HS2 may lead to windfall for compulsory purchase farms
The proposed multi-billion-pound high-speed rail network could provide an unexpected benefit for the Westcountry in the form of new laws to protect farmers and rural business owners.
Firms are suffering because of an unfair system of compulsory purchase which needs root-and-branch reform, a report published this week claims.
The Country Land and Business Association has put forward proposals to change the system of compensation for owners who are forced to sell land or property to make way for major developments.
The National Farmers' Union this week held talks with the CLA and farmers affected by plans for the controversial HS2 link between London and Birmingham.
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It is hoped that key changes to the compulsory purchase system could be included in new laws needed to build the rail link.
CLA president Harry Cotterell said: "There are few business relationships that are as unfair as compulsory purchase, which all too often ends in bitter disputes.
"Rural landowners suffer doubly, having their land compulsorily purchased and then having to live with the consequences, often for generations."
The CLA's Fair Play report outlines its vision to introduce a new "duty of care" towards sellers, which acquirers of land would have to observe, backed by an enforceable code of practice.
It argues that compensation packages should reflect the true value of the property taken and provide mitigation measures – such as building tunnels, embankments or bridges, which should reduce the impact on the rural business affected.
The CLA wants to solve the problem of blight – where properties lose value years before the project is finished – with a property purchase guarantee scheme.
Buyers would also have a duty to take only the minimum amount of land permanently required and to return any land that becomes surplus to the schedule.
NFU planning adviser Ivan Moss said all manner of rural businesses could suffer, adding that HS2 had decimated the healthy waiting list for a golf course years ahead of the project's start.
"As it stands, you have to wait until one year after the project is completed before the value of a property can be assessed," he said.
"That's the big problem – what usually happens is when projects are announced prices fall dramatically then, once projects open, go back to the value they were beforehand.
"We have one member who does wedding receptions in a converted barn but people plan well in advance and takings are down already.
"There have been campaigns on and off for some time but there is an opportunity now because HS2 requires an Act of Parliament."