Wrong side of the tracks: The businesses facing ruin because of HS2

Riding school owners and a couple who renovated a 16th-century farmhouse are among those in limbo over the HS2 line due to demolish their properties. Chris Burn reports.

Last summer, an unexpected visitor arrived at the Yorkshire riding school run by the Sampson family for the past 40 years with some shocking news; their business was directly on the path of the yet-to-be-announced revised HS2 route and would be demolished.

Richard Sampson, whose parents Robert and Ruth started the Parklands Equestrian Centre on Worksop Road, Aston, says the family struggled to believe what they were being told by the campaigner against the high-speed rail plans.

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“We thought it wasn’t possible and we didn’t believe him. But we soon found out he was right,” he says.

Three days later, it was confirmed that previous plans to build a new HS2 station by Meadowhall shopping centre on the outskirts of Sheffield were being scrapped in favour of a ‘spur’ running to the existing station in Sheffield city centre and the realignment of the main line so it runs to the east through villages close to the M18 near Rotherham and Doncaster.

Despite massive local opposition from those living in affected areas, what has become known as the M18 route was confirmed this July - setting the stage for next phase of the process, which will see a bill submitted to Parliament in 2019 ahead of construction potentially starting in 2022/23.

HS2 says confirmation of the route option means it can now start talking face-to-face with residents as the plans are more fully developed, with 11 public meetings planned in affected areas next month.

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But those directly on the route say the long-running nature of the process is leaving them in limbo. The Parklands site alone is made up of three businesses - a riding school, a shop and a livery service - employing 22 workers. Sampson, whose own home is next to the business, says he has been struggling to get meaningful answers from HS2 officials about what happens next.

“If it hits us, it won’t impact the business, it will end it,” he says. “Some of the staff have worked for my mum and dad for as long as I have been alive. I would like to be able to tell you what happens next, we just don’t know. At the moment, you know it is there but we are just carrying on. But it affects business already. People say, ‘You are closing, aren’t you?’ or ‘We have heard you are shutting’. We say, ‘No, we aren’t’. We think it could be a long way away from happening.

“We just want somebody to engage with the people it is affecting, someone who can have serious conversations in real terms and say we know there is going to be change, it is not going to be good but here is how we can help you.

“We have got three properties and three businesses on this land. There are 70 horses and we employ 22 members of staff. Hundreds of people come here each week for riding lessons.“It is not just something that is going to knock a bit of value off a house price. It is completely life-changing, it is my future being ripped apart. For my mum and dad, they are winding down a bit but they haven’t worked for 40 years to have their business taken away from them like this at whatever valuation HS2 see fit.”

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HS2’s current official estimates claim there will only be 51 “direct property impacts” along the new route, which will run from the Mansfield area up to Wakefield, passing through areas such as Bramley, Aston, Swallownest, Barnburgh, Mexborough and Denaby.

But those numbers only reflect the properties facing demolition and campaigners argue the numbers affected are far greater than what is being officially claimed - pointing by way of example to a recent study conducted by independent engineers which suggests there are more than 1,200 properties in the South Yorkshire section of the route that are within 300m of the line and therefore eligible to claim some compensation.

That report, conducted by firm SNC Lavalin, suggests more than 200 properties are inside so-called ‘safeguarding zones’ within 60m of the track; making home and business owners eligible to be fully compensated for the price of their property plus an extra ten per cent of its value.

Presentation slides shown by HS2 officials to residents in Bramley in December also show it suggested around 600 properties are within 100m of the intended M18 route. Campaigners also insist the M18 option, which leaves South Yorkshire without a dedicated HS2 station, means a worse deal for the entire region.

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Another family facing a major dilemma are Louise and Howard Nicholson, who spent thousands on a painstaking renovation of a 16th century farmhouse in the Yorkshire countryside and lived for years in a caravan as they restored the Grade II-listed Nickerwood Farm near Aston.

After years of restoring the property while carefully complying with stringent building regulations to the extent of taking the property down piece by piece and numbering stones so they all went back in the same place, they have now been informed it set to be demolished to make way for the new railway line.

Louise Nicholson says she has struggled to get information from HS2 about their “unique situation”. “We still have no confirmation on what is going to happen, beyond nothing is going to happen until 2022. We are in a situation where we could move house if we found somewhere else but if we did move now and then HS2 doesn’t happen, then we will have left a property we didn’t want to leave. So really, we are just stuck. We could move but what if it doesn’t happen?

“There are lots of people in the same situation. Some of them are in a worse situation than us because they are just outside the safeguarding zone.”

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HS2 insist now the route option has been confirmed, more information can be shared with residents. More detailed designs are now being drawn up for the route, with a public consultation due to take place on a draft ‘Environmental Statement’ setting out the impact of the line in more detail next year.

But Chris Matthewman, chairman of the Bramley HS2 Action Group, says he believes HS2 faces an uphill struggle to turn around public perceptions.

“Many people are now of the opinion that the while line should be scrapped and the money better spent on existing railways, motorways, health and that kind of thing. But there are others who look at it and think if there was a purpose-built HS2 station at Meadowhall that would have been better for everyone in the region as Meadowhall is so easy to get to. Getting to London in 66 minutes is quite appealing. The result of this route is the people of South Yorkshire have all lost. If there were benefits before, we have lost them all.”

He says campaigners have taken heart at the recent decision to scrap the controversial Garden Bridge project in London, after an initial £37m of public money was spent on it. “The only difference between that and HS2 is HS2 is a far greater cost,” says Matthewman.