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Lords' HS2 report lambasted for ignoring the Midlands

17 May Local authorities in the Midlands have lambasted a report by a House of Lords committee that recommends scaling back the £56bn HS2 rail project.

HS2 is not just about the north and the south; there's a big middle bit too
HS2 is not just about the north and the south; there's a big middle bit too

The Lords economic affairs committee report, Rethinking High Speed 2, was full of discussion about the impact of HS2 on the north of England but made no mention of the Midlands at all.

As we reported yesterday, the committee said that it has “serious reservations about the cost-benefit analysis used in determining whether High Speed 2 provides value for money”. But Midlands Connect, the partnership of local authorities and other public bodies and stakeholders to promote transport improvements across the region, has taken the peers to task for their complete failure to consider the impact of HS2 on the Midlands.

Plans for HS2 include six stations in the Midlands: Birmingham Curzon Street, Interchange Station in Solihull, Stafford, Stoke-on-Trent, Chesterfield and the East Midlands Hub at Toton. None of these stations, or the huge economic development and regeneration opportunities around them, was given any consideration in the report.

East Midlands Councils’ plans for the East Midlands Hub at Toton predict the new station and associated development will deliver 74,000 jobs and £4bn in economic growth. The Urban Growth Company’s plans for UK Central at Interchange in Solihull include 77,500 jobs, 4,000 homes and £4.1bn in growth. However as these benefits are not directly attributable to the work done by HS2 Ltd, they do not officially contribute to the project’s business case, Midlands Connect says. Halting construction of HS2 Phase One, as suggested by the peers, would put all this at immediate risk.

And the call for 11th hour changes to the project’s design and timetable risks delaying delivery, not only of HS2, but of associated Midlands programmes like the Midlands Rail Hub. “The proper design, development, consultation and construction of major transport projects is a long process. Interventions like this only serve to make the process even longer, while communities are left desperately waiting for long overdue transport investment and improvements,” Midlands Connect said in response.

The report proposes cuts in speed to reduce cost and the need for tunnelling, as well terminating the new railway at Old Oak Common in West London, to save money on tunnelling into and expansion of London Euston Station. However, the same committee’s last report on HS2 in 2015, championed the importance of city centre stations in order to achieve the highest economic and agglomeration benefits.

HS2 will cut the journey time from Birmingham city centre to London city centre by 37 minutes to just 45 minutes. This will help the two cities work together more closely and productively, benefiting them both. Reducing track design speed, as proposed, and terminating the service at Old Oak Common would reduce both direct and indirect benefits.

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Midlands Connect chairman Sir John Peace said: “For the Midlands Engine to be completely ignored by a House of Lords report is just unbelievably disappointing. I was never approached to input into this report. Phases One and Two of HS2, combined with the Midlands Rail Hub and Northern Powerhouse Rail will revolutionise the capacity and connectivity of our transport network. We need all of them, as soon as possible. If we start favouring one over the other, we risk delaying them all and undermining our economy at a time when we need to be working together more, not less.

“The Midlands’ universities, automotive, advanced manufacturing and professional services businesses have so much more to offer the national economy, if only they’re given the connections they need to access talent, clients and markets both at home and abroad.

“London is one of the greatest cities in the world. Building a high speed link into its city centre from Birmingham, the East Midlands, Leeds and Manchester will help everyone in the Midlands and the North to be more productive and reach their full potential. To terminate the link in West London would be to undermine our own ability to succeed economically.”

Maria Machancoses, director of Midlands Connect, added: “This report mentions Northern Powerhouse Rail well over 50 times but the East Midlands Hub, Toton, the Midlands Rail Hub, Curzon Street, UK Central and Midlands Connect do not appear even once. We are a region of 11 million people, contributing over £200bn to the UK economy every year and it’s as if the House of Lords committee has completely forgotten that we exist.

“HS2 will create a modern, high speed spine of our national transport network that regional services can build on and link into to ensure the cities of Nottingham, Derby, Leicester, Coventry, Wolverhampton and Birmingham can reach their full economic potential.

“HS2 can also help protect the environment against climate change by getting thousands of cars and lorries off the roads every day, and providing a fast, frequent and reliable alternative to intercity air travel. But this will only happen if it provides an experience that is far more appealing than the one people are used to today.”

Andrew Pritchard, director of policy and infrastructure at East Midlands Councils, said: “This report totally ignores the benefits of HS2 to the East Midlands. HS2 will transform connectivity between the East Midlands, the West Midlands, Yorkshire and the Northeast.”

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