Six months ago life was sailing on as normal for residents on the Shimmer estate on the outskirts of Mexborough.
The stylish new townhouses in this upscale Dearne Valley estate were very much in demand – after all, who wouldn’t be tempted by the leafy canalside location.
But in July the lives of residents on the estate, made up of more than 200 homes, were turned upside down when they received a letter from HS2 Ltd – the government organisation behind the controversial high speed rail project – informing them that their homes could be demolished to make way for a new route through South Yorkshire.
The HS2 line was originally due to link Rotherham and Sheffield, stopping at a new station at Meadowhall. But under the new proposals, which could save £1bn in construction, the Meadowhall station would be scrapped and the line could pass between Rotherham and Doncaster while a spur off the main line would link up with Sheffield city centre.
The new route, one preferred by the government, would run east towards the M18 before rejoining the original route south of the M62 and for those living on the Shimmer estate this would mean that “some or all of their land” may be required if the plans are approved.
Last month, the Government confirmed the route for the second phase of HS2 – from Crewe to Manchester and the West Midlands to Leeds, but a decision on the line to Sheffield has been delayed until next year.
An independent study has also been commissioned by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling which follows fierce opposition to the proposed new route through the region from residents in the Dearne Valley. On the Shimmer estate there is scepticism and frustration. Gemma Holmes is one of the residents having moved in almost three years ago. She lives with her husband Russell, a finance director, and their two-year-old daughter, Georgia. “The uncertainty has been here since July and it’s not good for your mental health. You think about it every single day and every time you talk to your neighbours,” she says.
Gemma and her husband are already looking to leave rather than waiting to see what happens. “We can’t wait for a decision. Looking at the time scale it’s not going to be until late next year before we find out what’s happening. We could stay but we have a toddler and we want to get her settled in a nursery and we’re not prepared to take the risk.
“We know we’re probably going to end up buying somewhere smaller in an area that might not be quite as nice, but we’re in the fortunate position where we can sell up and move on.”
She believes if the route does get the go-ahead it will cause wider upheaval. “It’s not just us, people who live near the other route are in limbo, too. People can’t move on with their lives.
“I don’t think people in Mexborough fully understand the implications. It’s going to have a big impact. If the plans go ahead they would cut one side of the town off from the other and it would be a nightmare for people travelling to work.”
Doncaster North MP, Ed Miliband, is among those who have criticised the plans to go through the town. “The decision to pursue this route, through Mexborough and villages to the north, flies in the face of the economic case of how HS2 can help South Yorkshire, connectivity and the needs and interests of people in the communities I represent.
“It is unprecedented for HS2 to go slap bang through a new housing estate and should on its own make government ministers rethink. The Secretary of State has agreed to commission an external study on the issue of compensation for residents. But that is not enough. I will continue to fight, alongside other MPs from across the region, the Mayor of Doncaster, councillors and local residents for the Meadowhall route.”
A spokesman for the Department of Transport said yesterday that the consultation into the impact the route might have would gauge the views of local residents and businesses, with a final decision made “in due course”.
For people like Sue and Pete Douglas who live on the Shimmer estate, this just means the waiting game continues. They moved in two-and-a-half years ago and are staunchly against the proposals.
Pete, a former project engineer for Yorkshire Water, says there has been little in the way of new information since the news first emerged. “If the station goes to Meadowhall then the Shimmer estate is in the clear, but if it goes to Sheffield city centre then we are in the firing line.”
Since the bombshell was dropped on them Pete says the situation has been a “nightmare”. They moved into their house in 2014 but he had no inkling of the plans for a train route. “We did a search specifically for HS2 beforehand and nothing showed up.”
He believes that most residents on the estate are resigned to the new plans going ahead. “Everyone’s just in a rush to get their houses valued and the level of compensation sorted.”
However, he feels that HS2 have been uncommunicative. “We’ve not had any consultation with them. We just had a leaflet that was stuffed in our letterbox which we only found when we cleaned it – the leaflet didn’t even properly make it inside our house.”
The couple plan to keep up their opposition. “All we can do is put forward our objections but we’re very disappointed with Chris Grayling and government ministers – we wrote to them but we haven’t had a reply.”
He’s made several Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to find out what proposals are being put forward but says his questions have been treated “outside FOI requests” and that he and other residents still don’t know what the plans are for the estate.
HS2 Ltd says that three public meetings were held in Mexborough following the announcement in July, as well as 11 information events around the region.
A spokesman added: “We understand this is a period of uncertainty for residents on the Shimmer estate, and are working hard to understand their concerns and provide the information they need.”
HS2 has told residents that those living in the so-called ‘safeguarded area’ will be paid the market value for their property based on what it was worth before the announcement, as well as a further 10 per cent in compensation, plus stamp duty, legal fees and removal costs.
But some people, like Peter, are sceptical. “They say that no one will be worse off so that means we can have a new, four-bedroom house next to a canal – I’ll be interested to see where they can provide that,” he says.
“We feel like we’re being told the bare minimum of information. It feels like the government is playing games, but unfortunately they’re playing games with our lives.”