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01/02/2014

Blog: HS2 compulsory purchase orders

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HS2 train concept art

The introduction into the House of Commons of the government’s HS2 Phase One hybrid bill, in November last year, caused much excitement. 

After a prolonged debate in the press, this was the first solid step on what will be a long and tortuous road.
 
Although it is a long way from being passed – second reading debates, the deposit of petitions and select committee hearings in both the Commons and the Lords are still to come – Parliament is at least considering its merits. But it remains a hugely ambitious and uncertain programme; HS1 (Channel Tunnel Rail Link) hybrid bill took 25 months to pass and Crossrail 40 months, yet the government is targeting April 2015 for HS2 to be passed, just 16 months away.
 
The uncertainties specific to this bill are considerable: we await the Supreme Court’s judgment on last year's judicial review proceedings; a consultation period of just eight weeks for the 50,000-page Environmental Statement (ES) is arguably too short, even though it has been extended by two weeks because of dissemination problems; the extent to which the government will challenge the right of some petitioners to be heard; and the composition of the Commons Select Committee itself, as well as its interpretation of the bill’s principle (which is not within their remit) have still to be determined.
 

"With no apparent time frame or limit there could be an unintended blighting effect"

 

Unprecedented power

 
But it is the range of compulsory purchase powers conferred by the bill that best demonstrates the uncertainties –powers that in one key respect go far beyond previous hybrid bills. Under Clause 47, if the government “considers that the construction of phase one of High Speed Two gives rise to the opportunity for regeneration or development of any land”, it may make a compulsory purchase order (CPO) of that land. 
 
This clause, with no spatial or time limits, represents a new general power that is unprecedented in the history of infrastructure projects. As the government seeks to shore up the economic case for the project it is perhaps understandable – acquiring land in this fashion not only gives control over regeneration, but could potentially generate a profit, with the public purse sharing the benefit from uplift in values.
 
However, the power’s scope – theoretically any development site that becomes viable because of HS2 – is likely to cause anxiety among landowners and local authorities. With no apparent time frame or limit on which sites can be compulsorily purchased, there could be an unintended blighting effect. Until clarifications are made some landowners are in limbo – unable to develop or sell for fear of the bill’s impact.
 

Necessary clarification 

 
Local authorities are likely to seek assurances from the government about exactly how this power is to be used regarding opportunities surrounding HS2 stations. In locations where multiple parties are involved, then the powers could speed up development, but elsewhere councils will want to ensure that they remain in control.
 
With this effect in mind, it’s likely that Parliament may baulk at the scope and breadth of the proposed CPO powers. At the very least spatial limits and a time frame for CPOs need to be clarified. A balance will need to be struck, so I suspect that the clause will be tightened up as the bill progresses through Parliament.
 
Robbie Owen is a Roll A Parliamentary Agent and head of infrastructure planning and government affairs at Pinsent Masons

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