Washwood Heath: assurances versus undertakings

The ongoing saga of the Washwood Heath area, a massive brownfield site with huge potential for regeneration, seemed to be reaching a conclusion last week, when Liam Byrne MP, Jack Dromey MP, and Shabana Mahmood MP announced the launch of a new East Birmingham Growth Prospectus.

This was picked up by the  Birmingham Post who said that “LDV site at Washwood Heath has been freed up by HS2 to allow development there” – we included a link to the article in yesterday’s roundup of recent news items.

However, the headlines were misleading, as a clarification notice from BNP Paribas Real Estate UK, points out. They say:

“BNP Paribas Real Estate advises a significant number of industrial occupiers and property owners in the path of HS2, from Water Orton through Castle Bromwich and into the proposed Curzon Street Station site, and has been engaging with the HS2 team since 2011, seeking to manage the effect of blight on our client’s property. This work has included negotiation of two significant ‘pre-powers’ deals and submission of numerous petitions to the Parliamentary Select Committee, all of which keeps us very close to what is factual as opposed to speculation or conjecture.

“Our Investigations assure us and our clients that there is in fact no change to HS2’s proposals and the position remains as previously stated by HS2 to the Parliamentary Select Committee:‘On the presumption that the HS2 Bill receives Royal Assent, a part of the site will be required for use as the Rolling Stock Maintenance Depot and Network Control Centre for HS2. Although the final extent of this has yet to be agreed, the City Council has agreed assurances with the Secretary of State for Transport that the land required for the operation of the railway and for the depot will be minimised as far as reasonably practicable, and that upon completion of the construction phase, residual land will be made available to the market with appropriate vehicle access in place as soon as is reasonably practicable.’

HS2 is clearly not moving the depot and neither HS2 Ltd nor the DfT has made any recent statements about the depot. The plans have not changed and there remains a commitment to look to reduce the land take as the design of the HS2 depot at Washwood Heath is refined but the safeguarded area remains as published.”

The problem for Birmingham is that the Secretary of State has issued assurances, not undertakings. As Stop HS2 has said before – see A cautionary note if HS2 Ltd make you an offer and Assurances from HS2 Ltd: More unhelpful things from the blogosphere – assurances are not legally binding in the way that undertakings are.

We suggest that Birmingham City Council takes note of the experiences of Kent County Council.

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