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Compulsory purchase must be properly compensated

The government needs to more than double compensation to homeowners hit by HS2 if it wants to buy off opposition, says Paula Higgins

An Englishman’s home is his castle, it is said. Unless the government decides it wants to demolish it to build HS2. It then thinks you should be grateful for being forced to move out of your home against your wishes for a fee of 10% of your house’s value. But if you are one of the thousands of people who live along the path of the planned high speed rail line HS2, you have a right to be angry.

The offer of 10% comes with numerous restrictions on who can claim it, and there is an upper limit of £47,000. It is also only triggered once parliament approves HS2. The thousands of people whose houses have been made unsaleable just by the announcement of the government’s plans currently get nothing (unless they can prove exceptional hardship). Most people would agree that 10% of your house’s value doesn’t remotely compensate for the trauma of having your home forcibly taken from you against your will, and demolished. Would you willingly move out for just 10% of the value of your home? Would you accept £30,000 to move out of your £300,000 home?

You have major emotional attachments to your home, and all the improvements you have made. You have made friends with your neighbours, and become part of the community. Your children go to the local school, and you have worked out the pattern of getting to work. Buying a new home comes with major costs, and risks – what if the new place doesn’t work out, or you don’t like the new area? What if the house has major problems not covered in a survey – the government won’t pay?  Moving home is also one of the most time-consuming and stressful things we ever go through. There is a reason why people who have established family homes move so rarely. For those who have been in their homes for two decades or more, and are settling in for retirement, having it forcibly taken from them causes trauma beyond counting in mere pounds and pence. Given our love of our homes, the lack of national uproar is surprising.

In the US, the government forcibly taking someone’s home is seen as the most fundamental violation by the state of an individual’s rights, and the non-stop subject of emotional national debate (they call it “eminent domain”). In France, the government takes a practical view and offers such generous compensation that people are glad to move. The UK government’s meanness on compulsory purchase compensation is not just an insult to thousands of homeowners, but it is also ultimately self-defeating. By failing to recognise the real cost of being forced to move home, it ensures that homeowners along the HS2 route will feel they have no option but to do everything they can to block the new train line. The government is more likely to realise it plans if it does what the French do, and just buy off the opposition of those most directly affected. And that means compensation of at least 25%.

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