Taxpayers could lose £100m as HS2 land no longer needed is sold off

Taxpayers could lose £100m as HS2 land no longer needed is sold off

20 Oct    Finance News, News

A “fire sale” of land bought for HS2 north of Birmingham is set to cost the taxpayer more than £100 million, analysis has revealed.

The government is poised to sell off land within weeks to prevent future administrations from reversing the decision to cancel swathes of the scheme.

HS2 Ltd, the government-owned company set up to build the project, had bought 2,900 acres of land between Birmingham and Crewe at a cost of £205 million.

Most is agricultural and was bought at a premium under compulsory purchase. It will be sold at market rate or even discounted.

According to Savills’ rural land values index, the average agricultural land value in the West Midlands is £9,000 per acre, meaning the land is expected to sell for only £26 million. HS2 has also bought 184 buildings on phase 2a, between Birmingham and Crewe, which will probably be sold. However, analysis by the High-Speed Rail Group (HSRG), the trade body, found that, optimistically, this would realise only a further £75 million, taking the expected income from land and property sales to about £100 million.

It represents a £100 million loss, which will be absorbed by the taxpayer if the government presses ahead with plans to sell the land, as set out in the “Network North” proposals announced at the Tory party conference this month.

HSRG and other campaigners are urging ministers to pause any sale of land until after consultation.

A spokesman for the group said: “At a time of extremely difficult public finances, the country surely cannot contemplate accepting a £100 million loss of taxpayers’ money like this. Land sales simply should not proceed until there has been a full analysis and a full consultation with stakeholders.

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“Smart countries keep their options open for the future. Whilst the government say they cannot fund HS2 north of Birmingham today, we need to protect the option to build it in future when public finances allow.”

A critical report by the National Infrastructure Commission, published on Wednesday, said it was a “mistake” to sell off what had already been bought and that the government should keep its options open. Sir John Armitt, its chairman, called for caution to avoid a “kneejerk, snap reaction”.

“I think that the land should be kept for at least two or three years to give the opportunity for people to revisit that and look at what can be done within that space and find a more cost-effective solution, not write it off today,” he said.

Louise Haigh, the shadow transport secretary, said: “As chancellor, Rishi Sunak personally oversaw the soaring costs of HS2, and did nothing. Then he wasted billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on a line he has now scrapped.

“Now millions more will be wasted in this fire sale of the land which so many people had to give up their homes and businesses for. This is a government with no direction, no plan and no regard for taxpayers’ money.”

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