Perhaps spurred on by images of medal-clutching Olympians piling onto Eurostar trains at St Pancras, HS2 Limited last week took a small, but important step forward. After months of radio silence, the government-owned rail company finally appointed a panel of five agents to advise it on property acquisitions, compulsory purchase orders and compensation for the proposed £32bn High Speed rail link between London and Birmingham.
The multi-million pound two year contract that started at the beginning of this month, is certainly good news for chosen firms GVA, Jones Lang LaSalle, Colliers International, Drivers Jonas and Lambert Smith Hampton. But far more importantly, it should allow property owners along the proposed 140 mile route from London's Euston to Birmingham's Eastside to finally engage substantively with HS2.
While HS2 could bring significant benefits to Birmingham in fourteen years time, landowners have become increasingly frustrated with its impact on major development schemes. And a trio of heavily affected landlords have voiced their concerns. Grainger, Development Securities and Quintain all had schemes underway in the city's Eastside regeneration zone, that have been significantly altered by the HS2 proposals.
They have become increasingly disgruntled by the wall of silence that followed their meeting with HS2 Ltd earlier this year to discuss prospects for their 11 acre Curzon Park and 5.8 acre City Park Gate schemes respectively.
Mark Woodrow, development director at Grainger, explained: "We met with HS2 Ltd in January, but we feel that they need to engage with the development community much more. There isn't someone in place in charge of the terminus at HS2 Ltd as yet. It's very frustrating."
Although a property panel is now in place, landowners are still likely to be twiddling their thumbs until the autumn when HS2 Ltd is expected to publish the results of its route safeguarding and compensation consultations.
In Birmingham, Adam Ward, head of the regions at Quintain, is unhappy with the delay: "We haven't got a scheme until we know the outcome of these consultations. Commercial organisations like us are just sat there with land holdings at the moment. It's very annoying. We'd also like to engage with HS2 but there's no one to talk to. We feel we're not getting anywhere."
A spokesman for HS2 Ltd confirmed there is no designated property lead staff member at the company for the terminus. He said: "The new high speed station at Curzon Street will be one of the major developments of the HS2 network bringing both jobs and regeneration to the area. Our chair and CEO have met with the city authorities to discuss their proposals for Eastside Birmingham and as the project progresses our property team will be liaising with the relevant landowners."
If HS2 Ltd is planning a charm offensive it will have its work cut out.
The decision to place the HS2 maintenance depot in Washwood Heath has already sparked dismay, with Birmingham city council and the logistics property sector condemning the potential loss of a huge swathe of prime next-generation logistics land.
Landowners Langtree, AXA and St Modwen are working in partnership to fight plans to lay tracks over their 138-acre proposed logistics hub that could create up to 6,000 new jobs. Supported by Birmingham council leader Sir Albert Bore they are asking HS2 Ltd to relocate the depot elsewhere and have commissioned Savills to prepare a report, expected later this year, outlining the alternatives.
David Tucker, of Midlands-based transport planning consultancy David Tucker Associates, suggested that the existing Central Rivers railway maintenance depot located on the A38 in Burton-on-Trent, could be extended to accommodate the HS2 depot.
Tucker also warned that HS2's delivery timetable was looking increasingly unlikely and would be difficult to achieve unless legal proceedings start imminently. "HS2's mythical opening date is in 2026 but the reality is that for planning to progress and be in place by 2016, government needs to get a move on with the parliamentary procedure and start legal proceedings now. A commitment is unlikely to be made before the Queen's speech in 2013 at the earliest."
That doesn't bode well for the increasing number of critics, including many local authorities, who have an interest in the 3,200 acres of land that lies within 1km of the proposed route. Like HS2's potential passengers they may have quite a wait ahead.