Past vs future makes the present tense

The NR proposal states the work would be done in a way that would allow the heritage assets to be assessed and recorded prior to work beginning. But English Heritage points out that the NPPF states: “The ability to record evidence of our past should not be a factor in deciding whether such loss should be permitted.”

English Heritage has remained comparatively quiet on the subject in recent months. But at the first inquiry into the project, Scott Lynes, its legal representative, made a highly emotive closing statement: “There is a troubling irony in such a severe magnitude of harm to our railway heritage being caused by a railway line, as promoted by a guardian of our railways infrastructure.

“While Network Rail has to a large extent acknowledged that harm, English Heritage remains deeply concerned to ensure that the damaging effects of this scheme are fully understood by the Secretaries of State.”

He went on to address McLoughlin, asking him to “demonstrate the same sense of and respect of our heritage as was shown when… decrying the decision to demolish the Euston Arch. The great fear of English Heritage is that if the proposed Ordsall Chord is allowed as a result of this order, it will be too late to address the deep regret that its exceptionally adverse effects are likely to cause.”

However, many consider these exceptionally adverse effects to be not sufficiently adverse as to warrant a delay in the project. Manchester City Council is becoming increasingly impatient at the delay to its new railway link, part of the “Northern Powerhouse” plan that is of great appeal to many public authorities in the north of England.

“I find the comparison with the demolition of the Euston Arch made by English Heritage and others not to be particularly helpful to the decision,” says Lyons.

“That involved the demolition of an iconic structure, totally erasing its significance and radically changing the context. In this case, the primary assets would remain intact, and could continue to be appreciated at an individual level, even though the relationship between them would be heavily disrupted.”

Whitby is not alone in his objections to the Chord. Sir Neil Cossons, former chairman of the Science Museum and head of English Heritage until 2007, is also against the project as it stands. He firmly believes that Manchester’s heritage has influenced the world’s industries and social development to such an extent that its heritage must be preserved as far as possible.

“The Ordsall Chord is crucial, but thoughtful planners and good designers can reconcile these voices of the past with the needs of tomorrow,” he told the Manchester Evening News. 

“Liverpool Road Station and its environs deserve better. That is what today’s debate is all about. There is still time to get it right, and Manchester should be leading the charge to be the North’s intelligent powerhouse.

A surprising celebrity backer of the scheme is Pete Waterman. The locomotive owner and repair facility founder is very much in favour of the Chord progressing. As he views it, heritage must not stand in the way of improving the lives of working people. 

Will the Chord bring benefits to the north of England? Of that there is surely no doubt. Trains will operate more smoothly, capacity will be improved, and flow will loosen up in Manchester, which is already a highly congested railway city.

It will allow a far wider range of inter-regional services across the city, something dreamed of since Victorian times.

But will the potential disruption caused to Liverpool Road damage the lives of people in the north of England? Again, it would appear so. The loss of a unique heritage asset is always a negative, and there is a view that one that could potentially be saved through an alternative means of building the Ordsall Chord would be doubly tragic.

If, as Whitby suggests, Option 15 was not fully considered due to financial constraints, should more time and funds be spent on finding a way for the world’s first passenger station to continue to serve the city that built it unscathed? This is one of the points raised by English Heritage in its 2013 objection - it believes the station and bridge are still able to be appreciated as working railway structures.

The acknowledgement by the Planning Inspector that severe disruption would be caused to internationally significant heritage assets is a good indication in many cases that a proposal is to be rejected. 

In this instance, however, the decision to approve was granted despite an alternative being given by Whitby, and despite serious objections from MoSI and English Heritage. And a winner has now been announced, and the Ordsall Chord is a fully-funded Control Period 5 scheme. 

Often, developers and preservationists can work in harmony, but something in Manchester seems to have gone awry. Will Ordsall Chord now end up bulldozing part of the national heritage? 

  • This feature was published in RAIL 786 on October 28 2015

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  • FrankH - 28/01/2016 16:01

    The first sentence, last paragraph on page one says it all. Cheaper and quicker to build.

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