A proposed new overground Manchester Piccadilly station to accommodate HS2 and improved northern rail links would squander some of the huge potential benefits of the once-in-a-lifetime project, the council is warning.
As the government prepares to deposit the HS2 Bill to pave the way for the construction of the Crewe to Manchester phase of HS2, Council Leader Cllr Bev Craig has called on government and HS2 Ltd to reconsider their approach – setting out instead a case for why an underground station would be much better for the city and the North as a whole.
With the station, to be built next to the existing Manchester Piccadilly, at the heart of the north’s rail network and with HS2 considered pivotal to rebalancing the nation’s economy the message is: “We have one shot at this and we can’t afford to get it wrong.”
Decisions made now will have implications for the next century.
Manchester City Council strongly supports the principle of HS2 which will provide vital extra capacity on our already clogged rail network, improve connections between the north of England, West Midlands and London and act as a catalyst to wider economic growth.
It will also in the long term help reduce carbon and NO2 emissions by providing an attractive alternative to car travel.
While the overground option as conceived will still bring benefits, it will fail to maximise them and create some issues of its own relative to the preferred underground option.
An overground station would swallow a greater amount of vital land which could have been used for developments creating new jobs and other opportunities, says the council.
Estimates from independent advisors suggest that extra land required by the overground station and its associated infrastructure would result in the lost of almost half a million sq metres worth of prime land which could have supported around 14,000 jobs.
In addition, an estimated 2,600 jobs located within the construction zone required by the overground option will be lost in the immediate term as work takes place. This short-term impact for an underground station would be significantly lower.
By 2050, the analysis concludes, the economic benefits to the city and region of the underground option would be £333m a year greater than the benefits delivered by the overground plan.
An overground station would also create the need for unwelcome overground infrastructure which will dominate parts of the city, says the council.
This infrastructure, including huge new concrete viaducts, would overshadow parts of east Manchester, creating an unsightly environment and hampering connections between areas.
And they said it would fail to ‘future proof’ the new station. Previous modelling commissioned by the Council and TfGM (the Bechtel report) has shown that it would be at full capacity from day one – meaning that there would be no scope for increased passengers numbers in the year ahead and compromising its reliability and resilience.
The underground option would address all these issues and create a station empowered to support growth and better integrated with surrounding areas and other modes of transport.
“We welcome the fact that HS2 is still coming to Manchester,” said Councillor Bev Craig, Leader of Manchester City Council.
“We know that we might be perceived as fortunate relative to other northern town and cities which are also pressing cases for rail improvements.
“But that only makes it all the more important that what we maximise the benefits of what is being delivered, not just for the city but for the North as a whole.
“The overground plan is the wrong one. It will be cheaper to build in the short term but in the long term it will cost the region’s economy much more in missed opportunities.
“It will also cause greater disruption while it is constructed and leave a legacy of unsightly viaducts and other overground infrastructure which limits our ability to create new homes or jobs.
“Restricting the potential of what will be one of the best-connected places in the country makes no sense at all.
“Nor does creating a station with capacity restraints which will undermine its reliability and resilience from day one.
“We urge the government and HS2 Ltd to reconsider the compelling case for an underground station.
“This would not only solve the problems posed by the overground option but would create a station empowered to support growth, jobs and other opportunities and help realise the government’s proclaimed levelling up ambitions.
“If they want the option which delivers the greatest benefits for years to come, they need to look below the surface.”