RURAL business leaders are warning Ministers to expect “bitter disputes” with Yorkshire landowners when the route for the new high-speed rail line is unveiled next month, unless new laws of protection are introduced.
The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) said root-and-branch reform of the Government’s compulsory purchase system is urgently needed to ensure that farmers and other property owners affected by the new £32bn rail line are properly compensated.
Chancellor George Osborne announced on Wednesday that an announcement on the proposed route for the second phase of the HS2 project – running from Birmingham to Leeds, via South Yorkshire, and to Manchester –has been put back until the New Year.
Opponents of the first phase project in the South East claim the compensation offered by Government is inadequate, and have lodged a series of judicial reviews.
In a new report, the CLA suggested disputes would be less common if Ministers finally acted upon an old review of compulsory purchase orders which has been sitting on the shelf in Whitehall for more than a decade.
CLA North regional director Dorothy Fairburn said: “There are few threats to rural businesses as unfair as compulsory purchase, which often ends in bitter dispute and can wipe out generations of investment in a long and distressing process.
“More than 10 years ago, the Government recognised there was a problem and set up the Compulsory Purchase Policy Review, which recommended a whole range of reforms to make the system fairer – but these have never been implemented.
“The onset of HS2 now makes a fundamental review of compulsory purchase laws imperative.”
The CLA said a new duty of care should be introduced which firms acquiring land or property in the national interest would have to sign up to, offering more protection to landowners and backed by an enforceable code of practice.
Compensation packages should better reflect the true value of the property, the report said, and mitigation measures – such as building tunnels, embankments or bridges – should reduce the impact on the rural business affected.
Miss Fairburn said: “Many properties are blighted for several years before the work starts, so blight must be dealt with by a property purchase guarantee scheme.”
The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) discussed the issue with the CLA earlier this week and is hopeful a change in the law might be included in the Government’s forthcoming HS2 Bill, due to be brought before Parliament in the autumn of 2013.
NFU planning adviser Ivan Moss said: “As it stands, you have to wait until one year after the project is completed before the value of a property can be assessed.
“That’s the big problem – what usually happens is when projects are announced prices fall dramatically then, once projects open, go back to the value they were beforehand.
“There have been campaigns on and off for some time, but there is an opportunity now because HS2 requires an Act of Parliament.”
Last night the Government said it would consider the issue as part of its overhaul of planning laws.
A spokesman from the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “We look forward to considering the CLA views as part of our continued drive towards a streamlined and effective planning system that is fair to all while safeguarding the countryside.”