80: Temporary occupation of agricultural land
The Country Landowners Association and the National Farmers Union appeared before the HS2 Select Committee in November last year. They brought a number of points before the Committee on behalf of their members including the issue of temporary occupation of agricultural land.
The position under the HS2 Bill
Under the Bill, land which is identified as land for temporary use is set out in Part 4 of Schedule 15 to the Bill. Schedule 15 also entitles the undertaker to enter upon and take possession of land lying within the limits of land to be acquired and used (i.e., land to be taken permanently), on a temporary basis rather than acquiring it permanently. However, only a limited number of sites are identified in Part 4 of this Schedule, so only a limited number of sites must be returned after their use for HS2. All of the other sites within the limits of land to be acquired and used may be taken permanently under the power set out in clause 4(1) of the Bill. They include a large amount of land needed temporarily for worksites and stockpiles or for haul roads.
What the CLA and NFU were seeking
The CLA states in its petition that where land is being taken compulsorily which may not be needed permanently, only temporary possession should be taken in the first instance. In addition, where temporary possession of land is being sought, it should be on the terms of a lease or licence under which a rent or licence fee may be paid. Further, a default position should be that if land is taken compulsorily in the mistaken belief that it is needed permanently, it should be offered back to the landowner and any value attributable to any enhancement caused by High Speed 2 should be disregarded.
Both the NFU and CLA made representations to the committee on this issue as have a number of other petitioners.
The Committee’s views
Following the CLA and NFU committee appearances, the Chair of the Committee, Robert Syms MP issued a statement on 26th November 2014 saying:
A number of petitioners, including the Country Landowners Association, the National Farmers Union and Joe Rukin have argued persuasively on farm land-take. We may come back to these broad issues, but we encourage HS2 to work up a licence model, whereby farmers can retain a right of access and inspection onto land being acquired temporarily. HS2 should collaborate with a cross-section of affected parties and stakeholders on suitable terms for that model licence, and clearly that would avoid some of the tax problems that we’ve heard earlier already. I think that is the direction that HS2, I think, want to go, but we’ve just given you a nudge in that direction as well.”
The current position
Despite the statement from the Committee, it appears that this issue has not yet been resolved.
The CLA wrote to the Select Committee on 3rd February 2015 stating that whilst High Speed 2 had previously agreed to start drawing up head of terms for a lease or licence, they had now confirmed that they “would not be drawing up heads of terms as they believe the powers granted to them in Schedule 15 of the Bill are sufficient”. A copy of the letter can be found here. This rather seems to miss the point of the petitions, to put it mildly. It also seems at odds with the Committee’s “encouragement” to work up the model licence.
The CLA asked the Committee in its letter to issue a decision regarding paragraph 30 of its petition, which relates to the temporary occupation of agricultural land.
High Speed 2 wrote to the CLA and NFU on 11th February to offer two further assurances in addition to the assurances that had previously been offered on 14th November 2014. The two further assurances relate to consultation with farms and soil management. The letter did not include an assurance in relation to the temporary occupation of agricultural land but it did contain an explanatory note on Schedule 15 to the Bill and an offer to run a workshop to explain this note. The letter from High Speed 2 and the full set of assurances offered to the CFU and NLA can be found here.
Those affected by the issue of land needed temporarily being taken permanently, as raised by the CLA and NFU, will be disappointed that progress has not been made towards a model licence and will now have to await a decision from the Committee to see how this issue is to be resolved. More broadly, it will be interesting to see how the Committee responds to High Speed 2’s apparent reluctance to be “nudged” towards a solution.
5 March 2015