Consultation on HS2 and Manchester Piccadilly rail station changes

Manchester City Council is consulting on various ideas for the regeneration of the neighbourhood around Manchester Piccadilly rail station. Two large documents can be downloaded at www.manchester.gov.uk/hs2piccadillyconsultation and responses are asked for by 8 November 2013.

In the previous post I looked at the Mayfield area to the south side and its Strategic Regeneration Framework. In this post I cover the HS2 proposals to the north side of the station.

So now, to the HS2 proposals.

Overall the 76 page of options and proposals gives a very thorough and thoughtful coverage of the key issues. The HS2 addition of four new platforms to the existing rail station is handled well. A key challenge is that international high-speed trains have a standard length of 400m, a quarter of a mile long, whereas the longest platform at the station currently is ‘only’ around 240m long. This extra length is mainly resolved by bringing the four new platforms much closer to London Road, demolishing Gateway House in the process.

I hesitate to add a ‘however’ in the current febrile political climate regarding HS2. Like any long-term area regeneration programme it is essential to obtain a cross-party consensus, and HS2 is a regeneration programme with 20 years ahead of it. But we cannot allow the ‘antis’ to close down debate and discussion, though of course we must be careful not to feed their machine.

So, in strong support of HS2, I would emphasise two design points which I feel need further attention.

Firstly, HS2 track will carry national and international trains. Absolute care must be taken to comply 100% with UK Border policy requirements, which requires total border control at the station, not later on the train. Therefore, the proposals for an open flow between the existing platforms and the new HS2 platforms, however desirable, is substantially forbidden. One of the reasons that the Regional Eurostar service failed in the 1990s, even though millions of pounds had been invested, is that wrong assumptions were made at a very high level in the project team about on-train border control being possible, when it was never going to be allowed. I have some more details if needed.

The pattern of service, particularly in the early years, may well be one where departures to London are mostly during the day, and international departures via the Channel Tunnel are mostly at the ‘shoulder’ times of early morning and late evening. It may be that one or two of the four HS2 platforms become placed behind a secure glass wall (as at St Pancras) but this should be integral to the design. Segregated passenger handling will also be required, with police and HMRC as well as UK Border Agency facilities.

Secondly, the proposed design for the new HS2 platforms has them placed on a raised level with an undercroft to allow for permeability and active frontages. One design option is to enlarge and relocate the existing Metrolink stop into this new undercroft. This undercroft should be built carefully in order for clear paths for another four HS2 platforms to be easily added at a future date below the first four on the raised level, with interim uses meantime. To avoid extra cost and disruption the Metrolink stop should be enhanced underneath the main station, basically staying roughly where it is now. Active frontages can be maintained, but clearly there are implications for permeability, and design solutions for this would be welcome now.

It is important to future-proof transport infrastructure as much as possible. When the M25 was built it was politically necessary to build it as three lanes wide in each direction. But the engineers built the bridges across the new M25 wider than strictly necessary, enough to span four lanes and a hard shoulder in each direction, saving on costs and disruption when the inevitable widening happened a few years later. The same for HS2 here would be sensible.

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