The cancellation of HS2 Phase 2 was the worst kept secret of the Conservative party conference. For a week, we all knew the fate of the northern part of the project. Either that, or as Mark Harper would have you believe, they made the monumental decision on the morning of Mr Sunak’s speech. Either way, the dithering and delay over HS2 is likely to leave contractors and investors doubting the UK’s ability to commit to and bring forward long term major infrastructure projects.
This decision has attracted widespread criticism, not least from the North of the country who were told HS2 would help “level up” and “create growth”. There is the promise of Network North but this seemingly doesn’t help the connection between North and South and has been announced, as was the cancellation of HS2, without due consultation with the leaders in the North. Will the Network North project deliver the promised connectivity and growth that HS2 had promised? A large proportion of the redistributed funds as part of the government announcement appears to be for projects already announced. At best, the announcement of Network North was clumsy and, at worst, showed a lack of understanding of what the North actually needs, serving only to emphasise the North-South divide.
Many home and business owners north of Birmingham have put their lives and livelihoods on hold for a decade as they have waited for HS2 to become a reality. Many of them have spent thousands fighting against it at Select Committee, have stalled investment in their businesses and homes or have sold up to HS2 and moved on. Many will regret selling their assets to make way for a project that will now never become a reality. That is not to mention the heartache and stress they have had to endure.
We are currently acting for a client who was seeking to dispose of their property by way of the HS2 discretionary Need to Sell scheme. Due to the blight of HS2 they were unable to sell their property on the open market. They are in desperate need to move to look after elderly relatives. Whilst gathering the evidence to satisfy HS2’s requirements the scheme was halted. They are now left in a property that is unsaleable due to the derelict properties surrounding it. The toll it has had on their mental and physical health cannot be compensated for. This is the day to day reality of the impact of HS2, cancelled or not.
Cancelling the Manchester leg of the journey won’t put an end to the expense - people will almost certainly continue to seek redress for what they have lost. Neither will it put an end to the emotional turmoil people find themselves in.
We are yet to see what the government’s next move is. How soon will they lift the safeguarding provisions and will they promptly look to return properties back to the original landowners? The return of land comes with its own complications. The Crichel Down Rules provide a set of guidelines which advise that acquiring authorities should offer back surplus land to former owners at its current market value, which may exceed the level of compensation received. Is this morally correct? There are also exceptions to the requirement to offer the land back to the original owners which means some may not even have the opportunity to recover their land.
And what of Phase 1? Well that continues, albeit stopping short of Euston at Old Oak Common if private funding is not secured. If that connection is not secured it is hard to see the sense of phase 1 at all. Those landowners affected by Phase 1 still have daily difficulties securing the proper compensation for their land, and this will continue.
The story of HS2 Phase 2 is far from over. Additional expense, time and emotion is yet to be spent on the cancelled project with the unravelling that will need now to happen. Surely as a result of this whole sorry mess, it would be prudent to now properly review the Compulsory Purchase regime and the way in which we deal with major infrastructure projects. Could that be the legacy of the failed HS2 project?