Crossing the line

The Property & Compensation Consultation, part 12

The compensation proposals for the voluntary purchase zone (VPZ) are described in paragraphs 2.12 to 2.22 of the consultation document High Speed Two: Property and Compensation for London –West Midlands. I described the geographical limits of the zone in my blog A bit on the side (posted 2 Jan 2013). There are no statutory requirements for the Government to purchase property in this zone, hence the use of the tag “voluntary”.

It is important to reiterate the point that I reported in A bit on the side – the voluntary purchase zone scheme only has force in “rural areas”. It does not apply on the section of track between Euston and the M25, nor does it apply on the spur into Birmingham from the Delta Junction at Water Orton. It does not apply either to the land above deep-bored tunnels.

The Government says that it has “explored the option of extending the VPZ to more urban areas”, but has concluded that “such an approach cannot be justified”. The reasons for this conclusion are given in paragraphs 2.13 and 2.16 of High Speed Two: Property and Compensation for London –West Midlands.

The VPZ proposal is that the Government will purchase properties in the zone at the unblighted open market value, similar to what applies under the statutory blight notice procedure. However, unlike the statutory scheme, no home-loss compensation payment will be made and the costs of moving will not be reimbursed (refer to my blog Crumbs of comfort, posted 4 Jan 2013). The reason given by the Government for this inconsistent treatment is “because the VPZ is a voluntary scheme and it is very unlikely that any of the properties within the zone will need to be compulsorily purchased”. In other words, you are not being forced to move; it is therefore your choice. According to the HS2 Action Alliance (page 3), this proposal is worse that the VPZ regime put in place for HS1 in 1988, which matched the statutory payments in full.

Eligibility is restricted to the same classes of property owners as applies to the issue of blight notices – so landlords and owners of second homes will not benefit.

The proposed treatment of applications made for properties only partially within the VPZ is equivalent to that proposed for the safeguarding zone, i.e. to consider each application on a case by case basis, but for the Government to be “likely to favour acceptance”. We are told however that the Government would “be likely to contest applications where only a small part of a much larger property lies within the VPZ”.

According to the HS2 Action Alliance, there are 813 properties within the VPZ (I have not been able to locate a direct Government source for this figure). So, taken together with the voluntary compensation proposals for the safeguarded zone, the maximum number of properties that the Government may purchase is around 1,600, and will probably be far less. Based upon this low number, it is unlikely that the Government’s proposals for the two zones will have any significant impact upon HS2 planning blight. In my own parish even the inclusion of the VPZ still leaves us with no buildings eligible for purchase.

There is absolutely no evidence in High Speed Two: Property and Compensation for London –West Midlands that the extent of the planning blight caused by HS2 has been analysed as the basis for deciding an appropriate size for the VPZ. An arbitrary decision appears to have been taken to use the same as HS1, despite the impacts of HS2 being expected to be significantly greater than HS1.

The use of an arbitrary geographic distance to set the limit of the VPZ is also a very questionable practice; distance alone does not determine the magnitude of the impacts of HS2, and hence the likely effect on the property market. I will illustrate this with a couple of real examples, the first of which is just up the road from where I live.

Compensation zones in Cubbington (source: HS2 Ltd)

Compensation zones in Cubbington (source: HS2 Ltd)

The two properties that I have coloured green are both outside the VPZ. The current HS2 design has the track at approximately grade; the distances from track centreline to the two properties are about 150 metres and 200 metres. The road will be rerouted along the centre of safeguarding zone “extensions” shown on the map and will be raised up to allow it to cross the trackway on a roadbridge.

It is clear that both properties are going to suffer severe impacts from HS2 and are badly blighted as a result; however, the VPZ proposals are not available to the owners.

Now just imagine that we could move the properties slightly closer to the trackway, so that they come within the VPZ. At the same time let’s imagine that the HS2 design has the route in a deep cutting as it passes this spot. This now means that the road does not need to be raised up. The situation doesn’t look nearly so bad now, and yet the Government would now be prepared to purchase the properties on application, under the VPZ procedures.

My second example shows the village of Burton Green, which will be very badly effected by HS2, if it is built. I am planning a future blog about this village.

Compensation zones in Burton Green (source: HS2 Ltd)

Compensation zones in Burton Green (source: HS2 Ltd)

The HS2 route goes, as you can see, straight through the village. Some relief will be offered by a short stretch of “green tunnel”, but the impacts of HS2, both during the construction and operation, are likely to be severe. The whole village is suffering planning blight.

I have coloured the buildings; red indicates properties within the safeguarding zone, blue within the VPZ, and green those outside both zones. Looking at this map, can a three-tier compensation regime really be justified? In particular, are the different-coloured buildings close to the zone margins likely to be experiencing different levels of blight?

Strangely, when it comes to considering the long term hardship scheme (which I will tackle in my next blog) the Government does not “believe that it is appropriate to set a fixed outer distance from the line within which a property must be situated” (see paragraph 4.7 of High Speed Two: Property and Compensation for London –West Midlands). Why on earth then is it considered appropriate for the VPZ?

Consultation Question 2 relates to the proposed voluntary purchase zone:

“What are your views on the proposed voluntary purchase zone for rural areas?

You may feel that excluding urban areas from the scheme is discriminatory and unfair. You may wish to dispute the Government’s reasons for applying this exclusion.

You may wish to query why the proposed compensation payments are worse than those that applied to HS1.

Under the VPZ compensation proposal only owner-occupied buildings are eligible for purchase. You may feel that this is unfair on landlords and owners of second homes.

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

Again you may wish to reflect on the small number of properties that stand to benefit from the VPZ proposals.

You may feel that the use of a fixed, arbitrary width for the VPZ is inappropriate. You may wish to see a proposal that better reflects the extent of blight and the impact that track geometry and local topography will have.

Acknowledgement: The Ordinance Survey mapping upon which the HS2 Ltd safeguarding and VPZ details are overlaid has been reproduced in accordance with the principles of fair dealing as set out in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.  On this basis, this mapping is:

Reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO.

© Crown Copyright. All rights reserved.

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