My manuscript amendments seek to extend the discussion on the Golborne spur and to allow petitions relating to this link to be heard by the Committee, as I do not believe the full facts have been taken into account by the premature and ill-informed decision to remove the link and to explore alternatives that deliver similar, although I would say inferior, benefits within the £96 billion envelope of the Government’s integrated rail plan.
HS2 phase 2b, Crewe to Manchester, including the Golborne link, will cost £17 billion at 2019 prices. The proposed removal of the Golborne link is expected to reduce costs by approximately £3 billion. The Government committed to publish a supplement to the January 2022 strategic outline business case for HS2 phase 2b to set out the implications of removing the Golborne link ahead of the Second Reading, but that has only just been published. How can a reasonable decision be made without full and costed alternatives that allow time for full consideration of the implications for all, especially those in my borough of Wigan? It does state that it will deliver benefits sooner to Manchester and the north-west, but it is pretty difficult to see the benefits that will be delivered to Wigan, and to Lancashire and Cumbria.
The January 2014 update to the business case for HS2 included a
“without link to the West Coast Mainline” sensitivity test, which showed a benefit-cost ratio of 0.7, which equates to gaining £7 billion of benefits from spending £10 billion. The benefit-cost ratio with the Golborne rink is 1.2. It is difficult to understand how the Golborne link can be considered a “white elephant” and its removal a
“worthwhile saving of taxpayers’ money” on that basis. The environmental statement included an alternatives report, which considered a wide range of alternatives for the western leg of HS2 phase 2b, before arriving at a shortlist and then a clear preference for the Golborne link as part of HS2 phase 2b.
One alternative that was considered, and is clearly now back on the table, is the upgrade of the west coast main line north of Crewe. Parts of the west coast main line between Crewe and Wigan are heavily congested, notably the section between Winsford and Weaver in Cheshire, including the Weaver junction. That section is twin track for the majority of its length and is used by long-distance services between Scotland, Liverpool and London, inter-regional services between Liverpool and Birmingham, and freight services. It is already constraining service improvement. This alternative option would include partial four-tracking of the Weaver junction, the provision of an alternative freight route via Sandbach and substantial grade separation between Crewe and Preston. Upgrading the west coast main line was found to deliver faster journey times compared with the existing situation. However, they do not match the journey time benefits provided by the Golborne link, which would deliver substantially faster journey times between cities in the north and the midlands, as is set out on page 20 of the alternatives report.
Both the upgrade of the west coast main line and the Golborne link were found to create extra capacity on the national conventional rail network for other services. However, only the Golborne link would create extra capacity for potential high-speed services north of Birmingham, and would therefore better meet the Government’s strategic objectives for HS2. So without the Golborne link there is a fundamental concern that provision for additional high-speed services north of Birmingham would be to the detriment of local and regional services, and freight services, which would need to be removed or reduced, or at the very least would remain constrained against their potential for growth, including in response to any carbon reduction challenges. This alternative option would also result in years of significant disruption to passengers and freight on the west coast main line compared with building a new railway. The Government have suggested that a solution could be delivered more quickly than the Golborne link, but we have not got any evidence for that. Given that they have made similar claims in removing the eastern leg of HS2 and in downgrading Northern Powerhouse Rail, in preference to upgrading existing lines, there is not enough capacity in the industry to do all of this work, and there is also the time constraint in working around live railways to consider. Even if there was, it is not possible to close different routes at the same time to facilitate the work without causing widespread disruption. Instead, it is highly likely to take much longer than building a new railway.
This alternative option would also be more expensive than the Golborne link, as the works needed between Crewe and Wigan would be of a similar scale to those needed between Wigan and Preston to accommodate the high-speed trains. That is likely to cost in the region of £5 billion to 10 billion—and that is the estimate from Network Rail. On that basis, the cost of upgrading the west coast main line between Crewe and Wigan will exceed the £3 billion needed for the Golborne link by around £7 million.
It is pertinent for the Wigan borough that the loss of the Golborne link will be to the detriment of the service provision at the proposed new rail station at Golborne, which is on the west coast main line south of the proposed junction with HS2. Significant capacity enhancements to the west coast main line between Warrington and Wigan, particularly around the junction with the Chat Moss line, would be needed if that station was to be served by the stopping trains without disrupting the high-speed through services. In the absence of the Golborne link, they will all pass through that location.
The report also considered a connection to the west coast main line north of Preston, near Brock. It would be 46 km in length as an extension to the Golborne link north of Lowton. It would pass close to a number of communities, including Hindley and Ince-in-Makerfield, as well as numerous other communities in Lancashire, and would require an elevated crossing of the River Ribble and a new parkway station west of Preston. That would clearly mean additional noise and visual and landscape impacts that would all need to be mitigated. A further 63 demolitions would be needed, it would impact the setting of up to three scheduled monuments and up to six grade II listed buildings, and it would impact on two ancient woodlands.
Preston City Council did not support the need for a new parkway station on the outskirts of Preston, instead favouring investment in the regeneration of the existing city centre station. Although such a connection would deliver journey-time improvements between London and Glasgow, it was considered that the benefits gained from the journey-time savings and new markets did not outweigh the substantial costs and additional sustainability impacts. It was therefore determined that this alternative option did not deliver sufficient economic or journey-time benefits to offset the higher costs, sustainability impacts and lower regional connectivity.
Option 3 was a new connection to the south of Preston, on the basis that it would have the potential to deliver more benefits and reduce journey times by two to three minutes more than the Golborne link. As with the connection north of Preston, this would be an extension to the Golborne link north of Lowton. The alternatives report explored the recommendation in detail and determined that various connections to the west coast main line south of Preston performed less favourably in terms of construction complexity, sustainability and journey time when compared with the options connecting to the north of Preston. That was despite a shorter length of track.
There is a clear contradiction between the Union connectivity review and the alternatives report. A connection to the west coast main line south of Preston may deliver greater benefits than the Golborne link, but the feasibility of such a connection has been examined by HS2 across a number of locations and been deemed unsuitable for progression in favour of other options. It should be noted that any connection to the west coast main line south of Preston would in effect extend the Golborne link and cost significantly more than the link’s £3 billion cost. It is also highly likely to cost more than the works that would otherwise be needed to accommodate high-speed trains on the west coast main line between Wigan and Preston, which Network Rail has advised would cost in the region of £5 billion to £10 billion.
There is another option. If Government chose to extend HS2 northwards, which currently seems unlikely, the council would want to retain the Golborne link connection to Wigan to avoid the borough being bypassed by HS2. This would need a junction with the extended route north of Lowton and the retention of that part of the Golborne link from that point to the west coast main line at Bamfurlong, which is a short length of around 3 km. The remainder of the Golborne link would be part of a longer link regardless. [Interruption.]