1. ITV Report

Government in HS2 payouts pledge

The Hitachi Class 395 Javelin train as it passes through Ashford, Kent, using the HS1 Channel Tunnel Rail Link Photo: PA

Compensation measures for residents affected by the London-Birmingham HS2 high-speed rail project will go "significantly beyond statutory requirements", the Government promised today.

The Government said it would buy any owner-occupied home in the "safeguarded area" - an area within 60 metres of the planned route.

As well as paying the unblighted value of the property, the Government is today proposing to pay additional compensation of 10% up to the value of £47,000.

The safeguarded area includes 338 homes that will have to be demolished to make way for the first phase of HS2 which cuts through Tory heartlands and is bitterly opposed by some councils and many residents.

There are 483 rural residential properties within the safeguarded area as well as 340 urban residential properties and 278 business properties.

Residents and councils across Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire have so far fought against controversial rail link.

Even the National Trust has said it fears the route would badly affect historic land and property, including tourist attractions like Claydon House, Waddesdon Manor, Hartwell House and Coombe Hill.

The Government, which will consult on the compensation package, is also establishing a voluntary purchase zone (VPZ) a further 60 metres outside the safeguarded zone in rural areas.

Within the VPZ homeowners can sell their homes at their full unblighted value. There are 788 homes and 25 business properties in this zone.

The Government also announced today:

:: A long-term hardship scheme to help those with a need to move during the development of HS2 but who are unable to sell their home;

:: A sale-and-rent-back scheme to give more flexibility to homeowners who wish to stay in properties which will ultimately be required to allow for construction work;

:: A package of measures to provide clarity and reinforce confidence in properties above tunnels, including before and after surveys;

:: A commitment to work with local authorities, housing associations and affected tenants to develop a strategy for replacing any lost social rented housing.

HS2 is expected to be completed around 2026 and will significantly reduce London to Birmingham rail times.

A second Y-shaped phase, taking the line to north-east and north-west England and beyond, is due to be completed around 2032/33.

Rail minister Simon Burns said: "HS2 will completely transform the UK. It will define our country, not just for the 21st century but beyond - linking our major cities in a way previous generations could only dream of.

"No major infrastructure project on this scale can be built without some impact on local communities, but I am determined to do everything I can to minimise the effect of HS2 on those closest to the line."

He went on: "We have developed the right compensation package, providing absolutely the right support for those affected, while at the same time protecting the interests of taxpayers.

"We have thought long and hard about this and the measures I have announced are fair and strike the right balance for local communities and the British taxpayer."

Hilary Wharf, director of the HS2 Action Alliance, said: "What's on offer is derisory. It's cynical and dishonest and gives the lie to repeated Government promises that this would be the most generous compensation scheme ever. They themselves say it's comparable to HS1's (the London to Folkestone Channel Tunnel fast link) arrangements - regarded as unacceptable 20 years ago."

She went on: "For those affected by blight (beyond the 120-metre mark from the line) it effectively just continues the existing hardship scheme, under which just 60 households have qualified in the last two years.

"If the Government can't afford fair compensation, it can't afford HS2."

Ms Wharf continued: "This is neither a generous nor the right package for those impacted by the plans for HS2. Under these proposals many thousands of ordinary people will be left with houses they cannot sell or worth considerably less than they were before the plans for this eye-watering, expensive white elephant were announced. It offers no prospect of relief for the vast majority of those whose lives are ruined by HS2."

Ms Wharf said the consultation on compensation had been delayed three times since it was first scheduled for February last year, "with the lives of thousands of ordinary people - from Camden to Staffordshire - damaged by this fatally flawed plan".

She went on: "As the last consultation was a shambles, losing hundreds of responses and triggering five judicial reviews, we have no expectation that this will be any better.

"As with every step of this fatally flawed project those impacted have been insulted and treated with contempt by an incompetent DfT (Department for Transport) and uncaring Government who seem hell bent on pushing though HS2 no matter what the personal, financial or environmental cost."