Sheffield’s flooding problems prevented plans to open a new HS2 station in the city centre, high-speed rail boss Sir David Higgins has revealed.
Speaking to the Transport Committee, Sir David said that ‘massive expenditure’ would have been required to make such a line viable to either the existing Sheffield Midland station or a reopened Sheffield Victoria station.
Sir David said detailed discussions had taken place with Sheffield Council leaders and the city’s business community to explain a new city centre station would not work.
“It took a long time to debate with Sheffield to convince them that we couldn’t put a high speed line through Sheffield itself because of flooding,” he said.
“We could never secure the line going through Sheffield Midland or Sheffield Victoria. Sheffield Victoria just didn’t work without massive expenditure to make that flood-proof.
“You would have to basically build a box through the middle of the area there. It caused us to rethink again and go back and look at the original schemes.
He also revealed that traffic fears and concerns about knocking down part of the Meadowhall shopping centre also contributed to the decision to scrap plans for a new Sheffield Meadowhall station on the outskirts of the city.
“The more and more work we did on the proposed Meadowhall route, the more difficulties we found,” he said.
The HS2 chairman said the alternative currently under consideration - a line involving a 5.5 mile ‘spur’ into Sheffield’s existing railway station - off a route running closer to Rotherham and Doncaster will be around £900m cheaper than the Meadowhall option.
“There will be 66 per cent less properties demolished, 56 less residential properties, 86 less commercial properties demolished. The Meadowhall route was going was through a heavily-industrialised, difficult, congested valley and we were destroying a lot of employment,” he said.
Sir David said initial studies suggest a proposed South Yorkshire parkway station, located somewhere between Rotherham, Doncaster and Wakefield, appears to be a ‘very attractive’ option for the county.
He said the Meadowhall route was criticised for plans that would have had it located ‘25m up in the air’ above ground level.
He said the Meadowhall option had come under fire for its potential impact ‘on the environment and the community’, while modelling showed it would increase traffic problems in the area.
He said another challenge was that the HS2 line would have ‘chopped the end off Meadowhall shopping centre’ and negotiations had never started with shopping centre bosses on how that issue would be dealt with.
Official HS2 reports published earlier this year said there was ‘significant risk of flooding’ associated with constructing a new railway to the Sheffield Midland station, as it sits in the flood plain of both the River Sheaf and the Porter Brook.
HS2 said plans for a Victoria station would ‘potentially require an additional four major river diversions compared to a route serving Meadowhall, and result in major flood risks associated with the River Don’.
It estimated the Midland option would cost £2bn more than Meadowhall and Victoria £700m extra, while the spur option would be hundreds of millions cheaper.
However, the spur idea will see it take 83 minutes to get to London instead of the 66 minutes it would be if the Midland option had been selected.
The spur idea also cuts journey times between London and Leeds with no stops in South Yorkshire - raising concerns Sheffield could be left behind its northern rival in terms of potential economic benefits from HS2.
Instead of the five trains per hour that would have served a full HS2 service in the city centre, under the spur proposals there will be two per hour ‘for regional services’.
While HS2 analysis suggested the city centre option could have provided an economic boost capable of supporting 12,600 jobs and the Meadowhall plan up to 5,400 jobs, no figures were given in the report for the number of jobs the spur proposal would produce.
Sir David said Sheffield Council and the Chamber of Commerce have backed the decision to run a spur into the city.
“It is certainly better for taxpayers and it is certainly what the city council and the chamber of commerce really wanted. They were very, very strongly opposed to Meadowhall and wouldn’t support it at all but were very strongly supportive of a station right in the city centre. We listened to Sheffield, they were the biggest market.”
A Sheffield Council spokesman said: “Our position has always been that the new proposal will deliver more benefits than the previous Meadowhall option.
“Whilst it does not have all the benefits of Victoria which we have campaigned for as a council, it delivers a city centre station location which is key to unlocking jobs and growth.
“As the Government’s own figures show, stations located in city centres drive more jobs and growth and we know that this will bring much bigger economic benefits.
“We also believe a city centre location is essential for the development of future HS3 connectivity between cities in the north.”
Sheffield Council’s support of the spur idea is dependent on good service frequencies and the development of a fast link to Leeds.