A leading figure in the compulsory purchase and planning process says lessons must be learned after hundreds of property owners have been left out of pocket after the northern leg of HS2 was cancelled.
Jon Stott is Group Managing Director of Ardent – a leading property and consents management practice with offices across the UK – and a former chair of the Compulsory Purchase Association.
He said the decision damages the levelling up agenda and serious ramifications for property and landowners along the route of the proposed line.
Stott said: “This will have a massive impact on the UK’s reputation as a place to invest and no amount of spin can underplay the damage the decision does to the north/south levelling-up agenda.
“Aside from the macro factors, today’s decision is also a travesty for so many individuals and businesses and it raises huge questions about how we protect landowners and property owners whose land is earmarked to be acquired for major projects in the future.
“The statutory blight provisions are very narrow and mean that only owner-occupiers of property in certain circumstances can force the Government to acquire their land/property once it has been identified as potentially being required for a major scheme.
“HS2 introduced various discretionary hardship schemes that did help some additional people but still left many landowners and developers without any ability to sell their property, leaving them in a horrible state of limbo whilst their land has also been subject to safeguarding directions
“In addition to being unable to sell, the safeguarding directions have effectively precluded landowners from obtaining their own planning consent for any form of development. This has impacted huge swathes of land and thousands of landowners for over a decade.
“I am aware of hundreds of property owners who have incurred thousands of pounds of costs in engaging with HS2. Whilst some have been opposing the scheme, the majority have simply been seeking certainty, or design changes that would reduce the impact on their lives and businesses. These property owners have no route to being reimbursed and, in light of this new announcement, it means they have incurred the costs totally unnecessarily.
“One particular major landowner has incurred close to £1 million in legal and other fees, trying to work with HS2 to maximise the benefits of the Birmingham to Manchester leg – it is a scandal that they will have no route to recovering that sum now the project has been scrapped.
“In addition to financial impacts, there’s a human aspect to all of this too which should not be underestimated. Thousands of businesses and families have already been displaced, in many cases causing significant mental and emotional anguish.
“It’s hard to imagine how they are feeling knowing that it has all been completely unnecessary. The public benefits for their displacement will now never be realised and, instead, we will be left with huge visible scars on the landscape, particularly between Birmingham and Crewe, where massive construction activity has already been undertaken.
“Sadly, I’m aware of multiple stories of people who have felt suicidal and who have suffered significant mental health issues as a consequence of the threat of being compulsorily purchased, and the uncertainty that has caused for them. Of course, it opens up bigger questions about the process on all schemes and lessons must be learned and acted upon.”