High Speed rail scheme plunging home owners into “dire situations”

19:54 12 December 2012

A widespread housing blight caused by the HS2 high-speed rail scheme is plunging many home owners into “dire situations”, the High Court was told today.

Properties close to the proposed £32billion scheme have been devalued by between 20 per cent and 50 per cent, said David Wolfe QC.

Because of the loss of value of their homes, householders are facing an inability to move or remortgage for 15 years-plus.

The QC was appearing for campaigners who are accusing the government of carrying out a “conspicuously unfair” consultation exercise on compensation for blight before HS2 was approved last January by Justine Greening, then transport secretary.

The HS2 Action Alliance, which has more than 70 affiliated action groups and residents’ associations, claims ministers have left ordinary people “in the dark”.

The case is one of five applications for judicial review triggered by the scheme to link London and Birmingham by rail in 45 minutes.

The government says it has acted fairly and lawfully and “struck the right balance” between people’s concerns and the national interest.

Giving the scheme the go-ahead, Ms Greening said the service would create “jobs, growth and prosperity”.

Today Mr Wolfe asked Mr Justice Ouseley, sitting at the High Court in London, to rule that there must be a fresh consultation process.

Mr Wolfe told the judge the case raised the question of whether people who just happened to live and own properties close enough to the route to be affected by HS2 should have to suffer personally because of the claimed public interest in the scheme.

HS2 Ltd has contacted 172,000 households that are close, said the QC.

“A generalised blight is undoubtedly arising and (government) documents accept it.”

But the flawed two-stage consultation process under challenge left consultees without sufficient detail to understand or respond in a meaningful way. There had been overall unfairness.

Mr Wolfe argued that consultees had a legitimate expectation that a scheme would be adopted that would fairly compensate all individuals on whom “the national interest had imposed a financial loss”.

Richard Stein, from Leigh Day & Co, solicitor for the alliance, said before the hearing: “This is not a Nimby argument.

“The consequence of the government’s compensation scheme is that many thousands of people living along the route will not be able to sell their homes for some 15 years because their homes are blighted.

“If it is decided that it is in the national interest to have HS2, which our clients don’t accept, at least they should not have to bear the burden for this national project.

“Proper arrangements must be put in place if HS2 is to go ahead to make it possible for these people to move if and when they wish in the same way that the rest of us can.

“The cost of a scheme which would make this possible must be included as a part of the cost of HS2.

“The process by which the government has adopted its proposed compensation scheme has been unfair and shambolic.”

The hearing is continuing.

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