Friday, 28 April 2017

Not for rail

Earlier this year photographer Philip Wolmuth set about documenting the community living in the Euston area of London set to be affected by the HS2 railway. Jess McCabe meets some of the residents who fear for their futures

A passenger jumps on the train at London Euston. A mere 49 minutes later, they arrive in Birmingham. Such is the rapid future imagined by High Speed 2, the government’s plan to shave 35 minutes off the journey from the midlands to the capital, reinvigorate the economy and shrink the north-south divide.

The project is expected to cost the taxpayer £33 billion by the time the first trains zoom down the tracks in 2026. But for residents of Camden Council’s Regent’s Park estate, the price will be paid much sooner.

More than 300 homes are due to be demolished to make way for HS2. So far, no plans have been announced for where tenants will be rehoused. Stan Passmore, 87, lives in Eskdale, one of the blocks on the estate scheduled for demolition on a date not yet known to tenants. ‘I’ve been here 50 years. Everybody knows one another [here],’ he says.

Many of Mr Passmore’s neighbours are scared they could be moved away from family, friends, schools and workplaces. ‘You can’t describe [how it feels]. You have to keep consoling people all the time,’ he says.

More people living west of Euston station face a decade of disruption. The roads will be needed for construction traffic, while it is likely the owners and occupiers of nearby homes and businesses will have to live with the disruption.

Sue Sommers, treasurer of the Drummond Street Tenants’ and Residents’ Association, will have retired from work by the time construction is scheduled to start in 2017. Her home is metres away from the likely edge of the construction site. ‘It can be 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with considerable amounts of drilling. I don’t really want to spend 10 years of retirement in this type of situation,’ she explains.

Homeowner Gous Khan, 39, lives close to the proposed construction site with his wife, mother and two young children. ‘Their lungs are going to be filled with dust,’ he worries. ‘It won’t be safe to play outside. We’re going to lose our community.’

Sarah Hayward, leader of Camden Council, says: ‘Eighty per cent of demolition of HS2 happens in Camden and almost all of that is social housing. There will be a decade of disruption and blight when the works start. If HS2 is going to provide housing and job opportunities it’s going to cost investment money running into billions and they don’t appear to have that at the moment. We can’t magic up hundreds of homes out of nowhere. We need money and land and they have given us neither. We don’t see any positives.’

A spokesperson for HS2 Ltd, the government-owned company which will build the train line, says: ‘The social housing [that is demolished] will be replaced, and ideally in the same area, but we are still working with the London Borough of Camden on that.’

Homeowners and business-owners whose properties are earmarked for demolition will be subject to compulsory purchase orders, through which the property is bought by the government for its market value plus 10 per cent, he adds.

Under a consultation on property compensation by the Department for Transport, which closed on 31 January 2013, residents living near the proposed HS2 line outside the M25 would have received more generous compensation than those inside.

Earlier this month, a judicial review overturned this consultation. A spokesperson for the DfT says a new consultation will launch imminently, and notes it has set up an ‘extreme hardship fund’ to give compensation to homeowners with an urgent need to sell before the compensation scheme is in place.

But the unfairness of those initial proposals still rankles residents like Mr Khan. ‘We’re 15 metres away from the site at most. There’s nothing that’s been taken into account for the people around here. If you live in the Chilterns, they’ve considered you.’

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