Blues boss offers to help ‘make HS2 happen’
Tom Wagner, the new owner of Birmingham City FC, has written an open letter to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, saying that one of the reasons his company invested in the club was because of HS2.
Wagner has urged the government to complete HS2 in full, after it emerged over the weekend that Sunak was planning to scrap the section of line between Birmingham and Manchester in an effort to save money.
In June, Shelby Companies, a subsidiary of Knighthead Annuity & Life Assurance Company led by Wagner, bought 24% of shares owned by Birmingham Sports Holdings and 21.64% of shares from Oriental Rainbow Investments and Achiever Global Group, resulting in a 45.64% stake.
In the letter, Wagner invites the PM to a meeting to discuss the reasons why this shouldn’t happen.
He says: “Knighthead’s goal is to make Birmingham City, and by extension Birmingham, a beacon for excellence that is recognised worldwide. This means investing in world class facilities and infrastructure. Making the Club, and Birmingham, a destination of choice for the best talent on and off the pitch. And a location that people will want to visit. Through the power of not just football but also world class sport, media and entertainment events we will drive significant investment into the city, creating new jobs and new opportunities.
“The leadership team of the Club, led by Garry Cook, our Birmingham born CEO, are already collaborating with political and business leaders in the West Midlands to enhance Birmingham’s profile and attract significant investment into some of the country’s most underserved communities.
“HS2 has the potential to transform the West Midlands and other cities and regions connected by the ‘Y’ network. Its completion will bring rewards to the entire country. By staying the course and demonstrating a commitment to this project, the UK government will send a powerful message to the investment community, ultimately benefiting the long-term prospects of the UK as a whole.
Knighthead believes that Birmingham is “on the rise again” and says it is willing to play a role in making HS2 happen.
The letter ends: “I would be delighted to meet and share our plans for Birmingham and Birmingham City Football Club. I eagerly await your response and the opportunity to discuss this matter further.”
Meanwhile, abandoning the section of HS2 between Birmingham and Manchester will have a detrimental effect on East/West Midlands rail connections, according to a prominent regional business leader.
Nikki Paterson, CBI regional director for the Midlands, said: “All the research tells us that poor transport connectivity is a major drag on productivity and ultimately on growth and represents a barrier for inward investment and blocker for companies looking to expand and grow.
“If confirmed, abandoning this part of the HS2 project would hurt investor confidence, prevent much needed and long-promised improvements to East West links across the Midlands and the North, and ultimately damage the attractiveness of investing across these regions. The line isn’t complete and yet we are already seeing the impact on confidence in Birmingham, with new development and job creation taking place.
“Increasing capacity on the existing network, enabling more local commuter services, and moving freight off roads are just some of the benefits of sticking to existing plans for HS2. Delivering the HS2 network, in full, will connect eight of the nation’s 10 biggest cities, creating jobs, opportunity and prosperity throughout the country whilst at the same time playing a key role in reducing road emissions and congestion.”
Sunak is reported to be set to make the statement on scrapping the Birmingham to Manchester HS2 line before the weekend.