IT is an issue that has split the country, and is set to divide much of Cheshire’s landscape.

Phase 2b (western leg) of HS2 – the high speed rail project estimated to cost tens of billions of pounds – is planned to travel from Crewe up to Manchester, slicing through acres of countryside on its way.

Ever since plans for mid Cheshire were first unveiled early in 2013, campaigners to stop the scheme have been locked in a battle with HS2 Ltd, leading to regular changes and alterations until a ‘final’ route was confirmed last July.

With this came vocal concerns about Cheshire’s notorious subsidence, the severing and cutting off of farmland, and lengthy battles for home and business owners vying for compensation.

The first HS2 services to reach Manchester won’t do so until 2033 at the earliest, following on from HS2 reaching a new Crewe ‘hub’ six years earlier, but nevertheless campaigners in Cheshire are backing the national fight to shut down the premise altogether.

RESIDENTS are ‘sleepwalking’ into HS2, a campaign group representing mid Cheshire has said.

The high speed rail project, estimated at a cost of tens of billions of pounds, has plans to pass through the area en route to Manchester Piccadilly within the next 15 years.

Supporters promise jobs and a link between the north and London, but concerns remain as to the benefit for Cheshire when compared with years of disruption.

Ewen Simpson, of Mid Cheshire Against HS2, said: “HS2’s ability to create a jobs nirvana is as illusory as the economic benefits. It is our view that the economic future of Northwich will be severely blighted. Access to HS2 will be locally non-existent, the prospect of access at Crewe is highly questionable.

“Most are totally unaware that to build a twin track railway requires a construction corridor between 200m and 400m wide. Our area would be totally disrupted for at least two years during the construction of this white elephant, with over 54,000 HGV movements to and from the construction site. The A556 will have to be re-aligned, as will many other roads in the area, affecting many more people than the 2016 route. Many appear to be sleepwalking into HS2. To us HS2 is a nightmare.”

From the 4km-long ‘rolling stock depot’ for maintenance at Wimboldsley to the realignment of the A556 – and the years of work that comes with it all – HS2 is an issue that impacts everyone.

The frustration among residents in the area stems from the lack of assistance they feel they have received, as well as the ignored consultation comments and minimal benefit-cost-ratio (BCR) for those who will actually be impacted and displaced by the route’s construction.

Pickmere residents are left facing the prospect of a country lane becoming a 25m-high flyover as part of a road realignment plan to accommodate HS2.

Pickmere Lane, originally the route of the track itself, would be raised to cross the railway line as it dissects the Cheshire Showgrounds – taking out a numbers of farms and properties.

One farm has been in ‘limbo’ since 2013 due to the everchanging look of HS2 in mid Cheshire, and faces years’ more uncertainty.

John Keleher, of School Farm, said: “In 2013 they announced the HS2 route and at that stage we were completely taken out and received a notice of compulsory purchase from the DfT.

“That went into consultation which we thought would take five months – it took four years. In November 2016 they revised the route and took it slightly further away from the farm, meaning it wasn’t affected but would take out the bottom third. They have confirmed that route, and as far as we were concerned that third would go.

“Last month it got worse – they announced the road realignments meaning Pickmere Lane is being diverted over the Showground on a flyover over the railway. Flittogate Lane is elevated to join it. School Lane is also elevated to join it, and that will take out – we think – our property and possibly another property and garden. They will have to widen the lane to put it up on an elevation.

“They’ve said that’s a work in progress and that they will take on board community response, but it won’t be confirmed for another five years when the bill for Phase 2b gets royal assent.

“We are back in limbo, don’t know what we are doing – if it’s another five years that would be 10 years we have been suffering this.”

As well as the disruption to houses and roads, there are fears for the future of the Royal Cheshire County Show.

When the route revisions were announced, show chairman Tony Garnett, said: “We are deeply concerned to hear that the revised route of the HS2 is to cross our beautiful and peaceful showground. The Tabley site has successfully hosted the show since 1990, and we are fearful of the visual impact and disruption of such a high embankment across the showground.”