Independent report

HS2: review of property issues

A review of the property concerns raised during the consultation on high speed rail and policies to minimise blight and support communities.

Documents

Review of property issues

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Review of property issues

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Details

Introduction

We recognise that home-owners along the line have already been affected by the proposal to build High Speed 2 (HS2).

HS2 will have a significant positive impact on the UK transport network and economy.

We recognise that it will also affect home-owners, communities and businesses along the line.

We have taken a number of important decisions to limit these negative impacts. These include moving the line away from towns and villages, lowering it further into cutting, and increasing the length in tunnels.

Past experience of infrastructure projects and other kinds of development suggest that blight tends to be at its worst before building starts. The uncertainty about what might happen creates fear and helps spread rumours that often have little basis. The reality of the impact, when it arrives, consistently turns out to be less disruptive than feared. Blight is at its highest when there is most uncertainty and least definite information.

We have already worked to minimise that uncertainty and blight by consulting on a preferred line of route and by organizing a comprehensive consultation.

The responses we received to the property question in the February 2011 consultation, ‘High speed rail: Investing in Britain’s future’ has strengthened the evidence base on which we have built policy proposals.

Annex A of the document accompanying that consultation described the existing statutory mechanisms in place for providing assistance to property owners affected by construction projects such as a new high speed rail line.

It also discussed the approach and options for additional assistance the government was considering providing to the owners of properties which experienced a significant diminution in value as a result of proximity to any new high speed rail line between London and the West Midlands.

It stated an ambition to work towards a property deal that would:

  • assist those whose properties lose significant value
  • enable the normal functioning of the property market
  • reassure now that fair compensation will be paid
  • enable people to stay in their homes and communities
  • avoid government owning large numbers of properties

One of the clearest messages to come through (both from the written consultation responses and from statements made and questions asked by the individuals who came to the road-shows) is a widespread fear that the government will not do enough to prevent blight and protect property values and communities.

Many homeowners expressed real concern that the disruption caused by construction would lower property values and make their communities less attractive places to live.

Others were concerned that their properties would be affected by vibration and subsidence because of HS2 tunnels.

Of the around 55,000 people who responded to the consultation 36,036, or over 65%, included comments on the potential impact of HS2 on property.

The vast majority of these comments were made by members of the public rather than organisations, and the concerns raised were often personal and interwoven with those individuals’ hopes and fears about their future.

A fear of increased noise is a common thread running through many of the consultation responses. In total, 11,843 respondents mentioned noise and many stated their concern that an increase in noise might cause irreversible damage to their quality of life and to the communities they live in.

Responses also highlighted the potential impact on farming. We will work with those affected on a case by case basis.

During the February consultation we set out three broad policy proposals: a hardship-based property purchase scheme, a bond-based purchase scheme and a compensation bond.

Many respondents complained that the consultation did not provide enough detail about these proposals for them to be able to respond usefully.

It is understandable that when asked to discuss something as important and as personal as their own homes and communities many individuals felt that they deserved as much detail and as much reassurance as possible.

At the same time, we believe that comments like these reflect a genuine difficulty in striking a balance between providing enough detail to make the consultation meaningful and reaching policy conclusions before having consulted properly.

Others stated that no amount of compensation could ever be acceptable. For some, this was because of their strong opposition to HS2 in general. For others, the perceived risk of damage to communities and the environment was simply too great to be tolerated.

16,027 respondents stated (in response to Question 7 on blight and compensation) that they did not agree with the options set out to assist those whose properties lose a significant amount of value as a result of any new high speed line.

2,667 said that they did agree without referring specifically to the options, and 530 agreed generally with some caveats.

Some of those who support the approach set out by the government argued that this is a fair and even generous approach to compensation. Others focused more on the argument that some level of blight has to be tolerated if the UK’s infrastructure is to be improved.

Only 4,474 responses explicitly mention any of the three options. Of these 4,402 backed the bond-based purchase scheme, whether outright or with caveats. The Council of Mortgage Lenders and the British Bankers’ Association said that they thought this proposal would allow for valuations of affected properties on an un-blighted basis and so help sustain local property markets.

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Background documents

Published 10 January 2012