John Whitehouse

Retired County Councillor for Kenilworth Abbey Division Learn more

My response to the HS2 Property Compensation Consultation 2013

by John Whitehouse on 29 November, 2013

hs2

THIS IS THE TEXT OF MY RESPONSE TO THE HS2 PROPERTY COMPENSATION CONSULTATION, WHICH I SENT YESTERDAY (28TH NOVEMBER). IF YOU HAVEN’T ALREADY RESPONDED IN PERSON, I URGE YOU TO DO SO BEFORE THE CLOSING DATE OF 4TH DECEMBER. LET’S FIGHT FOR FAIRNESS FOR EVERYONE BLIGHTED BY HS2!

 

I am responding to this consultation in my role as the county councillor for the Kenilworth Abbey electoral division of Warwickshire County Council. The area that I represent includes the village of Burton Green, where many residents have been badly affected by blight since the plan for HS2 was first announced in March 2010. As I live just over 2 km from the proposed route, I am not personally affected by blight.

 

Question 1

What are your views on the criteria we have put forward to assess options for long term discretionary compensation?

I broadly agree with the five criteria put forward, but with the following comments:-

  • Fairness should apply to all people affected by HS2, not just those “most directly and specifically affected”, and not just owner-occupiers.
  • Value for money for the taxpayer must not be achieved unfairly at the expense of the people affected by HS2. This criterion must not outweigh the other criteria. The gGovernment should publish the relative weightings they will apply.
  • Community cohesion is vital before construction starts, during construction, and afterwards. The community of Burton Green has already been under massive stress from HS2 for the last 3½ years. Compensation policies should do everything possible to support the community over the coming years, and enable it to emerge intact at the end of construction.
  • The phrase “as normally as possible” in relation to the functioning of the housing market is imprecise, and ultimately means little. What is normality? Better would be to define the objective as being to enable the local property market to function in the same way it would have done without the impact of HS2.

Question 2

What are your views on our proposals for an express purchase scheme?

I welcome the proposal to accept Blight Notices from all eligible property owners, whether or not the property is required for construction or operation of HS2, and without requiring the owner to demonstrate reasonable endeavours to sell the property.

However, the proposals for considering Blight Notices for properties only partially within the safeguarded area on a case-by-case basis are imprecise. What are “normal circumstances” in this context? How would a property with a large part (but not the whole) of its garden in the safeguarding zone be treated? Anything that can be done to give more certainty to people affected would be welcomed.

Question 3

What are your views on the proposed long term hardship scheme?

This scheme is proposed to replace the current HS2 Exceptional Hardship Scheme, and is the only one on offer for the vast majority of people blighted by HS2, i.e. those living outside the safeguarding zone and proposed rural support zone. Blight for these people is real and is having huge impacts on people’s lives, yet it is highly unlikely as proposed that the scheme will offer them anything. The reality of the current EHS is that nearly twice as many applications have been rejected as have been accepted. There is nothing in the new proposals that suggests its outcomes will be any different to this.

“Hardship” is the wrong basis for determining eligibility for this scheme. If people’s lives and property values have been blighted by HS2, they should be eligible for compensation without having to prove hardship.

The “location” criterion of being “substantially adversely affected” is subjective and unjust. HS2 blight is largely driven by perceptions of impact rather necessarily reality. If property owners can demonstrate loss of market value because of HS2, they should be eligible.

The “effort to sell” criterion is unfair in setting a threshold of 15% of realistic unblighted asking price. Research by property website Zoopla in August 2013 showed that average discount from the original asking price across the country had dropped from 7.6% a year ago to 6.3% now. A threshold of 7.5% would be a better balance of fairness between individual property owners and the taxpayer.

Although a 6 month “effort to sell” marketing period is now proposed rather than the 12 months in the Oct 2012 consultation, the real comparison should be with the 3 month period which the current EHS requires. I believe that the 3 month period should be retained.

Question 4

What are your views on the ‘sale and rentback scheme’?

I understand that this is the same scheme as was offered in the October 2012 consultation, in which case it applies only to the very few properties that will actually have to be demolished in order to construct or operate HS2. I shall therefore reserve my comments for the alternative approach proposed (question 5).

Question 5

What are your views on our alternative proposals for renting properties to their previous owners?

I welcome the proposed extension of the sale and rentback scheme to cover all properties purchased by the Government through an HS2 property purchase scheme. The use of the “value for money” test should be a transparent process however.

Question 6

What are your views on our proposals for a voluntary purchase scheme within a ‘rural support zone’.

For the area I represent, the proposed Rural Support Zone is essentially the same as the previous Voluntary Purchase Zone.

The proposed definition of the RSZ to extend 120m each side of the line is arbitrary and over-restrictive, in that it ignores the potential different impact of HS2 in different terrains and landscapes. The 120m criterion should be used as a guide only, with sympathetic consideration given to properties beyond this distance from the line where loss of market value due to HS2 can be demonstrated.

It also ignores the impact of HS2 construction i.e. although the boundary of the safeguarded area extends to include all construction, the RSZ as proposed does not follow this profile.

Question 7

What are your views on the option to introduce a ‘time-based’ property bond scheme within a ‘rural support zone’ as an alternative to the voluntary purchase scheme?

I support the time-based property bond scheme defined by the HS2 Action Alliance (May 2013 version). This would provide the basis of fair compensation for all property owners blighted by HS2, irrespective of “hardship”, distance from the line or any other arbitrary criterion. The scheme proposed by Deloittes is far too restrictive.

 

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