Warning that wrong HS2 decision could cripple North’s rail structure for generations

HS2 train design

The wrong solution for Manchester’s HS2 network could damage the prospects for the whole of the North of England for generations, Greater Manchester leaders have warned.

They are calling for an urgent rethink of plans regarding the high speed rail system.

The region’s 10 local authorities have submitted formal petitions to the Government raising the key changes they believe are vital for HS2 – and Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) – to be a success for the North.

Leaders are determined to get the best from the high-speed network for future generations and have called for changes including an underground station at Manchester Piccadilly, rather than the Government’s proposed overground solution.

Manchester Piccadilly is central to both HS2 and NPR and modelling suggests that an overground station would be at full capacity from day one, with no option to accommodate extra services. This second-class option would effectively hamper the future of rail infrastructure for the whole of the North well into the future, the local authorities say.

Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, has called for the precise issue of the station’s design to be brought to a vote of all MPs on the floor of the House of Commons.

He said: “We cannot continue to repeat the mistakes of the past – failing to invest in central Manchester’s rail links has led to rail chaos across the North time and again.

“This is a huge moment and the decisions that are made now will affect the prospects for people here in the North for hundreds of years to come. A second-class choice for HS2 at Manchester Piccadilly station will be a hammer blow to any prospects of really levelling up our country.”

He added: “If we get the wrong solution at Piccadilly, it will limit economic growth, limit opportunities for local people and businesses, and limit the right rail solution for the whole of the North of England. This issue is of first order importance to our city region, and it is only right that all MPs have the opportunity to debate and vote on the final plans for this once-in-a-century opportunity.”

The Second Reading of the High Speed Crewe-Manchester Bill took place on June 20, and triggered the ‘petitioning’ period where concerns can be raised and addressed. Issues which cannot be agreed with HS2 Ltd and the Government are then decided on by a Select Committee of MPs.

Cllr Bev Craig, leader of Manchester City Council, said: “Fundamentally, a future-proofed underground station into Piccadilly that can expand to meet increased capacity in the coming years – and not be log jammed on day one – is a key element of our petition.

“An overground station would stymie the continuing regeneration of east Manchester for a decade or halt it completely in some areas, while severing the city’s Metrolink service for years.”

Hopes are high for a ‘rethink moment’ on HS2 plans for the city region after Conservative leadership candidate Liz Truss committed to delivering Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) in full.

Last week the Transport Select Committee concluded that the Government’s £96bn Integrated Rail Plan in its current form “will reduce the prospects of meeting ambitions for the North” and has called on the Government to reconsider the evidence base, including further discussions on the station options at Manchester Piccadilly.

Formal petitions are today (August 4) being submitted by organisations across Greater Manchester, including the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Transport for Greater Manchester, Manchester City Council, Tameside Council, and Manchester Airports Group.

The petitions raise concerns about several aspects of the HS2 Bill, including:

  • Proposals for a surface station at Manchester Piccadilly which would reduce the amount of available land to support jobs and regeneration, while creating new concrete viaducts which would loom over parts of East Manchester
  • Plans for the overground station that have failed to be ‘future proofed’ with previous modelling showing it will be at full capacity from day one of Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) entering service, with no opportunity to add extra services in the future to improve connectivity or deal with increased passenger numbers
  • Large plots currently set aside for more than 2,000 car parking spaces at Manchester Piccadilly – this is at odds with Greater Manchester’s strategy to reduce car usage and air pollution in the city centre as the new HS2-NPR station should be a multi-modal public transport hub and flag bearer as part of the Bee Network
  • The station’s construction would mothball the Ashton Metrolink Line for at least two years, which would affect thousands of people every week making journeys for work and leisure. Rather than the Government’s plans to provide a bus replacement service during the period, Greater Manchester is proposing a Metrolink shuttle service operated from a new depot at Ashton Moss. This depot would have significant legacy value to support potential future Metrolink and tram-train services as well as providing local employment opportunities
  • Calling for powers to ensure the new HS2 NPR station at Manchester Airport can be connected into the Metrolink network from day one of opening
  • The Government committing to build 400-metre platforms at Wigan so all HS2 services can stop there – the same approach it is taking at Preston and Carlisle
  • Greater Manchester supports the Golborne Link and was disappointed that this was removed from the Bill at Second Reading, without an acceptable alternative in place. Until a decision is reached the Golborne Link should remain as part of the proposals

Under the original plans, construction of the Golborne Link was due to start in the early 2030s and it was set to open in the late 2030s or early 2040s as part of the second stage of HS2 services to Scotland.