The value of more than 40,000 homes – and possibly as many as 170,000 – could be hit by the proposed new HS2 rail line, yet ministers are proposing to compensate fewer than 2,000 owners, campaigners have warned.
The extent of the potential property blight from the high-speed line linking London and Birmingham can be disclosed as opponents challenge the £34bn scheme this Monday at the High Court. The controversial 140-mile line, Britain's biggest new infrastructure project, will slice through the Chiltern Hills to the north-west of London.
Activists from the HS2 Action Alliance (HS2AA) have discovered through a Freedom of Information request that there are 43,000 homes at risk of property blight – meaning they are likely to drop in value or become hard to sell because of the scheme.
These are houses within 500 metres of the line in rural areas, within 150 metres of the line in urban areas, or within 150 metres of a tunnel. Campaigners claim that the true total of blighted properties may be very much higher – as there are 172,000 homes within a kilometre of the line, or within 250 metres of a tunnel.
But the Government is proposing to purchase at market price only 1,914 properties which lie within 120 metres either side of the centre-line of the route, including 338 which are in its direct path and will have to be bought and demolished. Anyone else affected will have to apply for compensation through the HS2 long-term hardship scheme, the criteria of which are so stringent, campaigners believe, that no more than 500 to 600 properties may qualify.
"Yet it is not unreasonable to assume that at a minimum, the value of all those 43,000 homes within 500 metres of the line will have been significantly affected," HS2AA director Hilary Wharf told The Independent yesterday. "And, of course, many more will also have been affected among the 172,000 lying within a kilometre. We believe anybody who has lost value in their property should be compensated."
Her organisation has written to the Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, asking him if the Department for Transport has any more detailed information on the extent of HS2 property blight, and if not, to research it.
Today's major legal challenge comes from opponents who are attempting to derail the project. Several separate requests for a judicial review of the decision to go ahead with HS2 are being made in the High Court in London. If they are successful, the Government may have to run its consultation process again, potentially delaying the project by up to two years. Two of the challenges are being brought by HS2AA, while others come from 51m – an alliance of councils – the Heathrow Hub group and Aylesbury Golf Club.
A Department for Transport spokesman said: "The Government is confident that the decisions on HS2 have been taken lawfully and fairly and it is vigorously defending these legal challenges."