HS2 – a progressive dream or a prospective nightmare for Cheshire?
PUBLISHED: 14:09 15 March 2013 | UPDATED: 21:10 05 April 2013
HS2 – a progressive dream or a prospective nightmare for Cheshire? Words by Ray King
In the wake of the recently revealed route map of Phase II of the 250mph high speed rail link between Birmingham and Manchester, the battle lines are being drawn.
The Department of Transports multi-billion pound scheme, not due for completion until 2032-3 has the powerful backing, on economic grounds, of most councils and MPs whose constituencies are along the route. But opposition forces, disparate at the outset, will be mobilised into a tenacious lobby over conservation issues and the potential blight of property as the consultation period progresses.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has told MPs that a period of informal consultation on the exact route would start immediately and inform an official public consultation later this year, with a firm decision reached in 2014.
We have been here before, many times. During the original railway building mania of the 1830s and 1840s it was the major landowners who dug in their heels. Later the impact on the landscape and amenities caused by the construction of the motorways and Manchester Airports controversial (at the time) Runway 2 saw objectors take the campaign trail and in the latter case, to the trees and tunnels. Significantly, however, all of the above were built and are now reality.
Curiously, some of the most vociferous early objections to the preferred route came not from the places along it, but those that are not. The city of Stoke-on-Trent, served by the existing 125mph Virgin Pendolino expresses from Manchester to London, complained it had been ignored. And more intriguing still, some of the most strident opponents of HS2s first phase between London and Birmingham, are enraged by the Cheshire proposals.
They claim that the Birmingham-Manchester link does not follow a straight alignment but veers off a straight line by at least six miles and each mile of the line will cost 93 million to build a cost of almost 600m. Thus, they note, the route avoids some of the wealthier parts of Cheshire including Prestbury, Wilmslow and Alderley Edge.
By contrast, Cheshire East Council leader Michael Jones greeted the route announcement by describing the avoidance of Knutsford and Tatton as a success and a common sense solution.
This is great news for Cheshire East and for Crewe in particular, he said. HS2 consolidates Cheshire East at the most connected area in the UK. This view is echoed in Cheshire West and Chester. Executive Member for Prosperity, Councillor Herbert Manley, said: HS2 will improve and open up transport links for West Cheshire and our neighbouring local authorities between London and the North West.
Nigel Evans, executive director of the Cheshire Agricultural Society, organisers of the Cheshire Show, said: The construction work around the HS2 project will cause disruption to traffic around the showground but of greater concern to us is the impact it will have on our neighbouring farms and the large areas of farmland across the county that will be lost to the new line.
Mr Evans, who farms at Tabley added: We need to ask the question is the benefit of saving half an hour on a journey to London worth the loss of so much beautiful and valuable countryside? Particularly with the supply and demand of food being such an important issue in the UK it surely doesnt make sense to get rid of land which is used for food production.
Im also yet to be convinced by the pressing business need for the new line. Thanks to modern technology we can now communicate face to face with people across the world at the click of a button without the need to travel large distances. This is surely a more environmentally friendly and efficient way to work rather than carving up our countryside for a railway line.
Directly in the way of the preferred route is the Pickmere Stud, with 35 animals on a mixed farm of 45 acres, one of the biggest pony studs in the north west of England. John Keleher, who runs the stud and a farm gate egg business with his partner Pat Mather, said: Its devastating. Well be completely taken out.
Were stuck in limbo, not able to do anything until the route is confirmed and the Act of Parliament passed best guess 2016. Its as if our lives have been put on hold for three years and the impact on the environment around Pickmere will be absolutely catastrophic.
Nearby in Budworth Road, Mrs Jane Wright runs a childrens nursery at Yew Tree Farm; the line will be just a field away. Do we really need to spend 36bn on this? she asked. Whats in it for the ordinary people who have to pay for this thing?
Mrs Wright fears for the future of the agricultural engineering business run from the farm by her husband Tony. Will there be any local farmers left as customers after their land is chopped to pieces?
The preferred HS2 route enters Cheshire from the south close to the course of the existing West Coast Main Line before tunnelling under Crewe Station. A connection to the WCML is proposed just south of Crewe station to provide accessibility to HS2 from the Cheshire/North Staffordshire area and to enable HS2 trains to continue north from Crewe to serve Liverpool and the wider North West, also giving ready access for North Wales. Coun Jones, however, has promised to lobby hard for a new dedicated HS2 station in the tunnel directly under the existing Crewe station, creating a fully-integrated hub station between HS2 and the existing network.
North of Crewe the new line will follow the tracks towards Warrington rather than the existing Manchester link via Holmes Chapel and Wilmslow, veering east just south of Winsford and swinging between Davenham and Lach Dennis, bisecting Arley Hall and Tabley House and crossing the M6 motorway just north of Knutsford services. From a triangular junction near Little Bollington, the line will skirt Rostherne and Ashley and run close to Hale Barns likely to be the most contentious sector of the route before reaching a new station for Manchester Airport and then plunging into a 7.5 mile tunnel under the south Manchester suburbs.
Comments from local people
Chancellor George Osbornes Tatton constituency in Cheshire is among the places phase two will pass through. But he said that the HS2 high-speed rail network will be an engine for growth for the north of England and the Midlands and would create tens of thousands of jobs.
Mr Osborne acknowledged that you cant build a brand new railway line without having some impact on families but there would be a very generous compensation scheme. He added: If our predecessors hadnt decided to build the railways in the Victorian times, or the motorways in the middle part of the 20th Century, then we wouldnt have those things today. You have got to commit to these projects even though they take many years.
Graham Brady, whose Altrincham and Sale West constituency includes Hale Barns and Warburton, areas likely to be affected by the preferred route, welcomed the inclusion of a new station at Manchester Airport. But Mr Brady, chairman of the influential 1922 Committee of back bench Conservative MPs has met with the transport secretary to stress the importance of sensitivity to local concerns about the route.
Cheshire Wildlife Trust, while not directly opposing HS2, worries that some fragile habitats are at risk in particular ancient woodland in a county with one of the lowest amounts of woodland cover in the UK.
The trusts director of conservation, Charlotte Harris, said: Any loss of woodland especially centuries-old ancient woodland would be a blow to a county where the habitat is already thin on the ground. In this case, screening or carbon-offset tree planting that has been suggested previously would not adequately mitigate for the potential damage.
Were also keen to understand from HS2 exactly how they propose to minimise the impact on our Holcroft Moss reserve with the line passing extremely close to the south west corner.
These are wild places that shouldnt fall under the rails, and well be analysing the entire route in detail looking at zones of impact in the coming weeks.