You will probably be aware by now that the Secretary of State for Transport (Chris Grayling) announced the deposit of the Phase 2a Hybrid Bill on Monday 17th July and that this includes proposals for a construction railhead at Stone, which it is proposed will then become a permanent Infrastructure Maintenance Base – Rail (IMB-R). This decision effectively confirms the position that was set out by HS2 Ltd during its consultation last Autumn and represents very disappointing news to the SRCG, whose team has been working extremely hard since its formation last November to try and avert this outcome.
What have we been doing?
In January 2017 we submitted a detailed review of the proposed Stone Railhead to the Chairman of HS2 Ltd (Sir David Higgins), which was copied to the Secretary of State, Sir Bill Cash MP and the Chief Executive of Network Rail. This assessment compared the Stone Railhead to a potential alternative site that was brought to the attention of the SRCG Committee by one of our team. This assessment utilised 19 key environmental, engineering and economic parameters to compare the two railhead options and found that the alternative location, which we named Aldersey’s Rough (after a small area of woodland at that location) represented the far superior option to the proposed Stone Railhead site. Indeed Aldersey’s Rough outscored Stone in 16 of the parameters, with the latter having advantage in only one respect, i.e. its more central location along the proposed railway.
Rather than shout this message from the rooftops, we decided to give HS2 Ltd the opportunity to adopt Aldersey’s Rough as its preferred railhead and IMB-R location. After an immediate positive response from Sir David Higgins, the SRCG committee, via its small Engineering Team, sought and finally achieved a meeting with key HS2 Phase 2a personnel. This was held on 23rd May 2017, with the SRCG team giving a presentation of its assessment of the Stone Railhead option, before setting out details of the benefits that accrue to all parties, including HS2 Ltd, from the adoption of Aldersey’s Rough.
Following constructive discussion, HS2 Ltd agreed to consider the feasibility of constructing its railhead at Aldersey’s Rough. A second meeting was then held on 27 June 2017, where HS2 Ltd presented its initial thoughts on the SRCG scheme. Whilst the two sides did not share entirely the same opinions on how the SRCG’s schematic design for Aldersey’s Rough could be developed into an engineering scheme, there was sufficient synergy to suggest that we were building towards a consensus, with HS2 Ltd agreeing to carry out further design refinement prior to scheduling a third meeting. At this meeting, HS2 Ltd also made the SRCG aware that it was likely to deposit the Hybrid Bill for Phase 2a in mid-July and that the proposed scheme would include the Stone Railhead. However, HS2 Ltd reassured the SRCG that this step would not preclude the adoption of Aldersey’s Rough, instead of the Stone option, at a later date. This could be achieved either via a process known as Additional Provisioning, whereby HS2 Ltd would sponsor Aldersey’s Rough, or via the Bill petitioning process, which would mean that the SRCG would promote the scheme and need to convince the House of Commons Select Committee to adopt it as the better engineering and environmental option.
How are we proceeding?
Given the developments that are outlined above, the SRCG was surprised and disappointed that HS2 Ltd has published an Alternatives Report that appears to portray Aldersey’s Rough in a negative way. The SRCG not only considers this apparent development as a departure from what had been agreed with HS2 Ltd, but also completely unjustifiable based on any impartial examination of the facts of the situation. We have therefore sought clarification from HS2 Ltd regarding its position with respect to Aldersey’s Rough and will provide an update when we have received a response.
In the meantime, the SRCG engineering team is ready to proceed with the third technical meeting with HS2 Ltd to discuss Aldersey’s Rough. However, we must also start turning our attention to the potential need to use the petitioning process to achieve what we consider to be the best environmental, engineering and economic solution to the railhead and IMB‑R issue for all stakeholders, and in this respect we need your support. We therefore, invite you to attend an open meeting that will be held at the Christchurch Centre, Stone, ST15 8ZB, at 19.00 on Friday 15th September 2017.
At that meeting the SRCG will present details of our evaluation of the original proposals for the Stone Railhead and on how these have been amended by HS2 Ltd since last November. We will also provide details of our proposals for Aldersey’s Rough; setting out why we believe it represents a far better solution than the Stone Railhead option, together with the parliamentary processes that can be used to enable it to replace that scheme. We will advise you of what HS2 Ltd is proposing in terms of the forthcoming consultation process, before taking questions from the floor.
See you on 15th September