HS2 farmers need better deal, say MPs

The needs of farmers on the HS2 route may receive greater consideration, following recommendations from MPs on the HS2 Select Committee.

It comes just a day after a damning report by a House of Lords committee, which said the government had failed to make the case for the high-speed railway.

See also: HS2 route: land compensation questions and answers

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA), which has been campaigning for a better deal for landowners, welcomed the recommendations.

CLA president Henry Robinson, said: “Many farmers and landowners have felt ignored by HS2 Ltd, and although it is too late to turn the clock back, lessons should be learned for the coming months”.

The committee made these recommendations:

1. Farmers need assurance that they will not be taxed on land bought by HS2

The committee has asked the Treasury and HMRC to assure farmers that they will not have to pay capital gains tax or inheritance tax on land bought by HS2.

Currently, rollover relief allows a farmer to avoid these taxes if they reinvest in farmland within three years. But there is concern that farmers may not be able to find replacement land before the rollover relief expires.  

Rollover relief can be extended to six years and longer in exceptional circumstances, but the committee said farmers needed a guarantee that they would qualify for this.  

See also: ‘Unfair’ compensation brings more HS2 misery for farmers

2. HS2 should minimise the amount of land it takes permanently.

The CLA said the company has sometimes sought to buy more farmland than it needs, rather than use some temporarily so that it can be returned to the farmer.

3. HS2 should develop a model to ensure land is returned to the owner in good condition.

HS2 has started to develop a model and is working on an alternative dispute settlement mechanism that could help advance the payment for compensation to landowners.

4. HS2 should liaise better and earlier with farmers, so their needs are taken into account and they have more business certainty 

The practical realities of farming should be taken into account, including the timing of activities, given the farming calendar.

An “agricultural liaison officer” will be installed, HS2 has promised. This person will be available for farmers to call on a HS2 hotline.

There is concern however, says the CLA, that this post will not go far enough and may end up as customer service type role, rather than someone with the power to influence and make decisions on issues raised. 

5. Local planning authorities should be more flexible to farmers affected by HS2

They should be aware that farmers affected by the railway may need to replace farm buildings quickly. 

For example, where a farm building is due to be knocked down, the farmer will need to be able to build or purchase a new building before the old one is removed, particularly if there is a need like lambing or fodder storage.

Eric Pickles, the secretary of state for communities and local government, has said he will write to local planning authorities asking the impact of the railway be taken into consideration.

6. HS2 should liaise with farmers when siting environmental mitigation measures

A number of farmers had petitioned the committee to say that environmental mitigation measures were being planned in areas that did not take account of local conditions.

The committee recommended that HS2 consider siting projects such as ponds and drainage systems outside of the area around the railway if the landowner believed there was a more suitable site on their land.