A little bit more

The Property & Compensation Consultation, part 10

The document that the Government has published to inform the public consultation on the HS2 property and compensation proposals is High Speed Two: Property and Compensation for London –West Midlands. This document poses seven questions for respondents to the public consultation to ponder. Over this and the following four blogs I will examine these proposals and give my reactions to the questions.

My initial response to the consultation document is that it lacks any information on the extent of the blight that has been caused by HS2, or the number of properties within the zones that have been defined and the number outside those zones, but still close enough to the line to be blighted. The Department for Transport is uniquely placed to provide such data, based upon its experience with the Exceptional Hardship Scheme, and has confirmed that it holds such information. However it has been reported that, despite Freedom of Information requests, the Department has refused to release the data. Without any information of this type, we are being asked to comment with an inadequate picture of the problem. I strongly suspect that the Government has formulated its proposals with little regard for such details also, and that the distances from the line that have been employed to set the limits of the different compensation regimes proposed are purely arbitrary.

The proposals that are currently on the table, and the consultation questions that relate to those proposals, are different for each of the three geographic zones that the Government has defined. These three zones are: the safeguarding zone, the voluntary purchase zone, and the area that lies outside of these two zones.

In this blog I shall look at the proposals for the safeguarding zone, the meaning of which I explained in my blog Keeping things safe (posted 29 Dec 2012). More precisely, what I shall consider in this blog are the proposals for properties within the safeguarding zone that relates to “surface interest”; different proposals have been made for properties above bored tunnels, and I will consider these in the blog following.

The compensation regime for properties within the safeguarded zone for surface interest is statutory, and I described these provisions in my blogs Crumbs of comfort (posted 4 Jan 2013) and A few crumbs more (posted 6 Jan 2013). The package offered for HS2 retains the statutory proposals, but adds some further undertakings to improve the regime. What has not been changed for HS2 is the amount of compensation that will be paid, and the eligibility requirements; in both these cases the statutory provisions will apply.

Where the HS2 proposals seek to improve on the statutory provisions is in the treatment of blight notices. The undertaking that the Government is prepared to give in this respect is not to issue a counter notice where permitted by the Law, but “to accept Blight Notices from all eligible property owners whose properties are entirely within the safeguarded area, even if it is not yet clear whether or not the property would actually be needed for the construction or operation of the railway”. The situation for properties only partially within the safeguarded zone is less clear cut; here the undertaking is “to consider each Blight Notice on a case by case basis, but to limit the issuing of Counter-Notices to exceptional circumstances”.

A second concession that is on offer regarding the treatment of blight notices is that the Government proposes to waive the requirement for property owners to “make all reasonable endeavours” to sell their property before accepting a blight notice. For HS2 it will be sufficient merely to show that the property is within the safeguarded zone.

According to BBC News the provisional figure for the number of properties that will be required to be demolished for HS2 is 338 (I have not been able to find a direct Government source to cite for this figure). Also, HS2 Action Alliance advises that 1,101 properties are within the safeguarding zone (again I have not been able to locate a direct Government source for this figure). So the concessions on blight notices will benefit around 750 properties. This is, of course, the mere tip of the iceberg regarding the extent of HS2 blight. My own parish, for instance, has no properties that will benefit from these concessions.

Consultation Question 1 relates to the blight notice concessions:

“What are your views on the proposed advance purchase process?”

In answering this question, you may wish to reflect on the very limited nature of the concessions that are on offer, over and above the statutory provisions, and the small number of properties that stand to benefit.

You may also feel that the lack of clarity regarding the treatment of properties only partially within the safeguarding zone is unsatisfactory.

Under the statutory compensation eligibility requirements only owner-occupied buildings may be the subject of a blight notice. You may feel that this is unfair on landlords and owners of second homes.

In the next blog I will consider a further concession that is being offered to some properties within the safeguarded zone and how properties above bored tunnels will be treated.

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