HS2 Background

The Grand Union Canal in the Colne Valley will be significantly impacted by (photo from public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0)

This briefing note sets out The Inland Waterways Association’s views on the proposed new HS2 high speed rail line between London and the Midlands (phase 1) and subsequently from the Midlands to Leeds, and Manchester (phase 2). The Government’s preferred route for Phase 1, announced in 2011, showed several canal crossing points and since then IWA has been involved with all the proposals, locally and nationally.

IWA contributed to the initial preferred route consultation for phase 1, as did the then British Waterways (BW), and this resulted in a Service Level Agreement between HS2 Ltd and BW regarding the requirements at the crossing points of navigable waterways. Further changes in the preferred route announced in January 2012 still caused significant impacts on canals, such as the crossing and close passing of the Oxford Canal near Wormleighton, crossing of the Grand Union in the Colne Valley, and especially the triple crossings of the Trent & Mersey Canal in the Fradley area around Wood End Lock, in addition to a very wide crossing of the Digbeth Branch Canal (Birmingham Canal Navigations) near Curzon Street, and a wider crossing of the Grand Union under Saltley Viaduct in Birmingham.

In July 2013 IWA made official national responses to two further consultations on phase 1 (A consultation on Design Refinement of the route in several places, and a consultation on the draft Environmental Statement to accompany the bill), including the ‘spur connections’ to the future phase 2 lines to Manchester and Leeds, following consultation on our draft response with members.

An initial preferred route for phase 2 from Birmingham to Manchester, and Birmingham to Leeds was announced by the government in January 2013, and IWA has submitted its official national response in January 2014 again following consultation on our draft with, and input from, members. Issues included:

  • Crossing of the Trent & Mersey opposite Bostock Hall where headroom may not be adequate
  • Getting a good design for Manchester Piccadilly Station
  • Impact on the Ashby Canal restoration
  • Impact on the Chesterfield Canal Restoration and the Rother Link
  • Impact on the longer term Barnsley Dearne and Dove restoration
  • Impact of the Woodlesford Leeds Link Line crossings which effectively sever the Aire and Calder Navigation
  • Getting a good design for Leeds New Street Station
  • Noise Mitigation route-wide
  • Waterway Design Principles

In parallel with this phase 2 route consultation, the government submitted a hybrid (public/ private) bill to Parliament which underwent its first reading at the end of November 2013. A further consultation was also issued on the final Environmental Statement for Phase 1, to which IWA again responded. These responses will be used to report to MPs before the bill undergoes its second reading. Significant waterways issues in our response were:

  • Clearances for permanent and temporary works
  • CRT input into the design of feeder changes for the Oxford Canal
  • The need to redesign the Fradley crossings (below)
  • HS2 underbridge over the Grand Union Canal at Saltley Viaduct
  • Curzon Street Station design over Digbeth Branch & Ashted Lock
  • Noise Mitigation route-wide
  • Vertical deviations on canal crossings
  • Waterway Design Principles


In particular, the Fradley crossings originally highlighted in January 2012 which HS2 Ltd had not amended, were the subject of a joint IWA- CRT report by Hyder Consulting (UK) Ltd which stated an alternative avoiding the canal was feasible, and would be less environmentally damaging and lower cost. This report was included by both IWA and CRT in responses to the consultation., and is the subject of separate discussions with HS2 Ltd.

The next stage with the hybrid bill on Phase 1 will be its second reading, to confirm (or not) the principle. A Select Committee will then be set up to hear petitions from specific organisations or individuals ‘unusually affected’ by the bill’s provisions, such as CRT by the Fradley crossings. The outcome of these petitions will then be determined by the Select Committee, and the third reading take place. The bill will also go to the House of Lords for further debate and recommendations, back to the Commons for final agreement and become law (or fall at some point in these proceedings). The bill is not currently expected to become law in this parliament.

The January 2014 consultation on the preferred route for phase 2 will be studied by HS2 Ltd, and they will recommend to the Secretary of State for Transport a final preferred route. IWA presumes at some point in the future there will be a further consultation on a draft Environmental Statement for Phase 2, and a second bill.

What is IWA doing?

IWA monitors planning applications and other developments affecting canals, responding as necessary, to protect and improve their environment. IWA is working to mitigate the effect the proposed High Speed Rail proposals will have on all canal crossings throughout the country, by:

  • Working with members, waterway societies, restoration groups, cruising clubs and CRT to understand intentions and coordinate actions in response to the effect of HS2 on our waterways.
  • Raising awareness of HS2’s waterways impact amongst politicians, businesses and everyone with waterways interests at heart.
  • Responding to public consultations on HS2 with constructive criticism where designs do not yet adequately protect waterways and waterway users.
  • Highlighting waterways where HS2 impact is extremely adverse, and campaigning for a better deal.


Many canals and restoration projects will be affected if this goes ahead as proposed, including:

  • The Trent & Mersey and Lichfield canals will be significantly affected. We are particularly concerned on the effect that HS2 would have on the beautiful and peaceful countryside around Wood End Lock near Fradley Junction where three rail crossings are planned, on four separate viaduct structures.
  • The Chesterfield Canal, where the Chesterfield Canal Trust has been working since 1988 on active restoration of the canal supported by IWA, and has already expended over £8m on the sections from Worksop to Chesterfield, with navigation reaching Norwood Tunnel by 2003. HS2’s current plans will badly affect the work already done on the sections above, completion of the remainder of the waterway, and the beautiful and peaceful countryside around the canal setting.
  • The Aire and Calder Navigation at Woodlesford will be significantly impacted by the lines going into Leeds, at a crossing height too low to permit commercial use of the navigation, and its upgrading to ‘Euro Class 2’ capacity.