HS2 PHASE 2b: CREWE TO MANCHESTER
DRAFT HYBRID BILL – POST-FIRST READING
Representations of Pickmere Parish Council in relation to the principle of the
1 Pickmere Parish Council has considered the evolving proposals for HS2b since the inception
of the project. It has consistently objected to the principle of the proposal as well as to many of its
design features. Its fundamental objection to the project has been on the basis that the economic
case for the project, and in particular the benefits it would bring to the Northwest region as well as to
this part of Cheshire, has never been satisfactorily justified, particularly in relation to the long-term
damage to the environment and the communities of the region that the project will bring.
2 This objection has over time been strengthened as it has become increasingly clear that:
The implementation costs of developing HS2a have been grossly underestimated, leading
to substantial over-expenditure. This must inevitably have reduced the finance available
for implementation of Phase 2b, which brings with it the risk of exacerbating the
damaging effects of 2b on the environment and communities of the NW region, as
economies have to be made for instance in the provision of mitigation works.
The gravity of the ground condition issues that arise in Cheshire have still to date been
insufficiently evaluated; it is believed that as investigations continue it will be realised
that the costs of physical implementation of the project in the affected areas will have
substantially to increase.
It appears clear that Government’s consideration of the project so far has failed to take
account of its carbon emissions and climate impact. If they were to be properly
accounted for they are likely both to reduce the potential economic benefits of the
project (by requiring reductions in the capacity of the proposed network) whilst
increasing further the costs of the project (by for instance taking greater account of its
IMPLEMENTATION COSTS AND BUSINESS CASE
3 The current HS2b project is based around seeking a certain passenger capacity and providing
an ultra-high specification in relation to train speed. However, whilst the passenger capacity
assumptions which form the basis of the project have never been accepted by this Council (and the
Council is conscious that various scheme changes as a result of environmental assessment and other
past representations have actually resulted in the likelihood that the passenger capacity of the scheme
has been reduced thereby further impacting on its overall viability) the Coronavirus crisis has resulted
in very wide-ranging changes in attitudes toward home-working and the need for face to face business
meetings. The Council considers that this will impact how business is carried on after the crisis has
passed and will consequently further reduce the demand for ultra-high speed capacity between this
region and London.
4 The Dept of Transport stated in statistics published in December 2021 that distances travelled
by rail in Great Britain increased steadily from 1983 onwards, after a period of relative stability since
1960. This steady increase reached its all-time peak in 2018, with 2019’s level being similar to that of
2018, before declining by 80% to 16 billion passenger kilometres in 2020. The latest DoT figures
published in February 2022 stated that rail passenger usage was about 64% of pre-pandemic levels,
and that leisure travel had recovered more than weekday travel. The Strategic Outline Business case
remains vague about these impacts but adopts an ‘optimistic’ view as to the recovery in pre-pandemic
travel patterns. It may be argued that it has no option but to adopt such a view, as without it the
business case for the project will be even more inadequate.
5 The Government’s Infrastructure and Projects Authority is the national centre of expertise for
infrastructure and major projects, and sits at the heart of government. It rates projects into 5
categories, from red to green, with each providing an indication of “the likelihood of successful
delivery and level of associated risks”.
6 The Authority reported in July 2021 that “At this year’s snapshot (end of March 2021), 41
projects were rated Green or Amber/Green (22% of the GMPP) and 51 projects were assigned Red or
Amber/Red (28%), while 84 projects (46%) were Amber (see Figure 5).….there are 7 projects rated as
Red, but 3 of these projects have joined GMPP this year. Out of the remaining 4 projects, only two
have remained Red compared to last year’s Annual Report, the Crowsnest Programme, and HS2
phase 2b.” [our emphasis]. Normally one might expect projects over time to move from a ‘red’
category to one of the less troubling categories as the scheme is developed, but the fact that HS2b
remains in the red category, at this stage of the project, is extremely concerning and indicates a level
of uncertainty with regard to its viability – particularly bearing in mind factors such as the unknowns
with regard to the costs of dealing with ground conditions in this part of Cheshire, as further discussed
7 Other substantial holes remain in the business case for the project. Much play is made of the
benefits of securing a station at Manchester Airport; this has substantially influenced the routeing of
the railway as it passes through Cheshire and toward Manchester. However, it is clear that, although
a new station has been assumed, no agency, least of all Manchester Airport Group, seem at all willing
to fund its construction, together with all the infrastructural change it will require in the area of the
Airport. Should the Airport station not proceed, the whole routeing of this part of the railway needs
to be questioned.
8 In addition, objectors have continually reported to HS2 Ltd the potential difficulties in taking
the railway across both the remnant and the still existing salt deposits of Cheshire. The town of
Northwich has historically suffered from major construction issues as a result of the salt caverns that
lie beneath it; these caverns spread relatively widely over this part of the county. However only 3 of
the 23 known caverns have been grouted (i.e. appropriately filled to secure some level of stability),
yet even so a recently built retail development in the town centre (built over one of the caverns that
has been grouted) is now suffering a significant subsidence problem arising from the ground
conditions that exist.
9 Despite the warnings, HS2 Ltd has not surveyed the length of the railway’s route through this
part of Cheshire and remains unaware in any detail of the considerable difficulties that construction
of the project is likely to bring. Even if adequately constructed it is likely that over the whole life of
the railway, it will at the least have to be the subject of frequent backfilling/relevelling works as parts
of the line continue to subside into the geology below.
10 The declining business case for construction of HS2B will get worse as detailed geological
investigations proceed (presumably after the Bill has received its second reading). This clearly means
that the overall project cost will increase substantially beyond the figure currently accepted by
Government. That suggests to us that the project should not proceed in its current form. As a
corollary, the community of Pickmere also fears that if the project proceeds, and if, as seems certain,
its costs significantly exceed current estimates, that economies will be made in terms of the mitigation
measures that will be undertaken to try to improve the impacts of the railway upon local communities.
11 Covid is not the only new factor that gives rise to additional doubt about the business case for
the project. The energy consumption of the proposed railway will be immense – the most recent
estimate being that HS2 alone will require about 2/3 of the electricity the current rail network uses.
That is a significant factor in itself, but of course we have a new and hitherto largely ignored change
in circumstance with regard to the volume and the cost of energy in the UK, and the continued
resilience of such provision into the future. This factor on its own brings into question even further
the business case for the project.
EFFECT ON COMMUNITIES
12 The Council’s view is that the local impacts of the proposed scheme are being completely
subsumed by the emphasis spuriously being placed on the hypothetical overall national economic
benefits of the scheme. Local communities are simply to be seen as ‘casualties’ in the achievement of
a project that will not secure the benefits that its proponents describe. HS2b will never serve most of
the communities through which it passes – it will only, at best, despoil them, and at worst destroy
13 At the very least, the price that local communities have to pay in terms of their local
environment and living conditions throughout the construction period, and then afterward with the
final scheme, will not be recompensed by the small amounts of tree-planting etc that the scheme
currently incorporates. There should be recognition of the scale of impacts that communities are
going to suffer and that there is at the least a need for substantial local community gains to overcome
the community losses. These do not exist in the current scheme. Further in the particular case of
Pickmere, the lack of mention in the various HS2B bill proposals of the Parish’s Village Hall (which lies
close to the route) and Pickmere Lake, a local beauty spot and attraction for thousands of visitors
annually, attests to the lack of care and concern that HS2 Ltd have taken in preparing their proposals.
FORM OF THE SCHEME
15 The clear PR message that accompanies the scheme is that it will provide high speed rail travel
up to the Northwest of England. However, It may be observed that the strong likelihood is that the
section of the railway running through much of Cheshire will be constrained by:
1. its passage over the brine fields, as mentioned above, followed by:
2. its negotiation of two effectively right-angle curves as it is approaching Manchester
such that its speed will be significantly reduced for a considerable section.
16 High speed is therefore a misnomer!
MORE DETAILED OBJECTIONS
17 Without prejudice to its objections to the project taken as a whole, the Parish Council has
strongly objected at every stage to a number of the detailed elements of the proposed scheme as it
passes near to and through the parish, including seriously detrimental impacts on the local
environment due to:
the wildly excessive engineering solutions that have been proposed to solve local roadre-
routing issues etc.
the impact of heavy construction traffic on this rural parish throughout the long
construction period – noise, disturbance, traffic danger and pollution; this is ever more
evident as the project is firmed up; the Parish Council will be submitting objections to
these aspects in relation both to the Environmental Statement and also at the petitioning
proposals that have been hinted at but never detailed, for the ‘improvement,’ i.e.
widening, of local country lanes to accommodate the substantial construction traffic that
will seek to use the parish’s small-scale road network, much of which is subject to a 7.5
tonne limit. This will destroy for ever the rural nature of much of Pickmere parish.
18 Further, it has been apparent at every stage of the long-running consultation process for HS2b
that HS2 Ltd has consistently failed in its duty to provide sufficient and clear information on its
proposals, and to demonstrate how it has taken the comments, objections and suggestions of local
organisations and communities into account. Among our current complaints is the issue, as part of
the current plans package, of plan and profile maps which are dated 2018 and on which communities
are to base their comments. On enquiry to HS2 Ltd. It appears that whilst there may have been
amendments to the scheme since 2018, there is no right of public access to such proposed alterations.
19 However, our critique continues with the overwhelming nature of the paperwork that has
been provided: 370+ documents to review and cross-reference for our short (10.6km) section of track.
Not only must we sadly reflect upon the number of trees sacrificed to produce this profligate amount
of paper, we also want to highlight that the sheer volume of information and the forensic work that
needs to be undertaken to make any sense of it, is a masterclass in the ‘drown with information,
hamper meaningful consultation’ engagement strategy.
20 The Parish Council believes that the fundamental need for the North – both North West and
North East regions – is to solve the east-west inter-connectivity inadequacies that have existed for
centuries. In terms of this region, solving those problems should be uppermost, and the potential
benefits of improved linkages to London and the south should have a second priority.
21 The Council believes that a better and more economically justifiable and viable solution would
be one focussed on achieving a satisfactory Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) network, with linkages
to HS2b being those which suit NPR requirements at least as well as they suit HS2b, and that at the
least HS2b should become a lower-specified project, seeking lower design speeds for instance than
the current project. This could mean that it is able to adopt greater flexibility in routeing, track layout
and gradients, thereby permitting reductions in the detrimental impacts it has on the environment
and communities through which it passes. However, the Parish Council’s preference is for HS2B to be
cancelled and for a similar scale of budget to be employed to upgrade the existing rail infrastructure
to secure the essential capacity objectives.
22 The current HS2b proposals are based around an objective of securing ultra-high speeds. This
means that the route is very much constrained by the requirement to maximise straights and minimise
curves and gradients. This clearly impacts substantially on routeing and land take. Further there is
evidence that as train speeds increase, they become less and less efficient in terms of energy and
resource use and impact more and more on the environment. Using HS2’s own figures, even after 120
years, HS2 will produce a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions just in terms of operation, ignoring
the carbon cost of its construction.
23 Further, it seems irrefutable that the construction project will involve such an enormous
volume of engineering inputs and techniques – in terms of tunnelling, bridging, changing landforms,
concreting, building and widening roads, building other structures – involving the transport of all the
materials involved in those processes (primarily by road) that the project’s true impact can only
substantially conflict with the Government’s climate objectives.
24 Taking a different view of this aspect, no account appears to have been taken of the effects of
climate change over the life of the proposed railway on its resilience. Just one aspect of this is the
possibility of increased rainfall which will, in particular because of the existence and nature of the
brine fields in this part of Cheshire, impact on the integrity of the ground conditions supporting the
railway, with implications for its continued integrity and maintenance.
25 In the context of seeking to minimise greenhouse gas emissions, and compliance with the
Paris Agreement, a far more appropriate strategic response would be to develop a rail network into
and across the North which seeks to maximise passenger rail use on a comprehensive basis, including
for commuting into the larger urban centres, for cross-region movements (sadly very much restricted
by the paucity of efficient rail connections at the moment), and for strategic connections to the
Midlands and London. A network which gives priority to NPR and with secondary consideration being
given to a newer, less radical and less environmentally damaging north-south railway would, it is
believed, serve the region better in terms of economic efficiency, environmental acceptability, and
the general living conditions of the Region’s residents, inter alia reducing pressure on the region’s
congested and heavily polluting road networks. Such a lower specification (but comprehensive)
approach is even more necessary in the context of the capital project funding situation that the
country will face as it emerges from the current Coronavirus crisis.
26 In conclusion, this Council believes that recognition of the economic needs of the North, as
compared to those of the metropolis, has been very slow in coming. The Northern Powerhouse
concept is welcomed but still needs to be brought to reality, in part through improvements to the
region’s infrastructure. HS2b will not address this objective. More important to the region is to solve
its historical infrastructural deficiencies – in particular the inadequacy of its east-west transport links.
The most crucial task in both regional economic and environmental contexts, and indeed in terms of
national environmental targets, is to produce a step-change in the region’s public transport linkages.
27 For all these reasons it is considered that the current HS2B proposal should not proceed.
5 April 2022 – 9.2 Appx – HS2B Draft Hybrid Bill – Reps to E McVey MPApril 2022 Uploaded on March 30, 2022