Following the review into HS2, CLA Chief Surveyor Andrew Shirley covers the questions on farmer's and landowner's mind
The government has announced a review of the HS2 project by the former chairman of HS2 and Crossrail, Doug Oakervee. It has been dubbed a “go or no-go” review by the Secretary of State, but when you read the terms of reference it seems as if for Phase 1 it is more about how to do it in a way that the books add up on cost and benefit and whether it should use Old Oak Common. The review raises more questions about Phase 2b and how that matches in with Northern Powerhouse Rail.
It would appear that this is the most fundamental review of the scheme so far, and at a time when construction on Phase 1 is starting and a great deal of work has been undertaken at Euston and Curzon Street Birmingham. The first question that springs to mind is, can this be unravelled? One thing we do not know is the total cost so far and whether there is an exit plan.
The big disappointment, which does not get a mention, is the impact on farming, businesses and housing who have already suffered for many years from disruption, having to petition parliament against a blinkered promoter that is only interested in the engineering operations and the environment, seeing the impact on landowners as a side issue rather than a main part of the scheme. If the government keeps on talking about compulsory purchase being made cheaper and easier for the state, it is the landowner who foots the bill every time, even where, as so often is the case, compensation for rural land makes up only a few percent of scheme price.
If the current scheme gets the “go light”, what will be the added delays and alterations that this review will inflict upon businesses on the ground?
If its “no-go”, what happens to all the wasted time and money over the last 10 years or so that landowners have suffered due to lack of investment, endless meetings and petitioning saying nothing for the emotional stress. How will the government deal with capacity issues on the railway system we already have, more tracks elsewhere or should we build more houses closer where people work?
In the short term, this review will lead to HS2 taking more land temporarily with little compensation rather it being permanent, bringing more uncertainty
Yet another review, in another parliament, independent, but chaired by an ex HS2 chairman… will it make any difference? Government knows that whilst big infrastructure sounds good it is also very risky - legacies can be good but can also turn very bad. We will have to wait and see whether this government dithers some more.