We live in village where homeowners were forced out and we’re overrun by squatters & druggies… it didn't need to happen | The Sun

We live in village where homeowners were forced out and we’re overrun by squatters & druggies… it didn't need to happen | The Sun


THE balaclava-clad HS2 security look menacing as they patrol the empty mansions to deter squatters and drug gangs.

They guard £3million houses which have been turned into cannabis farms and even targeted by religious cults in this leafy corner of Staffordshire.

Angry locals said upmarket Whitmore has become an "eerie ghost village" after so many houses were bought by HS2 bosses for the doomed link to Manchester.

And villagers claim a dozen elderly residents have died prematurely after being forced from their beloved homes by compulsory purchase orders from the Department of Transport to build the axed high speed rail link.

Retired university researcher Deborah Mallender, 63, said: "HS2 bosses are bully boys forcing people out of their homes.

"It has been a nightmare. They turned into monsters telling people what to do.

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"We’re now up to 12 former residents who have died before their time.

"They loved their homes and were heartbroken that they had to move."

'Sinister' guards

The mum-of-two, who has campaigned about HS2 for years, added: "The area has been ruined by HS2.

"This used to be one of the most desirable places to live in Staffordshire but not any more all because of HS2.

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Warning signs attempt to deter intruders at an abandoned homeCredit: News Group Newspapers Ltd
Deborah Mallender has campaigned against HS2Credit: News Group Newspapers Ltd

"But looking at these hamlets of empty homes, now owned by HS2, is so depressing and sad.

"These homes were once loved and cared for and aspired after – now they are run down shells of houses.

"The only sign of life near them are the HS2 private security contractors that swing by each one a few times a day to check they haven't been broken into.

"People have been very unnerved by HS2 and their tactics.

"They had very sinister looking security guards dressed in black balaclavas.

"They were brought in after there were squatters and cannabis farms."

Speaking outside Whitmore Tea Rooms, Deborah also said: "HS2 also did crazy things like having a bat survey during the day.

"I mean who counts bats when it's light? It's madness and of course they didn't find any as they only come out at night.

"We're so pleased they aren't building it, but the damage has been done."

Houses empty for six years

Earlier this month Rishi Sunak announced he was scrapping the high speed link from Birmingham to Manchester.

But not before the government spent more than £423million on buying hundreds of homes, swathes of land and ancient forests for the now defunct northern leg of the route.

HS2 bought up 35 houses in Whitmore alone. Many were then rented out but locals claim nearly 20 have laid empty for up to six years.

Three were found to have been turned into cannabis farms with squatters also targeting several isolated homes.

Police raided one in November last year and found 182 marijuana plants in the sprawling house.

They arrested a 29-year-old man from Merseyside.

A large white house behind imposing wrought iron gates had also been turned into a cannabis farm this year.

Landowner Edward Cavenagh-Mainwaring, 61, said: "There were cannabis plants up to the ceiling in all the rooms.

"It was full of marijuana. We didn't see anyone but I guess that's how they operate.

"In fact they dug trenches to put in electricity cables on my land and used my electricity.

"We had to ring the electric board as the bill had gone up so much."

Lost land

Edward, whose family have owned the land for 900 years, lost a quarter of his dairy farm at Whitmore Hall estate through a compulsory purchase order just days before the PM's cancellation announcement.

He said: “It should have been stopped earlier. A lot of people's lives should have not been upset to the degree they have been.

"When you walk around the area, it's a bit sad to see it all locked up. You'd never have thought three of these houses would be used as cannabis farms."

But drug gangs and squatters were not the only unwelcome visitors.

One security guard, who had been hired to guard a house targeted by squatters, said: "We've had religious cults trying to break in. They would even try to arrest you."

Most of the sprawling homes bought by HS2 are on Whitmore Heath where the Slater family have worked at Snape Hall Farm for the last 70 years.

Dairy farmer John Slater, 38, who runs the farm with his father Chris, 79, said: "It's eerie walking around here.

"All the houses are empty and padlocked plus we've had sinister-looking security guards walking round.

"Once HS2 were wrongly told there were going to be protesters in the woods.

"They sent four or five dog units with their handlers.

"There weren't any protesters but the dogs barked at the cows and scared them and the guards left the gates open so the animals could get out.

"It's been a nightmare. We've been battling the government and getting nowhere.

"My dad said he felt like jumping off a bridge after having one meeting in London because he felt we were just getting nowhere and they weren't listening,"

The train route ran straight through the 265-acre farm and 70 acres were taken under compulsory purchase.

Speaking in his cattle shed, John said: "The amount they paid us means we would never be able to buy it back.

"Now they own the farmyard, they own the cattle grid in front of the farmhouse.

"We would never be able to sell and we don't know what happens next.

"But it's a relief it's over. I just hope it's been killed off and doesn't come back. I never thought HS2 was a good idea."

Up the hill from his farm, several empty houses by HS2 are padlocked with another guarded by mobile CCTV cameras and private security.

Retired corn mill owner Tony Dixon, 85, said: "It's a shame a lot of these beautiful houses are now empty.

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"Others have been rented out but most of my neighbours have gone.

"HS2 offered me money but I thought it wasn't enough so we didn't budge. It has all seemed a waste of time and a lot of money."

Statement from HS2

An HS2 spokesperson said that many of the properties acquired on Whitmore Heath were purchased under HS2’s discretionary schemes, where homeowner’s ‘opted’ to sell.

They added: “We understand that people did not choose to live in the path of a high speed railway, and that it can be distressing when land and property is subject to compulsory purchase powers. At all times we endeavour to be understanding and to provide appropriate support and guidance.

“Where it is financially advantageous for the taxpayer, we always strive to lease properties on the open market, and HS2 Ltd’s agents apply industry standard checks to all prospective tenants. Some properties require maintenance to meet current regulations before being let, and any vacant properties are maintained and kept secure with the interests of local residents in mind.”

Of the properties they currently own in the area, six were being refurbished and five were on the market for rental.  

They added that no squatters have been evicted from HS2 properties and the sole eviction, in Whitmore Heath, saw “the removal of people given access to a property by its then tenant.  HS2 Ltd absolutely condemns any illegal activity taking place in property it manages. We work with the police and other authorities to prevent or stop it if and where it occurs.”

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