Primrose Hill set stirs as HS2 targets homes

The High Speed 2 rail project has a formidable new foe: the Primrose Hill set.

Residents in the affluent north London neighbourhood, the spiritual home of metropolitan intellectuals and bohemian celebrities, have reacted angrily after learning that their properties could be seized to make way for the £50bn scheme.

Those affected include Mary Portas, the retail expert and government high street tsar, who has received a letter from HS2 Ltd saying her £4.5m home could be subject to a compulsory purchase order.

Similar letters have been sent to other residents because HS2’s officials have drawn up plans to replace, move and reinforce sewers beneath the roads surrounding the route.

Portas’s home, which she bought last year, is one of a dozen multimillion-pound properties on one street that has an old sewer running beneath it. She declined to comment.

Scores of homeowners and businesses on nearby Princess Road have also been told that as part of work to replace another sewer they could lose their cellars. Many of these have been converted from their original use as coal stores into bedrooms, gyms or wine cellars.

The properties include a restaurant used by Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, and a pub frequented by Andrew Marr, the BBC television presenter.

“We use our cellar for a pottery kiln and I reckon at least a quarter of the residents and landlords on the road have spent a lot of money having their cellars converted for other uses,” said Bill Bordass, a buildings consultant.

His neighbour, who asked not to be named, has recently converted his cellar into a child’s bedroom and bathroom. “If they take it away we are going to have to move out and our property’s value will have dropped,” he said.

La Collina, an Italian restaurant that counts Miliband among its customers, has been warned that its former coal cellar, now part of the kitchens, could be compulsorily purchased. The nearby Albert pub could lose its beer cellar.

HS2 said that while legislation will give it the power to make compulsory purchases in Primrose Hill, it has no plans to do so. “HS2 Ltd does not intend to acquire or gain access to these properties. However, the powers in the bill would allow us to do so if required,” it said.

Residents fear the threat alone may reduce the value of their homes. The letters were sent following the publication of a 50,000-page document detailing the environmental damage that will be caused by the proposed London to Birmingham railway.

The Primrose Hill set was a name coined in the mid-1990s to identify a group of young actors and models, including Jude Law, Ewan McGregor, Rhys Ifans and Kate Moss, who lived in the area which is in the London borough of Camden.

Other Camden residents can expect an increase in lorries and similar “dust-generating activities” and “significant noise” for 10 years from 2016, the HS2 document warns.

Dame Joan Bakewell, the broadcaster and also a Primrose Hill resident, said: “I’m trying very hard not to be entirely selfish in this matter but [with] the chaos…the place will not be liveable in for a long time.”