The decision to scrap the Eastern Leg of HS2 between the East Midlands and Leeds in favour of upgrading existing routes is good news for several waterways that were threatened by the proposals.
We have welcomed this in our submission to an Inquiry into the Government’s Integrated Rail Plan (IRP), which affects several waterways and canal restoration projects. However, we continue to be critical of the intention to press ahead with the Western Leg of HS2 2b. Additionally, there is a lack of detail on the Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) routes which may adversely affect other waterways.
The IRP was published in November 2021. It covers HS2 Phase 2b, NPR and some Midlands Rail Hub proposals and sets out the Government’s decisions on new high speed lines and major upgrades of the rail network in the North and Midlands over the next 30 years.
Our submission was made in response to an invitation by the House of Commons Transport Select Committee to anyone concerned by the implications of the IRP and how it integrates with HS2.
HS2 Phase 2b East
Scrapping much of HS2 East avoids adverse impacts to several waterways including the Cranfleet Cut, Erewash Canal, Nottingham Canal, Chesterfield Canal, Sheffield & South Yorkshire Navigation, and Aire & Calder Navigation. However, the “safeguarding” orders remain in place which means the Chesterfield Canal restoration at Staveley continues to be blighted by uncertainty, and we have called for this to be lifted.
HS2 Phase 2b East will now end at East Midlands Parkway station but the IRP says nothing about its route through Measham which still threatens a large housing site that was set to contribute significantly to the restoration of the Ashby Canal. The review of this route which was promised in 2018 should now be speedily completed to allow the restoration to proceed.
HS2 Phase 2b West
The IRP confirms the intention to proceed with HS2 Phase 2b West from Crewe to Manchester, which will have major impacts on the environment and heritage of the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union Canal and on the Trent & Mersey Canal north of Middlewich. We have been critical of the engineering design of this route, crossing the Cheshire salt field with its unpredictable subsidence problems, and its poor integration with the NPR proposals for east-west connectivity. Therefore, we are advocating for progress on this route to be paused while new proposals are considered.
New Transpennine Route
The NPR proposals for a new Transpennine route have been cut back to upgrades of the existing route via Huddersfield to Leeds, with a new section of high speed line from Manchester to Marsden, east of Standedge tunnel. But finding a new route through hilly terrain and dense built development will be a major challenge. We have called for more information about the routes of new sections of NPR line, and where widening of existing lines outside the present railway land take is planned, which could impact several waterways. They should also make clear if they plan to re-open the two original single track tunnels at Standedge, which would affect the current operational safety measures for the canal tunnel.
Warrington to HS2 West
Another section of high speed line is proposed between Warrington and a connection with HS2 West. This uses a freight line which crosses the St Helens (Sankey) Canal at low level on a former swing bridge which would permanently prevent its full restoration. Either a raised crossing should be provided or if this is not feasible than a different route for NPR through Warrington Central should be considered.
Protecting the Waterways from the worst effects of HS2
We’re campaigning to protect canals and rivers from the damaging effects of HS2, especially where the tranquillity of the waterways is under threat. Our HS2 route changes have already reduced waterways crossings – saving the project £50 million – and we have secured agreement for a new canal restoration route, a new mooring basin, changes in viaduct designs and improved noise protection.