive as they are isolated from the normal distractions of the office.  Although it is true that such productivity cannot be achieved if trains are so overcrowded that one cannot find a vacant seat, this counter-argument assumes that HS2 is the only way of improving railway capacity, which of course is not the case.

My constituents are far from convinced that there is sufficient evidence that improving Britain’s inter-city rail network would improve the ‘North-South divide’.  Little data has been produced to support this assertion; nor has the term ‘North-South divide’ in this context been defined.  It can be argued that a high-speed rail network would worsen any economic disparities between the North and South of England by enabling human capital resources to be more easily diverted away from the Northern cities and to London.  Given that 70 per cent of passengers are predicted to be using HS2 for leisure, it seems likely that many of these will be Midlands and Northern residents travelling to London for sightseeing purposes (more so than vice-versa).  Some constituents have reminded me that 70 per cent of the jobs created by HS2 would be in London, as opposed to the Midlands or the North. 

Q2. Do you agree that a national high speed rail network from London to Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester (the Y network) would provide the best value for money solution (best balance of costs and benefits) for enhancing rail capacity and performance?

I have received several highly detailed critiques of the benefit-to-cost ratio (BCR) for HS2 from constituents.  One common complaint has been that the demand forecasts for future inter-city rail travel are unrealistic.  Demand for Eurostar’s London to Paris line in 2009 was just 37 per cent of the predicted 2006 level.[1]  The detailed analysis carried out by HS2 Action Alliance showed that more than 90 per cent of rail projects have been subject to overestimated demand, by an average factor of over two.[2]  Although passenger growth has increased since 1995 from under 40 to over 60 billion passenger kilometres, it should be noted that growth between 1952 and 1995 was stagnant despite large increases in GDP per capita.[3]  Much of the post-1995 growth can be attributed to more sophisticated pricing mechanisms and a more enjoyable onboard experience.  My constituents are concerned that this rate of growth will not continue for as long as the Department for Transport expects (ie: until 2043).       

My constituents are also particularly concerned that a project of such expense may go ahead when it has a BCR of as little as 1.6 (for the first phase).  Even the previous estimate of 2.4, published in March 2010, was considered a low return for such a large outlay.  The fact that the BCR for the entire ‘Y’ network was cut by almost half, from 4 in March 2010 to 2.2 in February 2011, has caused many of my constituents to question the reliability of the measurement at all.  Some have drawn my attention to work by HS2 Action Alliance, which claims that the revised BCR remains overinflated because it compares the benefits of HS2 to a scenario which underestimates the improvements to capacity which could be achieved by upgrading the West Coast Main Line (WCML).  The BCR assumes that up to 18 trains will run per hour, which some constituents are unconvinced will be possible.  I have also been told that it ignores improvements to the current network which may occur over the next 30 years, including some which are already being planned by railway operators. 

My constituents are concerned about the fare levels that the business case for HS2 relies on.  The main consultation document of February 2011 contains surprisingly little information regarding pricing strategies for HS2, and yet it seems that these would be likely to have a strong effect on the level of demand and therefore the BCR, particularly if premium fares were introduced.  Some constituents have also expressed concern that premium fares would price most travellers out of the market and allow only the wealthy to benefit from HS2.  This fear is underlined by the fact that those in the top household income quintile already make as many as 47 per cent of long distance rail journeys every year.[4]  Many fear that they will be expected to pay through their taxes for a railway that they will not be able to afford to use.     

One theme that has become increasingly common in my constituency inbox in the recent months has been Rail Package Two (RP2).  Many constituents argue that this upgrade package could offer several of the benefits of HS2 at a fraction of the cost, and in a sample of cases they have engaged in depth with the data provided by both the Department for Transport and HS2 Action Alliance to demonstrate this.  Some claim that RP2 could deliver a capacity increase of 151 per cent.  A paper published by DfT itself in March 2011 gives RP2 a BCR of 1.9 (compared to the 1.6 figure for HS2), and at a gross capital cost of just £4bn (compared to £17.8bn for HS2).[5]  RP2 could also be completed much sooner than 2026, and would not be as crowded as HS2 (HS2 Action Alliance claims that RP2 has a load factor of 51 per cent, compared with 58 per cent for HS2).[6]       

Finally, I would challenge the assumption of this consultation question: that it is possible to make a well-informed decision on the BCR for the entire ‘Y’ network, when detailed data (including a route) exists only for the first phase up to Birmingham.      

Q3. Do you agree with the Government’s proposals for the phased roll-out of a national high speed rail network, and for links to Heathrow Airport and the High Speed 1 line to the Channel Tunnel?

The Consultation Document assumes that trains will leave and arrive at Euston station every few minutes. This would mean many thousands of additional passengers having to be absorbed both by Euston Station and by London’s transport system getting people to and from their HS2 journey. I question whether the infrastructure of the London tube and bus network would be able to cope.

Q4. Do you agree with the principles and specification used by HS2 Ltd to underpin its proposals for new high speed rail lines and the route selection process HS2 Ltd undertook?

Some constituents have written to me to challenge the principle that trains must travel as fast as 225mph to achieve the status ‘high speed’.  They have argued that a top speed of less than this figure would still constitute ‘high speed rail’, and would allow more flexibility with the route, as it would not need to be so straight.  They argue that this would afford more scope for lessening the impact on the Chilterns AONB, and that the speed lost would not be missed because inter-city distances within the United Kingdom are relatively short when compared with rail networks in continental Europe, Asia or North America.   One key local stakeholder has informed me that Decision No 1692/96/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 July 1996 states that high speed rail can be defined as speeds of 250km/h (155mph) on purpose-built lines, or 200 km/h (124 mph) on upgraded lines.[7]  

I should also reflect the intense anger of my constituents at the way in which route three has been described by the promoters of HS2 as running along an existing transport corridor comparable to the route taken for the HS1 Channel Tunnel link. The A413 between Amersham and Wendover is (with the exception of about a mile of dual carriageway just west of Amersham) a single carriageway rural road. The existing Chiltern Line branch from Aylesbury to Amersham runs alongside, carrying a two or three carriage train half-hourly for much of the day. Rather than running alongside existing routes, HS2 route three would cut across the existing road and rail lines at right angles at Stoke Mandeville, while there is no existing transport corridor at all around the western perimeter of Aylesbury and Fairford Leys where route three is planned to run. To describe route three as running along an existing transport corridor might just about make sense if the comparison were with route 2.5, which cuts through virgin countryside and very narrow lanes, but to compare it with the HS1 corridor is wrong.

Q5. Do you agree that the Government’s proposed route, including the approach proposed for mitigating its impacts, is the best option for a new high speed rail line between London and the West Midlands?

The single most common theme in all of the representations made to me by constituents and key local stakeholders is the serious concern at the proposal to route HS2 through the Chilterns.  The Chilterns is one of only two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) to have a statutory conservation board, and is the only one between London and Birmingham.  It would be difficult to understate the anger felt by my constituents at a willingness to alter irreversibly this environmentally important and protected landscape.  The landscape damage would be significant. Twenty-four woods would be damaged, of which 12 hectares are ancient, and 13,700 metres of hedgerow would be destroyed.[8]  This would be a loss not just for my constituents, but for the nation as a whole, since the Chilterns has been designated by successive governments as an Area of Outstanding Beauty whose landscape is of national importance and for that reason deserving of special protection. There are more than 55 million visits to the Chilterns AONB each year, many for walking or cycling purposes.[9]  Ten sites of special scientific interest would be affected by HS2.[10]  The proposals would have a serious impact on local habitats and wildlife populations.  The security fence that would be erected alongside the railway line would inevitably split habitats in two, contradicting the approach to conservation and the natural environment set out in the Government’s White Paper, ‘The Natural Choice: Securing the Value of Nature’, published in June 2011. 

National planning guidance in the form of Planning Policy Statement Seven gives equal protection to National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. In the case of either, there is a presumption against any inappropriate development unless such development can be shown both to be in the overriding public interest and impossible to carry out by any means which avoid intruding upon those specially protected areas of landscape.  I have not found anyone in my constituency, nor any reputable conservation group, that is prepared to argue that these conditions, set out in national planning guidance, have been met in the case of HS2.

A small number of constituents have raised more detailed concerns regarding archaeological sites which may be damaged by HS2.  These include prehistoric, Iron Age, and Roman finds at Hartwell, and the possible site of the Battle of Edgecote just outside the village of Chipping Warden.

I should add here that my constituents are angry and frustrated at the refusal so far of either the Department for Transport or HS2 Ltd to provide information about their preliminary thinking about access roads to construction sites, depots for building materials, camps for construction workers or arrangements for dealing with spoil. It is impossible to make a fully informed judgement about the environmental impact of what is proposed or the compliance of the scheme with PPS 7 without such information.

A large number of my constituents believe that even to discuss mitigation would be to concede the principle that they believe the scheme to be deeply and irredeemably flawed on both economic and environmental grounds. My comments on mitigation need to be understood in that context.

If route three is built, then my constituents in the ancient market village of Wendover will strongly wish for the line to pass through the area in a 2.8km bored tunnel of the type described in a report by HS2 Ltd of November 2010, as opposed to a 300m ‘cut and cover’ tunnel (the Government’s current preferred option).[11]  The former alternative would dramatically reduce the visual and noise impact of HS2 on the local community.  Some constituents in Wendover are not convinced by HS2 Ltd’s estimate that a bored tunnel would cost £300m more than a ‘cut and cover’ one.  They argue that a bored tunnel would lead to significantly fewer claims for compensation due to loss of value of property, and would remove the need for the permanent Ellesborough Road diversion (mentioned as a possibility in map nine); both of which would offset much of the increased cost of the tunnel.

Constituents in the outskirts of Aylesbury and Fairford Leys have expressed concern that route three has been moved 75-100m closer to them, in order to help mitigate the impact of the route on Hartwell House.  They fear that the noise impact on their community would be worsened as a result of this proposal. I believe that the National Trust now supports the idea of a bored tunnel to protect the inalienable National Trust land and Grade One listed Jacobean Manor at Hartwell. My understanding from the National Trust is that for a bored tunnel to protect Hartwell House, it would have to start somewhere between Wendover and Stoke Mandeville and resurface somewhere north of Stone. While this would mean a considerable additional cost, the expense would be a fraction of what it is proposed to spend building even just the first phase of HS2, and would spare my constituents in Stoke Mandeville and Aylesbury (particularly residents of the Hawkslade and Walton Court estates) from the prospect of a high speed rail route running on an embankment or viaduct close to their homes.

Whether or not a tunnel is built, I believe that some better way needs to be found at Stoke Mandeville than the current plan to run the A4010 on a bridge over the top of HS2 which itself would be on a viaduct. The consequence would be massive visual intrusion and noise nuisance for my constituents in the village.

Mitigation should not only include measures to reduce the noise impact and visual intrusion of any development but also adequate provision for the restoration of all rural lanes, public rights of way and landscapes that would inevitably be damaged during construction. When members of Buckinghamshire County Council and Aylesbury Vale District Council visited Kent to gauge the long-term impact of HS1, they were dismayed at the evidence that restoration work had not been done. Lanes that had been widened to allow for construction traffic had not been restored to their original state. Footpaths and bridle paths remained severed. In a designated AONB there should be no quibbling over making much better provision for restoration and the responsibility for that should be accepted by the DfT.

Q6. Do you wish to comment on the Appraisal of Sustainability of the Government’s proposed route between London and the West Midlands that has been published to inform this consultation?

My constituents should have had sight of a full Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of HS2 before or at least alongside the current public consultation.  This is because the Government is consulting on, amongst other things, the very principle of high speed rail in the UK, and I believe that a full assessment of the environmental costs of such a scheme should play an integral part in that decision-making process.  I am not convinced that the Appraisal of Sustainability (AoS) contains adequate detail for people to make an informed decision regarding HS2.  For instance, the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, and OxfordshireWildlife Trust has informed me that known wildlife habitat sites along the route have not been mentioned in the AoS.

Given the obligation of the Government to cut carbon emissions by eighty per cent of their 1990 levels by 2050, my constituents are concerned that a £32bn major infrastructure project is being considered when it is only carbon neutral.  

My constituents are particularly concerned about the level of noise that HS2 will cause.  An EIA would presumably have included noise maps with isochrones which would have given them a considerably better understanding of how their communities would be affected by noise.  My constituents were alarmed to hear confirmation that the AoS was the result purely of desktop studies, as opposed to any field work.  Some have expressed disbelief that the DfT can say with confidence that only ten houses will suffer high noise levels as a result of HS2 (greater than 73dBLAeq18hr), without having conducted site visits to assess the contours and lay of the land in question.[12]  Appendix 5.4 of the AoS, where noise is discussed in most detail, skirts over some issues which are important to my constituents.  For instance, section 8.2 on ‘night noise’ contains fewer than 100 words.  One constituent has pointed out that although the noise created by HS2 will be less than that generated by a main road near his house, such will not be the case if trains run at night.

Q7. Do you agree with the options set out to assist those whose properties lose a significant amount of value as a result of any new high speed line?

Not even the most ardent champions of HS2 argue that my constituents will benefit from the scheme. There is no plan for a station anywhere near them. They are asked, in the national interest, to bear perhaps a decade of property blight and the disruption to their lives and neighbourhood that a construction project of this magnitude will inevitably bring, with permanent harm to their area in terms of noise and visual intrusion. On top of that, they know that their taxes will be used to finance the scheme. It is a matter of basic justice that my constituents should be properly compensated if this scheme goes ahead.

The property markets in areas of my constituency close to route three were deeply unsettled by the announcement of March 2010.  A number of constituents have contacted me detailing the difficulties they have experienced in selling their home.  One in Wendover has reduced the asking price of his house from £675,000 to £500,000, and has still not received a single offer above £460,000.  Many have not met the requirements of the Exceptional Hardship Scheme; often because they have not been able to satisfy the panel that they have an urgent need to sell their house.  They have therefore been forced to either sell their property well below its value, appeal against the decision of the panel, or continue to live in a property which for whatever reason no longer suits them.  I have some constituents who now face the loss of their life savings or bankruptcy because of the refusal by the EHS panel to help them.

If the Government does decide, as a result of the current public consultation, to go ahead with HS2, then I feel it is important that a comprehensive and generous compensation scheme is set up quickly so that confidence can return to the affected property markets.  I believe that the downturn in the most affected areas has been exacerbated by a lack of clear understanding of both the statutory blight and compensation provisions that will come into force should HS2 go ahead, and the Government’s intentions for discretionary compensation.  The Government has stated its wish to consult on a new discretionary compensation scheme in 2012 (if it decides to go ahead with HS2).  I hope that it will publish its final plans soon after and advertise them comprehensively, as the sooner these matters are clarified the better.   The HS2 Action Alliance has now published a carefully researched proposal for compensation which draws on the best practice of both public and private sector schemes and I hope that that could be the basis for any comprehensive scheme that the Government brings forward.[13]

 

[1] ‘Submission to the Transport Select Committee consultation on High Speed Rail’, The TaxPayers’ Alliance, 12.05.11, p5.

[2] ‘Inaccuracies in Traffic Forecasting’, Flyvbjerg, B., Skamris Holm, M., Buhl, S., in Transport Review, Jan. 2006, cited in ‘High Speed 2: Review of the February 2011 consultation business case for HS2’, HS2 Action Alliance, version 1.12, June 2011, p8.

[3] ‘High Speed 2: Review of the February 2011 consultation business case for HS2’, HS2 Action Alliance, version 1.12, June 2011, p8.

[4] ‘Submission to the Transport Select Committee consultation on High Speed Rail’, The TaxPayers’ Alliance, 12.05.11, p3.

[5] ‘High Speed 2 Strategic Alternatives Study: London to West Midlands Rail Alternatives: Update of Economic Appraisal’, Atkins, March 2011, cited in ‘High Speed 2: Review of the February 2011 consultation business case for HS2’, HS2 Action Alliance, version 1.12, June 2011, p34-5.

[6] ‘RP2 not HS2: Better investing in Britain’s future’, HS2 Action Alliance, March 2011, p2.

[7] http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/site/en/consleg/1996/L/01996L0048-2…, Annex I, accessed 07.07.11.

[8] ‘Submission to the Transport Select Committee Inquiry to HS2’, The Chilterns Conservation Board, 16.05.11, p6.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11]  ‘High Speed Rail: London to the West Midlands and Beyond: Line of Route Mitigation: Supplementary Report’, HS2 Ltd, 4.11.10, s.4.1-4.2.

[12] ‘HS2 London to the West Midlands: Appraisal of Sustainability, Appendix 5: AoS Technical Reports’, HS2 Ltd, February 2011, s.7.2.1.

[13] ‘Compensation for Property Blight from HS2’, HS2 Action Alliance, 20.07.11.