'Take up HS2 with your leader', council leader tells opposition

HS2
HS2

The borough’s council leader told the borough’s Conservative members to take up HS2 issues with their own government at a feisty final meeting of the year.

A motion calling on the Labour-run authority to support alternative plans for the flagship rail route ‘will carry a snowball in hell’s chance’ of having an impact, Coun David Molyneux said.

The discussion on the borough’s proposed link to high-speed rail was one of many that saw the last proceedings of 2018/19 reach the three hour cut-off point.

Elected members earlier approved the Deal 2030 long term strategy blueprint, despite criticism from some opposition members that the Deal concept had failed.

And Coun Molyneux delivered a review of the last municipal year, highlighting that the authority was one of two across the country to freeze its element of council tax bills.

Here is a round-up of other decisions made:

HS2: Conservative member for Lowton East, Coun Kath Houlton, called on the chamber to support alternative proposals to the borough’s HS2 connection route through Lowton and Golborne.

She said upgrades to the West Coast Main Line (WCML), linking up to the high-speed network at Crewe, should be backed instead as it minimises disruption.

Coun Houlton highlighted that residents had been informed at a consultation event that none of the London-bound high speed trains using the Lowton and Golborne spur would stop at Wigan.

She told colleagues: “No-one in their right mind is going to travel to Preston to catch one of these trains.

“Direct trains to London will still travel down the WCML only joining the HS2 line at Crewe, so no-one from this borough will benefit from it, as it stands.

“There will be one train an hour along the new line to Birmingham but if you have to wait for a connecting train to London this negates the time saved from the line being high speed, thus rendering the exercise pointless.”

Ward and party colleague Coun James Grundy spoke of the impact of the plans on residents.

He said: “For the past six years people have had HS2 at the breakfast table and the dinner table hanging over them.

“It’s the uncertainty, for six years they haven’t been able to invest in their homes or their businesses or able to get on with their lives.”

In response, Coun Molyneux said he had been briefed that London-bound services will stop in Wigan and that the ‘Golborne spur’ was necessary.

He said: “We have to think about the total benefit to the borough. HS2 will have trains stopping in Wigan and it has been made clear the WCML is not going to be upgraded.

“With all due respect, a motion from this council will carry a snowball in hell’s chance with your government.

“Speak to your own party, speak to your own leaders, your own secretary for transport, speak to everyone you want to, because they won’t listen to us.

“But for the benefit of the people of this borough, that train has to stop in Wigan and we’ve got an undertaking. And for those trains to stop in Wigan we have to develop the Golborne spur. That’s the only way forward.”

Coun Houlton’s motion was not passed.

Atherton civic venue proposals: Coun Stuart Gerrard, an independent member for Atherton, asked for the town hall to agree to a feasibility study for a new civic venue in the town.

He criticised the council’s sale of the Formby Hall site that “should and could have been avoided” as it was “an essential cog” in the community.

He said: “Atherton has lost its amenity without a suitable facility to replace it.

“Community groups have been dispersed across the region, charity events struggling to find a venue, nowhere for wedding receptions, not able to give blood. These have gone under the radar.

“Some things are not measured on the balance sheet, but their value to the community is priceless.”

Coun Chris Ready, cabinet member for communities and neighbourhoods, said if the ruling group agreed to a feasibility study, it would have to conduct one in each ward, which would be costly.

Formby Hall was losing money and the sale went through the scrutiny process, he said.

Coun Ready also told the chamber £1m had been invested in the refurbishment of Atherton town hall, £2m spent on the nearby Howe Bridge Leisure Centre and £500k handed to community groups from the town hall’s community investment fund.

"You’re not the poor relation, you get a fair cut of the mustard,” he said.

Coun Gerrard’s motion was not passed.

Labour motions asking the council to welcome the establishment of the borough’s mental health programme board and to support campaigns for the government to ‘properly fund school budgets’ received approval.

But another item asking for further commitment to explore funding opportunities to provide social housing in the borough was not heard because the meeting had reached the three hour mark.

This motion – submitted by Coun Terry Halliwell – will be heard at the first full council meeting of 2019/20.

Coun Houlton is standing in next month's local elections. The full list of candidates in Lowton East ward is: Mary Patricia Houghton (UKIP), Kath Houlton (Conservative) and Gary Peter Lloyd (Labour)