Time to brush up on the Crichel Down Rules?

4 minutes de lecture
13 octobre 2023

With the cancellation of the Birmingham to Manchester leg of HS2, HS2 Limited is left with hundreds of properties it had purchased in readiness for the works. With tales of disgruntled and angry former landowners abounding in the press, and the Minister for Transport explaining that the Government would look to recoup at least some of the £423 million spent by selling off the property and land, it is perhaps time to brush up on the Crichel Down Rules.

What are the Crichel Down Rules?

The Crichel Down Rules govern the disposal of government assets purchased compulsorily (or by agreement on threat of compulsion) which subsequently become surplus to requirements. Although non-statutory, they apply widely to public bodies that hold compulsory purchase powers and are considered to be mandatory for all government departments and non-departmental public bodies in England. HS2 Limited is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Transport, so the rules will now be engaged as it seeks to dispose of properties along the cancelled route.

The rules take their name from Crichel Down which was compulsorily acquired in 1938 by the Air Ministry. The principle they enshrine originates from a promise made by Winston Churchill in 1941 that land acquired for the war effort would be returned to its owners when it was no longer required for the purpose for which it was bought. When at the end of the war, rather than being returned, Crichel Down was handed over to the Ministry of Agriculture, the former owner's daughter launched a campaign for Churchill's promise to be kept.

Amid significant political fallout, Crichel Down was returned to its former owners in the 1950s, and the principle that land acquired compulsorily should, when no longer required for the purpose that it was taken, be returned to its former owner, was set out in The Crichel Down Rules. The rules have governed government disposals ever since and stand as a fundamental pillar of compulsory purchase practice in England. Compulsory acquisition is only allowed when the balance between the private rights of the landowner and the public benefit tips towards the public benefit. If that balance changes, because the public benefit falls away, it is right that the landowner should be able to recover his property.

How do the Crichel Down Rules apply to HS2?

So what can former owners along the cancelled HS2 route expect? Regardless of whether their property was acquired compulsorily or by agreement, or indeed whether it was acquired as a result of blight, they should be given the opportunity to re-purchase their property at today's market value. Only if the former owner declines this offer will HS2 Limited be able to dispose of these properties on the open market. HS2 Limited will now need to trace former owners, obtain valuations, and make offers of re-sale.

Compliance with the Crichel Down Rules will add practical complexities that will impact on the costs of the HS2 cancellation. The re-purchase price will not simply equate to the compensation paid out to landowners on acquisition. Values may have changed simply through movements in the market, or as a result of preliminary works, or the deterioration of properties left empty. Moreover, for most properties the compensation will have exceeded the value of the land. Sums paid to landowners to cover disturbance, severance or occupiers loss can't be added to the re-purchase price.

What happens to properties purchased by HS2 now?

The Prime Minister's announcement at the recent Conservative Party Conference brought days of speculation about the future of the Birmingham to Manchester line to an end. The development of land in the vicinity of the proposed route has been overshadowed by HS2 for more than a decade. With cancellation, new development options will arise for the safeguarded land, but the disposal of HS2's properties along the route will not be a simple process. It may be many months or even years before the 'for sale' signs go up.

For information on all aspects of compulsory purchase and compensation, please contact Toni Weston, Vicky Fowler or Rachel Martin.

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