To promise is one thing …

A postscript to the Property & Compensation Consultation

“To promise and to execute

“Are not the same, be it confessed …”

From To Promise Is One Thing To Keep It, Another, a poem by Jean de La Fontaine

Being a poet, and a French one at that, La Fontaine was more concerned with sexual inadequacy than compulsory purchase compensation. However, I suspect that even he would agree, were he around today, that his words apply equally well to compulsory purchase payments in the United Kingdom.

I’m certain, anyway, that the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) would agree with this sentiment, judging by the report (Fair Play: CLA Vision for Reform of the Compulsory Purchase System) published by that organisation in November 2012. This report brands the current compulsory purchase system as “inefficient and unfair to those whose land is taken from them”.

Like the lady being wooed in La Fontaine’s poem, the CLA’s complaint is that the “performance” of the compulsory purchase scheme does not meet reasonable expectations. The CLA’s verdict is that the compulsory purchase scheme “fails to address the legitimate losses of those whose property is taken”. Speaking about the report, CLA President Harry Cotterell said:

“There are few business relationships that are as unfair as compulsory purchase, which all too often ends in bitter disputes. Rural landowners suffer doubly, having their land compulsorily purchased and then having to live with the consequences, often for generations.”

The CLA document reminds us of three reports of studies in the nineties and noughties that made recommendations to improve the system and laments that “almost none of the recommendations made in these important reports have been implemented”.

The report sets out its own list of recommendations to improve things, including:

  • Establishing a statutory “duty of care” on bodies with compulsory purchase powers, backed up by a mandatory code of practice.
  • Increasing the loss payment that is due to be paid in addition to the market value of the land purchased.
  • Recommending the establishment of a property bond scheme to counter generalised blight.

The report expresses the opinion that the public interest is not necessarily served “by the State or other bodies using their dominant position and often confrontational approach to acquire land on any lesser terms than if it were sold voluntarily on the open market”. It sees the process of compulsory purchase as one that causes “stress to those affected” and, in drawn-out cases, can result in “great trauma to those involved”.

The truth of this contention is illustrated by a number of descriptions of case studies that are presented in sidebars peppered throughout the report. One is particularly tragic:

“A Welsh sheep farmer, who had a substantial proportion of his holding acquired, had to rent additional land on which to graze his stock.

“His agent submitted and agreed the farmer’s claim with the district valuer and vigorously chased the acquirer for payment. Four years of non-payment followed with spurious excuses such as ‘the girl who writes the cheques is on holiday’.

“The acquirer also claimed to have lost the paperwork submitted by the claimant.

“The saga ended tragically when the bank foreclosed on him and he took his own life.”

There is also one about the HS2 Exceptional Hardship Scheme (EHS):

“A CLA member in the Midlands was planning to sell a substantial rural property to fund a smaller house and his imminent retirement.

“Because of the HS2 project, he has suffered blight on the property he wants to sell. He applied to the Exception Hardship Scheme for HS2 Ltd to buy the property. However, because of his other assets, HS2 Ltd decided he was not suffering hardship.

“The member feels that the blight is preventing him from fulfilling his retirement plans, and that even though he has other assets, it is unfair that the damage done to his lifestyle and hopes for the future is not deemed worthy of compensation.”

I can add another story about the EHS from my own experience helping an applicant who was forced to put the family home up for sale following a divorce. As well as having to buy the former spouse out, the individual simply could not afford to pay the bills needed to keep the house on.  The applicant satisfied Criterion 3, but was, unbelievably, failed on the “hardship” criterion (Criterion 5). The reason given by the EHS Panel was:

“… there was a lack of evidence to show that there was an urgent need to sell, or that exceptional hardship would be experienced if the property did not sell this year. It was also noted that the mortgage had been paid off and that, as a result, other options might be available to the applicants.”

I have thought long and hard about what these “other options” might be and can only conclude that the applicant is expected to take out a mortgage to finance paying off the other partner to the divorce. As I said, the applicant was finding it hard to pay the bills as it was, so I have no idea where the extra money to pay a mortgage also was expected to be found. You might agree with me in thinking that the EHS Panel were being just a trifle unreasonable.

(As this is the final blog in the series on property and compensation, I am returning to the normal four-day interval between blogs. Accordingly, the next blog posting date will be 24 Jan 2013.)


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by chriseaglen on January 20, 2013 at 8:51 am

    There is need for many farms and businesses to understand blight notices. These seem hidden, vague and not representative of those damaged but wanting to continue if the situation is viable.


    • As I have said in footnotes to some of the blogs in my series on compensation Chris, it is essential for anybody affected by HS2, particularly those with properties in the safeguarded zone, to seek professional advice.


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