Everything must go: The HS2 land fire sale and what it means for the future of rail


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After cancelling the northern leg of HS2 last month, the government has moved quickly to start selling the land it had acquired to build the route. Will the process “salt the earth” for alternative rail plans?

How does the government acquire land for major infrastructure projects?

There are three ways the government gets land for big projects for HS2 – statutory blight, compulsory purchase orders and a range of discretionary schemes. 

Under the statutory blight scheme, which was established by the Town and County Planning Act 1990, property owners within the safeguarded area for the route can serve the government a Blight Notice, asking the Secretary of State for Transport to buy their property at its ’unblighted’ market value.

This is the value the property would have had if the scheme had not come about. Blight claims are usually only available in limited circumstances.

Compulsory purchase powers were granted to the Secretary of State for Transport by two acts - the High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Act 2017 and the High Speed Rail (West Midlands to Crewe) Act 2021).

These pieces of legislation enabled the government to buy land for Phase One and Phase 2a, respectively. However, the bill for Phase 2b was not passed by parliament before Sunak announced the scheme would be scrapped, meaning no land has been compulsory purchased between Crewe and Manchester.

The final category of acquisition was via discretionary schemes. These have no specific legal basis but were set up by HS2 or the department to enable applicants to sell their properties in circumstances where they are not entitled to statutory blight or compulsory acquisition.


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