£600m of public money spent buying up property in north of England for HS2 | HS2

Almost £600m of public money has already been spent buying up land and properties for HS2 in the north of England, despite uncertainty that the train line will ever get beyond Birmingham.

Rishi Sunak repeatedly refused to commit to bringing HS2 to Manchester on Thursday, amid concerns that the project’s cost could exceed £100bn, three times the original estimate.

So far, almost £423m has been spent buying up 424 properties on the western leg from Birmingham to Manchester, despite no spades yet being in the ground on that now-imperilled section.

Of that, £219m has been spent on the Birmingham to Crewe section (phase 2a) and £204m on Crewe to Manchester (phase 2b west), the Guardian has learned. Among those to sell up include the comedian John Bishop, who reportedly sold his mansion in the Cheshire village of Whatcroft for £6.8m in 2019.

Meanwhile, £164m has gone towards buying 530 “blighted” properties on the eastern leg to Leeds (phase 2b east), which was “paused” in November 2021. That includes brand new houses on the Shimmer estate in Mexborough, near Doncaster, which was not on the original maps that HS2 engineers used to plot the route.

Homeowners living on the eastern route can still apply to sell up to HS2 because the land remains “safeguarded”, should a future government decide to fund and build it.

Spend map

The new figures come as Boris Johnson launched an attack on Rishi Sunak for his failure to commit to the project. Writing in the Daily Mail, he said abandoning the line north of Birmingham would amount to “betraying the north of the country and the whole agenda of levelling up”.

Speaking as Conservative MPs prepare to travel to Manchester for the party’s annual conference, the former prime minister said: “We will not level up, and we will not unleash the full potential of this entire country, unless we end the injustice of the infrastructure gap –– and give the cities of the north the same transport advantages that have helped turn London and the south-east into the most productive region in the whole of Europe.”

Oliver Coppard, the mayor of South Yorkshire, which should have had an HS2 stop in Sheffield on the eastern leg, said: “Very little could be more emblematic of the government’s approach to HS2 than them debating the future of the project while at the same time eagerly buying up land and properties – causing huge uncertainty to communities across South Yorkshire.

“They are essentially asking our communities to put their future on pause while they argue amongst themselves about a project that is already 15 years into being delivered. This government couldn’t organise a bunfight in a bakery.”

Once HS2 Ltd – a taxpayer-funded company – buys a property, it often rents it out on the commercial market, sometimes offering tenancies to the sellers if they want to stay put for a while.

This week the Guardian visited Ringway, a tiny hamlet near Manchester airport, which will be almost “wiped off the map” by HS2, its residents say. A number of multimillion-pound properties are now abandoned, their gates padlocked, after being bought by HS2 in recent years.

Jeremy Oddie, a Ringway resident and parish councillor who faces losing a chunk of his cottage garden to an HS2 access road, said it was not always easy to know which neighbours had sold up to HS2, and certainly not how much they had received. “Those we know have been sold are subject to non-disclosure agreements, and the sale proceeds don’t appear on the Land Registry,” he said.

One of his neighbours, Val Hines, claimed her brother had sold his Ringway house to HS2 for £2.5m about five years ago, £1m less than it was actually worth.

HS2 construction to date has focused solely on phase 1, the 140-mile section from Birmingham to Old Oak Common in north London, 6 miles west of the original Euston terminus.

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Just over £2.8bn has been spent buying up 920 properties on phase 1, equating to an average £304,348 a property, according to figures released by HS2.

The next leg due to be built is from Birmingham Curzon Street to Crewe, known as phase 2a. That received “royal assent” in February 2021, supposedly “cementing in law the government’s commitment to bring the new high-speed railway to the north”.

Phase 2b west – Crewe to Manchester – has not yet received royal assent, so would be the easiest part to cancel.

HS2 has the power to make a compulsory purchase of any property in the railway’s direct path – but only the bits that have received royal assent. As well as homes, that includes businesses, farms, outhouses, fields, gardens, paddocks and access roads.

There is also an unlimited “discretionary” fund where property owners can apply to sell, arguing that the property is so blighted by the spectre of HS2 that no one would pay a fair price for it on the open market.

How much has HS2 spent on property so far?

(all figures from HS2 Ltd)

  • Phase 1 (London to Birmingham) – £2,813,121,282, of which £1,534,246,598 was bought via compulsory purchase order (CPO).

  • Phase 2a (Birmingham to Crewe) – £219,312,214, of which £25,800,939 was bought via CPO.

  • Phase 2b west (Crewe to Manchester) £203,694,310 (blight/discretionary only).

  • Phase 2b east (Birmingham to Leeds) £163,958,319 (blight/discretionary only).

Number of properties acquired

  • Phase 1: 920

  • Phase 2a: 239

  • Phase 2b west: 185

  • Phase 2b east: 530


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