New EHS on Phase 2

On Monday, the Government published it’s latest guidance for Exceptional Hardship for Phase 2.

We have a number of concerns about these. People blighted by HS2 are paying an exceptionally financial and personal cost, through no decision of their own, and the compensation scheme should be generous. If the country cannot afford to compensate those losing out from HS2, it cannot afford to build HS2.

The guidance is available from the Governmert’s HS2 website – here.

The requirement to meet all five of the scheme’s criteria is necessarily restrictive.

Just a few of the issues we have with the guidance are below:

1) Owner-occupation: this states that for owner-occupiers who are currently living elsewhere, “must have lived there as their main residence for at least six months immediately prior to it being empty, so long as it has not been empty for more than 12 months”. But many people whose work involves short-term contracts living elsewhere won’t have a six month gap between jobs to occupy their home base.

2) Location: properties above tunnels are excluded, unless they are near a tunnel portal.

3) Effort to sell: this refers to the “current market”. But the property market can change very rapidly. In addition, it is common for offers made to fall through.

4) No prior knowledge of Phase Two of HS2. We are particularly concerned about this criteria, which references completion “before 28 January 2013”. The important factor here is the exchange of contracts, which is the legal commitment to buy a property and can happen some time in advance of completion.

5) Exceptional hardship: we think that a criteria based on hardship is wrong. The desire to sell should be enough, not a need to prove exceptional hardship, especially as the date for a better scheme seems to be vanishing into the distance.

What is particularly concerning is that the alternative measures seem to be delayed further and further. The July 2013 guidance stated

This [EHS] will not be the only opportunity, however, for those directly affected by the project to ask the Government to purchase their property.  Once the route of Phase Two has been developed further the Department for Transport will safeguard the route and statutory measures will come into effect.  At that stage[i.e. at Safeguarding] we will also consider options for further, long term, discretionary compensation as we are doing for Phase One.”

The January 2015 version reads:

The EHS is not the only opportunity that affected property owners will have to sell their properties in the medium to long term.  Expected at the end of 2016, statutory measures will come into force which will provide eligible property owners with the opportunity to apply for the Government to purchase their property in advance of construction.  As proposals for the line of of route for Phase two of HS2 develop further, the Government will also consider options for further, long-term, discretionary compensation.”

The link with the act of safeguarding has been removed, as has the comparison with Phase 1.  This is a major change and appears to be an attempt to forestall the widespread demands for a proper discretionary compensation scheme for Phase 2 to be put in place before safeguarding of the Fradley to Crewe section of the route takes place.

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