Natascha Engel MP responds to consultation on Exceptional Hardship Compensation Scheme

HS2 Exceptional Hardship Scheme Consultation

Response from Natascha Engel MP

Member of Parliament for North East Derbyshire

Introduction

 As the Member of Parliament for North East Derbyshire, three locations within my constituency are directly affected by the proposed HS2 route.  It would have been reasonable to expect that before the announcement on 28 January 2013 that residents in these communities would have been consulted. The Government, together with HS2 Ltd failed to do this. Following the announcement some residents received letters about the potential impact upon their property, others did not. In fact the use of outdated maps meant that in one location approximately thirty homes were not even aware they would be directly affected. The Government and HS2 should have worked more closely with local communities about the project before unveiling any proposed route. It is difficult to understand how anyone can respond to something they have little or no information about.  The questions in the consultation document are closed and how can anyone know if they qualify for compensation until they know exactly where the line is going.

I am making this contribution to the consultation on behalf of the many constituents I have who are directly or indirectly affected by the proposed HS2 route up to Leeds.

 “Do you agree or disagree that the Department for Transport should introduce an Exceptional Hardship Scheme for Phase Two ahead of decisions on how to proceed with the routes? What are your reasons?”

On the assumption that HS2 will move forward I agree that there should be an Exceptional Hardship Scheme in place.  Such a scheme however does not minimise the impact that has been felt by residents and businesses in the communities affected.

The consultation makes reference to the fact that there is no legal requirement by Government to introduce this Scheme but there is clearly a moral obligation to address the following.

  1. Blight to properties and business which was immediate following the announcement on 28 January 2013.
  2. Properties that have been devalued and are now unsellable.
  3. People who are in a property trap through blight imposed upon them which is unfair and unjust and takes away the freedom to move.
  4. Businesses working on advance bookings that have seen an immediate decline and/or cancellation of existing bookings because of future uncertainty.
  5. The scheme should be in place for the duration of the project.

“Do you agree or disagree with the proposed criteria underpinning the Exceptional Hardship Scheme for Phase Two? What are your reasons? Please specify any alternative principles you would propose, including specific criteria for determining qualification for the scheme.”

 The criteria are too limited and restrictive and as a result will not help those seriously affected by the proposals.

1. All property should be included. It is unfair to exclude anyone who falls outside the criteria of residential, small business or agricultural unit owner-occupier, a mortgagee or the personal representative of a deceased person who had a qualifying interest at the time of death.

2.Tenants in rented property that is blighted should be compensated to reduce the financial burden of relocation.

3. Location of property affected by construction or operation is a criteria. How can there be a determination of location of property when no distance has been fixed from the initial preferred route to satisfy criteria and in reality it is not possible to fix this until the route is finalised?

4. How can an applicant assess the distance of their property from the proposed route when it has been admitted that maps used in North East Derbyshire were incorrect?

5. How can it be fair that an applicant in an affected area has to accept an offer of only 85% of market value from a potential purchaser when no compensation is being offered to make up the difference?

6. The criteria of no prior knowledge makes affected properties even less attractive to potential buyers.

7. The Exceptional Hardship Scheme should be available to anyone who wants to move and is unable to do so because of HS2.

8. The scheme provides that exceptional hardship cannot be predefined.  This makes the scheme uncertain and limited that it simply cannot be fair.

Alternatives:

1. Anyone who is faced with financial loss, either through property devaluation and/or relocation should be fully compensated.

2. The Exceptional Hardship criteria should include everyone wanting or needing to move.

3. Compensation should be paid to 100% of the blight free market value.  There should be no requirement for applicants to accept offers of only 85% of property value.

4. The criteria of prior knowledge should not exist where a property has been sold and purchased under existing market forces. This would provide certainty for prospective purchasers that in due course, if affected, they will be compensated.  It will also have the effect of keeping the property market moving in blighted areas.

5. Interim compensation should be afforded to properties deemed to be affected up until the route is safeguarded.

“Do you agree or disagree with the proposed process for operating the Exceptional Hardship Scheme for Phase Two? What are your reasons? Please specify any alternative arrangements which you would suggest.”

 I disagree with the proposed process.

1. HS2 Ltd would administer the scheme on behalf of the Secretary of State and a majority independent panel would be appointed by HS2 to consider applications.  Such a panel cannot be considered as independent when they clearly represent the interests of HS2 Limited.

2. The panel should be wholly independent and selected by an independent body.

3. Successful applicants should also be able to choose a Chartered Surveyor outside of the pool selected by Government if they so wish, with all costs being met by the Government.

4. Unsuccessful applicants should have a right of appeal to a further independent panel. There should also be an independent right of appeal for applicants who are unsuccessful in their initial application.

5. The five criteria set out to determine qualification for the Scheme is too broad. It is noted that consideration of any less than five would be at the discretion of the decision maker and would be considered under the process of extenuating circumstances.

In the interests of fairness and justice applications should be considered where applicants meet one or more of the five criteria.

Further clarification should be provided on the status of the decision maker so as to ensure independence from either Government or HS2 Ltd.

Natascha Engel MP

15 May 2013

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