The Department for Transport has today endorsed Sir David Higgins’ recommendation in July 2016 for the alternative Phase 2b route in South Yorkshire with a loop through to Sheffield City Centre dropping the 2013 proposals to build a station at Meadowhall. This means the main HS2 route will follow the more easterly alignment closer to the M18 which is considered to have less impact overall on built development and the environment.

Whilst the estimated cost saving of £1billion was undoubtedly a key factor in this decision, the alternative route also delivers the prospect of better integration with the existing and proposed wider transport network, particularly the Northern Powerhouse Rail’s aspirations for a Sheffield to Leeds journey time of 30 minutes.

The route is still not fixed though and a Route Refinement Consultation for Phase 2b has also been launched today by the DfT to seek responses from stakeholders affected by the new proposals. The consultation sets out 7 route refinements overall and will run until 9 March 2017 after which the Government will look to make its final decision on the proposed route. As such, there will continue to be a period of uncertainty for landowners affected by the proposed route; although without wishing to pre-empt the outcome of the consultation, it appears more likely than not that the current proposals will be adopted later in 2017.

The Government has also confirmed the Leeds Station configuration as proposed by Sir David Higgins in November 2015 in his report ‘The Yorkshire Hub’ with a shared concourse connecting the existing station with the HS2 station. This is a far better configuration for Leeds than the original proposal in 2013 to have a separate HS2 station 500m south of the existing station, which is thanks to responses to the 2013 consultation and in particular a report by the Leeds Chamber of Commerce. There will now be a seamless interchange between HS2 services and local services. The T shaped station will fit in with the Leeds Southbank and Station Masterplan proposals to regenerate the South of Leeds – this integration with wider regeneration plans for Leeds City Centre is to be welcomed.

Route changes

The Government has indicated that there are seven areas where there has been substantial refinement. The key changes to the original route being consulted upon are:

Eastern Leg

  • to move the route to the east of Measham in Leicestershire, avoiding the most significant impacts on local manufacturing businesses and development sites
  • to go around instead of tunnel under East Midlands Airport
  • to amend the alignment of the preferred route as it passes through Long Eaton to reduce severance in the local community and reduce impacts on the highway network and existing rail infrastructure
  • to move the alignment of the route from Derbyshire to West Yorkshire to reflect a change in the proposals for serving the Sheffield city region, as recommended by Sir David Higgins in his report Sheffield and South Yorkshire published in July 2016.

Western leg

  • to move the previously proposed rolling stock depot at Golborne to a site north of Crewe
  • to move the approach to Manchester Piccadilly 370 metres eastwards with the northern tunnel portal in Ardwick, to avoid direct impacts on residential properties and a school at West Gorton
  • to move the route in the Middlewich - Northwich area in Cheshire up to 800 metres westwards.

Connectivity with Northern Powerhouse Rail

Transport for the North is due to publish its priorities in spring 2017. An integrated strategy will also be published to include the upgrade of the Trans Pennine line between Manchester and Leeds and its interaction with HS2. As part of this northern connection a loop for Sheffield would enable services which stop at Sheffield Midland to continue onto destinations to the north – which could actually reduce journey times between Sheffield to Leeds to 25 minutes. Provision for this may be included within the hybrid bill for HS2 and subject to funding such as the electrification requirements this could be delivered.

Next step in the process

Safeguarding directions protect the route of HS2 from conflicting development. Safeguarding has already taken place in respect of the stretch of the route between the Midlands and Crewe (Phase 2a) and directions have been issued today in respect of Phase 2b.

What does this mean for landowners?

Until the route is finalised there remains a degree of uncertainty but investment decisions taken now on lease renewals, fit-out, plant and refurbishment may all be impacted, whilst the opportunities that may be created by HS2 reaching Leeds may also impact on land values. Landowners should future proof investment decisions to cover all eventualities.

Safeguarding and effect on planning applications

The purpose of safeguarding is not to prevent development along the route of HS2, but to ensure that development that is proposed to take place does not conflict with the plans for the railway.

Once a safeguarding direction is made by the Secretary of State, Local Planning Authorities to whom directions apply are required to consult HS2 Ltd on undetermined planning applications in respect of land that is within the safeguarded area.

If a Local Planning Authority is minded to grant planning permission without giving effect to HS2 Ltd’s comments then the planning application must be referred to the Secretary of State for Transport who is able to direct a final decision on the planning application. The Department for Transport is entitled to issue a direction restricting the grant of planning permission if the proposals conflict with the HS2 scheme.

Safeguarding and effect on owner occupiers 

Safeguarding triggers statutory blight provisions. Once a safeguarding direction is made it gives many of those who own property in the safeguarded area the right to serve a Blight Notice and request that the Government purchases their property under the terms of the Compensation Code. The Government is further consulting on schemes it proposes to introduce for Phase 2b. The following schemes are available now on an interim basis and are expected to be implemented in full in respect of Phase 2b in 2017:

  • Express purchase – which is available to those owner occupiers in safeguarded areas. This simplifies how eligible owner occupiers can claim compensation under the statutory blight regime
  • Need to sell – this is a purchase scheme for people who have a compelling reason to sell their property but can’t do so, other than at a significantly reduced price, because of HS2. There is no geographical boundary for this scheme.

Other schemes may be applicable in due course, depending on the specific location of property and compliance with various qualification criteria such as period of ownership and rateable value. The consultation is also seeking views on the following schemes:

  • Rural support zone – there will be payment and purchase schemes for people who live up to 120m from the line in areas where there is no safeguarding
  • Homeowner payment scheme – which will provide cash payments for people who own and live in properties in the homeowner payment zone (generally 120m-300m from the line in rural areas) where the line is not in a tunnel. This is expected to be launched when the final HS2 route is approved by Parliament.

A homeowner may also be able to sell their property under one of the schemes but rent it back on a short term basis.

The Government remains of the view that larger businesses and investment properties should remain outside the scope of the discretionary compensation and assistance measures. They state that generalised blight has a lesser effect on investment or commercial property than it does on owner-occupied property, and therefore those properties should not be eligible. Whilst this is a confirmation of the general application of compensation for affected parties it is disappointing that there has not been a wholescale review. Recognising that Government needs to achieve value for money to deliver the project, our experience on Phase 1 of HS2 shows that early engagement has the potential to assist in the reduction of overall compensation.

Responding to the consultations

The consultations on the proposed Phase 2b route and the proposed property schemes will run for 16 weeks until 9 March 2017.

A copy of the consultation seeking views on the property compensation and assistance schemes can be found here.

Objections to the next HS2 Bill 

It is understood that the Hybrid Bill for Phase 2a will be deposited in Parliament by the end of 2017 and the end of 2019 for Phase 2b.

Landowners may be entitled to submit written objections to the next HS2 Bill, together with proposed means of addressing their objections, by way of the petitioning process. The landowner would then be entitled to appear in front of the HS2 Select Committee. The Committee has the power to amend the HS2 Bill in order to mitigate effects of the scheme.

When the time comes, having a robust petitioning strategy and engagement with HS2 can deliver acceptable outcomes and end the uncertainty caused by the scheme. We were heavily involved in presenting petitions to the HS2 Select Committee on behalf of parties affected by the Phase 1 proposals (London – West Midlands), so we are well versed in the Parliamentary procedure. On Phase 1 we have represented petitioners on petitions to both the House of Commons and House of Lords. This has helped secure:

  • agreement for the acquisition of the whole of a farm as a result of material detriment
  • accommodation works for owners whose accesses have been impeded
  • assurances so as to not exercise compulsory powers to acquire part of the HQ of a significant UK retailer
  • certainty for occupiers affected by works to provide mechanisms for the work to be undertaken.

We have also negotiated and secured numerous undertakings and assurances to ensure our clients get a fair outcome with minimum disruption from the proposals.

For more detail, take a look at our HS2 Phase 2 capability statement.