HS2 buys residential properties and land worth £600m

By David Rhodes
BBC News

image source, PA
image captionThe proposed route of the new rail line is expected to be completed by 2034

More than 900 properties worth nearly £600m have been bought by the company responsible for delivering High Speed Rail 2 (HS2), figures show.

They include Whatcroft Hall, sold by comedian John Bishop for £6.8m, the highest price paid for any property.

Campaigners opposed to the rail project said some homeowners had been treated badly, claiming homes were routinely undervalued by HS2.

HS2 said it had to achieve a fair price for both homeowners and taxpayers.

The £56bn high-speed rail line is designed to boost the UK's economy by cutting journey times between London and the Midlands and the north of England.

The first passenger services are expected to operate between the capital and Birmingham in 2026, with phase two of the project to Manchester and Leeds earmarked for completion by 2034.

Doubts about the future of the route have been raised, after Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss told the Spectator magazine the government would be looking again at the project in its next spending review.

Homeowners who live in the path of the proposed route are entitled to compensation.

Certain residents are able to sell their home to HS2 at the full "unblighted" market price but some have claimed HS2 has undervalued their homes.

media caption'I've known marriages break up over HS2'

Tracy Stone, from Mexborough in South Yorkshire, lives on the Shimmer Estate, which made headlines when the route was announced because it was so newly-built residents had only just moved in when they learned their homes were at risk of demolition to make way for HS2.

She recently sold her house to HS2 after being told the proposed route would go directly through the estate.

"Four days after I moved on to the Shimmer Estate I was told most of the new estate would have to be knocked down," she said.

"As we've tried to sell our homes, its felt like HS2 have tried to put obstacles in our way at every turn.

"They've been offering ridiculously low prices and the whole process just feels very unfair."

The mother of two said she had recently settled on a valuation of £169,000 for her home, £5,000 less than the real market value she understands it holds.

"We were promised by the government and HS2 that they would look after people on this estate, but that hasn't happened," said Ms Stone.

"We've been let down and lied to."

Where HS2 bought homes and land. Number of purchases, 2011 to 2018.  .

Figures published by HS2 in response to a freedom of information request from the campaign group Stop HS2, showed 902 residential properties, farms or pieces of land had been bought by the company between 2011 and 2018.

The total cost of the acquisitions was nearly £600m.

image source, Getty Images
image captionCampaigners say identical homes on the Shimmer Estate in Mexborough, South Yorkshire, have been given widely different valuations by HS2

The figures also revealed homeowners in identical homes on the Shimmer estate had received significantly different levels of compensation for their properties.

"There are two properties on this estate, next to each other - one was bought for £153,000, the other £173,000," said Sean Gibbons, a local independent councillor.

"We've got lots of residents who were promised they would get the market rate for their homes and that just hasn't happened."

But Richard Farr, a local surveyor with experience of working with HS2, said it was common for similar houses to receive different valuations.

"A valuation has to take into account the amount of money spent on the home, and its internal fixtures and fittings. It's not just a value of the bricks and mortar of a property," said Mr Farr.

image source, PA
image captionJohn Bishop sold his Cheshire mansion to HS2 for £6.8m. The comedian has said he thinks the new train line should be scrapped

A spokeswoman for HS2 said: "We are committed to supporting homeowners on the Shimmer Estate, and have reached agreement on values for over 75% of cases where the homeowner has applied to sell their property through our property support schemes.

"Every home is unique and there will often be different opinions about the value of a property. We have a responsibility to establish a price that is fair both for homeowners and the taxpayer."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Transport said: "HS2 Ltd must work closely and constructively with those impacted by the project - this ensures a sensible balance is struck between fair compensation for affected residents and protecting the public purse.

"Where property is needed to deliver this vital project, HS2 Ltd are bound by strict compensation rules and guidelines and we expect them to pay a fair, market price for properties."

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