HS2 Limited must stop dragging its feet and pay compensation to those whose lives they have blighted, or Ministers must act

The whole sorry tale of HS2 and how it hit the buffers has filled many column inches over the years.

Costs had spiralled out of control and the government quite rightly pulled the plug last year on Phase 2 from Birmingham up to Manchester. I agreed with that decision. HS2 had become nothing but an expensive folly.

But while we now have certainty over what will not happen for those in the path of the project, very little has changed for them. They are stuck in a costly compensation limbo, with lives and decisions on hold. In some cases, their properties remain blighted and all of this has been made worse by the actions and inaction of HS2 Limited.

As the MP for Stafford, I have helped people who are not getting compensation from HS2 Limited as Phase 2 would have gone through my constituency. This is why I held a backbench debate this week calling on the Government to provide swift compensation to residents who have been affected.

The issue of HS2 compensation has been raised in parliament for over a decade. Since becoming an MP in 2019, I have raised the issue six times in the House.

Alongside this, I have contacted relevant ministers and spent hundreds of hours working on this issue, visiting affected constituents, and advocating for them. Indeed, my first piece of constituency casework involved a constituent who experienced the most awful mental health crisis because of the stress of the compensation process. That visit left an indelible mark on me because it made it clear that this was an issue that could ruin lives.

I would like to thank the constituents who have contacted me about this issue, sharing their stories and highlighting how HS2, and the actions of HS2 Ltd in particular, have caused not only material harm but also deeply impacted their mental and physical health. By holding the debate, I first and foremost wanted all those seeking compensation to know that they have not been forgotten.

People like farmer Andrew Collier. HS2 purchased just over half of his land. Some of this land was earmarked for utilities. However, another portion was bought not for HS2 directly, but to be given to a golf course as compensation for HS2 purchasing half of its course.

Mr Collier applied for compensation, hoping that it would arrive swiftly. This did not happen. Instead, Mr Collier waited for two and a half years for HS2 Ltd to compensate him.

Even now, he is still owed hundreds of thousands of pounds to cover two years of lost harvests and other outstanding claims. Due to the long delays in receiving compensation, Mr Collier is now living off his financial reserves and his farm is no longer financially viable.

To compound the pain and injury now HS2 is cancelled, the land is lying fallow.

And Jean and Trevor Tabernor. The HS2 route would have meant their farm house was demolished. Their new farm house is half built and they have been seeking money to finish the works. Their compensation needs to be finalised as soon as possible so they know what they are doing.

When the Prime Minister announced that HS2 Phase 2 – north of Birmingham – would be cancelled, he said: “We are committed to fair treatment for people affected by the changes [to HS2].” I know he is sincere but this has not yet happened.

When HS2’s route was announced over a decade ago, the value of property and land along the route sometimes dropped by half. The impact of this ‘blighting’ varied, and a complex compensation system was created. Indeed, there are six different categories of compensation available. The process is slow and the compensation low.

Now, unbelievably those living along the cancelled Phase 2 route who wish to re-purchase their properties are facing purchasing it at a far higher cost.

It is inequitable for HS2 to undervalue the property it purchases and then offer to sell the property at current market rates – rates far higher than they were bought for.

Those in negotiations with HS2 must also sometimes pay their own professional fees because the company does not keep up with payments, or pay them at all even though they are supposed to.

There is a litany of challenges for ministers to deal with. They need to act now to put my constituents and those of other MPs first by compensating properly and swiftly or giving them back what is rightfully theirs.

Theo Clarke MP

Theo Clarke is the Conservative MP for Stafford, and was elected in 2019.