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Farm Lawyer Warns High Speed Rail Could Wreak Havoc Across Rural Staffordshire

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Following last week’s government green light for the London to West Midlands high speed rail line, a rural affairs lawyer has warned plans for a £16.4 billion second phase northern connection could pose a ‘major threat’ to Staffordshire’s farmers.

The alarm comes from Sarah Baugh, an agricultural specialist and influential member on the Staffordshire Committee of the Land and Business Association (CLA).

Mrs Baugh says the decision could ‘wreak havoc’ for farmers across rural Staffordshire after the announcement brought the possibility of a 225mph northern spur carving through north Staffordshire one step closer.

Mrs Baugh, a partner at Midland law firm MFG Solicitors, said: “Very few people across Staffordshire are surprised that HS2 has been given the go-ahead after what was a very one-sided consultation. However, what is difficult to swallow is that the government has ignored the major threat the decision may have on farmers and rural communities across Staffordshire. It’s a decision that could change the lives of thousands.

“Not only has the financial case for HS2 yet to be proven to Staffordshire’s rural community, but the high-speed track will slice the county’s farming fabric in two. In villages such as Colwich and Tittensor, the line may detach land from farms and displace local farm businesses – simply because the views of rural communities and generations of farming families have been tossed aside.

“However, the decision is all but final and that means farmers affected must channel their energies to ensure they receive the right amount of compensation for the problems they are going to encounter. The compensation scheme will not prove to be generous or swift, but I urge farmers across Staffordshire who could be affected to start planning ahead. They must take advice on obvious issues such as compulsory purchase orders for pieces of land and budgeting for the expected loss of subsidy payments.

“And it’s not only landowners that are faced with the HS2 trauma. Staffordshire also has its fair share of tenant farmers. Any tenants occupying land that is subject to an Agricultural Holdings Act Tenancy or a Farm Business Tenancy will almost certainly find their businesses disrupted to this will need to be carefully considered.”

“Some homeowners and agricultural businesses around Stone have also been left devastated by the expected environmental impact. In the years ahead, people there could face a significant dip in the value of their properties as the noise from HS2 construction work, and the near-constant rumble from the line itself, wreaks havoc with their lives.”

Mrs Baugh, herself born and raised in rural Staffordshire, added: “There are simply so many issues some farmers and rural business owners must consider here in Staffordshire.

“The HS2 phase two decision is basically rubber-stamped so as quickly as possible the county’s farmers must concentrate their efforts on understanding the likely government procedures and importantly, seeking advice on the best legal options available. This approach will ensure the best settlements come from what is a nightmare situation.”

In spring 2012, the government will receive advice from HS2 Ltd on how to proceed with phase two to Manchester. In late 2013, a hybrid bill will be introduced providing the powers to construct phase one to the West Midlands. Construction will begin in 2017 and completed by 2026, while phase two will be completed by 2033.