Riders say lives ruined by £88bn rail project *H&H Plus*

  • Equestrians who face losing their homes and livelihoods owing to the “bonkers” £88bn High Speed 2 (HS2) rail link say they want others to realise what they are going through.

    Livery and training yards, competition venues and Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) groups are among those whose premises have been made subject to compulsory purchase orders in order to build the controversial project.

    The rail line, set to carve through great swathes of the countryside between London and the north, is already over budget and behind schedule. And some of those affected have told H&H they have been told to leave and find other places to live — but have not yet been paid for their homes.


    “They just don’t care,” campaigner Lizzy Williams said. “We’ve had people waiting 18 months after they’ve left their homes, and not been paid a penny. People’s lives are being devastated by this.

    “There are also yards that have had bits of land taken, which has affected their business; most people have no idea of the scale of the devastation this is causing and we need to get that out there.

    “Until it gets built, I’m going to keep fighting.”

    Pauline and Doug Harkin, who train point-to-pointers from their Banbury yard, and who had been moving into breeding more, have until 30 January to leave, and nowhere to go.

    “They haven’t told us about what compensation we’ll get or anything,” Mrs Harkin told H&H.

    “We’ve got nowhere to go and it’s not just us; it’s 20 horses, eight brood mares, two pigs, four dogs and nine hens. We’ve got a responsibility of care to those animals.”

    Mrs Harkin said she runs a shepherd’s hut accommodation business at the farm, which is now “finished” but for which they have had no compensation.

    “We’ve got no income and they won’t tell us what we’ll get but if we’re not out by 30 January, they’ll own everything in the ‘take area’,” she said.

    Mrs Harkin added that she attended a protest in Birmingham against the project recently, where she met people who were “far worse off”, and others who said they would protest at their yard on the eviction date.

    “I want everyone to realise what’s happening; it’s so wrong,” she said. “If someone told me my story, I’d think there must be more to it, people don’t get treated like that — but this is how they’re treating people.”

    Mrs Harkin said she and her husband found a new home last year and, encouraged by HS2, put in an offer, which was accepted.

    “Then HS2 said they wouldn’t pay us for at least six months,” she said. “Thank goodness we didn’t take out a bridging loan as we’d be in a mess now.

    “But how are we going to find somewhere? Now is the worst time to find somewhere, and then for the sellers to move out; it’s not possible.”

    Cutting through

    Tim and Barbara Marsland’s livery yard, in Staffordshire, is having a viaduct built “straight across the middle of it”.

    Mr Marsland told H&H they had been negotiating with HS2 for years on the compensation, as originally the company only wanted to buy part of the land, but the couple felt this would have made the business unviable.

    “After two years, they agreed to buy it and a price, but we’re still waiting for a date and some sort of settlement,” he said. “The project’s being reviewed at the moment and it’s so behind; we’re being left in limbo. We can’t even put a deposit on anywhere else as we haven’t had the money.

    “It’s put us in a very difficult position; you can’t just up sticks and move 20 horses.”

    The current independent review, chaired by past HS2 chairman Douglas Oakervee, has not yet published its report but a leaked draft version suggests the government should kick on with the project although the estimated cost is now £88bn or more.

    H&H columnist Andrew Sallis of the Kimblewick said the hunt’s country will be slightly affected by the project, but raised the question over boundaries, as if the [railway] line is not adequately fenced, this would mean that laying trails anywhere in the vicinity would not be safe.

    “For me, it’s just a white elephant, passed from administration to administration who haven’t had the sense to say it’s overpriced and you’ve got to go to Birmingham to use it,” he said. “It’s bonkers really; does anyone want an £88bn project that saves 20 minutes off a journey?”

    The Bicester with Whaddon Chase is worse affected as the line cuts through more of its country.

    A spokesman for the hunt told H&H the line limits where trails can be laid, and that the increased construction traffic on rural roads “puts everyone in danger”.

    Aston-le-Walls, which hosts unaffiliated and British Eventing competition in Northants, sold 35 acres to HS2 four years ago, using the money to put in new arenas for showjumping and dressage, and buy more land “so we could carry on pretty much the same”.

    “We managed to get round the problem,” director Nigel Taylor told H&H. “They have paid us; we were lucky.

    “I got the transport minister to come here and got his backing to get the deal done because I suspected HS2 would later run out of money.

    “You’ve got to find a silver lining in the cloud somehow.”

    Mr Taylor said should the project go ahead, he will apply for planning permission to mitigate the noise.


    Ali Nicola, a veterinary chiropractor and former showjumper who lives in Warwickshire near the Staffordshire border, told H&H she was at first told only part of her land would be needed.

    “Then, after the consultation closed, I found out they wanted to build the main terminal, for where the line goes off to Leeds,” she said.

    “We’d been trying to start an RDA group but the land had been blighted by the purchase order, so we couldn’t get funding for it.”

    Ali said she has been able to move to her father’s farm to run the group, but as this is less accessible than her own property, she cannot cater for as many riders as she would like.

    “That put a dampener on the charity side but on a personal level, six weeks ago, we got an eviction notice for 2 January but no money.

    “We’re quite lucky, as we’ve converted a barn at my dad’s farm to live in — but HS2 doesn’t know that. So as far as they’re concerned, me, my husband and two young children could be on the streets in a few weeks without a penny. It’s scary.”

    Ali says she no longer feels safe going to her home; it was gated, along with others that are now vacant, and squatters have moved in. Pipes and materials have been stolen, she adds, causing damage, so “the upstairs is now the downstairs”.

    “Now HS2 is trying to argue it’s not worth what they’re paying us for it; I said no way, they’re the ones who have done all this, and I’ve spent every penny I had converting the barn.

    “When I got the eviction notice, I was looking at my baby and thinking that if I hadn’t been lucky enough to have my dad’s, I’d be in a cardboard box with two young children.

    “This is the UK and the modern age; this should not be possible. People need to know what’s happening; it’s unbelievable.”

    A spokesman for HS2 Ltd said: “The valuation process for both Parklands Stud [Ali Nicola] and the [Marslands’] livery business at is still under way, and we are working with both parties to reach an agreement by early 2020 that is acceptable to both establishments and the taxpayer. In the meantime, both organisations are able to stay at their current addresses this year.

    “We fully understand how difficult this situation is and will endeavour to support the Harkins as much as possible. To this end, we agreed to a request to acquire all the premises on this site, which has already put back the possession date by many months.

    “In addition, we are investigating whether our construction schedule can be altered to provide additional time beyond the end of January 2020.”

    HS2 in numbers

    • 2009: HS2 formed
    • 2013: government confirms route
    • 2017: royal assent granted
    • 2019: construction work starts
    • 2026: first passengers to travel?
    • £88bn: estimated cost
    • £100bn: Boris Johnson’s projected cost
    • 108 ancient woods at risk
    • 9km sq of woodlands HS2 is to create

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