Respected chartered surveyor David Hornsby is a calm and considered professional who chooses his words carefully, but his frustration with the powers-that-be at High Speed Two Ltd has compelled him to “let rip”.
After an infuriating 15 months representing homeowners on the Shimmer estate in Mexborough, near Doncaster, he has branded the government-backed company “a complete shambles and unfit for purpose” and accuses it of short- changing those whose homes and lives have been blighted by plans for the high-speed rail link.
He claims that properties have been undervalued and the confrontational attitude of HS2 has increased the agony for those who are being forced to move to make way for a viaduct.
Stephen Lashmar, of Roger Hannah Chartered Surveyors, who also has clients on the Shimmer estate, agrees and says owners have had valuations for well below what they paid for their properties 18 months ago, even though house prices in the area have risen. This leaves them unable to buy a comparable property elsewhere.
“Some valuations are £10,000 to £15,000 below what they should be,” says Mr Lashmar. The Compensation Code suggests that owners are given market value for their property along with an additional 10 per cent compensation plus moving costs.
Shimmer was half built in July 2016 when it was announced that the high speed rail link would go through the estate. Developers Strata stopped work and have since agreed a compensation package for their loss.
Homeowners were allowed to serve blight notices to force compulsory purchase from November 2016 but critics say the process has been dragged out amid disputes over valuations and payments for the cost of moving.
“In terms of complexity, these are run-of-the-mill compensation cases that should have taken three months maximum to sort out but HS2 has scant disregard for the Compensation Code and residents have been put through hell and back unnecessarily. A lot of owners have suffered from stress because of this situation and they have taken a low valuation figure because they couldn’t face the fight,” says Doncaster-based Mr Hornsby, who has almost 40 years experience as a compulsory purchase and compensation surveyor acting for both local authorities and claimants.
He says that HS2’s valuations did not take into account what the homes would be worth if work on Shimmer’s roads and amenities had been completed and he accuses them of ignoring important case law decisions by the Court of Appeal involving the acquisition of houses on an estate in the course of construction.
Mr Hornsby also alleges that HS2, which has already had issues with overspending, is struggling with its budget and is deliberately driving down payments to homeowners. He makes the point that it is costing them more in administration costs to quibble over compensation than to accept owners’ independent valuations.
HS2 hires its own surveyors to prepare property valuation reports but it must also fund the cost of independent surveyors to represent the homeowners.
“I’ve been involved in many cases like this over the years and there is sometimes a small difference between the valuations but a compromise is soon reached.
“In this case, it is costing HS2 more in time and administration costs to argue than it is to settle on a fair sum,” says Mr Hornsby.
Andrew Sproston paid £170,000 for his brand new, four-bedroom detached home on Shimmer two and a half years ago, but in June last year HS2’s surveyors valued it at £152,500.
He says: “I and my surveyor challenged that and the offer was increased to £162,500 and then to £167,500, which was less than the £175,000 it was worth but I accepted because it had been a long fight to get to that point and I just wanted to move on.”
Andrew has kept a log and so far he has spent 90 hours challenging HS2 over valuations and compensation and says:
“Everything is a battle with them and they are very slow to respond. HS2 are bullies. They are confrontational and they have shown no compassion for people who are losing their homes. I took them on but other neighbours suffered from stress because of this situation and couldn’t cope. They took low valuations just to escape.”
Mr Sproston is in the process of buying another home but calculates that the move is costing him £25,000 more than if he had stayed on the now-blighted estate. He adds that HS2’s conveyancers still aren’t ready to exchange contracts on his Shimmer home 15 weeks after the sale was agreed.
He and others are also wrangling with HS2 over disturbance payments, which cover the costs of moving.
“I am arguing with them over the cost of a survey I had done on a house that turned out to have structural problems and which I obviously didn’t buy. I have also had to fight like hell over removal costs, despite getting three quotes from reputable removal firms, including Pickfords, because HS2 challenged the prices,” says Mr Sproston.
Another homeowner is struggling to get HS2 to pay mortgage arrangement and redemption fees for her enforced move, despite previous assurances from Government ministers and HS2 drectors that these costs would be covered.
Mexborough councillor Sean Gibbons says: “HS2 is making life very difficult for residents and they’ve had to fight for everything from day one. One retired couple were at their wits’ end and just took a low offer for their property because they couldn’t cope with the stress. The money they got wouldn’t buy a comparable home so they’ve ended up moving to a smaller house and they’ve had to pay another £18,000 out of their savings to buy it.”
At a recent meeting with angry residents, HS2 officials announced the offer of an interest-free loan to help them buy a comparable home. It was roundly condemned as “just increasing levels of debt”.
The firm also announced that it had re-tendered its valuer contract, previously held by Carter Jonas, and that the Independent Valuation Agency had won the bidding.
Councillor Gibbons has called for all previous valuations to be reassessed, while David Hornsby and Stephen Lashmar want assurances that HS2 officials will not interfere in valuations in a bid to drive down costs.
“It is very clear that HS2 will use whatever means are available to reduce payments made to property owners. If the only way that HS2 can be progressed is by giving a raw deal to homeowners then there is something radically wrong with the management of the scheme. My view would be to call for a full inquiry into the nature of the negotiations on Shimmer,” says Mr Hornsby.
“In my experience HS2 is not fit for overseeing the acquisition of a rabbit hutch, let alone the homes of families.
“There is no doubt that the residents on this estate have had a poor deal from HS2 and I believe that there will be countless more homeowners in Yorkshire and elsewhere who are going to suffer at the hands of this organisation.”
A HS2 spokesperson said: “We are committed to helping Shimmer estate homeowners who need support to secure a local comparable home.
“To date we have reached agreement on values for 80 per cent of cases where the homeowner has supported a blight notice with a claim form.
“This demonstrates that the processes we have in place, with surveyors acting on behalf of affected parties on the estate, is working effectively.
“Every home is unique and we appreciate that there will often be different opinions about the true value of a property.
“We try to recognise unique circumstances where we can, but have a responsibility to establish a price that is fair both for homeowners and the taxpayer.”
* The first phase of the £56bn high speed railway is due to open in December 2026. Construction of the second phase providing onward legs to Manchester and Leeds should begin in the middle of next decade and the line should be open by 2032-33. The build could create 40,000 jobs. The HS2 line between London and the West Midlands will carry 1,300ft trains with up to 1,100 seats per train. They will reach speeds of up to 250mph. The Department for Transport says the project will cut Birmingham-London journey times from one hour and 21 minutes to 49 minutes. The Manchester to London trip will take one hour and eight minutes down from two hours and eight minutes and Leeds to London will take one hour and 20 minutes instead of two hours and 11 minutes.