Rail link compensation scheme launched

A compensation scheme for householders affected by a planned High Speed Rail link launched today.

The Government will buy homes and business properties blighted by their proximity to High-Speed 2 - the proposed multi-billion-pound route between London and Birmingham using 250mph trains.

Under the Exceptional Hardship Scheme, an independent panel has been set up which will look at applications on a case-by-case basis.

The offer applies only to properties on the preferred route of the High-Speed 2 (HS2) track - which leaves London via Ruislip and passes near Amersham, Wendover and Aylesbury before approaching Birmingham between Coventry and Kenilworth - and not to two alternatives which follow more westerly or easterly routes.

Applicants must show that the property has been on the market for three months or more and attracted no offers above 85% of its value before the route was announced in March.

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said the scheme is intended to ensure that "people who currently are faced with extreme hardship as a result of the identification of that route have the possibility of being able to sell their properties, notwithstanding the inevitable planning blight".

Guidance issued by the Department for Transport has indicated that the state will not buy homes where the proposed route envisages a tunnel running underneath the property. And commercial properties will only qualify if they have a rateable value under £34,800.

It suggested that reasons for needing to sell a property urgently could include work, a new baby, a move into sheltered accommodation, medical problems, divorce or the threat of repossession.

A number of groups bitterly oppose the creation of HS2.

One is the Chiltern Society, which has more than 6,500 members, and which has described high-speed rail as "a mass of iron and steel and concrete and noise that will leave an indelible, ugly scar across one of the most beautiful areas of England".

Chiltern Society chairman John Taylor said: "We have serious doubts that the economic case for building the proposed HS2 route through the Chilterns is convincing, or that the assumptions for time-saving benefits are robust.

"We really question the value of saving a few extra minutes' travelling time when compared with the environmental destruction that a direct route across the Chilterns AONB (area of outstanding natural beauty) would cause.

"We doubt if sufficient consideration has been taken of the future development of the internet and video conferencing, which could have a growing and significant impact on future travel.

"We believe HS2 Ltd has overestimated the benefit of business travellers being able to work on the train - something they already do on the existing network."

Another group - the Chilterns Conservation Board - believes "that the net benefits of the new line, both environmental and economic, have not been proven and therefore there is not a strong enough case to justify causing irreversible damage to the Chilterns AONB".

The group is opposed to the line coming through any part of the Chilterns .

Jerry Marshall, of the Burton Green HS2 Action Group, near Kenilworth in Warwickshire, whose property is under threat, believes the terms of the compensation are "very restrictive" and that some people are not covered.

On Sky News, Mr Marshall said: "There are much cheaper and better ways of increasing rail capacity than HS2. There are very simple solutions."

He suggested Virgin Trains could increase capacity on the West Coast Main Line.

Mr Marshall went on: "There is unlikely to be any significant growth in passenger travel. In the next 60 years people should - and will - cut down on their travel."