HS2 AP2 and Select Committee Report July 23
HS2 – Additional Provision
Changes to road junctions, to mitigate congestion during construction and operating HS2.
M6 J19 Northbound exit on to A556 to Manchester (High Legh) to be widened.
M6 J20A Northbound exit junction to be widened. Both to be retained after construction phase.
First Special Report of Session 2022–23 of the House of Commons High Speed Rail (Crewe – Manchester) Bill Select Committee report here: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm5803/cmselect/cmhighspeedrail/1136/report.html
1 Ground conditions in Cheshire
- The proposed HS2 scheme between Crewe and Manchester passes through an area of the Cheshire plain which is noted for challenging ground conditions relating to natural and anthropogenic salt dissolution and industrial salt mining. This is an issue of significant concern to many local residents, and it was raised by many petitioners who appeared before us.9
- As a result of both historic mining and natural salt dissolution processes, there is a history of ground settlement and more significant ground collapse in this area, and ground movement continues to this day. Due to the ways in which brine runs function, ground subsidence can occur some distance away from sites of brining or mining. HS2 Ltd’s March 2023 report noted that the local geology “will present certain geological risks within the Area of Interest,13that can variously manifest as ground surface subsidence”.14
- Several petitioners believe that the alignment of HS2 through the challenging geology of the Cheshire plains is the result of failures or omissions in the original planning process. Based on the lack of detail or discussion in early planning documents, some of those who appeared before us claimed that the risks or hazards involved in building in this area were not known about or were not considered in appropriate detail: “It’s difficult not to draw the conclusion that the presence of salt extraction and the issues of brine subsidence were simply not considered as part of the production of the initial preferred route”.21While there have been subsequent realignments away from areas of concern to reduce risks, we heard disappointment that “the opportunity to revisit the wisdom of taking the route through this part of mid-Cheshire was not availed”.22Minshull Vernon and District Parish Council expressed its view that, due to the initial route choice, the Government is backed “into the position where they find impossible to change direction, in spite of the huge technical difficulties they face in passing over the salt area”.23
March 2023 report
- HS2 Ltd published the ‘Understanding the Ground Risk across the Cheshire Plain’ report in March 2023, and this was generally welcomed by petitioners. However, there was a view that its publication was too late for a report “which ought to have formed part of the evidence for the decision making in 2017”,24and disappointment that it “fails to fully recognise all the risks of construction across the area” and that it “needs more development and clarification and understanding of the challenges”.25Petitioners believed that the report showed that the promoter and HS2 Ltd are still at an early stage of developing robust ground models.26
Investigations and understanding
- Another concern with the March 2023 report was the extent and quality of the data and understanding on which it was based. Petitioners noted that, to date, HS2 Ltd had completed a desk study and two phases of ground investigations, but they believed that more thorough, in-depth technical investigations should have been undertaken already and should be undertaken before a design is finalised and before this Bill is allowed to proceed.27
[HS2 Ltd and the Bill’s promoter] consider that the route alignment is appropriate for the intended purpose. The intended purpose is a 250 mile per hour train. The worrying phrase, of course, is ‘obtained to date’. Basically, it says things can change. Costs can rise. Impacts can be worse.28
- Lostock Gralam Parish Council told us that “We believe HS2 does not have all the facts, has not identified all potential risks, or a true figure for the cost of constructing HS2 over our complex landscape”.29Dr Ros Todhunter queried the promoter’s understanding of a number of issues of concern,30and the HS2 Cheshire Residents Group raised concern about the promoter’s utilisation of local knowledge and apparent ignorance of known issues.31 Several petitioners highlighted reports and studies which contain important information pertinent to the scheme or which appear to challenge or contradict the responses and views of HS2 Ltd, but which have not been referred or responded to in the promoter’s reports to date, which leads to concern for residents.32
- Other concerns raised by petitioners included: the consequences of climate change driven changes in the groundwater regime for the proposed scheme;41the effect of construction on underground pipework in the area, which is vulnerable to vibration and ground movement;42and the use of concrete piles in salty ground.43
- The main requests of petitioners on this issue can be summarised as follows:46
- That the planned technical ground investigations should be completed and assessed before the Bill receives Royal Assent;47
- That the results of ground investigations both already undertaken and planned for the future are published in full, in a timely manner, and in a form which makes it possible for them to be peer reviewed by academic or other independent expertise;48
- That further design detail and information on how the promoter intends to respond to the challenges and risks presented by ground conditions in this area is made available, including on planned monitoring and responses to climate-driven changes.49
- The promoter was opposed to the petitioners’ main request for the results of technical investigations to be made public. It claimed that “it simply isn’t justified” and that “It would be a very unusual thing for the developer of a large project to agree to have the construction and operation of their project subject to some external validation”.71
- We note that there appears to be a legacy of distrust amongst many petitioners and local residents resulting from the initial route selection and the perceived, if not actual, failure to acknowledge all of the risks posed by construction in this area. The promoter evidently still has a way to go in reassuring local people that they have considered and reasonably addressed outstanding concerns—petitioners themselves said that:
to reassure and satisfy the residents of Cheshire, their communities, on the existing and future structure, there is a need by the Government to demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the future ground risk of HS2 and the Cheshire plain. We feel that hasn’t been done yet.76The promoter may well have satisfied itself that it has done (or will do) sufficient investigatory work to be able to design, construct and operate the proposed scheme safely, but it clearly not yet convinced local residents: it must do so.
- Additionally, we believe that the promoter should commit to the following:
- Publish, by the end of this year, a report providing more information and detail than was given in the March 2023 publication on the ground investigations which have already been undertaken, and publish at regular intervals (we would propose annually or biennially) reports on the details and results of technical ground investigations undertaken in the future. These reports should be in a form which allows external experts or other interested parties to consider and analyse the information contained in a meaningful way, and include details of the type of investigations undertaken, their locations and relevance to the scheme, the results, a commentary on what the results mean in relation to other investigations and the scheme as a whole, and an indication of further action, investigations or mitigations planned or required.
- Provide further information willingly, and in a timely manner, following requests from petitioners or other stakeholders for further details or information relating to the investigations detailed in the publications outlined above, unless there is a compelling reason why such information cannot be provided.
- Designate a nominated point of contact for queries relating to ground conditions and the technical investigations being undertaken.
None of these options would be difficult for the promoter to achieve or detrimental to the progress of the project, and we therefore expect the promoter to take such action to reassure local communities that their concerns have been heard, are understood, and are being appropriately and demonstrably addressed.
High Legh Parish Council (HS2–030 & AP1–008) and Mere Parish Council (HS2–008)
- Councillor Nigel Hennerley, appearing before us on behalf of both of these petitioners, raised questions relating to the Hoo Green junction, a substantial construction planned to incorporate the main HS2 line and spurs for future links to the West Coast Main Line (WCML) and Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR). The petitioners’ contention is that the inclusion of such passive provision and ‘touchpoints’ for future connectivity in the Bill scheme predetermines the route of future rail infrastructure in this area. Councillor Hennerley suggested that provision for connection with other rail lines should only be built into the HS2 scheme when the plans for NPR and the link with the WCML have been fully and finally confirmed, and could potentially be built off each other.
- We have not considered the connections with NPR in great detail, as they have not—to date—been raised by many petitioners.111We will, therefore reserve judgement on this issue until we are called upon to make a decision and have heard further evidence. However, we do note the Oakervee Review’s recommendation regarding the integrated development of rail plans,112and the promoter’s arguments against altering or separating out the components of the junction.113 Our initial position is that it does appear to make sense to include passive provision for future connectivity so as to avoid later interventions, additions or alterations which would be disruptive to construction or operation. When decisions are made about NPR and the connection between HS2 and the WCML, there will be future public consultations on the environmental statements accompanying those schemes, so interested and affected parties will be able to comment and raise concerns.114