How plans to beautify Peak District could sink hopes of reviving lost Sheffield-Manchester railway line

Plans to remove pylons from the Peak District could end any hopes of reviving a lost railway line between Sheffield and Manchester, it is claimed.

Wednesday, 25th September 2019, 2:52 pm
Updated Wednesday, 25th September 2019, 4:16 pm

National Grid wants to remove eight pylons to the east of Woodhead tunnel near the village of Dunford Bridge in Barnsley and replace them with an underground cable stretching for 1.8km along the Trans Pennine Trail.

Supporters claim it would remove a scar on the otherwise picturesque landscape of the national park and could attract more visitors to this eastern gateway to the Peak District.

But opponents argue it would put paid to any chance of improving rail links between Sheffield to Manchester by reopening the old Woodhead line which followed the route of what is now the Trans Pennine Trail.

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Pylons like this one would be removed from the Peak District near Dunford Bridge under National Grid's plans

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A planning application has been submitted to Barnsley Council, with the deadline for any comments falling next Tuesday, October 1, and a decision expected in November.

The scheme, which is part of a £500m ‘Visual Impact Provision’ project to remove pylons from beauty spots across Britain, is backed by the Friends of the Peak District which says the benefit of better views in the immediate future outweighs any hindrance to a new rail connection that may never happen.

Andy Tickle, the group’s head of campaigns, said it would ‘certainly recognise the potential benefits’ of developing a new trans-Pennine rail route but this would already involve significant engineering work, including reopening the old railway tunnel which now carries electric cables.

“In summary, we're still happy to pursue the landscape benefits (of removing the pylons and burying cables) whilst rail reinstatement seems remote. We would of course reconsider and look at all scenarios if new rail became a serious option and especially if it might avert major road development of the corridor,” he added.

Mr Tickle claimed National Grid’s plans would ‘significantly’ improve the look of an area which could be a ‘key gateway’ to the Peak District but is currently ‘really dominated by the pylons in a most unfortunate way’.

The proposals are fiercely opposed, however, by Julian Newton, a businessman behind plans to reopen the Woodhead line as the Grand Northern route.

“If this goes ahead, the railway line just wouldn’t happen because the estimated cost of reversing this work would be at least £125 million,” he said.

“These pylons have been there for decades and are part of our landscape, and removing them would be a monstrous waste of public money at a time when energy prices are sky high. This vanity project just beggars belief.”

Mr Newton has implored Transport for the North (TfN) to join him in opposing the plans, but the organisation has told him it is taking a ‘neutral’ stance.

TfN says its preferred option for improving Sheffield-Manchester rail links is to upgrade the existing Hope Valley line, which it claims could double the number of trains to four per hour and cut journey times from an hour to around 40 minutes.

Although it has not ruled out a new line between the two cities, it says the Woodhead route is not ‘under formal consideration’ so it has no reason to respond to the planning application.

National Grid describes its proposed project as a ‘major opportunity to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and environmental heritage within Great Britain’s most protected landscapes’.

Should the work get the go-ahead, National Grid has said it expects construction to begin in summer 2020 and take around two years to complete.

A temporary diversion would be put in place on the Trans Pennine Trail while the work is carried out.

Hundreds of people signed a petition launched last year to revive the Woodhead line, which under Mr Newton’s plans would carry up to 3,200 cargo vehicles a day and two express passenger services.

To view the plans and have your say, visit Barnsley Council’s planning portal and search for 2019/1013.