It was 10 years ago that Val Hines first heard of the railway plan that would change her life. A reporter turned up at her house and asked: “How do you feel about this train going through your property?”
“This train” was the HS2 project, and Hines learned it was to cut straight through her living room before heading over the M56 to Manchester airport and into the city centre.
Since the 1990s, Hines and various relatives have lived in a collection of converted barns on a farm in Ringway, a tiny hamlet on the Cheshire border. Despite its proximity to a motorway and two runways, it is a peaceful place of fields and trees, badgers and foxes, and Hines thought she would be there for ever.
The government had other plans. The whole family compound was, to use HS2 parlance, in the “safeguarded zone”, which meant that at some point in the future they would be forced to sell up to make way for Britain’s biggest infrastructure project since the Channel tunnel.
Hines stood firm, not wanting to leave the four-bedroom barn conversion she shares with her husband, Glyn, and dog Grigio (as in pinot). “All our memories are here. My son died in 2008 and his bedroom is still here,” she said. “I use it as a healing room – I do reiki. I know you can’t stand in the way of progress, but for God’s sake, we’re up, we’re down, we’re not moving, we are moving. It’s torture. I’m on anxiety tablets because of it.”
About five years ago, her brother got fed up and moved out of the main farmhouse. “HS2 were awful to deal with,” Hines said. “The house was worth £3.5m but they were only prepared to give him £2.5m.”
HS2 rented the house out for a while but it now stands empty, its grand gates locked with a large padlock. Now that the Birmingham-Manchester leg is mired in uncertainty, Hines is wondering: “If they don’t go ahead with HS2, will they allow him to buy it back for what he sold it for?”
Farther up the lane lives Jeremy Oddie, a parish councillor and insolvency practitioner who faces losing a chunk of his garden to the railway. He said Ringway was the smallest parish in the UK, with scarcely 70 voters, and faced obliteration by HS2.
Oddie said it was hard to know just how many Ringway residents had sold up, or for how much. “Those [properties] we know have been sold are subject to non-disclosure agreements, and the sale proceeds don’t appear on the Land Registry.”
Unsurprisingly, most Ringway residents oppose the railway. Oddie said he thought it was particularly pointless in a post-Covid world where so many meetings now happened online. “I used to go to commute to London three or four times a month. Now I, and all the professionals I know, do it all by [the messaging and video platform] Teams,” he said.
Deeper into Cheshire is Cookes Lane, a small row of houses opposite a brine pit on the outskirts of Lostock Green village. If HS2 ever gets beyond Crewe, the lane will disappear and with it a terrace of four council houses, two pairs of semis and one detached home.
HS2 has already bought up all but the social housing. A few properties are rented out; others look abandoned, with garages boarded up and padlocks on the gates. Lynzy Webster has lived in one of the council houses for 24 years and is dreading the day she is forced out.
The idea of a faster train to London does not appeal. “If you want to commute down there, live down there,” she said. “People are working from home more and more. And what’s the matter with all the old derelict lines? There are hundreds and hundreds of miles not being used. Why can’t they fix those up instead?”
Back in Ringway, Theo and Haroulla Hadjiyianni, a Cypriot couple who moved into their 400-year-old, seven-bedroom manor house 30 years ago, take a more nuanced view. They face losing their paddock to HS2, and they doubt they could find a better home or location – which Theo describes as being “both in the middle of nowhere and everywhere” – anywhere. And yet they do not wholly oppose the new railway line.
“We can’t just think for ourselves. This is for the future of our kids and our grandkids,” said Haroulla. It would be a shame to scrap the project now, she said. “They’re just leaving Manchester behind and concentrating on London.”