Government lose nerve at the last minute on HS2 consultation

Four days before the latest HS2 consultation closes – on an Interim Exceptional Hardship Scheme (EHS) compensation scheme for the Phase 2 route – the Government has finally conceded to HS2AA’s complaints about withholding relevant information from consultees.

HS2AA have been exchanging letters for 11 weeks with HS2 Ltd on the unfairness of the consultation. In the final 12th week, with the prospect of more legal action and losing another high profile case, the Government has caved-in, and made an attempt to consult more fairly.

HS2 Ltd and DfT have now provided key new information to all consultees, and extended the consultation deadline (to 20 May), as HS2AA has maintained would be necessary.

The new material covers:

– A 14 page Supplementary Information Note that gives details about the Phase 1 EHS scheme, data on successes and failures, distances from the line and more about its rules
– Clarifications on specific terms, including correcting a crucial mistake in what was meant by the ‘realistic asking price’ that HS2AA had persistently pointed out since 8 February 2013
– A 51 page research report on blight by real estate services advisor CBRE that examined the extent of blight produced by the Phase 1 route announcement – which can be expected to be representative of Phase 2.

These are all points HS2AA raised, finally culminating in a letter to the Secretary of State after the BBC Newsnight programme (12 April 2013), making clear that the Government was repeating the same mistakes of the 2011 consultation by conducting it in an unfair manner.

Commenting on the announcement, Hilary Wharf, director, HS2AA said:
“This new information is crucial. It demonstrates beyond doubt that blight is far more extensive than the consultation documents implied. It also highlights that the reasoning for having a hardship based interim stop-gap scheme is a shabby ruse.

“The information is not always easy to interpret, and naturally the Government does not draw out its implications to help consultees, so we have analysed the CBRE research report and can show that blight equates to average losses of almost 20% for properties within one kilometre of the proposed route for HS2.

“This means that the idea that an EHS scheme is needed as a stop gap until statutory blight applies in 2016 (as is claimed) is wholly misleading. Statutory blight is mainly for properties that have to be demolished for line construction, which is a tiny few – less than 1% of those blighted. So EHS is simply irrelevant to the vast majority of people suffering blight. The whole basis of needing a hardship-based urgent reason to move is ridiculous – people can’t be expected to stay put or suffer huge losses for decades – HS2 Phase 2 won’t be running for over 20 years ie 2034.

“On top of all that Government have still not released all the blight information they have, which shows there is no real commitment to fairness.

“The EHS proposals are now revealed to be the shabby trick that they are – a means of addressing the worst hard luck cases that would otherwise attract such adverse media coverage that the Government would be forced to treat people fairly.

“The reality that the information reveals is that the Government is happy to watch their plans decimate people’s largest asset and savings, acting only if this produces “exceptional hardship”.

ends

Notes to Editors:

1.  HS2 Action Alliance is a national group making the powerful case against HS2 and fighting for fair compensation. It is a not for profit organisation working with over 90 local groups, who all believe HS2 does not represent an effective answer to the UK’s transport, economic or environmental needs. HS2AA has thousands of registered supporters across the country who are opposed to HS2.

2. HS2AA successfully judicially reviewed the unfairness of the 2011 consultation on compensation. This resulted in a high court decision in March 2013 that the consultation was “all in all so unfair as to be unlawful”. A core winning ground was that insufficient information had been given to consultees to enable them to properly respond – ie the same issue as we were raising about this Phase 2 EHS consultation.

3. HS2AA wrote four letters to HS2 Ltd and DfT over 11 weeks on why the information was deficient and inaccurate. Only after a final letter to Patrick McLoughlin  after the BBC Newsnight programme on compensation, did HS2 Ltd finally release some information. But other data is still held back eg that 67% of EHS applicants received no offer on the open market whatsoever.

4. The research report by CBRE while clearly showing blight exists is poorly presented and needs further analysis to reveal the true extent and severity of blight. HS2AA had reviewed the report (see summary) to show the real implications of CBRE figures. HS2AA gave a detailed analysis to HS2 Ltd/DfT in January 2013, and our analysis has gone unquestioned.

5. The ‘realistic asking price’ in the Phase 2 EHS should be the ‘realistic unblighted asking price’ ie with no HS2. Without the additional word the original text meant the blighted price.

6. HS2 Limited’s own figures indicate that there are over 172,000 properties located within 1km (or 250m of a tunnel) of the proposed 120 mile route of HS2 between London and the West Midlands. For the full Y network (about 330 miles) this figure is likely to be well over 300,000 – perhaps three quarters of a million people – but Government refuse to give the exact figures.

For more information please contact:
Richard Houghton
Tel: 07803 178 037
Email: richardwhoughton@gmail.com