The Cheshire group of CPRE, the countryside charity, has called for major investment in the region's rail network whilst questioning the justification for HS2 Phase 2b, in a joint response  submitted by the charity's North West group to the call for evidence on rail investment priorities for the North and Midlands from the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC).
HS2 Phase 2b is considered by many to be a vanity project; it has many flaws, and poses substantial and significant harms to the environment, to the extent that CPRE Cheshire cannot support it despite our longstanding campaigning for greater investment in rail and modal shift to rail.
Despite supporting more rail investment on the extant system, CPRE Cheshire has found it difficult to buy into the claimed social and economic benefits of HS2. In every country where high speed rail has been introduced, it has benefited the capital, not the regions. It is unclear how the power demands for HS2 can be met and the environmental consequences, including noise pollution, are unconscionable.
Specifically, as far as the North West is concerned, the strategic case for HS2 Phase 2b lacks robustness. The case made for Phase 2b should be revisited in light of the Climate Emergency, post-Covid19 challenges and against ‘The Heathrow Decision’. HS2 Phase 2b has a negative planning balance, when factoring in greenhouse gas emissions, harm to Green Belt and ancient woodland, and the lack of a credible business case (journey time savings no longer stand up to scrutiny and the passenger projections need re-evaluating in the light of expected major reductions in demand following the Covid-19 pandemic).
CPRE Cheshire supports the need to connect HS2 Phase 1/2a onto the West Coast Mainline (the proposed ‘Handsacre Junction’) in order to allow classic-compatible trains to reach Macclesfield and Manchester prior to Phase 2b. It would also allow HS2 services to reach Liverpool much earlier than envisaged.
Rather than investing such a significant amount of money into HS2, CPRE highlighted the following issues which should be tackled to improve local connectivity across the region:
- The heavily congested section between Manchester Piccadilly and Deansgate is the biggest single issue, which affects the region's rail services as whole. Urgent action is needed to increase capacity;
- Reopening the Middlewich line would improve access from Northwich and Knutsford to the West Coast Main Line at Crewe as well as giving Middlewich residents access to the rail network. Currently, Middlewich is the largest town in Cheshire without a railway station;
- More freight on rail is vital, especially from Liverpool Ports, requiring further electrification and gauge enhancement on the important Trans-Pennine route and other measures across the region.
"The Government needs to undertake a serious review of its transport policies in order to properly respond to the Climate Emergency. Road building should be an option of last resort with adequate commitment to rail investment to optimise a modern rail system. We trust that the National Infrastructure Commission will listen.”