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Posted in Planning

HS2: chugging towards its final destination

The government has now issued its formal response to the House of Lords’ special report on the hybrid bill for HS2, issued in December.  Whilst much of this relates to specific petitioners it also includes some important changes to the bill relating to the government’s powers of compulsory purchase, compensation and engagement with landowners.

From the first publication of the draft bill there has been concern about the breadth of the government’s proposed powers of compulsory purchase.  In particular, where the central government considered that the construction or operation of HS2 had given rise to “the opportunity for regeneration or development” of land, the bill gave it powers to compulsorily acquire that land.  These unprecedented powers were not subject to any spatial or time limits, and were also seen by many as the government trying to ensure that it had “first dibs” on any uplift in land value created by HS2.  If the government could demonstrate that HS2 had unlocked the development potential for the land, it would be entitled to compulsorily acquire it and the landowner would only be entitled to the pre-HS2 value of the land.

Some commentators accused the government of trying to make a profit from the HS2 regeneration opportunities at the expense of local authorities and land owners, although the government said the powers would not be used in this way.

In their report, the Lords concluded that it was “not sound law-making” to grant such wide ranging powers based only on ministerial statements that they would only be used as a measure of last resort, without a statutory guarantee.  As a result the provisions were struck out.

The government has confirmed that these provisions will not be reinstated and instead they will rely on local authorities to ensure that all regeneration opportunities unlocked by HS2 are delivered.

Other points of note are:

  • The compensation package will be improved for those living in certain urban areas and affected by severe and prolonged noise and other disturbances during construction. The government has said that this will “provide a fair and proportionate remedy” for the HS2 construction effects on these owners.  This is a positive move to redress the balance between urban and rural property owners, as previously rural owners were in a better position when seeking compensation for disturbance during construction; and
  • Many petitioners complained that government engagement with land owners on HS2 was often “sporadic and frustrating”.  In response the government has established a new Community Engagement Directorate which will be tasked with dealing with public responses, including looking at ways to develop “genuine and timely two-way engagement.”