Natascha Engel MP writes for Derbyshire Times on HS2

26 FEBRUARY 2013

The Chesterfield Canal has always been very special to me. After I was elected in 2005, my first official engagement as MP was to take part in the Chesterfield Canal celebrations at Tapton Lock.

Since then, I have watched as the canal has grown with the new Hollingwood Hub, a walk that takes you all the way to Tapton Lock, a marina in the Staveley Basin, and amazing plans in Killamarsh where the canal was to bring regeneration and a new way of canal-side life.

But the High Speed Rail link from London to Leeds (HS2) has put a stop to all of that.

The plans were announced and the route unveiled last month. Since then we have had a chance to look at the details. It has raised more questions than answers.

Canals and railways have traditionally always worked together. Now, for the first time, the railway is working against the canal.

The Chesterfield Canal Trust has already raised its concerns about the accuracy of the information that the engineers have been working on – with roads that don’t exist on the map but parts of the canal that are filled in already, missing from the plans.

The consultation ends next month giving us inadequate time to study the detail – particularly about what the other options were.

The impact of this scheme is felt far and wide. The Sitwell Arms at Renishaw which has only recently been developed and expanded with its fabulous pub, restaurant and wedding fayres, has the line going straight through it.

Many people are uncertain about what will happen to their homes, how close to the line you could or would want to live, what the compensation scheme will provide. But most importantly, a project that is unlikely to bear fruit for 20 years means that already planning permissions will not be granted and houses become difficult to sell. Worst of all is the uncertainty. What if it runs out of money and steam before this stretch is even built?

And why has it been announced now, a full year before expected? Could it be to do with a government needing to demonstrate that it has a strategy for economic growth at any price? With a plan this size, and at such a cost, the detail and the motivation must be correct and beyond reproach. Those people who are affected must be kept properly informed.

Big infrastructure projects can be very exciting, bring jobs and rejuvenate local economies. But done the wrong way, they can have the opposite effect. HS2 is cutting through the canal in Renishaw and Killamarsh. The regeneration that the canal would have brought has gone. Instead, we will have a High Speed train line that won’t even stop here, won’t even stop in Sheffield, but will go to Meadow Hall.

The amount of money it would cost to finish the canal and build the train around it is minimal in comparison with the total cost of the project. That would be an argument I could support – in return for the blight of the train, we get our canal fully restored: local and national economic growth, and perfectly possible.

As it says on the Chesterfield Canal website:

“In 1769, John Varley walked or rode the entire length of the canal before producing a map to show to Parliament. This was for a project expected to cost £95,000. It is a shame that no one seems to have set foot in Staveley for a project expected to cost £33 billion.”

I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

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