Something to look forward to

Most of us will not have personal experience of a major construction project being carried out on our doorsteps, and may not fully appreciate, therefore, what HS2 may have in store for us. This was not the case, however, for a petitioner who appeared before the HS2 Select Committee recently; she was able to describe the trauma that having to live close to a railway construction site can bring.

The lady giving evidence was Mrs Marion Sadler, the owner and occupier with her husband of a farmhouse and land near Handsacre in Staffordshire – you may recognise Handsacre as the location where it is planned Phase 1 of HS2 would interconnect with the West Coast Main Line (WCML). Mr and Mrs Sadler had come to Westminster to present their petition to the Committee, along with the petition deposited by Mrs Doreen Round, Mrs Sadler’s mother. The farmhouse was divided into two parts in 1990, and later extended, to provide separate dwellings for the Sadler family and Mrs Round.

Although compensation is not the subject of today’s blog, I should mention in passing, for the benefit of those interested in compensation issues, that the remedy sought by the two petitions is an intriguing variation on the express purchase scheme. The farmhouse lies wholly within the extended home owner protection zone and, accordingly, both petitioners are eligible, prima facie, to have their dwellings purchased under the express purchase scheme. However, what the petitioners are seeking is to rebuild the farmhouse away from its current location on land owned by Mrs Round. They are of the opinion that they will be far more assured of gaining the necessary planning permissions to do this if the new farmhouse can be presented as a replacement for the old. It is also their view that demolishing the existing farmhouse will enable more efficient landscape mitigation planting to be devised. What they are seeking, therefore, is an undertaking that the old farmhouse will be demolished after it has been purchased by the Government. Since the rules of the express purchase scheme do not accommodate any constraint on the fate of the property after the transfer of ownership, and demolishing the house would result in the loss to the Government of any potential resale value, the petitioners’ request has been denied by the promoter and the petitioners are requesting that the Select Committee intervene.

But, as I said, the intriguing questions that the two petitions pose for the voluntary compensation provisions are not the topic for today. What I wish to bring to your attention is a passage in the evidence given by Mrs Sadler that starts at paragraph 100 in the transcript for the Select Committee’s morning session on Wednesday, 15th October (or at about 10.20am in the corresponding video). Mrs Sadler told the Committee that her preference would be to continue to live in the existing farmhouse, but that “personal experience” had taught that HS2 would make that “totally intolerable and impossible” – the house would be only 20 metres away from the edge of the land to be acquired for HS2. She explained that this experience was gained over a period of more than ten years, while the WCML “TV4” scheme was being constructed to upgrade the section of line past her home to four tracks and that this work hadn’t been finalised until 2012, which was the same year that they had “officially found out about the proposed HS2 scheme”.

Mrs Sadler remarked that the work on the WCML had “not only brought the railway lines closer to the houses”, but had entailed what she described as “disturbance”. She elaborated:

“We had the noise and the dust from the construction and the endless trucks from the machinery and building works, and also tolerated the unsociable working hours, with lights on and noise in the evenings and at weekends.”

Mrs Sadler also told the Members of the Committee that a haul road had been constructed on her side of the WCML, bringing the construction even nearer to her home and that this feature had caused “security problems”. She cited as an instance a burglary of one of her outbuildings, resulting in the loss of “a large number of power tools and equipment”, where the thieves had gained access via the haul road.

Mrs Sadler also described “the issues of stress and worry to contend with” and the necessity for “countless meetings and correspondence with Network Rail”. She told the Committee that both she and her husband had lost “many working hours” and continued:

“… a lot of that time was spent in negotiations, meetings etc. Accommodation works were not to standard, so we had to (sic) a written and photographic log while that was taking place. It included field range problems, our BT lines being cut through, further temporary blocks of land being taken and not restored back at the same time, or with late compensation.”

So Mrs Sadler’s claim that she and her husband “know what’s lying ahead” for them seems well founded, and I think that she is qualified to reach the conclusion that she presented to the Committee:

“The HS2 scheme was obviously far more extensive and intrusive and will affect us in by far a larger way, so to live next to it will be totally unacceptable.”

Important Note: The document from which the quotes reproduced in this blog are taken is an uncorrected transcript of evidence, which is not yet an approved formal record of the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record, and it may therefore be subject to changes being made in the light of any such corrections being requested.

PS: The Committee’s initial reaction to the compensation request made by Mr and Mrs Sadler and Mrs Round is that they should seek further advice on whether there is a planning option that would not require the demolition of the existing farmhouse before the Committee considers whether any further action is appropriate (see paragraph 2 in the transcript for the morning of Thursday 30th October).

PPS: Whilst researching this blog I came across an amusing – at least to me – error in the uncorrected transcript. The Hansard reporter appears to have misheard promoter’s counsel, James Strachan QC, when he referred to a blight notice and paragraph 6 in the transcript records him telling the Committee that petitioners had served a “polite notice” on the promoter. I’m sure that we all try to be polite in our dealings with HS2 Ltd, but I have to admit that this has been very hard for me to maintain and that I have, on occasion, been rather impolite.

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