Love it or loathe it — there isn’t a middle ground with HS2 — the high speed link between London, Birmingham and the North is hardly out of the news.
And, for good reason. Taxpayers’ money to the tune of what was initially a £33billion scheme, may well ending being double that figure; some have even gone on the record to say that the final cost could well be over £100billion.
One of the reasons why HS2’s costs seem to be spiralling is because no-one really knew how much a new high speed line would cost. Yes, we have HS1 — the Eurostar line — but that opened years ago and so any cost comparisons are outdated and in any event HS
2 is much much more ambitious. I think £33billion sounded ‘about right’ when it was first announced under the Blair administration — enough to sound impressive, but low enough not to scare the horses.
However, there are going to be further costs that need to be factored in, given the recent number of cases coming forward with regard to undervaluations of properties that are being compulsory purchased by HS2.
I know a couple whose property is in the firing line of HS2 Phase 2B (Crewe-Manchester spur) and their property was undervalued by £60,000. They have spent six years fighting their corner and have spent tens of thousands on legal advice.
That is just one property.
There are others coming forward whose properties have been substantially undervalued and many are now starting to re-examine the deal they were ‘forced’ to accept. If HS2 is thinking that such cases are ‘done and dusted’ they will be in for a surprise — there are legal precedents for overturning historic deals on the grounds of ‘unjust enrichment’.
The potential cost to the taxpayer to reimburse all those who have been affected by the compulsory purchase scheme could easily run into billions more than originally budgeted for.
I am all in favour of progress — particularly in the under-funded railway sector — but this scheme should have factored in fair, open market valuations for all the blighted homes and businesses, and the purchasing authority (ultimately the Secretary of State for Transport acting through HS2 Limited) should be sensitive to the financial implications of those having no choice but to sell up and relocate.
With this in mind Simon Turton of Opera PR and I have set up HS2U Law & Practice to offer co-ordinated professional advice from specialists to those who feel that they need support in understanding the complex compulsory purchase system.
Many feel it would seem to make far more sense improve and expand the existing rail network, which we know would cost a fraction of HS2, and would still leave money in the pot for the NHS, education and the armed forces.
In the final analysis, HS2 seems to come down to a simple choice: a few more minutes in bed or a country that has a properly joined-up rail network that would help to give everyone the chance to help tackle the challenges of the post-Brexit UK economy… whatever they may prove to be.
For more information about HS2U Law & Practice: https://www.meetup.com/Hs2Ulawandpractice/