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Ordsall Chord, Northern Hub

Network Rail under fire after Whitby wins Ordsall Chord judicial review

Heritage experts line up to support former ICE president’s campaign to protect Manchester’s historic Liverpool Road station complex, condemning Network Rail as not “credible guardian of its prolific historic estate”.

Former ICE president Mark Whitby is to challenge the Secretary of State’s decision made in March to press ahead with proposals to link Victoria, Oxford Road and Piccadilly stations in Manchester “in spite of the substantial harm to heritage assets that would result”.

His campaign is supported by English Heritage, the ICE's Panel for Historical Works and Sir Neil Cossons, former English Heritage chairman and director of the Science Museum, who this week criticised Network Rail's continued support for the scheme as demonstrating it was not a “credible guardian of its prolific historic estate”.

“Network Rail has shown itself to not be a credible guardian of its prolific historic estate," Sir Neil Cossons

Cossons added: “My argument in the original inquiry as now is that we have an owner of a large historic estate who is not competent to manage it. This could all have been avoided if [Network Rail] had gone down a sensible route from the start.”

“Network Rail has shown itself to not be a credible guardian of its prolific historic estate,” he said. “I really see the arrival of Sir Peter Hendy (as chairman of NR) as extremely good news – but it is two year too late. Under his leadership I do not think we would be in this mess.”

Lawyers acting on behalf of Whitby have successfully argued that, following the 2014 public inquiry into the proposed new Ordsall Chord viaduct as part of the Northern Hub rail upgrade scheme, the inspector’s decision in favour of Network Rail was based on incorrect assumptions. 

The Secretary of State for Transport confirmed last March the inquiry inspector’s view that, “in spite of the substantial harm to heritage assets that would result” the overall benefits of the scheme meant that it should go ahead.

“The balance lies in favour of approving the scheme as proposed by Network Rail, in spite of the substantial harm to heritage assets that would result,” said the DfT’s decison letter.

“Network Rail engineers agree that this is unnecessary and that the route across the vacant brown field Middlewood locks site is viable.” Mark Whitby

However, following the representations made by English Heritage and Whitby at the month long public inquiry between April and May 2014, the government ordered that Network Rail carry out significant analysis and design “to ensure the conservation of the historic environment” of the Liverpool Road Station area.

And now a review of the case will be heard on 25 September to assess the arguments that ruled out the so-called Route 15 option proposed by Whitby as a credible but less heritage damaging way to link the rail lines.

"We have been given leave for the judicial review which means they agree there is a case to answer,” explained Whitby, who has also been granted a protective cost order to limit his potential legal costs. 

“The current proposal requires the demolition of a number of listed structures and causes serious harm the setting of all the remaining grade1, 2* and grade 2 structures and buildings which form the complex, isolating the Grade1 Stephenson bridge and severing the railway,” he said. “Network Rail engineers agree that this is unnecessary and that the route across the vacant brown field Middlewood locks site is viable.”

He pointed out that the site in Manchester stands alongside Runneymede in its significance as the place where the modern world began and is at the heart of the engineering profession and so deserved to be fought for.  

Manchester Liverpool Road was the eastern passenger terminus of George Stephenson's Liverpool and Manchester Railway which opened in 1830 as the world's first to be built with passenger transport as its main activities. It is therefore often considered as the world's first true intercity railway.

“We remain committed to delivering the benefits of the Northern Hub which will provide space for hundreds more trains each day and room for millions more passengers." Netwrok Rail

“As a heritage collection of buildings and structures, it is a testament to the engineering vison and tenacity that on 15 September 1830 they heralded the era of mass communication that George Stephenson pioneered,” he added. “Within 10 years of the world's first intercity passenger railway, 1400 miles of railway were to be built across the UK alone in. A boom that still resonates today."

Whitby’s campaign has been supported by English Heritage, who’s representative Andrew Davison described the areas as the “the Stonehenge of railway history” and told the 2014 public inquiry that he had “never come across a proposed development so exceptionally damaging to the historic environment as the Ordsall Chord”. 

The ICE's Panel for Historical Engineering Works (PHEW) also this week said it was "pleased that the full force of legal review is to be applied" before the final decision is taken on the future of this historically significant area.

PHEW chairman Gordon Masterton said: "Mark Whitby has demonstrated that there is an alternative, eminently viable, option that better respects the heritage of this hugely important rail link. It is good that that option is being tested using the full rigour of due process available." 

The Ordsall Chord remains a key part of Network Rail’s Northern Hub upgrade and will remove a bottleneck to the south of Piccadilly station and free up space on the network to better connect towns and cities across the North.

A spokesman for Network Rail said it was aware that a challenge has been made to the Ordsall Chord TWA Order, the deemed planning permission and the listed building consents but said “as an interested party in this legal action, Network Rail is not in a position to pre-judge the outcome of any decision of the court.”

He added: “We remain committed to delivering the benefits of the Northern Hub which will provide space for hundreds more trains each day and room for millions more passengers. The Ordsall Chord will play a key part in enabling faster, more frequent trains and more direct services to Manchester Airport.”

“The very fact that Mark has got a judicial review is evidence that there must be case to answer. I think he is a very brave man to have taken this on." Sir Neil Cossons

However, Cossons reiterated that neither he nor Whitby were arguing against the principle of creating this vital new link as part of the upgrade to the rail system across the area.

“To be clear we are firm believers that the Ordsall Chord is needed. It is just that the Route 15 is much less damaging to the heritage and is an option that should have been given more consideration,” he said. 

“The ministerial decision is faulty because the inspector has misjudged Route 15 not because of heritage concerns but because of a belief that it could prejudice other developments. But it is an entirely specious argument,” he added. “We can have all the benefits of the Ordsall Chord without damaging this significant historic area.”

Cossons that that the case highlighted a profound neglect of heritage around the Manchester area, which he said despite efforts to boost the area as the Northern Powerhouse, appeared to ignore the fact that there was “extraordinary industrial heritage”.

“It is not by accident that there are 35 other places around the world called Manchester. They would be an even more effective Northern Powerhouse is they didn’t neglect this pedigree,” he said. 

“The very fact that Mark has got a judicial review is evidence that there must be case to answer. I think he is a very brave man to have taken this on. It demonstrates a real commitment to our heritage beyond the norm. A guy prepared to stand up and be counted.”

If you would like to contact Antony Oliver about this, or any other story, please email antony.oliver@infrastructure-intelligence.com.