Must try harder

The Property & Compensation Consultation, part 15

After a long slog through the minutiae of the property compensation proposals that the Government has put out to public consultation it is time, I think, to take a step back and, by way of a conclusion, look at how well these proposals are likely to address the problem of generalise blight due to the HS2 project. This problem was encapsulated by David Wolfe QC, counsel for the HS2 Action Alliance, in his opening remarks on day 8 of the HS2 judicial review (page 16, line 24 to page 17, line 13 in the transcript):

“My Lord, the backdrop then to the overall issue here is whether the people who just happen to live and own properties close enough to be affected by HS2 — and you will have seen, my Lord, that HS2 Limited contacted 172,000-odd households for the purpose of consultation on that basis …

“…whether those people should personally suffer in support of the claimed public interest in HS2, including through the loss of value in their homes and, arising from that, a potential inability to move or remortgage over a period of 15-plus years.”

We have seen that the number of property owners likely to be helped by the Government’s proposals is small: the maximum number who will benefit from the advanced purchase scheme is, on current figures, about 750, the voluntary purchase scheme around the same total, and the long term hardship scheme, if it operates at a similar level to the Exceptional Hardship Scheme (EHS), will help about four owners a month. These totals will not make much of a dent in Mr Wolfe’s 172,000-odd.

The Government appears to realise that it really should improve the compensation offering for transport projects, long term, evidenced by the words of Philip Hammond that I quoted in my blog The meaning of words (posted 13 Jan 2013):

“… developing European jurisprudence in the area of property rights and the need for Governments to compensate is pointing towards more generous compensation becoming the norm, and I suspect that that will be the case for future projects.”

And yet what is on offer is even worse than the compensation package that was put together for HS1, more than twenty years ago, plus a reworking of the EHS that makes it more difficult to qualify – so much for “more generous compensation becoming the norm”. So why is the Government being so mean in the case of HS2?

Ministers will of course say that they have to act in the interests of taxpayers, and in a time of austerity, particularly, nobody wants the Government to be anything other than careful in the way that it spends our money. However, Mr Wolfe’s “172,000-odd” are also taxpayers, for the most part, and it is clearly grossly unfair to expect this group to suffer financially in order that other taxpayers get let off the hook.

The Government is clearly not shy about spending money on HS2; anyone who has witnessed the rapid growth of the HS2 Ltd salary bill in the past year and also speculated on the pile of money that they must be spending on an army of highly-paid consultants will realise that. It just needs for the Government to face up to the inescapable fact that the cost of providing “more generous” compensation is as much a charge that must be borne by the HS2 budget as paying consultants to look for great crested newts. The HS2 pot is a very big one, and the odd £1 billion one way or the other is hardly going to be noticed.

In my blog A little bit more (posted 14 Jan 2013), I complained that the Department for Transport had failed to include any information on the extent of blight in its consultation document, and that there was no evidence that its proposals had evolved from any consideration of such information. What we have, after such a long wait, is a very intellectually light-weight dissertation, which appears to be little more than a rehash of some old ideas. It’s a mystery to me why we had to wait so long for so little.

I strongly agree with the comments made by the HS2 Action Alliance in its first letter of the New Year to the Transport Secretary:

“It seems inescapable that, if this information is not provided to consultees, the consultation will be unfair. Withholding this crucial information would prevent consultees from being able to take an informed view as to the reasonableness and adequacy of your compensation proposals …

“How can anyone give an informed response about proposals to address blight without information as to the extent and severity of the problem that the measures are intended to address? Given that you hold this information, the decision not to publish it is surely prejudicial.”

It is surely clear that the proposals in the consultation document, taken as a package, are not fit for purpose. It is time for the Government to go back to the drawing board and look for a better way forward. As a starting point, I would suggest that it goes back to the proposals in Annex A of the document High Speed Rail: Investing in Britain’s Future: Consultation, and in particular the “property bond scheme” described in paragraphs 24 and 25. Although this approach was rejected by the Government (refer to Chapter 7 of the document High Speed Rail: Investing in Britain’s Future – Decisions and Next Steps) and has been ruled out again in the Introduction to the consultation document High Speed Two: Property and Compensation for London –West Midlands, I think that it offers a much more intelligent, and potentially more efficient, way of addressing the generalised blight issue; it is surely right that the Government should rescue this proposal from the waste bin and dust it off.

So, I’ve had my say and I hope that it has been worth your while slogging through it all. I trust that, by stepping up the posting rate for this series of blogs, I have left you enough time to make your own response to the property and compensation consultation. Now it really is down to you. It is so important that the Government is left in no doubt what we think of its proposals. So please click on this link and have your say.

Even if you are not personally affected by HS2, it’s still worth responding. You never know, the next transport project that comes along may be in your backyard and the Government might say, “let’s give them what we used for HS2”.

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13 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by chriseaglen on January 19, 2013 at 8:34 am

    games theory suggests route of phase 1 in wrong places and clash approach of hs2 with misleading management methods created less effective outcomes. Burning flags and other at the edge dominant situations simply illustrate UK has not got sensible approacches when the prisoners dilemmas arise. Failure has become the norm not collaboration. How to go back to the transport and land use balance with local government considering and agreeing withmeaningful dialogues is the issue. Dft and hs2 failed to put forward a case for this phase 1 9 to 13 and the near social and land uses did not endorse it. Start again is better and get a plan that is acceptable.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Roger Waller on January 19, 2013 at 9:50 am

    Thanks Peter, a timely article. Hopefully it will help people frame the all important response to the Compensation Consultation. Lets hope there is an overwhelming bunch of people responding, I can’t imagine there will be many people suggesting HMG’s proposal is too generous!

    Reply

  3. Roger not over generous but very fair

    Reply

    • I’m disappointed that you feel that you can make that assertion “hs2isright”; I consider that I have made a fairly strong case in my blogs that, by any normal interpretation of the word, “fair” is not an adjective that should be associated with the compensation proposals and “very fair” is really stretching credibility. However, on your past record I shouldn’t be surprised, and I doubt that you have actually read my blogs anyway. It’s a shame because visitor numbers have been significantly boosted since I started blogging on the compensation consultation, indicating that perhaps some people are finding that what I have to say is helpful.

      Reply

  4. Yes, I have been reading your blog, however you statement “I doubt that you have actually read my blogs anyway” could be seen as a very fruitless way of dismissing my comments and I stand by my comments that the compensation is very fair. If HS2 was any other major infrastructure project would this compensation package be on the table? I think not.

    Yes your blogs have been a very interesting to read but from a laymans understanding of the CPO. A CPO is a complex item of law to understand fully and I suggest that your very basic understanding of this is a starting point. Anyone that thinks their property will be affected by hs2 will require assistance from a qualified surveyor and I hope they do not just read your blog.

    On a personal note I still believe that the affect of hs2 has been over planned by a very small group and that the affect is limited and the proposed rout even limits it even further. Yes my house will be affect by the building of HS2.

    Reply

    • The point that you make “hs2isright” about the need for professional advice is one that I am very aware of and have made more than once during the blog series, e.g. see the “important note” at the end of my blog “Crumbs of comfort” and the comment that I posted in reply to Chris Eaglen earlier today.
      If you had read my blogs, as you claim, surely you would have picked up on this point?
      By the way, why don’t you use your real name when posting? Are you ashamed of your views?
      Also, I’m not really interested whether your house is affected or not; I didn’t mention anything about where you live in my response to you.

      Reply

      • Yes but not after every blog which I think you should have, as you are offering advice to people and you are not qualified to give. Or have you become a qualified surveyor now? And my comment was finished before yours to Chris Eaglen but i was unable to upload it, so what is your point?

        I stated that my house will be affected by hs2 because anti`s are now saying the only reason any could be in favour of hs2 is because my house will not be demolished and I wanted to say that before you commented the same.

      • I notice that you’re still using your nom de plume. Time you came out of the closet, my friend.
        I have given a warning about the need to seek professional advice as a footnote to every blog in the series where it might be construed that I was giving advice to anyone who might wish to claim for compensation. Where I have just been describing the proposals that are on offer for the benefit of anyone wishing to comment on the compensation consultation this doesn’t seem necessary.
        I have made it quite clear in those footnotes that I am not qualified to give advice on legal or property matters, and I have been most careful not to misrepresent my position. I cannot see how anyone could be under any misapprehension about that.
        As I said, your living arrangements are of no interest to me, whatsoever.

  5. This is now getting very tedious, in my option in your blogs you have stated options and tried to define in your option again the compensation scheme, options are not qualifications you should have stated this on every blog.

    Why are you trying to ask my name, is that your only way to dismiss the comments or is it saying “hs2isright” upsetting.

    Reply

    • Yes, at last we agreee on something! You are being very tedious.
      I have answered your point and feel quite satisifed that I have acted appropriately. However, for the aviodance of doubt, no one should rely legally on anything in my blogs and it is not my intention to give legal advice to anyone.
      The reason that I would like you to use your name on this site is that all the other contributors appear happy to do this. In my view you should be willing to put your name to your views. I am coming round to the view that I shouldn’t accept comments unless the sender is willing to “sign” them.
      As for the thought that using “hs2isright” might upset me, I have no problems at all on that score. However, it does strike me as rather a silly name to use.

      Reply

  6. My exchange with “hs2isright” has led me to think of the following little nonsense:
    Question: What do you call a person who is against HS2 and lives near the route?
    Answer: A nimby.
    Question: What do you call someone who is for HS2 and lives near the line?
    Answer: A numpty.
    By the way, if you are wondering why “hs2isright” has suddenly gone quiet, I received a further comment from that quarter that merely repeated the earlier point and I decided not to post it, as in my view the debate had descended to a “I say, you say” level. In response “hs2isright” decided to try and spam me with a series of comments. In order to tackle this attempt to bombard me into submission, I have placed “hs2isright” on the WordPress blacklist, which means that all further attempts to place comments by “hs2isright” will be treated as spam by WordPress.

    Reply

    • Posted by john on January 23, 2013 at 4:19 pm

      Peter i have just been reading your blog, Good but it looks like the only way you can win a argument is to block the person and no I’m not the “hs2isright” person.

      Reply

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