9 February 1996

Kent men fight corner in Euro-rail link row

By Tony McDougal

MODERN transport routes linking the south-east with the Continent are making life a misery for Kent farming brothers Nelson, Douglas and Alastair Boyd.

The Boyds, who run a 283ha (700-acre) block of dairy and arable land at Charing, near Ashford, lost 34 acres when the M20 cut a swathe through their mixed farm in 1989.

And seven years later, they face losing a further 34ha (84 acres) – this time to the high speed rail route, linking St Pancras to Folkestone and the Channel Tunnel.

The Boyds are one of at least 66 farmers who will lose land to the rail route and have started pressing for compensation and over-bridges and under-passes for livestock and machinery.

Union Railways, who are acting as agents for the two consortiums involved – London and Continental and Euro Rail – claim only two farms will be so badly affected that they will be bought-out.

But negotiations over the provision of over-bridges and under-passes have not run smoothly, according to specialist land agent Peter Falkner, who claims Union Railways have procrastinated at every turn.

"They are simply not prepared to commit themselves until they get the final design absolutely correct, but we are arguing that they should give us contingency plans."

Additional overbridge

The Boyd brothers have petitioned for the installation of an additional over-bridge on the farm claiming Union Railways present plans will hit access and mean stock will have to walk an extra 400m every time they are turned out.

They want Union Railways (the promoters) to accept liability for all damage arising during the construction of the link, rather than having to go through the construction contractors.

The issue was raised last week at the House of Commons select committee looking into the Channel Tunnel rail link. Summing up, chairman Sir Anthony Durant (Con, Reading West), urged both the promoter and the petitioners to continue to work to resolve matters relating to accommodation over-bridges and under-bridges.

"And we hope that an arrangement can be made which allows landowners to receive compensation for damage caused to their land during construction in a way which avoids the problems of negotiation between the nominated undertaker and the contractor who actually carries out the work."

Jack Ward, NFU head of technical services, welcomed Sir Anthonys comments, and said progress had also been made in a Code of Practice and a fast dispute procedure.

But Andrew Pym, CLA spokesman, said Union Railways had too much power in its plans to acquire land, and the compensation code was inadequate.

"It is supposed to make good losses suffered, but it doesnt if only part of the business is affected."

The Bill will next go to the Lords select committee before going back to the Commons for its second reading. Royal Ascent could be granted early next year, enabling the 68-mile route to the south coast to be up and running by the dawn of the new millennium.

Alastair Boyd:One of at least 66 farmers who will lose land to the high-speed rail route.