22 December, 2016
Lord Walker describes his select committee’s recommendation to extend a modified version of the Voluntary Purchase Scheme to 1,300 households in Camden as one of “great general importance”.
The question is whether the government will now implement this “strong recommendation”.
There are three elements to the committee’s proposal: first, owner-occupiers should have the right to require the government to acquire their homes at their unblighted price; secondly, such owners should have the alterative option of the cash offer, namely a payment of 10 per cent of its unblighted value with a minimum of £30k and a maximum of £100k; thirdly, tenants should be entitled to a lump sum of £10k.
The traditional view has been that those living in urban areas must expect to put up with construction and that compensation should be for permanent detriment once the construction phase is over and the project is in operation. The committee has concluded that this approach is no longer acceptable.
First, they have had regard to the unprecedented scale, both in intensity and in duration, of the construction works to be authorised by the Bill, which in Camden will continue until 2033. For elderly pensioners, this will exceed their life expectancy. For those born today, it will extend through the whole of their childhoods.
Secondly, Lord Walker, a former Justice of the Supreme Court, has had specific regard to the impact of the Human Rights Act 1998, namely article 8 of the convention (respect for private life and home); article 1 of the first protocol (peaceful enjoyment of possessions); and article 14 of the convention (no discrimination in enjoyment of convention rights).
The committee did not refer to the third reason for fair compensation, namely the need to hold together the diverse and vibrant communities in Euston through the next 17 years. Some residents are already voting with their feet, selling their properties or seeking transfers, before the construction works commence. The proposed compensation would encourage residents to stay and would reassure the local property market.
The committee concludes: “In the absence of a non-statutory scheme, the statutory compensation code might, on its own, fail to comply with convention rights. The human rights of thousands of residents of parts of Camden require that they should be properly compensated, and that a fair balance is struck between the rights of owner-occupiers and residential tenants, and between rural and urban residents”.
On December 20 2010, Philip Hammond, then transport secretary, made a statement to the Commons in which he accepted that “it is right and proper that individuals who suffer serious financial loss in the national interest should be compensated” and noted the “developing European jurisprudence in the area of property rights”.
The select committees in both houses have recognised that the impact of HS2 on Camden is “exceptional and needs special treatment”. To date, this has fallen on deaf ears in government. Hammond is now chancellor.
Section 19 of the Human Rights Act imposes a duty on parliament to satisfy itself that legislation is compatible with convention rights. Parliament should not permit the hybrid bill to proceed until the government gives a commitment to ensure that fair compensation will be payable to residents in Camden.
If both government and parliament ignore this “strong recommendation”, redress will need to be sought from the third pillar of our constitution, the courts. Any interference by the state with convention rights must be proportionate.
In the absence of fair compensation, the select committee suggest that any interference may be disproportionate and unlawful.