John Whitehouse

Retired County Councillor for Kenilworth Abbey Division Learn more

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My letter of response to the High Speed Rail consultation on the proposed Exceptional Hardship Scheme

by John Whitehouse on 19 May, 2010

As a Warwickshire councillor I represent the county division of Kenilworth Abbey, which includes the village of Burton Green that is in the direct path of the proposed HS2 route. I am also the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for the Environment & Economy on the County Council.

 I am therefore writing as an individual councillor and on behalf of the Liberal Democrat group on Warwickshire County Council, which agreed this joint response at a group meeting last Friday 14th May. 

Consultation process

I am concerned that the 10 week period for consultation does not meet the Government’s own Code of Practice of a minimum of 12 weeks, and has included a 4 week period of political “purdah” due to the general and local elections.

This has restricted the ability of elected representatives to consult with and advise their constituents on this important issue and will allow no opportunity for debate and scrutiny by newly-elected MPs after Parliament reconvenes.

 I urge that the consultation period should be extended by a further 4 weeks beyond 20th May, i.e. to 17th June. Further, given the importance of this matter and the impact on people’s lives, it is reasonable to expect decisions to be taken and announced within no more than 3 months from the close of the consultation process. 

Should an Exceptional Hardship Scheme (EHS) be introduced?

My answer is an unequivocal yes, but I have many comments to make about its proposed principles and criteria – see below.

However, I request that the Government should give urgent and positive consideration to the alternative compensation solution developed by the HS2 Action Alliance, the Property Blight Protection Scheme (PBPS), which should be introduced subject to a clear and workable definition of its applicability only for “major infrastructure projects undertaken for the national benefit”.

If a PBPS were brought into law, it would replace the need for a continuing EHS, and should be applied retrospectively to the date when the EHS was introduced.

 If the Government decided not to introduce the alternative PBPS solution, then the EHS should be continued beyond the date when the HS2 route is confirmed, recognising that the statutory blight provisions that would be triggered at that point would apply only to properties on the direct line of the route. A scheme would continue to be required to cover the much wider spread of properties affected over many years, until 12 months after the scheme is completed (in 2026?) when redress under the Land Compensation Act may be open to all affected property owners. 

EHS Principles and Criteria

A scheme should not be restricted to residential properties, but include agricultural properties and small businesses.

The restriction of a scheme to cases of extreme hardship (or any level of hardship) is unjust. It should apply in all cases where property owners have a justifiable reason to sell, and can demonstrate that the HS2 preferred route announcement has stopped them doing so without financial penalty.

The criterion of “on or in the close vicinity of the preferred route” is not defined, and its application could therefore be quite arbitrary. For example, is it worse to be within 100m of a cutting or within 200m of a raised viaduct? Without the environmental assessment work having been done yet it is impossible to say.

The possible route variation in the Stoneleigh area could have implications for the preferred route both sides of it, so extending the potential area of property blight until this question is resolved. The EHS should take specific account of this.

It is unfair to exclude all tunnelled sections of the route when the environmental assessment work has not yet been done.

The definitions of circumstances of “pressing need” listed in para 2.14 of the Proposals should be considered as illustrative but not exclusive.

The application of a 15% threshold of financial disadvantage is arbitrary and unjust.

 As currently defined, the whole scheme seems designed to minimise the number of successful claims, rather than providing an essential and fair safety net for property owners with a justifiable need to sell during its period of operation. 

Operation of the EHS

The panel of experts should be independent of government.

The independent valuers appointed to assess impact on property values should be experts in the geographical areas concerned.

 The proceedings of the panel should be transparent to applicants.

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