Gren Messham on IWA's HS2 Campaign

Created on 03/07/2014

IWA member, trustee and volunteer, Gren Messham, became chairman of IWA's HS2 Campaign & Communications Group in 2013 when it was formed in response to the government's HS2 high speed railway phase 1 route announcement. Since then, the group has been working to mitigate the effect that HS2 will have on navigable waterways along the route, and to ensure that restoration schemes don’t have their viability threatened, particularly around the Chesterfield Canal.

Volunteers have spent over 1200 hours on the campaign to date. Find out what Gren Messham has to say:

HS2 - The Waterways View

One of the drawbacks of being immersed in HS2 for much of the time, is that one can forget what things look like from ‘outside’ this position. I also from time to time get enquiries from IWA members on HS2, asking anything from where we have got to, why are we doing what we are doing, to why are we not doing more. So, I thought it might be time I did something about this, and attempt to draw some loose ends together!

I am the volunteer pulling together all the work of branches, input from other waterway organisations and groups, with help from our IWA staff, other committees and individuals to run IWA’s campaign to reduce the impact of HS2 on the inland waterways. Like many of you, I am a long-standing IWA member and a personal supporter of a more appropriate level of investment in UK infrastructure, including the principle of high speed rail.

I’ve been asked why IWA is putting so much effort into HS2, compared with what we do on other things which impact waterways like developments, road improvements especially motorways etc. Well, HS2 has been launched and is being managed as a single countrywide project, and IWA is responding to the public consultations on it in the same way. A great deal of information is provided in the public domain by HS2 Ltd, both because of the wide impact of the proposals in terms of landowners and private & public interests, and because of modern legislation around environmental impact. The government’s road programme, for example, is politically launched in a similar way, but then dealt with piecemeal and as such handled by each IWA branch’s Planning Officers, who do an excellent job tackling the waterway impacts of such schemes as they occur. Even large developments in a locality are dealt with by branch Planning Officers, as their impact is often localised as are planning consultations.

What we have seen from our work with HS2 is that a number of common issues come up in each section where a waterway is impacted. These may include the specific route, operational nuisance issues such as noise, vibration or creation of ‘no go’ public areas through poor design, and potential temporary interference during construction whether to navigation or a different nuisance.  We can draw on our previous local experiences for many of these, and point out how things could often, at no or very low initial extra cost, be improved with small alterations in design. Much of our previous unhappy experience of motorway schemes has been drawn on in identifying how IWA believes HS2 can be improved.

IWA’s policy on HS2, as set out in previous communications in IWA Bulletin and elsewhere, is that it is not for us as an inland waterway organisation to say whether or not it should be built- that is the role of our elected representatives. What is our role is to identify, from our own and members experiences, areas where the impact of HS2 on waterways is considerable, and to the detriment of current users. We are also saying where and how we believe this impact can be reduced in a realistic way. IWA has built up and maintained its reputation as a serious and pragmatic defender of the waterways in the past by such engagement, and on HS2 is continuing to do so.

Through the lengthy process of statutory consultation, the issues raised by us have remained the same. For reasons which are not entirely clear, but may be linked to the pressure of a now-abandoned political timetable, HS2 Ltd has been unable or unwilling to engage properly with ourselves or, apparently, other consultees. The result is a large number of private and public organisations who are unable to accept the implications of the HS2 Phase 1 Hybrid Bill as it stands, and are taking the only democratic recourse available to them of petitioning the bill. IWA’s purpose in petitioning is not to prevent building of the railway, but to ensure a better designed and constructed railway is built with lower impact on inland waterways. Those of you who are or have been active in design and operation will recognise that it is easier quicker and much cheaper to redesign on paper (even easier on computer / CAD) than it is to rush into building, and live with the costs and consequences over a very long time.

The bill for approval of the route and construction is now entering its committee stage, where the Select Committee has the difficult task of balancing the conflicting needs and expectations of the promoter of HS2, and those affected by it. Whilst the promoter wants to get building the railway as quickly as possible, those affected have many concerns and unanswered questions that they want Parliament to resolve before work starts. Experts in the field believe the Select Committee will be sitting for much longer than for Crossrail, the last major similar project, and that the original bill timetable woefully underestimated this.

In my non-IWA activity I recently attended a presentation by Sir John Armitt, of HS1 and Olympic Delivery Authority fame, on what makes a good major infrastructure project. During the questioning afterwards, he ventured unprompted his concerns that the lack of proper consultation on HS2 was a serious failing, and will continue to cause avoidable problems with the project. I can do little but agree, from my rather narrower viewpoint, and will continue to work to improve HS2 Ltd’s proposals on Phase 2 of the route (and perhaps George Osborne’s phase 3!) to ensure the current plans, which obliterate a considerable length of already-restored Chesterfield Canal, and effectively sever the Aire and Calder Navigation at Woodlesford, are improved to the benefit of the railway, and the waterways it impacts.

As a membership-led organisation, IWA has a wide base of experienced users of inland waterways who add enormous value with knowledgeable criticism of projects such as this, and in many other areas. Volunteers such as I also enjoy considerable support from IWA staff at Island House on many aspects of the work we have put into reducing the impact of HS2. I firmly believe that, through IWA membership and action, we are maintaining the inland waterways as an invaluable resource for all, and ensuring that the protection they need and deserve is secured.

Gren Messham
Chairman, IWA HS2 Campaign & Communications Group

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