HS2: More cash for homeowners living near rail line

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Generated image of an HS2 train on the Birmingham and Fazeley viaductImage source, Other
Image caption,
HS2, which will link London with Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, has a £50bn price tag

Homeowners who live near the proposed HS2 rail line between London and Birmingham are to get extra financial compensation, ministers have said.

People living up to 120m from the line who do not want to sell up will be offered a cash sum equivalent to 10% of the "unblighted" value of their home.

And those living between 120m and 300m from the proposed route will be eligible for up to £22,500 in support.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said people would be "looked after".

But the HS2 Action Alliance said "barely 3,000 homeowners" would benefit despite the fact that 172,000 households were within 1,000m of the phase one line, and 43,000 within 500m.

The announcement, which follows a government consultation, came as MPs said they were "sceptical" about whether the £50bn project would deliver value for money.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee said the budget for the scheme included a "generous contingency" which could be used to mask cost increases and suggested ministers lacked a "clear strategic plan" for the wider rail network.

Market value

The first phase of HS2 is due to open in 2026, followed by a V-shaped phase two taking the line from Birmingham to Manchester and Yorkshire.

Friday's package of compensation comes on top of existing guarantees to those living closest to the line.

Anyone living within 60m is being offered the chance to sell their properties to the government for their full value plus 10%, with stamp duty on a new home, legal costs and a share of moving costs also paid for.

As an alternative to the voluntary purchase scheme, the government is now offering assistance - in the form of a cash sum linked to the value of the property - to homeowners and businesses who want to remain where they are.

Those living between 120m and 300m from the line will qualify for cash payments of either £7,500, £15,000 or £22,500 depending on their proximity to the line.

Ministers say the payments, which will apply only to those living in rural areas and will be available if and when the legislation authorising the construction of HS2 is passed by Parliament, will enable people to "share early in the benefit of the railway".

Finally, the government said it was relaxing the criteria for helping those who live along the route "at any distance" from the route who want to sell their houses but cannot do so at their market value.

Those who have a "compelling reason" to sell will be eligible for a new "need-to-sell scheme" paying the full "unblighted value", including those who do not need to move immediately.

HS2 Ltd, the government-backed firm overseeing the project, said it had so far purchased 192 properties for phase one of HS2 and 41 for phase two of the line, at a total costs of £157m.

Mr McLoughlin said the package of support went "well beyond" the government's legal obligations and a new "residents' charter", overseen by a commissioner, would ensure people were treated fairly.

"This comprehensive package of compensation and assistance is looking after those people who live along the HS2 route while balancing our responsibilities to the taxpayer," he said.

'White elephant'

But campaigners opposed to the rail line said it was "a white elephant trampling through the countryside" and restated their calls for the project to cancelled immediately.

"It is deeply unfair that so many ordinary people, who through no fault of their own happen to live near to the planned HS2 line, continue to be left to bear these losses with no help from the government," HS2 Action Alliance director Hilary Wharf said.

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Mr McLoughlin said a new commissioner would ensure commitments to residents were honoured

"People were promised 'full and fair' compensation and this promise has been broken time and time again."

The Commons Public Accounts Committee, which scrutinises government spending, has said it remains concerned about the government's ability to deliver HS2 on time and on budget.

The contingency fund gives the government a 95% assurance of delivering within budget, the committee said, but it added: "We are concerned that this will simply be used to mask cost overspends, rather than valid calls on contingency funds."

This week HS2 Ltd executive chairman Sir David Higgins told a House of Lords committee: "We should not assume the contingency will be spent."

The committee said the government had yet to publish proposals for how Scotland would benefit from HS2 and questioned the recent government backing for an "HS3" link between northern cities. Labour MP Margaret Hodge, who chairs the committee, said the government had not assessed HS3 before giving the go-ahead to HS2.

Image source, Other
Image caption,
HS2, which will link London with Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, has a £50bn price tag