HS2 spends more than £1.25 billion in London alone on property

Over £1.25bn has been spent buying London properties to clear space for High Speed Rail 2 (HS2) a freedom of information request by the Local Democracy Reporting Service has revealed.

The total spend on buying property in London was revealed to be at least £1,256,089,849 as of 30 June, the BBC has reported. Many of the properties were bought to make way for the service in west London.

The high speed railway line was promised to boost the UK economy by providing swift journey times between London, the Midlands and the north of England. Journey times between Birmingham to London are predicted by the Department for Transport to be cut from one hour 21 minutes to 52 minutes.

A HS2 spokesman said: “Every home, business and piece of land is unique and we appreciate that there may often be different opinions between owners, their professional advisers and HS2 about the value of a property.

“We work with the people affected to reach an agreement, recognising the differences in opinion can take time to resolve.”

Rising costs

A Government review into the whether the expensive project should continue is due in October.

A billboard which says 'Time to Stop HS2' stands in a field near to the proposed HS2 route on 21 February 21, 2017 in Denham (Getty Images)
A billboard which says ‘Time to Stop HS2’ stands in a field near to the proposed HS2 route in Denham (Getty Images)

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HS2 rail line delayed by seven years as cost climbs by £22bn

Earlier in the week, HS2 chairman Allan Cook said that that costs for the project had risen to £78 billion, compared to a previous estimate of £56 billion in 2015 prices. In today’s terms it has risen from £62 billion to around £86 billion.

The line is also now expected to open between 2028 and 2031, rather than 2027 as previously planned, with the final stage extending from Crewe to Manchester and Leeds expected not to open until 2040.

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Senior Labour MP Yvette Cooper called the announcement “a complete joke”, while Tory ex-minister David Davis added: “I suspect this will not be the last time we see headlines about HS2 being further delayed and billions over budget. The recently announced review into the project must scrap this white elephant.”

A spokesman for HS2 said after the announcement: “HS2 remains a compelling strategic answer for Britain’s future transport needs, relieving overcrowding and congestion on our roads and railways, and reducing the carbon footprint of the UK.

“It will drive economic growth and regeneration in our regions, and bring Britain closer together.”

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Blue Badge scheme changes: People with hidden disabilities are eligible for the badges from today

People with hidden disabilities will now be able to use blue badge parking permits after the Department for Transport (DfT) announced the biggest expansion to the scheme in decades.

From Friday people who cannot walk without considerable psychological distress or risking serious harm will now included in the scheme’s eligibility criteria.

In the biggest change to the scheme since its introduction in 1970, the changes will help those suffering with conditions such as anxiety disorders or brain injuries to travel to work, socialise and access shops and services.

Around 2.4 million people with physical disabilities in England already have a badge.

‘Huge difference’

The new badges could help people suffering with anxiety disorders (Photo: Getty)

Depending on the location, the permits often enable holders to park free of charge in pay and display bays and for up to three hours on yellow lines, while in London they exempt holders from the congestion charge.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “We know that for some people, the possibility of not being able to find a parking space can make even leaving the house a challenge, which is why the blue badge is so important.

“The scheme, which is already a lifeline for so many disabled people, will make a huge difference to those with non-visible conditions such as autism, dementia, Parkinson’s and arthritis.

“It is my sincere wish that these changes will improve even more people’s lives.”

‘Life changing’

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: ‘The scheme, which is already a lifeline for so many disabled people, will make a huge difference to those with non-visible conditions’

Councils assess applications for blue badges and not everyone with a hidden disability will qualify for one.

National Autistic Society head of policy Tim Nicholls said: “We are delighted to see the new blue badge rules come into force.

“This will be a huge relief for thousands of autistic people and their families in England, many of whom are so anxious about things going wrong that they find it hard to leave the house at all.

“A blue badge can be life changing. To live up to this promise, it’s absolutely essential that council officials making decisions about blue badges understand autism and the challenges autistic people can face getting out and about.”

Ceri Smith, Policy and Campaigns Manager at disability equality charity Scope, said: “Today’s change should make a real difference for many disabled people with invisible impairments and conditions who have been shut out of the Blue Badge scheme to date.

“But in order for it to work, it’s vital that councils issue Blue Badges to people who are newly eligible to apply.

“More also needs to be done by councils to ensure that there are enough allocated Blue Badge spaces near shops and amenities to meet increasing demand.”

Funding

Analysis of DfT data by the PA news agency found that 94 out of 152 English councils did not pursue anyone for abusing the scheme in 2017/18 (Photo: Getty)

Local authorities are being given £1.7 million of Government funding in the first year of the extended programme to help cope with the expected spike in demand.

The expanded scheme coincides with the launch of a review to help local authorities tackle fraudulent use of the badges.

Analysis of DfT data by the PA news agency found that 94 out of 152 English councils did not pursue anyone for abusing the scheme in 2017/18.

Additional reporting from Press Association.

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Johnson won’t scrap HS2, but his review could make a big offer to the North

This week’s newspapers carried the intriguing suggestion that Boris Johnson might re-order the construction of High Speed Two so that the railway’s northern sections are constructed first.

The new review of HS2 ordered by Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, is theoretically empowered to make a decision on whether or not to proceed with it at all.

Yet whilst the idea of scrapping it altogether will strongly appeal to many activists and MPs, there doesn’t appear to be any real expectation that this will happen. It would certainly be an unusual start for a Prime Minister with a track record of enthusiasm for high-profile infrastructure projects, and key political supporters of the project such as Andy Street are on the commission.

One might perhaps expect Dominic Cummings, who has been quoted as calling HS2 a “disaster zone”, to perhaps drive a move against it. But as he attempts to overhaul the Government and prepare the country for a no-deal exit from the European Union in the autumn, it’s unlikely he’ll have the bandwidth to imprint himself as totally on the Prime Minister’s agenda as some myth-makers might suggest.

Shifting the order of construction, on the other hand, might be more plausible. At present the London-to-Birmingham stretch of the route is slated to open in 2026, with the northern extensions not expected to be running until 2033.

Lord Forsyth, who chairs the House of Lords Economic Committee, has warned the Government not to allow cost overruns on the southern leg of the line to leave insufficient funds to complete the northern sections, which would connect Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds.

This warning might chime with Lord Berkeley, a “railway expert and Labour peer” who has been appointed as deputy chair of the review. Berkeley is a strong critic of HS2, repeatedly challenged Department for Transport’s figures and warning about spiralling costs.

Building the northern stretch of the line first would be a big offer, in both practical and symbolic terms, to the North of England – no small consideration for a Prime Minister who, as a former Mayor of London, might risk being viewed as capital-focused. It could also open up the possibility of embarking on ‘HS3’, otherwise known as Northern Powerhouse Rail, sooner, or even extending the high-speed network to Scotland… and beyond?

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