HS2 and the villagers trapped in homes nobody wants

Mon 04 Nov 2013

Burton Green is a village on the edge of Coventry, but it feels far from the urban bustle, with two or three roads that meander through its length, leafy gardens and big plots. On a map, the fields nearby are an uneven patchwork of triangular farmsteads, curved boundaries and clumps of woodland.

The projected route for HS2, however, runs straight as a ruler, east to west through the village. Houses within 60 metres of the proposed line are classed as the most severely affected, and their owners can expect to be entitled to compensation after the latest consultation is completed in December. Those whose houses fall within 120 metres, however, fear that, unless they can prove exceptional hardship, they will get little.

Chris Langton considers himself in the worst possible situation. He lives 125 metres from the centre of the proposed track, just a few millimetres outside the outer zone on the plans. He estimates that, even if he could sell his house now, it would fetch 40% less than it was worth before the HS2 plans emerged, that is if anyone could get a mortgage to buy so close to the line. While the consultation, which the government was ordered to redo, continues, he sees little hope of the boundary changing or of other proposals making a material difference for people like him.

Langton sees his options as selling at a £150,000 loss, but then being left with a sum too small to buy the type of property he would need, or waiting until the line is built and re-assessing. But that could be a long wait. "I'm 64. Fortunately I don't need to move tomorrow, but I am widowed, retired, and living in a four-bed house. This community has a lot of people my age and we are trapped.

"There was a house half a mile from the line that sold for £100,000 less than it was first on for. It's blight by postcode. No one is touching Burton Green with a barge pole. My flat roof needs replacing, and my garage door, but who would spend money on a property that has already lost that much value?"

John Levett lives just beside the Greenway where the new track will run. A train route axed in the Beeching cuts of the 1960s, it is now a haven for walkers and cyclists.

His house, where he and his wife have lived for 25 years, was initially due to be demolished as the new line was built, one of a handful at the centre of the village facing demolition. Under the latest drawings, it will stay, but with the track just metres from the house, they have just been given the go-ahead for compensation. In the strange world of property blight by infrastructure, that is something of a success.

Up the road, Mike Lynch is making a cup of tea in a white anti-HS2 mug ("OK it's a white elephant, but it's a fast white elephant," it reads).

"Can you see those trees there?" he says, pointing to a spot just a field and a garden away. "That's where it will be."

He and his wife Jackie do not think they will be entitled to anything. Both retired, they had been thinking of downsizing when the route was announced.

"I think the biggest cause for concern is that we are being thwarted from deciding if we want to sell up and move or not. We don't wish to give the property away, we need the funds for the years of our retirement, but because of the circumstances, we can't do that."

Not everyone here thinks the battle is over, and many speak enthusiastically about how MPs are now questioning the rising cost.

But as well as white elephants and "No to HS2" posters, there are "for sale signs" – 12 on just one stretch of road.

"We've been living with this for three and a half years," said one local. Even if they have to sell at a loss, it seems, some people have had enough.

Source; The Guardian

January 2017

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