Landowners to Feel the Brunt of HS2 Incompetence Again, as CPO Extension Refused

Landowners are set to get screwed over by HS2 at a lightning pace, at least in the short-term, following the Department for Transport refusing to give HS2 Ltd another get out of jail free card for a problem that we all saw coming.

About a month ago HS2 Ltd admitted the inevitable, that they cannot complete purchases of all the land they need on Phase One before their compulsory purchase powers run out in February 2022. Just to demonstrate how far HS2 Ltd are away from being able to complete a task which they got full powers to start properly at Royal Assent four years ago in 2017, they had been asking for a five-year extension to what was only meant to be a five-year job in the first place. Having said that, HS2 Ltd actually started to chip away at buying property along the route on the inception of HS2 and the Exceptional Hardship Scheme all the way back in 2010,

The problem for HS2 Ltd is fivefold:

  • There aren’t, and there never have been enough conveyancing professionals to get all the work done in the timescales that have been set.
  • Given all the overspends, the Treasury hasn’t released all the money they will actually need to buy the land, even though it’s all needed up front. And of course HS2 Ltd still don’t know how much it would all cost.
  • Exactly as we said they would throughout the parliamentary petitioning process, HS2 Ltd have been using temporary possession orders for land that they know they will need on a permanent basis. This has been driven by both of the points made above. Because they have known from the start that they couldn’t get the job done properly in time, they have been shafting landowners by taking land on a ‘temporary basis’ and not paying them for that land, even though they absolutely know they will need it permanently. Being disingenuous in a way only HS2 Ltd can be, some of the actual proposed track bed of HS2 is currently possessed ‘temporarily’.
  • After eleven years, eleven effing years, there is still no final design for HS2 in many places, so they STILL don’t actually know the final extent of the land which they will need. After eleven years…..
  • HS2 Ltd are a bit crap. Obviously, that is a massive understatement, but sometimes you forget how incompetent, complacent and just generally-shoddy-in-a-way-you-can’t-believe-given-the-wages-they-pay they actually are. But when they were saying that they need an extra five years to do something they were originally given five years to do but have only now got less than a year to get it all done, that should give you some idea of just how crap they really are.

So obviously, the first thing that HS2 Ltd will try and do is screw over the landowners, as they have been doing since day one. Whilst it is largely anecdotal due to HS2 Ltd insisting landowners must sign Non-Disclosure Agreements to get payments in many cases, we have been hearing for a long while stories of landowners being bullied by HS2 Ltd, not being paid and being threatened that if they do not play ball with lines like “Well, we could take more of your land you know….”

So now there is a frantic race to turn what are TPOs into CPOs (temporary possession orders and compulsory purchase orders) with the money that farmers and other landowners actually get paid looking like it is ever decreasing or ever moving toward the never-never.

Of course, there still remains the problem of having conveyancers to do the work. HS2 Ltd has a long history of biting off more than it can chew. When the Environmental Statement was done in 2013, it would have taken up pretty much all the environmental professionals in the country, apart from the fact that many of them refused to work for HS2, resulting in a rushed, inaccurate and incomplete job. More recently, it’s been quite clear that there have not been enough archaeologists to adequately investigate all the sites which have been identified, but HS2 can get away with that one, meaning many important sites of interest will just get buried beneath the tracks.

With conveyancing of course, there were these warnings six years ago from within HS2 Ltd, but your reward for pointing out such problems at HS2 was and probably still is, the sack.

On the face of it, the likely initial attitude from HS2 Ltd will be to try and screw over landowners even more than they have been doing, but is it not the case that the balance of power has just changed, and landowners are in a stronger bargaining position than they have ever been?

As things stand, HS2 will only go so far as to admit that they have acquired 54sq km of land under both permanent and temporary possession, with around 10sq km outstanding as well as 2sq km of subsoil. On the face of it, that looks maybe doable in the timescales: 54 down, 12 to go. But again, those figures hide the reality:

  • Looking at the overall amount of land is totally misleading, when you are looking at conveyancing, you have to look at the number of plots of land that have been bought and the number that are outstanding.
  • So much of the subsoil is in London, meaning thousands of tiny plots still need to be bought, if they have all been identified.
  • We don’t know how much of that 54sq km is has been taken under CPO and how much has been taken under TPO which has to be converted to CPO. That all has to be done before February 2022.

The land and property review from November 2020 and the six-month review of the project published in March 2021 give a clearer picture. The November report said £3.6bn has been spent on around 1,250 properties, but that includes property on phases 2a and 2b. On phase one, HS2 has issued 12,000 individual notices to people and businesses. So on phase one that’s 12,000 notices, but only shall we say about 1,200 completions so far. And now HS2 Ltd have 10 months to get the rest done.

Yeah, right!

So while the headline now is that the DfT have refused to extend HS2s CPO powers, triggering a frantic few months, how long will it be before we are writing yet another “We told you so” article with the headline “DfT Acknowledge HS2 Ltd Incompetence with Inevitable CPO Extension”?

One comment to “Landowners to Feel the Brunt of HS2 Incompetence Again, as CPO Extension Refused”
  1. It seems as though someone did not think through what HS2 required before approving the plan. If they can’t organise purchasing land they want to build a very complex rail line over then would you trust them to build a safe line for travel? No is the answer.

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