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Historic site will be 'trashed' by National Rail scheme warns engineer

Network Rail has been attacked for planning a new rail link that English Heritage said will ‘substantially harm numerous assets’ at one of the UK’s most historically important sites.

The proposed Ordsall Chord rail link is a 1.5km chain of viaducts and bridges that will connect Manchester’s Victoria, Oxford Road and Piccadilly stations. However the planned route cuts across listed buildings and structures all with historical links to 1830 Liverpool and Manchester Railway (L&MR) [see box]).

The scheme, which has been on the cards since the late 1970s, has been signed off and Network Rail is seeking tenders. But former Institution of Civil Engineers president Mark Whitby of Davies Maguire + Whitby said the route was akin to ‘a flyover being built over Stonehenge’.

He said: ‘Network Rail is achieving the equivalent of a ‘strike’ in bowling; you couldn’t find more listed structures together in one place and so effectively trash them.

‘It is the equivalent to taking a sledge hammer to The Rocket in the Science Museum,’ Whitby added.

Now English Heritage has waded into the row. In an application to the secretary of state to halt the scheme the heritage body concluded: ‘[The]necessity of causing substantial harm to individual designated heritage assets and to the historic environment in general has not been demonstrated, as there is an alternative route which is technically and operationally viable.’

That site is the Middlewoods Lock site. ‘It is 20 acres and completely clear,’ said Whitby. ‘Network Rail has proved it is viable but they just didn’t look at it properly; it was a blind spot,’ he added.

Whitby was appointed by Parsons Brinkerhoff as a design consultant on the project as part of Network Rail’s Design Review Panel. However when it became clear that Network Rail remained committed to the original proposal he resigned.

‘I completely agree with the ambition of the Ordsall Chord and the value it brings to the community. My objection is purely on the position and impact of the proposed route on the engineering heritage,’ he said.

As well as directly affecting the historically important railway structures the proposed route passes close to the western end of the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI). MOSI is a complex of four listed buildings on Liverpool Road, among them the world’s oldest station by the father of railways, George Stephenson.

Also in the MOSI complex is a grade II-listed warehouse which was converted by Ian Simpson in the 1980s and which underwent a subsequent £9.5m revamp two years ago by Buttress Fuller Alsop Williams Architects.

One of the major attractions at MOSI is a stream train ride that uses a section of the original 1830 L&MR track; under the current Network Rail plans this would no longer be possible.

A Network Rail spokesman said: ‘We’re confident that the chosen option is the right way forward, delivers all the necessary benefits and minimises the impact on heritage and the surrounding area.

The Middlewoods Lock route has been considered and for a variety of reasons, has not been chosen. There is a public inquiry in April where we will be required to explain our decisions on all aspects of the chord, including other options.”

The current Ordsall Chord scheme entails:

  • fabric repairs and reinstatement works to the parapet of the Grade I-listed Stephenson’s Bridge;
  • demolition of the Grade II listed Girder Bridge
  • works to the Grade II listed 1830s Viaduct and Water Street Bridge including removal of a section of the parapet and platform
  • works to the Grade II listed Zig Zag Viaduct and Water Street Bridge, including demolition of four of the Zig Zag Viaduct’s vaults
  • widening of the Grade II listed Castlefield  Viaduct, involving the removal of the Cast Iron Bridge and its replacement with new bridge structures

 

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