Landowners on axed HS2 route left ‘suicidal’, MPs told

Landowners on an axed HS2 route are feeling “suicidal” due to the lack of action by the Government-owned company responsible for building the high-speed railway, MPs heard.

Rail consultant Trevor Parkin, who has co-authored several technical papers relating to HS2 and frequently voiced opposition to parts of the project, said HS2 Ltd officials are “dragging their feet” – possibly in the hope of another policy U-turn following a general election.

In October, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak cancelled plans to extend HS2 from Birmingham to Manchester to save money.

Under a process known as safeguarding, land on proposed HS2 routes was protected to stop conflicting developments taking place.

Following Mr Sunak’s announcement, the Department for Transport (DfT) said for Phase 2a – between the West Midlands and Crewe – safeguarding would be “formally lifted in weeks”, which is the responsibility of the Government.

HS2 Ltd had spent £205 million on purchasing land and property on the planned route.

Mr Parkin, a former head of operations standards for train operator East Midlands Trains – before the franchise was handed to East Midlands Railway – told the Commons’ Transport Select Committee: “Since the announcement by the Prime Minister, there is not only no communication from HS2 – or more minimal communication saying ‘we’re still looking at the implications of the decision’ – but there’s no evidence of removal of any of their paraphernalia from any of these sites.

“We’re in touch with quite a lot of landowners, and the landowners are pulling their hair out about this.

HS2 project
The construction site for the HS2 project at Euston in London (Lucy North/PA)

“Some people haven’t had any payment. They’ve had their land compulsory purchased without any payment.

“They can’t get access to areas of their land. They’re extremely inconvenienced.

“Some of these people are suicidal by the way that they’ve been treated because it’s just deplorable.

“Yet there’s still radio silence, there’s still no effort on the ground to do anything to remove any of these things, and I think that’s got to change.

“The decision has been made.”

He added: “The safeguarding needs to be lifted, the blight needs to be removed from people’s lives. HS2 needs to get on with it.

“They just seem to be dragging their feet.

“I don’t know whether (they think): ‘If we can wait long enough, somebody might change the decision after a general election.'”

HS2 Ltd said in a statement: “HS2 Ltd has no powers to lift safeguarding, only the Government can do that.

“We are committed to keeping communities informed once an announcement has been made.

“We recognise that people did not choose to live in the path of a high speed railway, and understand the frustration they may now feel following the cancellation of the northern sections of HS2.

“At all times we endeavour to be understanding and to provide appropriate support and guidance.”

The DfT is developing a programme for selling land acquired for HS2 which is no longer needed.

Rail minister Huw Merriman told the committee the Government will lift safeguarding for “the bulk” of Phase 2a by “the end of the year”.

He explained that land will be sold “at the right time” in a “considered manner”.

He said the process will take into account the need to maximise value for money for taxpayers while also giving “consideration for the wider community who’ve been impacted by sales”.