Doncaster should bid for a parkway station if the line comes through Doncaster - but only if it is a genuine possibility.
That was the view of some of the delegates taking part in the latest Doncaster Free Press round table discussion, this time looking into the controversial plan to route for HS2 through the borough. The meeting also raised concern over compensation, what can be done to soften the blow of the project to residents.
The round table panel was made up of HS2 Head of Engagement Leonie Dubois, Mexborough ward councillor Andy Pickering, Doncaster Chamber of Commerce chief executive Dan Fell, Chairman of the Joint Rural Parishes in the west of Doncaster Rhonda Job, and Brodsworth Parish Councillor Pam Moorhouse.
What should be done to compensate residents along the route of HS2 in Doncaster?
RJ: Chris Grayling (the Government transport secretary) has said that residents will be given like for like houses. But a report by Carter Jonas suggested that in Mexborough in order for residents to get like for like they can't do that for the money they're likely to get. It is about what the Government will do to bridge that gap, and we've not been given that detail by the Government
AP: The figures that the houses are being valued at are nowhere near what people in Mexborough need to get a property. There are no other properties in Mexborough like them so people will have to move away and prices are far higher than they paid. There's a north-south divide and I think Chris Grayling is in denial about that. There was originally talk of the house value plus 10 per cent as compensation. If you are looking at a house in the Chilterns for £400,000, that's a lot more than you'll get for a similar home in Mexbrough for £120,000. That hardly covers moving expenses.
DF: I have nothing but compassion for those affected by this. With projects like this the way to deal with compensation and blight should be to deal with it quickly and generously. That way you can move on quickly and deliver what is wanted and get the economic benefit from the scheme
LD: I understand how people feel and I'm empathetic. In terms of compensation on offer it is certainly more generous than other schemes. There are attempts to make it more generous in terms of what people can do now. They can serve a blight notice if you're in the safeguarding zone, which is the unblighted value, the same as other infrastructure projects, plus 10 per cent plus removal costs. In terms of what's happening around the Shimmer estate, Chris Grayling, the transport secretary has said that is a special case. We are trying to set out a policy that works for people and expect there to be more information on that in the next few weeks.
RJ: A lot of shimmer residents have waited 12 months to get their homes valued, and then seen them valued for less than they paid.
LD: We've found in some cases houses are valued at less than was paid for them which is why the Government set an aspiration that people can move on to a like-for-like house. But it is public money and we don't have a blank cheque book.
PM: New build has a premium and that's why prices have fallen.
LD: Shimmer is an island surrounded by the canal and waterway. We've safeguarded about 200 properties That is to reflect the way we need to access the site. We need the road to build the viaduct, which is why the whole site was needed. The Government has seen the Carter Jonas report and recognises the way the property market has changed.
RJ: If housing prices continue to grow it will cost more than if it done quickly.
LD: For people living adjacent the route there's no rush for to move now. I accept they may feel they want to, but we will not be in a position to start until well into the 2020s.
RJ: If they have children they don't want to be uprooting them from their schools. There are people who want out.
AP: There are people under mental stress who want out. There has been £30,000 on offer to encourage people to stay on. But if they want to sell later on, who would they well to other than the Government?
What can be done to make sure Doncaster benefits from HS2 when it is built?
RJ: Chris Grayling said Doncaster won't receive any benefits. We've already got the East Coast line which serves Doncaster at high speed. People are talking about the HS2 College in Donaster, but that is the National College for High Speed Rail, and it's not here because of HS2 being where it is. It is due to a good proposal and railway traditions in the town. With regards the benefits, HS2 does Doncaster a disservice, just bringing disruption.
DF: We need to look at HS2 and the whole page. There is a score card with things like the overall benefit to UK PLC, and that is something we'd want to see. There are supply chain opportunities, skills issues, and overall connectivity issues. Doncaster does well on the supply chain not just because of the railway industries we have, but also a significant concentration of construction firms. We need to make sure we get work. Also HS2 is a major driver of the National College for High Speed Rail. The route is one that no one asked for. There is a point at which we need to move on and go back to the Department for Transport and say this was not what we wanted, and tell them what we do want and make a compelling case for it.
PM: It is all about connectivity from North to South, but we need connectivity East to West too.
LD: Doncaster benefits from the National College for High Speed Rail, which would not be there but for the High Speed rail project. There are also a local firms who will benefit. In July it was announced that there would be £6.6 billion investment. Skanska was one of the beneficiaries and they will be looking for people from their Doncaster site to be working on the scheme. There will be lots of opportunities for the people of Doncaster to benefit. Also, it is going to be a network. Once the trains get out of Sheffield were does it go. And there is the possible parkway station. If people see the benefit of a parkway station they can get behind it and fight for that.
RJ: I'm not sure anyone will benefit in South Yorkshire. My fear is that South Yorkshire is bypassed in terms of the longer term economic prospects.
How can the adverse effect of HS2 on Doncaster residents be reduced?
AP: HS2 could be tunnelling underneath - but I believe it is just the cost that means its not happening. I understand there is 27 per cent under tunnels in the London to Birmingham section, but just two per cent between Birmingham and Leeds. I think we're seeing a North-South divide in terms of tunnels. Why can't we tunnel under Conisbrough or Barnsley?
LD: I don't think it is just the cost. Cost is one factor but not the only one. We'd look at all the complexities, but there are particular challenges on the Birmingham to Leeds route in terms of topography. There is a tunnel at the Woodlesford corridor as it approaches Leeds. When we look at the detail some things may change and it may be cheaper in some parts of the route to put in a tunnel. Coming out of London it was shown it was cheaper.
RJ: I think there will be a lot of difficulties in terms of the environmental impact. Housing in mining areas often have subsidence. I fear there will be properties further away that will be damaged as a knock-on.
LD: The next phase will be about finding out the environmental effects and how to deal with them. That is work we are doing now. We have to produce and environmental statement. There will be a significant amount of survey work to establish an environmental base line. We will put together an updated design and level of engineering and look at what we need to do to mitigate things. There will be a significant amount of consultation with local people. We are looking at scoping how we're going to do that assessment, and asking how people think we should do things differently. The final drafts will go before parliament. It is heavily scrutinised with lots of opportunity for people to get involved.
DF: There is a lot of upset caused by this project and I think we should get on the front foot and make the case for transport projects that are important to Doncaster, like the parkway station at Doncaster Sheffield Airport. There is a gap that is pretty big between what we need and what the Government gives us, and I don't think the Government gets it, that there's a gap between north and south.
PM: I don't think we've concentrated enough on farmers. There are farmers who will be losing land.
Should Doncaster push for a Parkway Station on the line?
LD: There was a round table with Sir David Higgins of HS2, in which he clearly said the local area would need to push for that.
DF: Yes, if there is the opportunity for the economy to get creating jobs. I think Doncaster will be well geared for this. However the onus is on HS2 to show people and businesses that the prospect is real and that there is a commitment to it, that ithere would be a good number of trains, so that people do not think that is just a sop. A station that's well connected would be worth pushing for. People could get to Leeds in 20 minutes. But there are questions that need to be answered, and I think I think HS2 should be helping make the applications. If there is a realistic opportunity for a parkway station, Doncaster would be mad not to go after the opportunity that would perhaps give us access to HS2 services.
RJ: They have dangled the Parkway to appease Yorkshire. But they have not committed to a parkway station. My only concern is that it a red herring, a distraction from the main event.
AP: At this stage we need to know more, like where it would be built. There is no point pushing for it and putting in an unsuitable place.
PW: If this is going to be the best we're going to get we should push for a parkway station. Doncaster benefits and it doesn't have to be in an obscure place. It's got to serve the community and be accessible.