HS2 Campaign - Phase 2B

IWA Responds to High Speed North Consultation

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 (although delayed by Covid-19).  But the future of Phase 2b is subject to a further review to better integrate it with other rail improvements in the North and Midlands.  This will inform an Integrated Rail Plan which the Government expect to publish by the end of the year.

IWA has now responded to this review (a Call for Evidence by the National Infrastructure Commission for a Rail Needs Assessment for the Midlands and the North) by suggesting that the eastern leg of HS2 should be scrapped altogether due to design flaws and the adverse impact it would have on a significant number of navigable waterways and restoration schemes, and that the western leg should be rerouted.  

The proposal for Phase 2b’s eastern leg from Birmingham to Leeds 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 Coventry Canal, 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.  IWA’s submission includes the detailed responses 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 detailed there remain unanswered.  These together constitute the current plans for HS2 Phase 2b and they affect 16 inland waterways, both canals and river navigations, in at least 22 locations, including three canal restoration schemes.

Fundamental Review

The aim of the new 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: poor integration with the existing rail system; no provision for integration with the trans-Pennine 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 determining the trans-Pennine route which will connect Leeds to HS2 via Manchester, with the continuation to Crewe being rerouted.  Reasons are also advanced for scrapping the eastern leg in favour of upgrading existing railway 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.

With these fundamental changes a better designed, more useful and cost effective integrated rail plan for the north and Midlands can be delivered in conjunction with Phases 1 and 2a of HS2.  But there needs to be greater attention to avoiding and mitigating environmental and community damage, including minimising impacts on the users, heritage and restoration of the inland waterways.

Outstanding Concerns

IWA’s previous HS2 consultation responses set out our concerns about the detailed physical, visual and noise impacts on the many affected sections of the inland waterways, including those under restoration and IWA therefore welcomes the review of HS2 Phase 2b which affects 16 inland waterways, both canals and river navigations, including three canal restoration schemes.

The Design Refinement (DR) consultation included a statistical analysis of the responses to the Working Draft Environmental Statement, and a selection of quoted comments, but there was no clear identification of the major issues or explanation of how these would be addressed.  Neither were the consequential effects of the amendments proposed in the DR fully explained.  This unsatisfactory situation persists, with the added uncertainty now surrounding the future of Phase 2b as a result of the current reviews by the National Infrastructure Commission and the Infrastructure Projects Authority, intended to inform an Integrated Rail Plan.

IWA’s concerns raised in those previous consultations remain relevant but largely unanswered. They include some fundamental criticisms of the inadequate recognition of noise impacts on waterways, subsidence risks on the western leg route, and uncertainty for waterway restoration projects at Measham and Staveley.

IWA’s concerns include the following major impacts:

  • Landscape, noise and heritage impacts on the Trent & Mersey Canal in the Dane valley north of Middlewich.
  • Noise and visual impacts on the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union Canal.
  • Threats, uncertainty and delay to the restoration of the Ashby Canal at Measham.
  • Visual and noise impacts on the Erewash Canal between Sandiacre and Stanton Gate.
  • Threats, uncertainty and blight to the restoration of the Chesterfield Canal at Staveley and Norwood.
  • Visual, noise and engineering impacts on the Aire & Calder Navigation near Woodlesford.

Although there has been some progress in improving the proposals at a few locations, other changes have increased the visual or noise impacts on the waterways environment and the recreational and residential users of the waterways.  Crucially, the issues threatening severance or severe damage to the restoration routes of the Chesterfield Canal and the Ashby Canal have not been adequately addressed.  Overall, it is very disappointing how slow and insensitive HS2 Ltd has been in recognising and responding to the problems that IWA and others have highlighted.


In particular, there has been a fundamental failure to acknowledge that waterway users are not just ‘transient’ but in many locations people live on boats for varying periods of time, and those places should be provided with noise mitigation to at least the same standards as would automatically apply to residential buildings at that location.

Unlike buildings, however, boats cannot easily be retrofitted with double glazing, and their mobility and the outdoor lifestyle of boaters means that they are more dependent on external controls including noise fencing on viaducts and bridges, earth bunding and screen planting.

IWA contends that wherever boats are permanently moored, or permitted to moor temporarily overnight or for a few days or months, they are likely to be occupied residentially and those locations should be protected by noise mitigation to residential standards.

Whilst the design of bridges and viaducts is important, the minor additional visual impact of noise fencing should not be used as an excuse to deny the major audible benefits that it can provide.  To static boat residents or waterway users encountering HS2 at walking pace it will in the long term be the operational noise that most impacts and disrupts their lifestyle and activities.

Detailed Comments

The detailed comments on waterway locations affected by Phase 2b contained in IWA’s previous responses to the 2b Working Draft Environmental Statement in December 2018 and the Design Refinement consultation in September 2019 were included again in the response to the National Infrastructure Commission’s Call for Evidence.

Download the full text of IWA’s response about High Speed North (pdf 549 KB).