Hassle with HS2

Farmers with HS2 running through their land such as Richard Williams of Park Farm, Stafford are finding it intolerable that five years after being informed that HS2 is coming through your farm, decisions on detailed changes to make the scheme workable are not taking place.

In his case that involves where is the most sensible place to site a two-acre balancing pool where run off water from the railway can seep into the ground, The HS2 planners choice he says will allow water to run onto the A518. He wants it 70 yards away, where any overflow would be taken up by a present nine inch land drain.

Also needed is a decision on the dimensions of an under bridge to allow farm vehicles and wild life to safely cross below the HS2 rail line. They suggest an under bridge 3.5metres high by 3.1 metres; which he says is useless for farm machinery which needs nearer six metres by six.

Much needed though it will be for the running of his business, with 90 acres on one side of the railway and 30 acres on the other, the under bridge was not even agreed to, until rare Long Eared Brown bats were found. They live 200 yards away in Lower Berry Hill Wood, on the sloping lower ground of the Staffordshire County Showground. The rail line itself divides the Showground, separating off the main part of the Showground and all its buildings.,

“Wildlife needs obviously come before humans and farming,” said Richard. “They want it, so the bats can fly from the south side of the under bridge to the north, along with installing bat boxes in the tunnel."

When there is disagreement between the farmer and HS2, the farmer at his own cost can petition Parliament to decide. But for Richard Williams the time to reach agreement before the petitions are called in has just ended, so his agent Roger Betson is seeking a petition, much to the annoyance of Parliament, which says HS2 should have sorted things out.

"The Select Committee doesn’t want dozens of farmers coming to the House of Commons on such matters,” he said.

What’s annoying Richard Williams is the lack of continuity: "Their last visit was in November and it is different faces every time they come, continuity in discussions of this sort is essential.

“They also want to take six acres for conservation on top of the four acres they need for the railway. Three acres should be ample.

"At the end, instead of buying this land off me, will they just hand it back for us to look after, They are also using their powers to link up woodlands in the local area, making conservation corridors using our land to do so. Linking 50 and 90 acre woodlands on neighbouring farms that have been undisturbed for generations.

“I think it is a way of presenting HS2 to the public, a way of calming them down to accept the over spend billions above the original estimate, saying 'look what we have done for wild life and conservation'.

"They don’t seem to be worried about taking prime land away from food production, not one little bit.”

The main business on their 210 acre farm which has been in the family since 1941, and was purchased from the Shrewsbury estate in 1964, is diversification. The150-cow dairy herd was sold in 2005 and they established the nationally renowned Park Farm Stafford horse trials which are run twice a year. This business will be completely ruined after 2021 by the construction of HS2, as will the bed and breakfast business in their lovely 200-year-old farm house, which is on the edge of the construction site. The tenants in their six barn conversions have been warned they may have to be temporarily moved out.

“What annoys me most is the lack of communication”, said Richard. “I can see me in the House of Commons stuck with all these problems. I shouldn’t having to be doing that.”

Robert Lockhart, who farms 280 acres at Drayton Bassett near Tamworth, is equally annoyed and frustrated. Work has already started on his farm, as he is in the earlier phase of HS2.

They want to take up to 60 acres including half an acre of land for the railway itself, which is a pond with newts in it. To mitigate this they propose eight acres, building a whole lot of ponds on land they have not paid for or agreed a price on. At present it is in their “temporary possession”.

"Land we are handed back will be paid for on 'crops lost',"he said.

To drag drilling rigs around the farm they are towing them with two, sometimes three tractors. Again damage will be paid for on the basis of crops lost.

"Farmers are in a very difficult position and it is not a nice position to be in. I have lorries driving all over the farm without the notification I am supposed to receive about their presence."

There is not a lot of constructive thought between HS2 and the two different contractors working for them according to Robert, with no liaising on who does what.

"But why has it got like this? We just keep pestering them about what is going on, how big the embankments will be or where they will be tipping soil. Very probably through the NFU we will be mounting a legal challenge over what is being done, our rights and what compensation we are due."

They are not going to take all the 60 acres but he fears they will mess up a lot of it which they won’t pay me for.

"They have the power of a hybrid bill behind them and they are riding rough shod over the farming community.”

Another concern is over the new grant scheme being offered for planting trees on land in the HS2 area, for which £5 million has been subscribed over and above any current grant schemes. Contracts are being offered to farmers up to 25 miles away and will have to be in by 2020. This is before either Robert Lockhart or Richard Williams will know exactly where tree planting zones will be under their HS2 agreements, or what awkward corners may be left, which might suit grant aided tree planting.

Both farmers praise the help they have had from the NFU, particularly the chief NFU negotiator Louise Staples.

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