The hopeless mess left behind by HS2 compulsory purchase orders

James Fisher reports on the fallout from the scrapping of the HS2 high-speed rail link, with many left unhappy about compulsory purchase orders that have turned their lives upside down.

The CLA has called for a change in the rules surrounding compulsory purchase orders (CPOs), after it was revealed that land bought up for the cancelled northern leg of HS2 will be sold on the open market.

The CLA has highlighted the difference between CPOs undertaken by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and those made by HS2. If your home or land is purchased by the MoD, rules dictate it must be offered to you at the current market price, before being put on the open market, but land and properties bought by HS2 are not subject to the same rules.

‘Many farmers and landowners on the HS2 route have experienced poor treatment at the hands of HS2, including delayed payments and poor contractor practices,’ says CLA president Mark Tufnell. ‘Our members may not greet the news that another part of the project has now been cancelled with the relief that might be expected. There is currently no right for the original landowner to get their land back. HS2 may sell the land on the open market and it could be bought by anyone. Given the increased use of CPOs for infrastructure, the CLA is calling on Government to extend this “right of first refusal” to all land that has been subject to compulsory purchase by HS2.’

The total cost of land and property purchased by the Government for the Birmingham to Manchester leg of HS2 exceeds £600 million, according to HS2’s own figures. In the days since the scheme was cancelled, some extraordinary tales have come to light — including a £1.5 million house sale which went through less than 24 hours before the official announcement. Others have told stomach-churning tales of how their purchases have been handled, with one man telling the BBC that ‘it’s been a decade of hell.’

A “No High Speed Train” poster by the roadside near Napton, Warwickshire.

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However, despite the route now being cancelled, those who lost their homes and land will not be compensated further, according to Transport Secretary Mark Harper. Despite acknowledging that people ‘obviously won’t be happy’ about the decision to scrap the route, he added that ‘those properties were purchased at market value, so they will have been effectively compensated for that. The legal position won’t have changed for those people’.

In response, farmer John Barnes told Farming Today that the Government ‘has put a lot of people through a lot of pain and anguish’. His farm in Staffordshire was compulsory purchased for the northern leg of HS2 and he said he felt ‘cheated’ by the decision.

‘There’s a scar straight across the middle of the farm. They’ve done a lot of groundwork, which can’t be reinstated as farmland,’ he said.

‘If we had the choice, we’d move back in a heartbeat, if the railway wasn’t there. It was home. They took our home away from us.’ Mr Barnes now farms in Gloucestershire.

The announcement to cancel the northern leg of HS2 will save £36 billion, according to the Government. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that ‘every single penny’ saved will be spent on other road, rail and infrastructure projects in the North of England.