Are we seeing signs of improvement for HS2-fatigued farmers?

14 June 2023

David Exwood

David Exwood

NFU Deputy President

An image of Huw Merriman and David Exwood standing and talking seriously at official reception

NFU Vice President David Exwood talks to HS2 Minister Huw Merriman at the NFU's summer reception in Parliament

Following months of frustration from NFU members regarding the impact of HS2 construction on their farm businesses, there are some emerging signs that things could be about to get a little easier.

Members have been telling us for a long time that dealing with HS2 has been tough. They don’t feel listened to, let alone understood, and in some of the most acute cases they feel that they are being bullied.

In the last few weeks I spoke to HS2 Minister Huw Merriman (pictured above at the NFU's summer reception) and had the opportunity to put forward members’ concerns that I had previously outlined in a letter to him. This was followed up by a meeting between our President, Minette Batters, and Secretary of State for Transport Mark Harper.

I’m pleased to say the meetings were fruitful. Mark understood our points and was sympathetic to members. He has asked for more information to be sent to him so he can step in as needed and he agreed to another meeting in the autumn. The hope is by then that some meaningful solutions will have been put in place.

The sooner this happens the better.

Minette and the transport secretary

NFU President Minette Batters meets with the Transport Secretary Mark Harper

I’ve been to visit affected farmers and see their situation first hand. It is tough to hear the turmoil they are being put through, the stress caused and the pressure they are under to accommodate HS2. The feedback is that HS2 is very difficult to deal with for farmers and agents.

As work progresses and more farms are affected, HS2 can learn from past experiences and do everything they can to make sure other farmers and growers don't have the same experience.

'We are not asking for miracles'

The issues so far are quite clear.

On Staffordshire dairy farms, among others, HS2 has rowed back on promises to build underpasses, or bridges to allow machinery and cattle to get to grasslands during construction. As Ed Dale, a dairy farmer on the Swynnerton Estates near Stoke-on-Trent, told me: “We are not asking for miracles. We know HS2 has got to be built. We just need access to the fields for our cows.”

Without these access points, the businesses are simply not viable.

For many farmers, compensation disputes continue to rage on with little sign of progress. The NFU continues to throw its full support behind its members, offer expert legal support wherever possible, and provide detailed evidence to the people at the top. But even these efforts are blocked or refuted.

Where there are delays farmers need certainty to continue the business of farming. They need to know what is happening next and when. In some circumstances they simply need their land back. It’s not fair for them to just carry on waiting.

Finally, field drainage needs to be put back in place by HS2. Expecting farmers to organise repairs, pay for it and then put in a claim to be reimbursed is just not right or fair.

While we know there may be some improvement soon, we also know that our members will need continued support to tackle these issues that are having such a direct impact. The NFU is committed to do whatever is within our power to offer this support for as long as it takes.

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