HomeGovernanceHS2 ‘Golborne Link’ to the North and Scotland to be scrapped

HS2 ‘Golborne Link’ to the North and Scotland to be scrapped

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The Department for Transport has announced its intention to scrap the ‘Golborne Link’ – a proposed 13-mile connection that would branch off the main HS2 line towards Manchester, near Knutsford in Cheshire, and rejoin the West Coast main line (WCML) near Golborne, just south of Wigan.

Construction was due to start in the early 2030s and it was due to open in the late 2030s or early 2040s as part of the second stage of HS2 services to Scotland.

Sir Peter Hendy CBE.

In his report on the Union Connectivity Review, published in November 2021, Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy commented that the Golborne Link would not resolve all the rail capacity constraints on the WCML between Crewe and Preston. He stated: “The ‘Golborne Link’ – the current proposed connection between HS2 and the WCML – is expected to deliver quicker journey times and more capacity between England and Scotland and resolve some of the constraints between Crewe and Preston.

“However, the ‘Golborne Link’ does not resolve all of the identified issues. The suitability of alternative connections between HS2 and the WCML have been considered by the Review. The emerging evidence suggests that an alternative connection to the WCML, for example at some point south of Preston, could offer more benefits and an opportunity to reduce journey times by two to three minutes more than the ‘Golborne Link’. However, more work is required to better understand the case for and against such options.”

Andrew Stephenson MP

On 6 June 2022, HS2 Minister Andrew Stephenson MP confirmed that the government would look again at alternatives that can deliver similar benefits to Scotland as the ‘Golborne Link’, so long as these will deliver for the taxpayer within the £96 billion envelope allocated for the Integrated Rail Plan.

The government says it will look at the potential for these alternatives to bring benefits to passengers sooner, allowing improved Scotland services from Manchester and Manchester Airport, as well as from Birmingham and London. HS2 trains will continue to serve Wigan and Preston, as well as Lancaster, Cumbria and Scotland.

Therefore, as the Golborne Link is now unlikely to be built, the government intends to remove the Golborne link from the High-Speed Rail (Crewe – Manchester) Bill after second reading, meaning that it will no longer be seeking the powers to construct the link as part of this scheme. The Crewe-Manchester HS2 mainline will remain in the Bill as before. Plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail will also be unaffected.

The ‘Golborne Link’ in the context of the core railway network (Integrated Rail Plan)

A Supplement to the January 2022 HS2 Crewe – Manchester scheme strategic outline business case, setting out the implications of removing the Golborne Link, will be published prior to second reading.

Safeguarding along the route of the ‘Golborne Link’ will be maintained while alternatives are considered, so that it can be reinstated if necessary.

Conspiracy theorists pointed out that:

  • The ‘Golborne Link’ runs through the constituency of Sir Graham Brady MP, the chair of the Conservative Party’s 1922 Committee
  • The announcement of the removal of the ‘Golborne Link’ from the HS2 Bill was made on the same day that the 1922 Committee was conducting a vote of no confidence in Prime Minister Boris Johnson;
  • On 6 April 2022, the Guardian newspaper reported that Sir Graham Brady wrote to a constituent saying that Transport Secretary Grant Shapps had given him “categorical verbal assurances” that the ‘Golborne Link’ would be removed from the HS2 bill currently going through parliament.

Following Andrew Stephenson’s announcement, a spokesperson for the Railway Industry Association, the Rail Freight Group and the High Speed Rail Group commented: “It is hugely disappointing to discover that, on a day when much political attention was focused elsewhere, the Government confirmed that the ‘Golborne Link’ is to be removed from the HS2 project.

“Only six months ago, the Golborne Link was included in the Integrated Rail Plan, as well as the HS2 Phase 2b Bill. The Link has been provided for in the budget for HS2 and is needed to allow adequate capacity on the national rail network to fulfil its vital function of handling the nation’s longer distance movements of both passengers and freight. Without this connection, a bottleneck will be created north of Crewe on the West Coast main line, which in turn will negatively impact outcomes for passengers, decarbonisation and levelling up.

“With the HS2 Eastern Leg dropped, and the ‘Golborne Link ‘abandoned too, there will now be heightened uncertainty both for rail businesses working on the project and for the communities the line will serve.

“Given the Government have now decided that it does not wish to proceed with the ‘Golborne Link’, it is absolutely essential it confirms as quickly as possible how Ministers intend to protect the benefits of HS2 investment and do so without delay. Such an important, strategic question of how HS2 services connect into Scotland cannot be left open or uncertain.”

The question therefore seems to be what will replace the ‘Golborne Link’ that Sir Peter Hendy suggested didn’t resolve all the issues. The government has scrapped a less-than-adequate solution but not replaced it with anything at all.

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