Goodwill to all men?

I want to use this blog, as it is being posted on a very special day of the year, to remind you that this is the third Christmas Day on which many of your fellow citizens find themselves still under threat from HS2. Over the past thirty months I have talked to a number of people who are affected, and have heard some desperate stories. For many people the stress of HS2, ticking like a time bomb that it waiting to explode and devastate their lives, has been a constant worry.

These are ordinary people, most are far removed from the image that was painted in the truly nauseating “their lawns or our jobs” pro-HS2 advertising campaign last year. Some of the most badly affected, and I am thinking particularly here of the senior residents of Regent’s Park Estate in Camden that I featured in my blog Grabbed by the throat (posted 26 Jul 2012), have no lawns at all and stand to lose the local park to boot.

Of course, if it goes ahead, HS2 will plough its way through some prime English countryside and the nature of such locations is that there are some fine houses to be found, many with very large lawns. Although I do not enjoy the benefits of a country estate myself, I do not resent those who do. I know that there are some mean-spirited people who might regard it as a victory for the class war that some “toffs” have suffered a reduction in the value of their homes by many hundreds of thousands of pounds, but I certainly do not subscribe to this view. It may have become a tarnished phrase, due to the perfidiousness of those that we are foolish enough to elect to lead us, but I truly believe that us victims of HS2 are “all in this together”, whether our loses are measured in hundreds or just tens of thousands of pounds, or in human misery alone.

For most of us fortunate to have the means, our home is the biggest purchase that we ever make. For many it serves as an investment fund for later life, realised by downsizing or moving to a cheaper part of the country. To suddenly find, due to someone in Westminster drawing a line on a map, that the value your investment has fallen by perhaps a quarter is a bit of a blow, to say the least. Just imagine if the Government suddenly decided to help the Exchequer by imposing a one-off 25% tax on the value of everybody’s savings; the result would probably be a revolution.

For many this reduction in value has become purely notional, because it is proving impossible to sell in many areas. In effect, the value of such properties has become zero and will remain so until the uncertainties about HS2 are removed and, hopefully, some sort of property market is re-established.

Every time that some unfortunate does succeed in selling a house blighted by HS2, any deflation in the price due to HS2 is effectively a “disbenefit”. It is easy to justify the argument that the total disbenefit of all properties where the valuation has been affected by HS2, whether for sale or not, should be offset against the benefits calculated for the business plan. Has HS2 Ltd done this? No, and the reason, I suspect, is that it would make too big a dent in the economic (non)case for HS2.

At least HS2 Action Alliance (HS2AA) has had a go at estimating how much property value has been lost to HS2. The conclusion in a HS2AA press release is that the losses in property value just about wipe out the £24 billion that HS2 Ltd is claiming as the benefits that will accrue from Phase 1 of HS2 (including wider economic impacts). Of course, it’s a bit of a “fag packet” calculation and relies on assumptions that some may question, but it is, in truth, no more of a “wet finger in the air” than the calculations of benefits in the HS2 business plan.

The proposals for compensation that the Department for Transport (DfT) has offered for public consultation will do very little to ease the financial burden on homeowners; they will recompense only a minority for reduced values, expecting the majority effectively to subsidise the HS2 project with uncompensated losses.

In another HS2AA press release Hilary Wharf, Director of HS2AA, gives her view of the Government’s proposals:

“What’s on offer is derisory. It’s cynical and dishonest and gives the lie to repeated Government promises that this would be the most generous compensation scheme ever. They themselves say it’s comparable to HS1’s arrangements – regarded as unacceptable 20 years ago.

“If the Government can’t afford fair compensation – it can’t afford HS2.”

I will look at why the DfT’s proposals, so long in gestation, have been received so unfavourably in future blogs, but I wish to conclude the current one with an extract from a message from a fellow Warwickshire resident to his Conservative MP, which is a fitting summary of the views that I have expressed:

“Reviewing, with total disbelief and dismay, the appalling Dft compensation proposals for the victims of Hs2, it seems that your Government are determined on dispossessing hundreds of thousands of people of their property rights, without adequate consideration, recompense or recourse. Whilst accepting that there is a cross party consensus for a high speed rail programme, is it really the intention of all our political representatives, to steal and misappropriate the money directly from the savings of the citizenry of this country to pay for it?  This unconscionable and tyrannical behaviour, is more befitting of a former Soviet or fascist dictatorship, rather than a democracy.  Do we really live in a country where the houses, representing the pensions, life savings and the efforts and aspirations of so many, can be so blighted, devalued and thus, by default, vicariously confiscated, by political whim and Government edict?”

Acknowledgement: I am grateful to John Lee for permission to quote from his withering e-mail to Jeremy Wright MP, which served as an inspiration for the whole blog.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by chriseaglen on December 25, 2012 at 10:39 am

    Goodwill to MPs is a prime reason for HS2 it is simply to enable more MPs to go to and from London. They are simply voting in for a self interest. It is a selfish Decree to their prime benefit. The locations it is being asked to connect are growing. What this is identifying is that England and Scotland and probably Wales and Ireland have missing public rail transport links as they have public bus and coach and airline links.

    Studying Britain railways since Beeching and before to 2012 it is found there are useful links missing even over short distances of single stops and curved chords missing and in some cases delaying obstacle to be removed. Also there are tracks not in place to enable trains to pass a loctation to reach further distance. We then have the need in Britain for the large loading gauges for wider higher rail vehicles to carry large loads per metre for freight and for double level passengers.

    HS2 failed to demonstrate that highest speed between longer distant cities did not exclude the opportunity for local areas and regions to have rail link and capacity improvements. The so called diversionary southern section of the WMCL was a proposal to the last problem of the WMCL upgrade of no diversionary route.

    Another and possibly more beneficial approach for England and Southern Scotland and the Borders is to enable the Counties and the Passenger Authorities to have proposed useful new rail projects. These could have been to the 400Km of route and the 40Km of tunneling shared across those areas where there are employment areas and deprived areas or where journeys can only be made by car and rail taking over one hour to travel 10km to 80Km but where there are clear interfacing issues. Similarly where freight is limited by gauge of time and which bottlenecks sections.

    HS2 has not demonstrated the widest local and regional benefits and the 51M Optimised Alternatives could have been extended by the membership authorities to demonstrate there are other rail and public transport needs. Other counties could have done the same.

    Goodwill to all men and women by developing the rail network with the proposed expenditure levels could produce goodwill to the population for their daily needs.

    The return on such investment has to be better than HS2 and it will like energy and power stations require some of the public funding to be lost but not as much as for HS2.


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