Despite a ruling that HS2 Ltd have been ordered to disclose information over their Exceptional Hardship Scheme (EHS) for Stage 1 of HS2, HS2 Ltd have been keen to spin this away with the fact there has been a ‘strong response’ to their closed consultation on the final scheme for Stage 1. On top of that, there is confusion over the current EHS consultation proposals for Stage 2 and the Woolwich are trying to backtrack on their recent ‘zero valuation’ of a home in Turweston, but don’t seem to know which way to go.
Speaking about the consultation on final Stage 1 compensation, HS2 Ltd chief spin doctor Clinton Leeks, said:
“While it is too early to give specifics, we have received a strong and encouraging level of responses to the consultations on property compensation and safeguarding. We recognise the impact major infrastructure projects like HS2 can have on local communities, and that is why the Government has been consulting on a package of property compensation measures which go beyond what is set out in law.”
Of course what he missed from that statement was whether anyone’s views will actually be listened to, especially as the consultation documents ruled out the implementation of a property bond, which had been heavily supported in the two previous Stage 1 compensation consultations. Nothing on the table seems to actually promise to fully compensate blight, with the majority of effected homeowners due to be dumped in the ‘Long Term Hardship Scheme’, which will be a harder to access version of the current EHS, which as at January 1st 2013 had paid out just 16% of applicants in two and a half years of operation.
The key issue is how far away (or more rightly how close to) from the line people will have to be to automatically qualify. Currently the Government is proposing that to absolutely qualify for compensation, you will have to live within 120 metres of the centre line between the proposed tracks. But in a key ruling, the appeal court has told HS2 Ltd that they must disclose how far away successful applicants to EHS live.
After being turned down for EHS, Ian Helstrip sent in a freedom of information request asking how far away people receiving EHS had lived, as he was turned down for EHS because he ‘lived too far away from HS2’. The FOI request was turned down, but an appeal tribunal headed by Judge Chris Ryan said;
‘We conclude, unanimously, that HS2 was not justified in refusing the Appellant’s request for information and that it should be disclosed to him. ’We have decided that HS2 was not entitled to withhold information about the distance between the route of the proposed line and the property which was furthest away from it, but had nevertheless qualified for assistance under EHS (Exceptional Hardship Scheme). ‘We think that HS2’s expressed fear about the public’s inability to understand the disclosed information does not give the public enough credit for its ability to delve behind over-simplified media headlines or slanted statements from pressure groups. It does not require information to be withheld from the public as though, in the words of the Appellant’, the public was not sufficiently grown up to be trusted with it.’
This information could of course be seen in future to have set a precedent. HS2 Ltd have until the first week of March to respond.
Last week, we reported on the case of 97-year old Elfrida Harper-Tarr MBE, who was unable to sell her house in Turweston which is 450 metres from the proposed route after the Woolwich, acting for the buyers, valued the house at £0.00. Woolwich have since been desperate to backtrack from this since, but aren’t sure what to say. One news organisation was told that the cost of renovations were the real reason, another was told that ‘not applicable’ should have been put down, with the latest spin on it being that the valuation was an administrative error. This is despite the valuation report clearly stated;
“The property is located within an area which is likely to be effected by the proposed high speed rail link HS2. In the future there will be disruption during the construction of the rail link and there will be ongoing impact affecting the quiet enjoyment of the property. The consequences of the proposal have had a significant prejudicial affect on property in the village and none have been recently sold on the open market. This property is therefore not considered a suitable security for normal lending purposes as demand is adversely affected.”
Finally, there seems to be a worrying change in the proposed rules for Stage 2 EHS. Stage 1 spoke of ‘expected sale price’, but Stage 2 is talking about ‘realistic asking price’. On face value, that sounds better, but the word ‘unblighted’ seems to have somehow disappeared…………..