Westminster, May 24th: Stone Town and Chebsey Parish Councils’ petition to relocate the HS2 railhead from Stone to Aldersey’s Rough was rejected by the HS2 House of Commons Select Committee.
In its First Special Report, the Committee declared itself “impressed by the detailed research conducted by the petitioners” who were represented by Stone Railhead Crisis Group. Nevertheless, their sterling efforts were rejected in favour of retaining the construction railhead and maintenance base at Stone.
The Committee’s seven-paragraph reasoning states: “…the amount of additional work that the [Aldersey’s Rough] proposal would require in order to make it a viable solution would be too costly and too disruptive and the Committee was not convinced as to its proposed merits.”
A SRCG spokesman said,
“We are all bitterly disappointed by the Select Committee’s decision, not least because some of our case still remains to be heard. We will take some time to digest the report, but our initial reaction is that this decision is flawed and open to challenge.
“In consultation with our QC Tim Corner and local MPs we will be planning our next move, but confirm that we will continue to do all we can to protect local communities and represent the best interests of the people of Staffordshire.”
Mr Corner’s services were paid for through SRCG’s fundraising and their employment by Stone Town Council to deliver the petition. Together this raised over £16,000.
At the Councils’ April 25th hearing, SRCG’s railway expert Trevor Gould explained why the Stone site would not be able to properly maintain the HS2 railway in the long term. He added that the Stone Railhead would also impact badly on future train services on the Norton Bridge to Stone railway, including HS2’s token service to Stafford and Stoke. This is planned to terminate in Macclesfield, not Manchester Piccadilly.
Mr Gould also said that HS2’s maintenance base at Stone seriously threatened the viability of the HS2 service to Stafford and the Borough Council’s vital redevelopment plans centred on Stafford Station.
Despite interruptions from HS2’s QC, Mr Gould spelled out the economic benefits that would be gained by Newcastle-under-Lyme, Keele University, and Staffordshire as a whole by using Aldersey’s Rough as a catalyst for reopening the former Newcastle to Market Drayton line.
Road traffic expert Gordon Wilkinson, former Head of Urban Transportation Projects at the County Council, then explained what building the Stone Railhead would mean for local road users. Referring to HS2’s grossly optimistic baseline numbers and junction capacity assumptions, he showed the MPs that daily congestion on the A34 and the Eccleshall Road was inevitable at Stone’s Walton island.
With similar congestion at other local junctions and daily gridlock certain at J15 of the M6, the neighbouring Hanchurch interchange and the Whitmore Road/A519 junction, he argued that the railhead at Stone would lead to commuter misery and have far-reaching negative consequences for the local economy over its four-year construction period.
Mr Wilkinson criticised HS2’s proposals to widen a part of Yarnfield Lane to enable its HGVs to access railhead construction compounds. Despite destructive plans to remove hundreds of metres of roadside hedgerows and mature trees next to the Stone Golf Club and the Wayfarer Pub, Yarnfield Lane would still not be wide enough to allow HGVs to pass each other safely.
“Their wing mirrors will be kissing,” he claimed.
The Parish Councils’ third witness, Environmental Consultant Trevor Parkin, exposed HS2’s false claim that the opening of its M6 slip roads would prevent construction traffic from using Yarnfield Lane. Arguing that at least 50 per cent of all M6-bound construction traffic would have to share a 900m long stretch of Yarnfield Lane with other vehicles, he left MPs in no doubt of the consequences for local people of allowing the Stone Railhead to be built in such a poor location.
Mr Parkin then explained just how difficult it would be to construct the Stone Railhead because of a combination of its physical constraints and need to bisect two important roads (Yarnfield Lane and Eccleshall Road) and cross the Norton Bridge to Stone railway.
He then guided the Committee through every element of HS2’s sift analysis, which compared Stone to Aldersey’s Rough on a range of engineering and environmental criteria, and demonstrated just how flawed HS2’s arguments were. He also described how the company had put together a poor design for the Aldersey’s Rough site, which maximised its cost of construction. He concluded that Aldersey’s Rough would be far easier and cheaper to build and operate.
HS2 decided not to challenge the evidence of Mr Wilkinson and Mr Parkin, but instead used its own witness, HS2’s Chief Engineer Tim Smart, to try and contradict the points made by the Parish Councils.
The two April 25th hearings of the HS2 Select Committee can be viewed online at
Staffordshire County Council has subsequently reached an agreement with HS2 to acquire £10 million to fund road works in the county. This ‘take it now or lose it deal’ meant the county officers did not appear for their scheduled session in Parliament on 8th May.
Referring to the details of the agreement, Mr Parkin commented:
“There is virtually nothing in this agreement that will mitigate the devastating impacts of the Stone Railhead on the local road network and the lives of the community. It is therefore hugely regrettable that the County Council has been rushed into accepting this agreement money without consulting the Parish Councils and other community groups who have worked so hard to represent the communities affected by HS2’s poorly conceived proposals over the last 18 months.”
SRCG will be holding a public meeting on Sunday June 10th from 5-7pm at Yarnfield Conference Centre.
SRCG will report on developments since their presentation of evidence to Parliament and discuss the next steps of their campaign.