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HS2 eastern leg scrapped leaving landowners ‘high and dry’

18/11/2021
Alastair Frew

Today (Thursday 18 November 2021), the government’s Transport Department has confirmed the rumours that the eastern leg of HS2, linking the Midlands to Leeds, has been scrapped, leaving many landowners along the route “high and dry”, according to Alastair Frew, partner in Lodders’ real estate department.

“For years, the smart money has been on the cancellation of the eastern leg. Rumours that the eastern leg of HS2 could be scaled back or scrapped altogether have been swirling for months.

“And in order for the construction of the eastern leg of HS2 to go ahead, it was almost certain to be re-routed away from Nottingham Toton and instead go past East Midlands airport, and this has now been confirmed in today’s government announcement, which forms part of the government’s £100bn integrated rail plan published today.

“The announcement will have left many landowners reeling, in particular those landowners on the Nottingham to Leeds leg that have sold land to HS2 under compulsory purchase powers. Now left high and dry, these landowners must seek legal advice as soon as possible about buying back their land the moment the eastern leg is officially and formally scrapped,” he says.

Crichel Down Rules

Alastair explains that if land compulsorily purchased by the government is not needed and still in its original condition, the previous owner can buy it back at market value, under Crichel Down Rules:

“Crichel Down Rules apply when land has been compulsorily purchased by HM Government. If the land is no longer needed and still in its original condition, the previous owner can buy it back at market value,” he says.

“However, in many cases, huge swathes of farm land have been acquired, but the diggers have already moved in, meaning the land is not in its original condition so Crichel Downs does not apply.

“Compulsory purchase compensations rates are supposed to be based on the current market value. For the landowners involved, I just hope that market value hasn’t risen beyond what they were paid for it, which could be the case as the expected development opportunities because of HS2 has forced land values to go up, so in some cases the former landowner could find themself outpriced.”

Logical and illogical step

Alastair believes that it would be the most logical thing for HS2 to link London with the airports at Manchester, Birmingham and the East Midlands: “Converting the eastern leg into a shuttle service to East Midlands Airport is logical, but not what New Labour, the Coalition Government or the Conservative Government ever promised, and the electorate voted for on many occasions.

“Upgrading the Birmingham to Leeds main line is really useful, but does not add the promised capacity. Perhaps, in this post-Covid world, a slightly faster journey from Leeds is more useful than the extra capacity?

“Building HS2 phase 1 from (almost) Euston to (almost) Birmingham is very much needed, albeit the route was dictated by the grandiose obsession with a super high speed line which is looking increasingly like a vanity project.

“The good news from today’s announcement is that the Birmingham to Manchester line isn’t to be scrapped. This would have been a major failing, as it would have reduced the route to a shuttle service between Birmingham International and East Midlands airport.

New Labour’s dream

“The whole HS2 project has been saddled with New Labour’s dream that it would be a job-creation scheme, when the plan for HS2 was launched in the height of the Banking Crisis,” adds Alastair, “so it always ignored common sense. We have needed a new main railway route for decades, just not this one, and especially not a super-high speed one that only runs for 120 miles.

“I would be surprised if the line ever goes all the way to Euston. The London terminus will be at Old Oak Common, which is a Crossrail/Heathrow hub and a major freight interchange for the Channel Tunnel.

“Is it possible that by accident and an attempt to save money, HS2 has morphed from a North-South high-speed passenger line into a London/Birmingham/West of England system with a fabulous connection between Manchester, East Midlands and Birmingham airports, the airfreight terminus at East Midlands airport, Heathrow and right through London to Canary Wharf and City Airport – and does this mean the issue over a new runway at Heathrow will have been solved?”

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