Many farmers whose land falls within the safeguarded area of HS2 may not have noticed a great deal of activity over the past 12 months and may be secretly hoping that the whole project has been quietly kicked into the long grass as the government grapples with rather more immediate concerns. Unfortunately for them, HS2 Limited, in spite of a number of very public difficulties with both the contract process, and their senior management team, has been quietly getting on with progressing the route.
If your land is adjacent to, or on, the route of the railway, you will probably have received a notice from HS2 stating whether they intend to acquire your land, or part of it, on a permanent or temporary basis, or whether they will simply acquire rights over the land, or need to impose restrictive covenants. If you are affected by Phase 1, this notice will have arrived a while ago. However, given that the design of the Phase 1 route is still underway, HS2 still may not have determined the extent of the land take, leaving you in limbo. Some of those affected will also by now have received notice of temporary or permanent possession.
Why you should engage with HS2
Although it is entirely understandable that you might wish to stall progress by not cooperating with HS2, the passing of the High Speed Rail Act (London to West Midlands) Act 2017 in February last year means that HS2 no longer needs landowner consent to gain access for surveys to land, not just along the route of Phase 1, but also to land within 500 metres of the entire length of Phases 1 and 2. There are three reasons why you should engage with HS2 sooner rather than later:
- First, you can request accommodation works to enable you to carry on your farming (and other business) operations, such as a bridge to connect land severed by the route, or replacement irrigation ponds or reservoirs, which HS2 can then factor into the overall design of the railway.
- Second, you can determine the impact of the line on your land and decide whether you want to stay or move elsewhere under the statutory blight procedure (or another of the available, discretionary schemes) if applicable.
- Finally, if you enter into an Early Access Agreement, or a Ground Investigation Agreement for Phases 1 or 2 (a Ground Investigation Agreement may include the digging of trenches, boreholes, and trial pits), HS2 will pay you an access fee and/or fees for each survey, plus compensation for any damage incurred, to enter your land to carry out ecological surveys and investigative works. Without an agreement, HS2 has the power to gain access regardless of consent and without paying an access fee.
However, it is worth noting that, because of the powers granted to HS2 under the Act, new Access Agreements for ecological surveys or Ground Investigation Surveys are not being offered except for land falling within Phases 2a or 2b. When existing agreements expire, they are unlikely to be renewed.
Communication with HS2
Regardless of whether you are affected by Phase 1 or 2, you have probably received a raft of communication from both HS2 and from the appointed contractors for your area stating they intend to carry out surveys on certain dates – and don’t be surprised to receive several letters relating to the same surveys. The sheer volume of paper is not only mind boggling but hugely time consuming. Nonetheless the information is important so that you know what works are planned (and when), not least so you can warn contract farmers or tenants. Other communication from HS2, pre-Compulsory Purchase, will probably include a Farm Pack meeting with HS2’s surveyor, and possibly the relevant land access manager, to discuss the work they intend to carry out and to discuss any required accommodation works.
Resolve to keep talking despite moving timelines
The timetable is constantly shifting. Several clients along the Phase 1 route have been given a date of intended possession by HS2, only to be told that timings have slipped and possession has been pushed back by several months. Although time consuming, and often disheartening, we would always advise you to keep talking to HS2. You are much more likely to get what you need through early discussion and negotiation.