HS2 urged to rehouse London council block residents over disruption

HS2 Ltd has been urged to fund the rehousing of 175 council households in London enduring “unbearable” conditions due to construction works on their doorstep.

The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, and the leader of Camden council, Georgia Gould, have said that many homes could be uninhabitable when large-scale works to build the high-speed railway begin next year, with walls already shaking and dust entering flats just metres away from noisy machinery which they say is causing “increasingly unacceptable disruption”.

Just 13% of the 798 Camden-owned homes eligible for mitigation measures agreed in parliament have had secondary noise insulating, glazing and mechanical ventilation installed by HS2 Ltd, they said. However, according to HS2 Ltd, 25% of properties have had the full noise insulation package.

A digger works within metres of a resident’s living room at Coniston block, Camden. Photograph: Camden council

“This raises broader concerns about the integrity of the assurances that Camden council and other local authorities across the country have received from HS2,” Starmer and Gould said in a letter to the Department for Transport (DfT).

“There have been at least 60 HS2 activity-related dust breaches and 13 air-quality breaches as part of HS2’s early works/site clearance programme. The number of reports we have received of people experiencing respiratory problems, a critical issue during this pandemic, is of particular concern.”

Starmer, MP for Holborn and St Pancras, told the Guardian: “For many of these residents in these properties, the dust, noise and other disturbances have made staying at home unbearable.”

Cllr Gould added: “HS2 Ltd must fund the rehousing costs so no one in Camden is left without a safe and secure home because of this project.”

Cartmel block resident Carole Hardy described the noise as a “continuous drone” during the day. “It’s fenced off everywhere, it feels like they’re closing in on you,” she said. “It’s not a nice environment to live in. We’ve been enduring this for years. It’s defined my kids’ teenage years. It’s disturbing their schoolwork.

“During the lockdown, there was no escape. We’ve just got it day in and day out, even on weekend mornings. We just want a bit of peace and quiet.”

Her fifth-floor flat had noise insulation installed in the living room and bedrooms, but not in the kitchen or bathroom, “so the noise comes in through there”. In any case, they often have to open the windows because of heat and condensation.

The Hardy family. Photograph: Handout

“We want to be rehoused,” she added. “I’ve lived on this estate all my life. You’d have to be crackers to come and live here now. I’ve no idea why they didn’t pull us down too, we’re metres away.”

Three council blocks were previously demolished and Camden built new homes funded by HS2 in agreement with DfT.

When asked for comment, HS2 Ltd directed the Guardian to the DfT. A DfT spokesperson said: “We have been working closely with Camden council and HS2 Ltd to address the issues faced by residents affected by the HS2 works at Euston, and are focused on finding solutions.

“In addition to the environmental impact mitigation measures being installed by HS2 Ltd, there is a prolonged disruption compensation scheme available and HS2 Ltd are working with Camden council to help affected residents.”

Elsewhere, farmers in Buckinghamshire are aggrieved at what they claim are lengthy waits for compensation from HS2 in return for parts of their land and lost profits.

View from Carol Hardy’s flat in Camden. Photograph: Handout

Simon Swerling, who lives in Chalfont St Giles, blocked a key road on Wednesday for four hours with a tractor and a trailer in protest to prevent construction workers from reaching their site.

“It was a protest to make HS2 senior management realise they can’t keep treading on people at grassroots level,” he said. “One of the main issues for landowners, property owners and people blighted by the railway is that HS2 should pay compensation upon entry and not retrospectively when farmers and businesses have already incurred losses. We’re a family business and we feel for other people in the same boat.”

He has previously received substantial payments from HS2 Ltd after a large building on his farm had to be demolished to make way for works.

An HS2 Ltd spokesperson said: “We recognise that the construction of HS2 will have an impact on our neighbours and we endeavour to reduce disruption wherever possible. The temporary access road which runs parallel to Bottom House Farm Lane is designed to take construction vehicles off the lane and will be removed when construction of the Chalfont St Giles vent shaft is complete. We have met with the residents on a number of occasions and explained the options available to them as part of the government’s compensation schemes.”