By Marie-Claire Kidd
The company behind HS2 stands accused of failing farmers as the NFU and CLA call for immediate employment of an agricultural liaison officer.
In December 2014, HS2 promised someone ‘experienced in agricultural matters’ would be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, during construction of HS2 phase one.
Last week it said it would fill the post before building work begins, probably in 2017. But farming leaders say the officer is needed now.
Andrew Shirley, CLA chief surveyor, said: “They should have been in place from the outset to provide agricultural input, but HS2 does not understand farming businesses. It is not intending to employ anyone until before construction starts. This is too late.
“It is disappointing HS2 has not done more to reduce the impact on farmers. Their focus is to get the Bill through Parliament, not on people who are losing their land and their livelihood.”
Louise Staples, rural surveyor for the NFU, added: “We would like to see someone appointed as soon as possible, not just when construction starts. We have raised this with HS2 and said it would be much better for this person to be in the negotiations now, rather than having to play catch-up on all previous negotiations and agreements with the farm businesses affected when construction starts.”
Mr Shirley said lack of feedback from farmers meant HS2 was already missing opportunities to protect businesses, for example by changing the location of habitat or crossings. But royal assent – permission for compulsory purchase – is expected this year.
HS2 will then have to pay compensation within three months of serving notice.
“This requires a huge amount of trust,” Mr Shirley said. “Once construction starts there will be a lot of concern.”
Many farmers still do not know whether their land is being taken temporarily or permanently. Farmers with land allocated as habitat are still unclear how this will be managed and by whom.
For others, the sooner compulsory purchase begins, the better.
“It has been five years already,” Mr Shirley said. “There will be 10 years of construction. This is almost a generation. Farmers are wondering how to remain competitive and where to invest.”
HS2’s Guide for Farmers and Growers is available here: www.gov.uk/government/publications/hs2-guide-for-farmers-and-growers
HS2 must employ an agricultural liaison officer to support farmers affected by the first phase of construction.
It must provide their name and contact details to the NFU before they take post and arrange meetings between the officer and the NFU at least every three months.
An HS2 spokesman said: “The officer will complement the engagement already taking place between HS2 and individual affected farmers and landowners.”