IWA Responds to High Speed North Consultation
IWA has responded to a consultation on the future of High Speed Rail proposals in the North and Midlands, and has recommended scrapping the eastern leg of HS2 and redesigning the western leg.
The consultation is a Call for Evidence by the National Infrastructure Commission for a Rail Needs Assessment for the Midlands and the North. This is part of a review of HS2 ordered by the Government to inform an Integrated Rail Plan which they expect to publish by the end of the year.
Although construction of Phase 1 of HS2 from London to Birmingham and Fradley has been authorised, and its continuation to Crewe in Phase 2a is proceeding through Parliament, the future of the remainder of HS2 is under review.
The proposals for Phase 2b include an eastern leg from Birmingham to Leeds which has blighted the restorations of the Ashby Canal and the Chesterfield Canal for many years, as well as threatening noise and environmental damage to the Erewash Canal, the Aire & Calder Navigation and other waterways. The western leg from Crewe to Manchester would have major landscape, noise and heritage impacts on the Trent & Mersey Canal and Middlewich Branch. Our submission includes the responses we made to the Phase 2b Working Draft Environmental Statement in December 2018 and the Design Refinement consultation in September 2019, as the threats to the waterways we detailed there remain unanswered.
The aim of the review is to redesign Phase 2b to better integrate with wider rail improvement plans for the North and Midlands, proposed by Northern Powerhouse Rail and Midlands Rail Hub. Chief among these is a new or improved trans-Pennine railway between Manchester and Leeds and Sheffield, as the central section of a high speed network from Liverpool to Hull and Newcastle, dubbed HS3 or High Speed North.
IWA’s submission reviews the chequered history of HS2 and its many fundamental design flaws and management failings. For Phase 2b these include: lack of integration with the existing rail system; no provision for integration with the trans-Penning improvements or connections to Scotland, with south facing terminal stations in Leeds and Manchester; an eastern leg station at Toton inconvenient for both Derby and Nottingham, and a route that bypasses Sheffield and requires extensive motorway diversions; a western leg that goes through the Cheshire salt field with severe subsidence dangers still not yet investigated; and much more.
We conclude that the way forward is to start with the trans-Pennine route which will connect Leeds to HS2 via Manchester, with the route to Crewe being redesigned, and scrapping the eastern leg in favour of upgrading existing lines to the East Midlands and South Yorkshire. This would reduce impacts on the Trent & Mersey canal and remove them altogether from the Coventry, Ashby, Soar, Trent, Erewash, Nottingham, Chesterfield, Sheffield & South Yorkshire and Aire & Calder waterways.
The full text of IWA’s response about High Speed North can be downloaded here (pdf 549 KB).
The Government Review
In August 2019 the Government announced a comprehensive review into the whole HS2 project, including its benefits and impacts, affordability and efficiency, deliverability, scope and phasing, with a report leading to a decision on whether or how to proceed. Meanwhile, various preparatory works continued, including site and vegetation clearances, demolitions, utility diversions, archaeology, site investigations, etc.
The Oakervee Review report was delayed by the general election, but the Review Group deputy chairman Lord Berkeley’s ‘Dissenting Report’ was released in early January. He was highly critical of the unrealistic design specification, over-engineering and poor financial management of the project. It accused HS2 Ltd and DfT of misleading parliament and overstating the benefits, and he estimated that costs have increased to at least £108bn with a negative benefit/cost ratio. The report also suggested a range of improvements to the existing network in the midlands and the north that would provide wider benefits at half the cost.
Despite this, the official Oakervee Review, published on 11 February 2020, recommended proceeding with the full network, although subject to various conditions in its 63 Conclusions, including publication of an updated business case, which has yet to appear, a reduced design speed and service frequency, and improved management.
On the same day the Prime Minister told Parliament that HS2 would proceed, apparently whatever it may cost. However, there were a number of caveats that mean in practice only Phases 1 and 2a from London via Birmingham and Fradley to Crewe are proceeding at this stage. Phase 2b is subject to a further review with responsibility to be moved from HS2 Ltd to a new body dubbed High Speed North. Responsibility for Euston Station is also to be removed from HS2 Ltd, which is not exactly a vote of confidence in the competence of their management. It is also not yet clear if Phase 1 will include the Handsacre Link. The Oakervee Review clearly recommends removing this connection to the West Coast Mainline which would be costly to build and of limited use, but in a verbal reply to an MP the PM appeared to say he supported it.
However, there has so far been no documentary confirmation of the decision, HS2’s press office has been uncharacteristically quiet, the Notice to Proceed for Phase 1 has not yet been issued (and may be some months away) and at the time of writing the Lords Select Committee hearings for Phase 2a, which were curtailed by the election, have not yet resumed.
It seems that, despite the positive spin from the PM, all is far from well with the HS2 project and the company and that major changes may yet be forthcoming.
On 13 February IWA issued the press release: Protecting the waterways from HS2. This references our previous campaigning successes and continuing concerns about impacts on several canals and restoration projects.
Also on 13 February Andrew Stephenson MP was appointed the Minster for HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail.
On 21 February the Government published Terms of Reference for an Integrated Rail Plan for the Midlands and the North: High Speed North. Based on Oakervee’s conclusions that Phase 2b needs to be integrated with other railway projects, and the opportunity to challenge design and costs on Phase 2b including standards, running speed and responsibility for delivery, the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) is to produce an assessment based on available evidence. Simultaneously, the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) will review lessons from Phases 1 and 2a, including engineering specifications and speed, and recommend “sensible” deviations from specifications. These will both input to an Integrated Rail Plan which will recommend a way forward for a mix of high speed lines and upgrades, changes to Phase 2b scope and design, connectivity with Scotland, and options for “new delivery vehicles”, to be published by the end of the year.