The HS2 Effect

Whatever your position regarding the high speed rail link, it is impossible to argue that it has not had a profound effect on both the people and property that were unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Local opposition in Buckinghamshire led to a rethink over the project’s tunnelling, which managed to reduce the worst excesses of the proposed route, limiting damage and safeguarding, for the present at least, to a large area of unspoilt countryside.

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Annie Baileys in 2016 after 1 year of decay

Unfortunately, as in the case of one of the last remaining pubs, there are very many casualties and the situation is only getting worse.

Depriving the area of a pub does not seem much of a disaster in an age where pubs are a rapidly disappearing local resource. The truth is more complex, often the reason a pub falls into decay, is because as a property on the residential market, or as a development site, it is of far more value.

The Barley Mow, as it once was known (most recently called Annie Baileys) , was one of six local public houses providing important community building and recreational services to the area. Now only The Cock and Rabbit at The Lee and Old Swan at Swan Bottom remain. In the past twenty years, the area has lost The Black Horse at South Heath, The Pheasant at Ballinger, The Gate near Swan Bottom and The Bugle at Lee Common.

Pubs introduce people to each other, they build community spirit and add value to an area. Without places to meet, people merely become residents of an area, rather than neighbours and village life becomes a thing of the past.

HS2_annie_baileys_2016

Annie Baileys as it stands today (2016 Dec)

The Barley Mow was to be demolished to make way for the railway, it was a going concern and was fortunate enough to stand beside a very busy road. Now it has been vandalised, first by those stripping internal fixtures, copper pipes and external leadwork and later by graffiti ‘artists’. It is a fact that derelict buildings attract crime to an area and that effect has been all too noticeable here.

What will become of this building is anyone’s guess, though there is now a makeshift sign near the front of the building warning of a permanent HS2 depot being built there. Whatever the assurances and I have heard them all, there will probably be a raft of new developments in this once beautiful area, now that the carve-up has begun.

Companies such as HS2 are interested only in cost, delivery and profit, a pub like the old Barley Mow is simply a building that stands in the way of development. Similarly, I doubt whether The Chilterns is an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to the HS2 board, more likely it is just an obstacle in every sense of the word.

What of the homeowners that find themselves disadvantaged? Having spent a lifetime, in some cases, buying and improving their most significant asset, suddenly it is worth a fraction of the value it once was. Consider the prices paid for property prior to the high speed rail announcement, compared with the price paid by HS2:

  • 3 Bed Semi-detached property within 150 metres of tunnel at South Heath sold 2005 £314,500
  • 3 Bed Semi-detached property within 150 metres of tunnel at South Heath sold to HS2 2016 £272,000
  • 3 Bed Semi-detached property within 100 metres of tunnel at South Heath sold 2007 £345,000
  • 4 Bed Semi-detached property within 100 metres of tunnel at South Heath sold to HS2 2016 £320,000

Throughout a period when property values have risen steadily in those Chiltern areas unaffected by HS2’s crippling blight, those that lay within a few miles of the line have been picked up at ‘fire sale’ values by the company. If you have to get out, due to illness or change of circumstances, HS2 is there hovering like a vulture and regrettably it will probably be the best deal you can expect to find.

From Zoopla: The current average value in HP16 *** in December 2016 is £750,414. This has increased 3.43% from September 2016. Terraced properties sold for a current average value of £406,967 and semi-detached properties valued £544,626. In the past year property prices in HP16 *** have increased 6.28%. This is according to the current Zoopla estimates.

Although Zoopla’s figures may leave space for some argument, the figures strongly suggest that properties within the HS2 blight zone, may be suffering devaluation of up to 50% in real terms. How much more suffering will be borne by those standing in front of the train, nobody can say. However, one thing is certain, The Chilterns will never be the same again and government is not going to admit it has made a big mistake now, too much is at stake.

Unless of course picking up cheap property and liberating part of an AONB for future development was the real intent behind HS2, if that is the case at least it would make some sense.

For more read the governments Guide to HS2 Property Schemes

Further Reading – HS2 The Zombie Train That Refuses To Die

When is a high speed train not a high speed train?

Answer: When it’s a ‘cock-up’!

MP and HS2 minister Robert Goodwill has admitted, according to The Telegraph’s Andrew Gilligan, that if and when the High Speed Railway is built, it might just have to terminate in Harlesden.

It’s a bird, it’s a train, it’s a dodo!

That’s stuffed any idea that HS2 had anything to do with speed hasn’t it Bob? No doubt it has also made a few people wonder if it will be a railway either.

Straight from Parliament’s Select Committee hearings, I rather felt that something of a banana skin was in the offing. I know these hearings are all rather tedious, but if you have followed them on Parliament Live you will have seen that some HS2’s bank of experts were having a job staying awake.

Did they already know that the government had finally realised that HS2 was a bonkers idea and were on the brink of ‘calling the whole thing off’? Me neither.

Supposing they do build it, where passengers get on and off, surely should be a consideration… No?

Yet HS2 won’t stop in city centres in Sheffield, Nottingham or Derby and now it looks like it is going to terminate near Harlesden. Where… is that still in London?

You dunno where it is? Never mind, you can catch a bus the other six miles to anywhere else, or take a Boris bike! Just pick up a map at the ticket office.

Described as the “West Bronx of London”, it sounds like you might be better off taking a taxi than hanging around Harlesden for long. I found this interesting little piece about the area on the CaribVoice website (Harlesden: London’s Yardies’ Backyard) it’s from 2002, but I am assured that little has changed. Frankly I can’t say I know the place, but I am in no hurry to do so either if this is an accurate portrayal.

But seriously Bob, if you want to give the North a ‘powerhouse’, just tell Dave and George to give them Northerners the money. It will save a fortune in the long run and might even win some of your traditional voters back from UKIP.

Be honest… nobody could do a worse job at blowing a fortune than your government has so far over HS2, could they Bob?

One Cheer for Select Committee

A new Chilterns tunnel extension for the HS2 rail project has been confirmed by the government (See: Government confirms tunnel for South Heath).

As a result of both engineering and environmental assessments, the Government has been persuaded that it propose an amendment to the HS2 hybrid Bill. Namely to extend the deep-bored Chilterns tunnel, beginning at Amersham, a further distance of 2.6km.

This therefore negates the need for the formerly proposed ‘green tunnel’ and will save the countryside around South Heath, much of the environmental damage that would have resulted from the high speed rail project.

I am just one resident of South Heath, I speak for myself and my family. To the Select Committee, I would like to offer my thanks for their help, in what I believe is a small victory for common sense. I really am grateful for both their time and effort and the time and effort of everyone that has made this possible.

One might think that since South Heath has largely been spared by this act of mercy, that I would put away my keyboard and ‘do the decent thing’. Were it not for the fact that I have never been NIMBY about HS2, I would probably have rejoiced in my personal good fortune and done exactly that.

However, this countryside has been my friend and neighbour for most of my life. I have walked it’s quiet footpaths, delighted in it’s solitude, appreciated it’s rare beauty and met countless fellow travellers as I did so. They have come from all over the world, exploring the Ridgeway, completing part of a Duke of Edinburgh award, renting a holiday cottage, or just getting away from the city for a day.

I know we need better infrastructure, that’s why initially I didn’t protest about HS2. I want to reduce the amount of cars on our roads as much as any passionate green activist.

I wish to make it very clear that it wasn’t because HS2 passed by my back door, that prompted me and inspired my opposition to HS2. It was that it was, I have always believed, an ill thought out project, that seemed to be ‘made up as it went along’.

A hugely disruptive and damaging project that needn’t have cut yet another new route through relatively undamaged countryside. Especially since the government wasn’t even sure why we needed it so badly. “We need speed!” or then again was it “we need capacity?”

So thanks guys for the tunnel, but despite the good news for South Heath, I am still here and I will continue to do what I can for our area of outstanding natural beauty… all of it!

Never Saw A Thing

Network Rail“Don’t underestimate how difficult it is working on live railway,” Dave ‘Digger’ Higgins was being interviewed by the BBC. From 2011 to 2014 he was paid ‘how much’ to run Network Rail?

Digger told the BBC there was “no indication of a crisis emerging” on his watch… C’mon Dave you never saw any figures? None… really? In the whole 3 years there were no nasty signs. Frankly I find that unbelievable.

Seemingly “never saw a thing” and “it’s hard running a railway”, are acceptable excuses for failure, in the alternate reality of the rail industry. At least that’s what he appears to be hoping.

But you’re paid to know mate! That’s the job, otherwise they might just as well have appointed me to run Network Rail. As ‘Head Honcho’ you get all the plaudits when things go right and provide an arse to kick when they don’t. Meaning yours, not some lackey on half your salary.

If Network Rail’s budget was a ‘right horlicks’, what about the budget for HS2? Not looking too rosy from the taxpayer’s perspective is it Dave?

He told the BBC, “The massive cost overruns at Network Rail won’t affect the budget of HS2. They are separate companies but both funded by the government”. Then adding, HS2 “has a defined budget controlled by the Treasury,there is no reason to confuse them.”

Confuse who? HS2? The Treasury?

Just don’t confuse yourself Dave, £80 billion is a lot of money and it’s our money. Actually, it’s probably my children’s money and their children’s. This whole business certainly has me confused, it has all gone ‘boobs up’ for Network Rail, yet nobody is responsible.

Most of the electorate have still to be convinced that HS2 is not a disaster in the making, you will have to try much harder to convince us that you are the man for the job. This isn’t the Olympics, there isn’t a Danny Boyle to pull a rabbit out of the hat.

You might also consider going to Specsavers!

Read More:
What went wrong with Network Rail and what were the key mistakes – BBC Website

Higgins criticesed over Network Rail – HS2 Buzz article

HS2 Parliamentary Committee Programme

The Parliamentary Committee hearing dates for the Chilterns and Vale of Aylesbury areas are now downloadable on PDF from the Parliament.UK website.

Looking at the response from the village of South Heath alone, no doubt petitioners will not have long to deliver their objections.

A sample of the September programme is shown below (and that’s just Group Q of several groups from South Heath).

South Heath is only a small hamlet, yet it’s petitions alone have to be staggered over 3 days. These will be heard from Tuesday 15th to Thursday 17th September, such was the response from it’s residents.

Wednesday 16th September (part only)

30 Commandment Property Services
35 Judith Jane Whymark and Mrs Beverly Ann Oleksiuk
41 Medical Investment and Financial Management Ltd
55 Anthony Harper
57 George Rivas South Heath
196 Fiona Baker of Nutty Birds
197 Frances Cutler Soft Furnishings
199 John Fausset-Baker
209 Anita Hiscock
453 Malcolm Griffiths
543 Michael Barden
559 Mary Spence
564 Garden Centre & Nursery Ltd
565 Sowdown Limited
566 Paul Burke All Clear
649 Brian True-May
664 Susan Barden
674 Gregory Cheasman
679 Peter John Watts
1047 William Crane
1053 Rachel Crane
1067 Paul Rodwell
1076 Carol Rainsford
1077 Timothy Stuart
1091 Gregory Porter
1092 Jack Fuller
1216 Robert Kemp
1222 Wendy Gray
1228 Nilesh Shah
1247 Stephen Green
1548 Vivien Salisbury

To download a programme click the appropriate link below:

September (Amersham – Chesham – Great & Little Missenden – Great & Little Kingshill – Hyde Heath – South Heath – The Lee – Lee Common – Lee Clump – Ballinger- Dunsmore – Wendover )

October (Aylesbury – Stoke Mandeville – Waddesdon – Quanton – Newton Purcell – Calvert –  Steeple Clayton – Twyford – Chetwode – Brackley)

Please note that some petitions may not appear when others of their area are heard, so if you cannot find your name, check to see whether it appears on the other list.

AONB – What’s in a name?

HS2 Sibleys Select CommitteeSeemingly not much when it comes to the designation AONB!

Because of their fragile natural beauty the primary purpose of AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) designation WAS:

  1. To conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the landscape
  2. To meet the need for quiet enjoyment of the countryside
  3. To have regard for the interests of those who live and work there.

This week we experienced the HS2 Select committee ‘being seen’ in these green and pleasant hills. They listened to the people who had come out in droves, despite the sudden change in date, that no doubt left many unable to reschedule at the last minute.

Since all the children were at school and most of the working population, were no doubt grafting away somewhere else, the assembled throng was hugely unrepresentative of the variety of people affected by the project. There was a photographer present, so any pictures would show this distortion.

One lady remarked that she had moved into the area seven years ago and had enjoyed every moment of it. “I was told that since it was an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it would never be built upon”. “Then I should sue”, replied the Member of Parliament for Poole, Robert Syms, chairman of the committee.

Such environmental protection, we might well construe, is therefore not worth the paper it’s printed on. I felt prompted to ask therefore for an assurance that HS2 wasn’t “the thin end of a very thick wedge” and likely to become a “developer’s charter”.

“HS2 doesn’t have any impact upon development” replied MP Robert Syms. I suggested that anything ancillary to HS2 would pass “on the nod”. Mr Syms agreed with me saying that “Anything to do with HS2 was covered by an act of Parliament and was covered by the Hybrid Bill” and that “it did not cover housing development or anything else”.

At this point the Member of Parliament for Gateshead, Ian Mearns added that such development would require “another Act of Parliament”. I wanted to add how much easier this would be after HS2 had driven a coach and horses through the AONB, but time was pressing.

I will therefore have to save that one until we meet again.