Minister calls cost of Piccadilly HS2 underground station ‘crazy’ after scrapping plans – but London will still have one

A government minister has revealed building a new HS2 underground station in Piccadilly could cost £5bn and described it as a ‘crazy amount’ – despite its potential to transform rail travel in the North.

Despite plans for London’s HS2 ‘super hub’ – the new Old Oak Common in west London which will be served by six underground tunnels – and the fact that the capital’s Crossrail line recently opened this year with nearly four Years behind schedule and £4billion over budget, Railways Minister Wendy Morton has rejected calls for a similar proposal and spending in Manchester.

She said the tunnel would cause “major disruption to the city centre”, delay the opening of services to Manchester by “more than seven years” and potentially cause 350,000 extra HGV journeys during construction.

READ MORE: Ugly concrete stilts could soon dominate Manchester, kill 14,000 jobs and wreck the city’s ‘once in a lifetime’ chance

She added: “It would also add around £5bn more to the cost of the Crewe-Manchester program alone. It’s an absolutely insane amount of money to spend on something that is frankly worse.”

It was widely expected that a new underground station on the northern flank of Piccadilly station would be built as part of the HS2 line from London to Manchester, via Birmingham, Crewe and Manchester Airport. But in April Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the underground option had been ruled out because it “would take a lot of money from other parts of the network”.

Instead, the government is proposing a discounted overhead station which will see trains leave the ground at Ardwick before traveling over a mile-long viaduct of up to 12 meters in height to reach the new surface station. Greater Manchester leaders say it is shortsighted, it will result in the loss of 500,000 square meters of prime development land, cut Metrolink lines and destroy the city center by turning swathes of land into building sites

Manchester Council’s analysis of how high-speed trains would enter and leave Piccadilly

Speaking during a debate on the HS2 Crewe-Manchester Bill in the Commons last night, Denton and red-faced MP Andrew Gwynne described plans for an air station in Piccadilly as ‘sub-optimal’. “They will economically harm the growth potential around Piccadilly, and the interrelationship between HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail will be far worse than the Transport for Greater Manchester tube station option,” he said.

MP for Withington Jeff Smith said: ‘Wouldn’t it be better to get it right and have an underground station in Manchester Piccadilly which is properly connected to Northern Powerhouse Rail and the future of the network?’ Mr Smith later added that the ‘added economic value’ of the ‘once in a century project’ would recoup the £5billion cost in around 15 years.

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But Heywood and Middleton MP Chris Clarkson said he was “pretty agnostic” about a tube station. “My concerns, basically, are that the project requires the construction of a huge tunnel under the station, which is bigger than anything that has been drilled before,” he added.

“It cannot be located under the existing station, so it must either be next to it, as is the case with the air station anyway, or somewhere else, which is largely unnecessary.”

Artist’s impression of an HS2 train

Monday the Manchester Evening Newslaunched a campaign calling on the government not to spoil one of the most important transport projects ever built in the north of England – by doing it on the cheap.

Basically, current proposals for a return surface station, rather than an underground hub, mean that the government’s Northern Powerhouse Rail – downgraded in Grant Shapps’ Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) in November last year – will not might not be brought back to life in the future, as the hub will reach full capacity from day one.

Current plans for a surface station mean that passengers will leave the hub in an area currently housing the bins and the rear of Greggs. Its design, experts say, also hampers onward travel via other public transport.

Chancellor Lane – one of the main roads into the town center from Ardwick – would be permanently closed and a huge new road interchange would be built at Pin Mill Brow. Experts say it will increase car travel, pollution and cut off even more areas of the city, while jeopardizing the proposed extension of the tram-train.

Meanwhile, the complete closure of the Ashton line will force tram passengers to use a replacement bus service for two years. So far, calls to rethink have been ignored.

Bev Craig

As Bev Craig, Leader of Manchester City Council, said: “No other European city would start by building rail infrastructure on concrete pilings. It’s an outdated notion of urban planning, more reminiscent of the 1970s than what we want to see in 2040.

“You wouldn’t see a program like this offered in London, or any other city in the south east. So why should Manchester be faced with something that’s substandard from day one and doesn’t offer not the rail opportunities that HS2 offers?”

After the reading of the bill last night, all parties have 25 days to submit their petition to the government. These objections are then examined by a select committee which has not yet been appointed.


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Bonny J. Streater