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Burnham For Mayor

Monday, 3 February 2014

Go back to drawing board and re-connect Leigh to the rail network

I have formally responded to the HS2 Phase 2 Consultation, following a series of consultation meetings with residents in the Lowton and Golborne area.

The consultation is now closed and the Government is expected to announce how HS2 will proceed by the end of 2014.

My detailed submission covers the depot, the proposed Leigh Interchange and the nature of the proposed construction.

The Government's plans will deliver ‘maximum disruption and minimal benefit' to the Leigh area which has the poorest access to rail transport in the country. I also believe the plans as they stand fail to maximise the economic and transport benefits to North West taxpayers.

I have raised serious questions about the Government's decision to site the depot in the middle of the borough's 'Green Heart', as it breaches HS2's own states aim of avoiding sites of environmental and heritage importance. I have also called on the Government to investigate brownfield sites instead.

My response gives strong support to the proposal for a new Leigh Interchange, which has been championed by Transport for Leigh and Transport for Greater Manchester. I believe it provides the ‘best opportunity that the UK Government will ever have to correct the unfairness of its decision to rip out Leigh's rail network five decades ago'.

On the depot, the natural landscape of the Leigh and Wigan area is slowly recovering after centuries of coal mining and heavy industrialisation. What green areas we have are therefore precious to us and need to be respected.

In effect, Government is proposing to site a major industrial installation in an area of open countryside. This means that my constituency faces amongst the greatest level of disruption from HS2 of any in the country.
Locally, there is a strong feeling that a similar decision would not have been taken to site a depot in an area of environmental and heritage importance in the south of England.

The sheer scale of the depot facility, the disruption to residents, local road networks and the green fields it will destroy is not outweighed by the small number of jobs created. HS2 should go back to the drawing board.

The lack of rail transport has led to exponential growth in traffic volumes on the M6 and A580 in the five decades since our rail infrastructure was ripped out. The large numbers of commuters who now live in my constituency have no realistic choice other than to get in the car and join the morning queues. Looking to the rest of the 21st century, this is not sustainable in environmental, economic nor transport terms. It is not fair to Leigh constituents who pay for the rail network through their taxes but have limited access to it.

HS2 will succeed in building public support if, rather than cutting journey times between places that are already well-served, it opens up rail travel to more people than currently use the rail network on a regular basis. That means taking this opportunity to rethink rail travel and giving people more convenient ways to switch from car to train. The Leigh Interchange proposal will achieve that. It will also spread the economic and regeneration potential away from Manchester and towards communities along the Liverpool-Manchester corridor. With a connecting link to the Liverpool-Manchester railway line, it will give people in living Merseyside much easier access to HS2 and cut journey times from Merseyside to London.

On the proposed route, I conclude the nature of construction will blight properties not able to access the statutory compensation scheme. Alternatives including tunnelling should be considered to alleviate noise.

You can read my submission to the formal consultation here.