Cheshire East gets more honest about Crewe hub

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the HS2 with comments that were so far adrift from the consensus in Cheshire East that I had (literally) a sleepless night, worrying I had looked at the wrong document and was going to look very silly.

The gist of the issues I raised were that:

  • Congleton, Macclesfield and Stoke will be served by one HS2 train an hour, but passengers will have to change at Stafford (I wrongly said near Rugeley but see below); and
  • HS2 does not plan to build a hub at Crewe and hasn’t got the money to do so.

What generated the column was Cheshire East’s ecstatic Press release about the latest consultation. Council leader Coun Rachel Bailey said: “This is the news that we have been working towards over the last five years or more and delivers the message that Cheshire East is truly open for business.”

Leaving aside the meaningless phrase “open for business” — the world’s laziest shopkeeper can open for business then sit on his arse reading the Racing Post all day — the question was what news Cheshire East was so excited about.

Stripping it down to basics:

  • The idea (sorry, “vision”) of a Crewe hub is not new. Sir David Higgins recommended a Crewe hub and the Government itself says that, if the Crewe hub scheme is to be taken forward, it should be located at the site of the existing station.
  • But: there is no money to build a Crewe hub and it’s not in the HS2 plans. As the consultation says: “Proposals for a Crewe Hub are additional to the core scheme and are beyond the budget.”

So: Cheshire East was excited that the old idea of a hub at Crewe remains unaffordable.

“The Government is still refusing to pay for a key local element of the Northern Gateway” would be an equally applicable comment.

Two or three weeks on and we’ve managed to get Cheshire East to release a more reasonable statement, saying that the Government supports a Crewe hub and that the council “continues to develop the business case for a high-speed hub station and accepts that funding for the project may not be integral to the existing budget”.

Thus, the council has a few months (to the end of the current consultation) to mount a case for a hub at Crewe before the Government proceeds.

This is the same Cheshire East that, after getting on for a decade, still has no local plan, a document it has a statutory duty to provide. The cynic might find it unlikely that the council will successfully argue the complex case for a rail hub the Government has no plans to build.

The most likely scenario is presumably that the HS2 line will eventually by-pass (or go under) Crewe, letting the HS2 speed north without seeing Cheshire East, never mind stopping.

Some HS2 trains may call at Crewe but they won’t be able to join the HS2 northbound, and southbound may only re-join the high-speed line at Handsacre, near Rugeley.

With new stations at Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Airport — the latter serving north Cheshire, and both stations getting £625,000 apiece — it would be easy to conclude that a Crewe hub is never going to make it into any plan.

Stoke City Council has been criticised for spending £800,000 presenting its failed case for a Potteries station so the cost this side of the border must be a concern, both for what has already been spent and what could be.

One concern could be that the Crewe hub will go ahead only if Cheshire East Council taxpayers pay for it, though this is suggested nowhere but here, by me.

It’s unlikely that people in the northern parts of Cheshire East would pay extra council tax for a Crewe HS2 hub when they’re getting two stations in Manchester already, so a locally-funded hub could be built by Cheshire East selling off land it owns for housing, and/or allowing lots of houses to be built so it could earn new homes bonus grants. It could link up with other neighbouring authorities, of course but if it wants the hub, you’d expect Cheshire East to bear the cost.  Not that a Crewe hub is in the plans, remember.

Talking of Handsacre: HS2 is confusing.

I wrote that Congleton, Macclesfield and Stoke would be served by one HS2 train an hour, but passengers would have to change at Handscare, the HS2 junction 3.5 miles from Rugeley.

The latest HS2 consultation refers to HS2 serving Stoke-on-Trent and Macclesfield with one HS2 train per hour “via the Handsacre junction” but apparently, the consultation should read “one HS2 train per hour via Stafford after the high-speed line splits at Handsacre”. Not very layman-friendly.

Handsacre is the end-point of phase one of HS2, and where “classic-compatible” trains from Euston will re-join the existing West Coast Main Line. Congleton may still only get one train an hour but it’s all change at Stafford, not Handsacre.

(Phase 2A sees the high-speed line continue to Crewe, phase 2B carries the line northwards, with or without Crewe).

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