Transport secretary also confirmed HS2 bill would be repurposed for northern rail scheme

Previously rejected proposals for an underground station at Manchester Piccadilly may be revived as part of the government’s plans to deliver Northern Powerhouse Rail.

In a statement to parliament this week setting out the next steps for the scheme, transport secretary Mark Harper opened up discussion of previously rejected station designs. 

Manchester HS2 station CGI

Source: Bennetts Associates

A CGI drawn up by Bennetts Associates for Manchester Council showing how the entrance of the previously proposed underground HS2 station could look

A new station at Piccadilly had previously been planned as part of the HS2 scheme, with central government’s preference being for a cheaper above-ground station, which would have required large viaducts to be built through the centre of Manchester.

Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, who had criticised plans for an overground station, said the ministerial statement was “a real breakthrough” for the city.

“We have long argued for an underground option at Manchester Piccadilly and finally the door has been opened to it,” he said. 

“At last there is the prospect of the UK government having a level of ambition for the North of England that matches ours.”

Harper also used the statement to confirm that planned HS2 legislation will be repurposed to enable the delivery of Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR).

The High Speed Rail (Crewe – Manchester) Bill had previously been included in the government’s legislative agenda, published last November, despite the cancellation of HS2’s northern leg the month prior. 

Harper said he will be “continuing to promote” the bill, as he believes this is the quickest method to get the initial stage of NPR route to Manchester started. 

NPR was meant to share a stretch of the proposed HS2 route between Manchester Piccadilly station and Manchester Airport and the planned legislation, first set out in January 2022, included powers necessary for compulsory purchase of properties along this route.

The DfT will now rework the bill to enable the delivery of NPR exclusively, eliminating its HS2 elements.

“Subject to the will of the House, the government will seek to adapt the Bill to deliver Northern Powerhouse Rail only, removing scope south of the Parish of Millington and Rostherne, which was included only for High Speed 2 (HS2),” said Harper.

“The adaptation of the Bill from HS2 to NPR and removal of HS2 scope from the Bill would prompt a further environmental assessment to be produced which would include revised construction impacts with a view to reducing impacts where possible.”

First mooted in 2015, NPR was initially meant to create an extended high-speed transport network between Liverpool and Hull.

This was scaled back significantly in the Integrated Rail Plan in 2021 and after cancelling HS2 north of Birmingham, Rishi Sunak re-committed to a scaled back version NPR project, committing £12bn of investment as part of a package of transport investment labelled ’Network North’.

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The latest incarnation of NPR, set out by Harper this week, will “broadly” follow the previously proposed route between Liverpool and Manchester, while also serving Warrington Bank Quay and Manchester Airport. 

This version of the scheme is intended to reduce journey times between Liverpool and Manchester. 

Burnham added: “Following the disappointment of the HS2 cancellation, we acknowledge the way the government is now working differently with mayors and leaders on a more place-based approach to building a railway. 

“We look forward to continuing to work in this way and we are pleased that they are open to considering new ways of funding, including a land value capture model.

”As welcome as this news is, there is a missing piece in the railway jigsaw. This is between where HS2 ends north of Birmingham and the route of Northern Powerhouse Rail in Cheshire.

“We are not arguing for a return to HS2 but there does need to be an alternative if the UK is to have a modern railway network connecting East and West, and North and South.”

Henri Murison, chief executive of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, which champions investment in the region, said: “This is a major step forwards for the Northern Powerhouse’s flagship infrastructure project.

“It will allow important legislative work on the tunnel link into Manchester to continue, ultimately giving people in Leeds and Bradford access to the North’s long-hal hub at Manchester airport and improving connectivity between Liverpool, Hull and the North East.

“Northern Powerhouse Rail is the single most critical part of the proposed Network North package, much of which is still to be costed, and it should be the first call on government infrastructure borrowing.”