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HS2: Middlewich Branch of Shropshire Union Canal

Waterways affected by the HS2 plans

The Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union Canal will be affected by the proposed Crewe North Rolling Stock Depot (RSD) and the two rail bridges over the canal between Park Farm and Yew Tree Farm. The historic environment of the canal within the rural landscape will be permanently degraded by the visual impact of these HS2 structures, and the users of the canal will be subject to construction and operational noise impacts.

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HS2 Phase 2B affects 16 inland waterways, both canals and river navigations, in at least 22 locations, including three canal restoration schemes.

Crewe North Rolling Stock Depot

The location of the RSD is shown only in outline on the Proposed Scheme and Construction Phase plans, although the track layout is shown on the Operational Noise Contour Maps. However, there are no plans or sections of the RSD buildings, which will presumably be very large to take 400m long train units and are likely to be visible over long distances in this relatively flat landscape. The building heights are not disclosed, and no visualisations are provided of their appearance from surrounding viewpoints, despite promises to the local MP to do so.

Extensive earth bunding with screen planting is shown on the east side of the HS2 main line, but only limited planting alongside the West Coast Main Line (WCML) on the west side nearest the Middlewich Branch Canal.

The plans show ‘woodland habitat creation’ planting in a narrow corridor extending along the offside of the Middlewich Branch Canal for over 2km between Canal Cottage near Wimboldsley and the WCML canal bridge. It is not clear if this is meant to provide visual screening of the RSD or if it is just compensatory habitat planting, although its absence between the WCML and HS2 canal crossings suggests the latter.

Such extensive woodland planting would change the whole character of a long section of the canal that currently enjoys open countryside views, to an enclosed woodland outlook on one side. Details of the RSD buildings and appropriate visualisations are needed to assess what screening benefit the proposed canalside planting may have, if any, given the long timescale for maturity of such planting. It is likely that earth bunding topped with planting located closer to the RSD, just west of the WCML, would provide better visual and noise screening for both the canal and other properties, without such wholesale changes to the historic character and environment of the canal.

It is not acceptable that there has been no consultation with Canal & River Trust (CRT) or with IWA as canal user representatives about the principle of this proposed canalside planting. There are also practical problems with the planting being shown right up to the edge of the canal which would cause increased maintenance costs to CRT. Any canalside woodland planting should be set back from the canal to minimise the increased maintenance costs from the need to regularly cut back overhanging vegetation, or from branches falling and leaves blowing into the canal necessitating more frequent dredging.

There is a further large area of ‘woodland habitat creation’ planting shown east of the HS2 bridges, just south of the canal opposite Yew Tree Farm, and there is a suspicion that this may be an after-use for either a large construction site or a materials dump, the details of which are not being disclosed at this stage. Extending for about 400m along the canal, this would also change the character of the canal without any clear visual or noise screening benefits.

Rail Bridges

The Proposed Scheme plan shows the two Shropshire Union Canal underbridges with their embankment toes intruding on the offside of the canal and blocking the towpath, which is obviously totally unacceptable. They should span the full width of the canal and its towpath and provide a minimum 3m air draught clearance. The design of the bridge structures is unknown but should follow the CRT design principles accepted for Phase 1. The bridges will impact on the setting of Hughes Bridge 25 which is Grade II Listed, and the location of the balancing pond shown near Park Farm should be moved to allow for screen planting between Hughes Bridge and the railway.

Construction of the two rail bridge crossings over a 2 year period will require canal closures for unknown periods affecting boaters and users of the towpath, and may need temporary canal bridges. Any disruption to canal traffic should avoid the busy March to October period, and any temporary navigation closures in the winter stoppage period should be kept to a minimum.

There are about 15 offside boat moorings at Park Farm which may be lost due to construction and degradation of their currently tranquil setting, and compensation should be provided. The popular visitor towpath moorings at Yew Tree Farm will also be badly impacted during construction and, unless noise mitigation is provided, during operation.



The Operational Noise Contour Maps show no noise fencing in the vicinity of the canal and predicted noise levels in the ‘red’ zone of ‘significant effect’. The RSD will be a 24 hour operation and there will be late evening and early morning train movements into and out from the depot across the canal bridge outside the normal operating hours of the HS2 main line, and this will increase the noise impacts on the canal and its users.

IWA considers that all canal users should be provided with noise protection from HS2 trains at all canal interfaces. This requires acoustic fencing across the canal bridges and fencing or earth bunding to the adjacent embankments to at least the same standard as would be provided for residential properties at that location.

Other impacts

Other visual and noise impacts on the Middlewich Branch Canal will be from the construction and presence of the large overbridges and embankments for the A530 and Clive Green Lane diversions, and the landscape mitigation planting should take account of this.

There will also potentially be light pollution along the canal from the night-time lighting of the RSD, which could affect the habitat and behaviour of bats, birds and other wildlife. Lighting should be internally directed and avoid undue light spillage in the surrounding area.

Campaign updates

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The government needs to intervene at the earliest possible opportunity to save this vital sector of the British economy and what could be a core element of the British stay-at-home leisure and holiday sectors in the coming years.

Waterways affected by 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.