‘Unbelievably disappointing’ report on HS2 as Midlands ‘completely ignored’

A House of Lords report has recommended major changes to the HS2 project without any consideration of the transport needs and opportunities in the Midlands, according to an organisation which promotes connectivity throughout the region.

Midlands Connect says the report, entitled Rethinking High Speed 2, says the new railway should be reduced in speed and scope to save money and built from North to South so that it benefits northern cities sooner.

Current 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, receive any consideration in the report, says Midlands Connect.

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 £4.1 billion 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, says Midlands Connect.

The organistions thinks that proposing eleventh 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 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, in order to save money on tunnelling into and expansion of London Euston Station. However, says Midlands Connect the House of Lord’s last report on HS2 in 2015, championed the importance of city centre stations in order to achieve the highest economic and agglomeration benefits.

A statement from Midlands Connect said: “By constantly setting the North against the South and London, while completely neglecting to mention the Midlands, this report stokes domestic conflict and disagreement when the greatest economic benefits only result from closer working, integration and greater connectivity between economic centres.

“For example, 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 the speed, increasing the time and terminating the service at Old Oak Common would mean the project has far fewer direct and indirect benefits than it otherwise would.

Sir John Peace, chairman of Midlands Connect and the Midlands Engine, 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, said: “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 £200 billion 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.”

However, other business groups have reacted more favourably to the report.

Scott Knowles, chief executive at East Midlands Chamber, said: “The Chamber welcomes much of this report and shares the frustration that the public conversation to date has focused solely on speed. HS2, delivered in full, will be transformational for the East Midlands economy, better connecting us to other major hubs across the UK and freeing up vital capacity on the wider road and rail networks, keeping our businesses competitive as they continue to make and move products and people across the UK and beyond.

“As with any major infrastructure project it’s important that costs are controlled. It’s also important that the wider discussion about HS2 moves on from getting people from A to B quicker than they already do and focuses instead on the transformational benefits that HS2 will bring to the UK economy.”