Downtown is always at the centre of the action and Wednesday proved this on stilts (perhaps an unfortunate expression considering what follows).
Whilst the Prime Minister made his last stand with a committee of top MPs in the Palace of Westminster, Downtown held a reception on the Commons Terrace to fight for common sense over the construction of HS2 as it comes into Manchester city centre. The gathering of top engineers, businesspeople, MPs, and councillors was arranged urgently as consultation closes soon on the bill authorising the line from Crewe to Manchester.
The issue is that the government want to save £3bn on a tunnel by running the line in from Ardwick on a mile long 12-metre-high viaduct. This plan has faced outright opposition from organisations ranging from the Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership, Manchester Council and Downtown.
Apart from the fact that there has been no inhibition by the government in building tunnels at Euston and through the Chilterns for HS2, the plans to build an ugly viaduct into Piccadilly Station would blight 500,000 sq. metres of prime development land costing 14,000 jobs. Crucially it would prevent any rethink on the government’s truncated plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR).
It would mean trains turning back rather than the original NPR scheme to allow trains from Liverpool to run underground, using new platforms, on their way to Leeds. Under the government scheme the platform capacity would be used up on day one.
Downtown is campaigning along with the council for a scheme that would run the track in underground, demolish Gateway House (on the station approach) creating an attractive plaza to welcome passengers.
With the Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner looking on, Shadow Cabinet Minister Lucy Powell (Manchester Central) welcomed people to the reception saying the government’s plan did not put HS2 in the wider context of NPR.
Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh would be leading for Labour on the bill. She supported the underground solution whilst noting that on her side of the Pennines HS2 to Leeds had been cancelled completely.
Bev Craig, the leader of Manchester Council reflected that good train connectivity had started in the city in 1842, and we didn’t want a viaduct solution that would see the end of the track at the back of the bakery shop Gregg’s on the station approach!
The final speaker Lou Cordwell, chair of the Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership said she was already getting global business interest in the fact that Manchester and London would be an hour apart when HS2 was built and believed the underground solution was the right one.
The government is clearly distracted at the moment, but they need to listen to the clear message sent to Ministers from the Downtown gathering.