Following evidence given to the HS2 Hybrid Bill Committee by Stop HS2, the committee have told HS2 Ltd to revise their plans concerning the compulsory acquisition of farmland. Up until now, HS2 Ltd had proposed to use compulsory purchase powers to buy all land needed for construction on a permanent basis, even if they only wanted it on a temporary basis during the construction of HS2.
In an evidence session this week, Stop HS2 Campaign Manager Joe Rukin told the committee:
“The problem with buying land which is only required on a temporary basis is it seems simply to be a cost-cutting exercise from HS2 Ltd, which will impact the viability of a lot of farms. What you find if HS2 buy land then they’ve [the farmer] lost the production value of that land and they are not entitled to compensation for that, the income from the sale will be subject to capital gains tax. The other significant issue will be the quality of the soil. Buying and selling back the land would remove the obligation on HS2 Ltd to give that land back in a fit state.
On Wednesday, Robert Syms MP, the chair of the committee issued this statement:
“A number of petitioners, including the Country Landowners Association, the National Farmers Union and Joe Rukin have argued persuasively on farm land-take. We may come back to these broad issues, but we encourage HS2 to work up a licence model, whereby farmers can retain a right of access and inspection onto land being acquired temporarily. HS2 should collaborate with a cross-section of affected parties and stakeholders on suitable terms for that model licence, and clearly that would avoid some of the tax problems that we’ve heard earlier already. I think that is the direction that HS2, I think, want to go, but we’ve just given you a nudge in that direction as well.”
The committee also asked for more information about the new ‘Need to Sell’ compensation scheme, which is due to come into operation in January, so that they can make early suggestions for change, including a speeding up of the application process.
In the evidence session on Tuesday, Mr Rukin also expressed concerns that rural businesses such as pubs would not be compensated for lost trade during construction and HS2 Ltd currently have the right to increase the height of the line by anything up to 3 metres, which Stop HS2 believe they will exercise because they have never adequately shown how they intend to deal with the spoil left over from building by HS2. Stop HS2 were also extremely concerned about the admission from HS2 Ltd that the plans for Euston station redevelopment had ‘no business case’ and were ‘not a fundable solution’, as this may lead to cost cutting measures being employed elsewhere. This also lead to questioning about the likelihood of the assurances HS2 Ltd are making to petitioners actually happening, as it seems they would be the first thing to be dropped if HS2 goes even more over budget.
On the issue of HS2 Ltd ‘buying off’ petitioners, Mr Rukin told the committee:
“We have been made aware of literal attempts to buy people off in terms of them not appearing to petition. In some cases these appear to be more generous than the general compensation schemes being offered, such as: triple glazing, sound insulation in roof cavities, offers to build extensions to retain property value, and indeed cash. If you are offering people these sorts of services beyond the current compensation distances, then this should be something that is offered to everyone within those distances.”
Afterwards, Joe Rukin said:
“We are greatly encouraged by way the committee of MPs adjudicating on the HS2 plans have responded so far. They have agreed that the way HS2 Ltd wanted to deal with farmers was unfair. With HS1 it wasn’t until the process got to the House of Lords that a similar decision was made, so the fact they have agreed that it is wrong to take away land that is only wanted for construction purposes, without compensation for loss of earnings, so early in the process is a great sign, and on top of the decision to have a tunnel at Lichfield, this will give petitioners renewed hope that the committee may well rule in their favour.”
“When so many people have relied on their local action group, parish council and residents association or indeed national organisations like Stop HS2 to petition on their behalf, it is completely unfair for HS2 Ltd to offer special deals simply to reduce the number of petitioners and speed along the parliamentary process, when there are people who are hit more by HS2 who are getting nothing. This approach demonstrates clearly that HS2 Ltd do not care about the people affected by HS2, they just care about getting this ridiculous project through as fast as possible, no matter what the human cost.”