The British public has about 2½ months left to have its say on the Government’s proposed high-speed rail link between London and Birmingham. Known as HS2, the controversial project aims to cut the journey time between London and Birmingham to 49 minutes, and from London to Leeds and Manchester to less than 80 minutes. It would also free up space on existing non-high-speed lines, with more than 160 additional services into London a day.
Although this is good news for overcrowded commuters and those worried about the effects of air travel on the environment, many property owners along the route have grave concerns about the noise, dust, obliterated views and break-up of land the new link will cause. Among them is Sally Cakebread, who lives in an 850-year-old house in Denham, Buckinghamshire, one of the oldest in the county, with her mother and nine-year-old daughter. She started the Denham Action Group after discovering that a concrete viaduct will be erected within 600ft of her house as part of the proposed HS2 scheme.
‘With its Grade I listing, there’s hardly anything we can do to the house, yet the Government is able to do whatever it wants,’ she says. The Cakebreads are also concerned about possible vibrations and damage to their medieval home, as well as the major impact on about 500 other houses in the vicinity and in the nearby Colne Valley.
The ultra-fast north-south rail link will save only minutes on a journey, but will jeopardise centuries of heritage and ‘the peace, physical and social continuity of a vast swathe of the countryside’, notes Robin Stummer from The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB). In some areas, it will require houses to be pulled down, and SPAB has lodged a formal request under Freedom of Information legislation to identify the 15 Grade II-listed buildings that the Government acknowledges will be demolished. But even where buildings aren’t destroyed, ‘many of their historic settings will be severely blighted’.
Anxious homeowners can look at the proposed route on the HS2 website (www.hs2.org.uk) to determine whether their property will be affected. If it will be, now is the time to act. Seek help from a surveyor or an expert who’s dealt with other major infrastructure schemes, such as the M25, Stansted Airport or Channel Tunnel Rail Link. Next, speak to the HS2 Action Alliance, an organisation working for more than 70 community groups challenging the case for the rail link.
‘Lobby your MP, go to an HS2 roadshow to learn about the consultation process and get assistance from an expert to determine how much the value of your property has reduced,’ suggests property lawyer Gillian Outram at IBB Solicitors, an expert in noise control and acoustics. Even though the link is only at the proposal stage, prices have already dropped in areas such as the Chilterns, according to Bidwells property surveyor Edward Briggs. He says there’s always a local market there, but people from outside the area are being put off buying. ‘You can’t buy a view,’ he explains, ‘so those who lose theirs receive no compensation.’
James Del Mar, head of Knight Frank’s HS2 team, who acts for adversely affected property owners, advises people to take a proactive approach towards compensation schemes. ‘Consider land transfers to put a farm or estate that’s owned by several members of the family back together to minimise potential compulsory-purchase claims. And it’s important to get planning permission to convert a barn or other outbuildings, as the property will be worth more with planning in place.’ Mr Del Mar also recommends mitigating against disturbance from the line through noise insulation, tree planting and double-glazing.