Scrapping a branch of HS2 will result in ‘clear economic detriment’ to Wigan and ‘undermine’ Leveling Up commitments, local leaders say.
Wigan Council’s leader has written to the Transport Secretary asking for ‘urgent’ clarification after Sir Graham Brady MP claimed he’d had ‘assurances’ from Grant Shapps that the Golborne Spur would not go ahead.
The council says such a move would ‘jeopardise’ the future of the borough and would impact Wigan’s ‘already fragile’ economy.
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The Department for Transport says no decision has been made and the Golborne Link is still included in the High Speed Rail Bill, as introduced to Parliament.
The proposed Golborne spur would leave the HS2 route between Crewe to Manchester, before cutting through Golborne and Lowton and rejoining the West Coast Main Line south of Wigan.
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Wigan Council wants to use HS2 as the catalyst for a ‘once-in-a-generation opportunity’ to regenerate the town centre. The council’s Labor leader, David Molyneux, says extending the Golborne Link beyond Wigan, to the south of Preston, would ‘represent a missed opportunity to contribute to levelling-up’.
It comes after The Guardian reported that Sir Graham had written to a constituent telling them Mr Shapps had offered him ‘categorical verbal assurances’ that the Golborne Spur will be removed from the HS2 bill currently going through Parliament. The MP later confirmed his comments from him to the BBC.
Mr Molyneux said it was ‘disturbing’ to read about this in the national press and urged Mr Shapps to ‘swiftly address the uncertainty’. The council leader said Wigan’s ‘key position’ in the North West means it will be ‘the closest location for rail passengers from south Lancashire, north Merseyside and north Cheshire as well as west Greater Manchester’.
“This locational advantage presents the opportunity to draw from a considerable population and business hinterland, strengthening both the economic case for HS2 and the realistic opportunity of switching to a less environmentally damaging form of transport. Any alternative route is unlikely to generate similar or better benefits given the smaller population that would be served and would offer much less potential to generate economic growth through investment in local station infrastructure,” he said in a letter to the Secretary of State.
Mr Molyneux says the prospect of high-speed rail connectivity has already helped to generate interest and ‘a significant level of private sector investment’ in and around Wigan. “Uncertainty over the final route for HS2 already risks damaging that investor confidence; a decision to amend the proposal and reduce the benefits of HS2 to Wigan would certainly do so severely,” he writes.
The government’s HS2 bill, published in February, included plans to keep the spur. But Sir Graham told The Guardian he is ‘delighted’ the government has accepted a ‘commonsense argument’ after campaigning against the proposed rail link with fellow Tory MPs James Grundy, who represents Leigh, and Warrington South’s Andy Carter.
Sir Graham, who chairs the 1922 Committee of backbenchers, said they have been campaigning for years to make the case for ‘this £4bn white elephant to be dropped’.
Aidan Thatcher, Wigan Council’s acting director for economy and skills, said: “We were extremely disappointed to hear about the alleged removal of Golborne Spur in the press this week and have written to the secretary of state to ask for urgent clarification.
“If these allegations are true then it would completely undermine the Leveling Up commitments made by the government and would also impact Wigan’s economy, which is already fragile due to the impact of the pandemic.
“We urge the government to rethink this move, or risk jeopardizing the future of our borough, our communities and the region. We need to take leveling up seriously or we risk leaving half of the country behind.”
As far back as February 2020, Mr Shapps said the ‘writing was on the wall’ for the Golborne spur. He said the branch would ‘deliver very little’ for the expected cost of up to £3 billion when asked about the project by Mr Grundy.
The Department for Transport said no decision has been made. A spokesperson said that the Government is considering the recommendations from the Union Connectivity Review and will respond in due course. They added that it is the Government’s intention to ‘deliver the right infrastructure for long term benefits to the rail network, to the North and to Scotland’.