Petitions seek maximum benefits from HS2

Key public and private sector organisations have today (Friday May 16) formally submitted petitions to the HS2 Bill in a bid to win an even better deal for the West Midlands.

Birmingham City Council, Birmingham Airport, the National Exhibition Centre, transport authority Centro and other key regional stakeholders have submitted petitions while remaining staunch supporters of the high speed rail project.

They believe the Bill can go further in ensuring the region wins the maximum benefits possible both for passengers and the local economy.

Independent research has found that the West Midlands can secure a £4 billion a year economic boost and more than 50,000 new jobs by making sure the region’s two high speed rail stations are well connected to existing transport links and good use is made of the additional rail capacity released by HS2.

The organisations have now used the petition process, which is agreed Parliamentary procedure, to formally ask for the Bill to be amended to reflect the full potential benefits of the project and the measures needed to achieve them.

These include the need for high quality interchange facilities between the region’s existing rail stations and the two HS2 stations – one in Birmingham city centre (Birmingham Curzon) and one on land close to the airport/NEC site (HS2 Interchange).

Speaking on behalf of the petitioners, Sir Albert Bore, leader of Birmingham City Council and Chairman of the West Midlands HS2 Strategic Board, said: “HS2 can play a key role in securing the future economic prosperity of the West Midlands and we back the project 100 per cent.

“However, if we are to secure the maximum benefits possible from HS2 we need to make sure the project’s design best meets the needs of our region.

“Submitting these petitions does not weaken our support for HS2, it’s simply accepted practice to enable us to formally seek those changes to the Bill that are important to the West Midlands.”

Among the assurances being sought by the petitions is the need for imaginative and high quality designs for the two HS2 stations and their close integration with the Curzon and UK Central masterplans – blueprints for the regeneration and development of land surrounding the stations.

Birmingham City Council and Centro are also seeking provision for a future link between HS2 and the existing HS1 high speed line to the Channel Tunnel.

This would enable direct services between the West Midlands and Europe without the need to change between London’s Euston and St Pancras stations.

Also highlighted in the petitions is the need to fully plug HS2 into the local transport network by way of a common concourse between the Curzon and Moor Street Stations, a tram extension to Curzon and an improved alignment of the proposed people-mover linking the HS2 Interchange with the airport, NEC and Birmingham International rail station.

Other assurances being sought include better mitigation measures during proposed improvement works to the M42 Junction 6 and provision to maximise employment at the proposed HS2 depot facility at Washwood Heath.

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HS2 vote puts region in line for multi-billion pound boost

A multi-billion pound shot-in-the-arm for the West Midlands economy was a major step closer today after MPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of the HS2 high speed rail project.

Last night’s Commons vote on the High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands Bill) has been hailed by the region’s public and private sector leaders as an emphatic endorsement of the project’s ability to help rebalance the UK economy and provide badly needed rail capacity.

Go-HS2, a pro-high speed rail consortium in the West Midlands, said the size of the majority in favour – 452 to 41 – showed how the significant benefits of HS2 were widely recognised and understood.

Cllr John McNicholas, Chairman of transport authority Centro, said: “The West Midlands alone can secure a £4 billion a year economic boost and more than 50,000 new jobs.

“Last night’s vote brings HS2 a significant step closer but we now need to press on as a region and put in place the infrastructure we need locally to realise and maximise those benefits.”

Jerry Blackett, Greater Birmingham Chambers Chief Executive, added: “HS2 has real potential to both solve the impending capacity problem on our existing rail network and provide an enormous boost to regeneration throughout the region.

“When we survey our members on HS2, the Chamber consistently finds that an overwhelming number of businesses believe the project will have a positive economic impact on the region.”

Sir Albert Bore, Leader of Birmingham City Council, also welcomed the vote.

“We have passed a major milestone and can now look forward to getting the project started as soon as possible,” he said.

“It is particularly good to see the cross-party support for the project, with only 41 MPs voting against and 452 in favour. The argument for the scheme is now won and I hope that the remaining stages of legislation can be taken forward quickly.”

In the main second reading vote on the bill, MPs voted to back the principle of the £50 billion HS2 project.

The bill would authorise the first phase of the project linking the West Midlands with London with work due to start in 2017.

A separate bill will be brought in later by the Government to allow the second phase – north of Birmingham to Leeds and Manchester – to go ahead.

Andrew Cleaves, Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership Board Director with responsibility for transport, said: “Our recently submitted Strategic Economic Plan detailed to Government how we intend to maximise and enhance the opportunities of having two HS2 stations and being at the heart of the network.

“This includes our ambitions to be the base for the proposed HS2 College, becoming a world-leader for high speed rail technologies.

“Quite simply, we will work to provide the best economic outcome for Greater Birmingham.”

Paul Thandi, CEO, NEC Group, added; ‘This vote is excellent news as the economic benefits of HS2 will be felt not just in this region, but across the whole of the country.

“I therefore maintain that it is imperative that a project as important as this be delivered sooner rather than later so that these economic benefits can be realised.”


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Speed up HS2, Sir David Higgins urges Df

Speed up HS2, Sir David Higgins urges DfT:

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Birmingham unveils huge HS2 redevelopment plan

How New Canal St will look in the proposed HS2 Curzon Street station

How New Canal St will look in the proposed HS2 Curzon Street station

Today, Birmingham City Council unveils the Birmingham Curzon HS2 Masterplan, which will see 141 hectares of the city centre transformed.

The ambitious plans form one of the biggest urban regeneration schemes in Britain, and by far the biggest redevelopment so far announced on the back of HS2.

The new developments will be focused around the brand new city centre station – Birmingham Curzon – where HS2 terminates on its 49 minute journey from London. The station will place the city at the heart of the new national high speed network.

Plans include the creation of over 14,000 jobs, 600,000 sq metres of new employment floorspace and 2,000 new homes. The regeneration will boost the city’s economy by £1.3bn each year.

The plans are a critical part of the city’s efforts to support its burgeoning creative, learning and research sectors and the booming professional and financial services industry.

City leaders in Birmingham today hailed the potential of HS2 as a catalyst for urban regeneration and called on political leaders to push ahead with the rail scheme and help unlock growth across the country.

The Curzon HS2 Masterplan is the latest in a series of major projects that are remaking Birmingham’s city centre. The £600 million transformation of New Street Station will be completed next year along with a £128 million Midland Metro extension linking the station with the existing tram line at Snow Hill.

Ambitious plans have also been tabled for Paradise Circus in the heart of the city including a second Metro tram extension continuing on from New Street Station to Centenary Square.

Eastside City Park was the first new city centre park in Birmingham for more than 130 years when it opened right next to Curzon Street in December 2012, and the critically acclaimed Library of Birmingham opened last year as a centre of learning and a major tourist attraction.

Sir Albert Bore, Leader of Birmingham Council said:

“Today we set out our vision for how Birmingham can use HS2 as a catalyst to transform a huge part of our city, bringing with it jobs and prosperity for people in the West Midlands.

“We’re not waiting around for HS2 to get built before we get started. We’re announcing our plans today, and we’re ready to start building as soon as the new railway gets the green light.

“Up and down the length of HS2 there is huge potential for major regeneration and development and we must press forward with this project without delay.”

Lord Deighton, Commercial Secretary to the Treasury and Chair of the HS2 Growth Taskforce said:

“Birmingham is going the right way about realising the benefits of HS2 by developing ambitious plans to kick-start development.

 “Their vision for the Curzon HS2 Masterplan demonstrates the transformational value of HS2, not just for rail passengers but for the communities that the railway will serve.

“The legacy of our new north-south railway will be not only a railway fit for the future, with better connections to cities in the north, but also regeneration and economic growth for Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, London and everywhere in between.”

HS2 Ltd Chairman David Higgins added:

“We welcome the launch of the Curzon Street Masterplan which shows an exciting vision of how the area around the Curzon Street station can be developed and transformed. This is exactly the kind of ambitious plan that will stimulate the public – private sector partnerships needed to unlock investment. HS2 offers a great opportunity for investment and jobs around the station, and for the wider region. We are committed to working closely with Greater Birmingham partners and the local Eastside and Digbeth communities to bring this scheme to life and to help ensure that the most is made of the opportunities that HS2 brings.” 

Birmingham Curzon station will be Birmingham’s HS2 hub, linking phase one of the project, from London to Birmingham, and phase two from Birmingham to Leeds and Manchester.

HS2 will boost the West Midlands economy by £4.1 billion each year and create more than 51,000 new jobs by providing extra capacity and better connections to London and the north.

The new Birmingham Curzon station will be the first new station to be built in Birmingham for over 100 years and when complete will be the biggest building in the city.

The station would be served by Metro trams on a new route branching off the extension currently being built through the city centre. 

Waheed Nazir, Director for Planning and Regeneration at Birmingham City Council said:

“The Masterplan sets out the City Council’s aspirations for the new HS2 terminus station and the huge regeneration potential that surrounds it. The potential of HS2 can only be realised if we build a world class station that seamlessly connects people to the rest of the City Centre. 

“The masterplan is part of Birmingham’s ambitious growth agenda that will see the city’s economy grow and prosper. HS2 will be an important catalyst for this ongoing development and regeneration activity.”

Lucan Gray, Owner at Fazeley Studios & the Custard Factory, a hub for creative businesses in Digbeth, an area that could be impacted by the proposed masterplan, said:

“With MIPIM just around the corner, the timely consultation of the Masterplan is going to be of enormous significance for property developers.

“By getting ahead of the curve and announcing its plans now, Birmingham is going the right way about realising the potential of HS2. Combined with schemes like the New Street regeneration and Paradise Circus, Birmingham property is looking really exciting right now.”

The original Curzon Street station was one of oldest in the UK, and the first ever London to Birmingham service arrived there in September 1838.

The historic Grade I listed entrance of the old Curzon Street station will be revived as part of the Masterplan.

Today sees the beginning of an eight week consultation on the Curzon HS2 Masterplan. Construction is set to start on the HS2 line and stations in 2017 with the first passenger services arriving in Birmingham in 2026.

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West Midlands business leaders welcome Supreme Court verdict on HS2

Business leaders in Greater Birmingham welcomed today’s announcement that the Supreme Court has unanimously rejected appeals against HS2 on environmental grounds.

Tim Pile, President of Birmingham Chamber said: “HS2 has the potential to deliver transformational effect on the region. Research by Centro has shown that the scheme could generate 51,000 jobs and £4.1bn in growth every year.

“This will provide an essential stimulus to the regional economy and generate new business opportunities and jobs.

“In a poll conducted by the Chamber in Q4 2013, 45 per cent of our members said that HS2 would have a significant positive impact on the West Midlands economy, up from 33 per cent in Q3 2013.

“The government’s spend on infrastructure in the last ten years has almost entirely been London-centric. HS2 represents an important shift in this trend and is exactly what the region needs.”


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Essential we press on following Supreme Court’s rejection of HS2 challenges

Statement on Supreme Court verdict – January 22, 2014

Centro chief executive, Geoff Inskip, said the Supreme Court’s rejection of challenges against HS2 was excellent news for the West Midlands as high speed rail would deliver jobs and economic growth right across the region.

“The Supreme Court ruling is great news because it is essential we press on and build HS2 without delay to deliver jobs and economic growth to the regions.

“At Centro we are working hard with partners to ensure we have the right infrastructure in place to maximise the economic benefits and bring much-needed capacity on our increasingly crowded railways,” he said.

“Our research concludes that high speed rail will deliver 51,000 jobs and £4.1bn per year benefitting people right across the West Midlands.”

Mr Inskip added: “HS2 will bring fast, direct services but it will also release capacity on our busy and congested existing network for more local, regional and freight services.”

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Why should opponents criticise a college to develop engineering skills?

The following piece is a guest post written by Alan Marshall and first published on the Railnews blog here.

IT is truly astonishing the lengths that some HS2 opponents will go to find fault with the project — including, it now seems, criticising plans to train many more engineers . . . engineers whom we will need, anyway, in the future.

On 13 January – as Network Rail’s outgoing chief executive David Higgins began moving into his new role as chairman of HS2 Ltd – it was announced that Britain’s first Further Education College for over 20 years is to be established to train the next generation of world-class engineers to “benefit HS2 and other future infrastructure projects across the country.” 

Note the reference to ‘other future infrastructure projects’ – over the course of the next Parliament, 2015-20, the Government’s National Infrastructure Plan anticipates investment of £100 billion, of which HS2 will represent only about ten per cent.

So the new college is not planned to support HS2 alone. But as this is one of the largest single upcoming schemes, and will require virtually every type of engineering skill, it is hardly surprising the new north-south railway is one of the principal reasons given for establishing the new college.

Furthermore, many of the engineering skills it will help develop are also required by the current railway industry, which now employs an increasingly ageing workforce, with many of its engineers over 50.  Their skills need to be replaced – and enhanced – by younger people so they can take over and deal with an expanding and improving ‘classic’ rail network, with which HS2 will become integrated, as well as to work with higher-technology developments, for example sophisticated new traction and rolling stock or the European Train Control System.

As TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said of the new college: “Major infrastructure projects need a highly skilled workforce and we welcome this investment in railway engineering skills through HS2. We need better skills at every level of the workforce, not just for HS2 but to continue the investment and upgrading that our railway infrastructure needs.”

But according to Richard Houghton, a director of the HS2 Action Alliance, the new college “will be a contribution towards creating a service which will bypass precisely the areas in most need of access to education and skills development, and will draw local talent away to areas of which will benefit specifically from an HS2 terminal.

“For instance, look at the Coventrys and Stoke-on-Trents [I think the plural actually should be ‘Stokes-on-Trent’]: the last thing they need is further talent drain. If there’s no local talent, then there is no need for enhanced local education and skills development, and the economies will crumble around them because there is a dearth of skilled workers.”

I won’t speak for Stoke-on-Trent as I am less familiar with its current circumstances, but I live near to Coventry and I would certainly suggest Mr Houghton gets out of HS2AA’s Aylesbury base and goes north a little to learn the reality of life and see that HS2 faces intense competition for engineering skills and training.

Coventry, it is true, will not be served directly by HS2.  But HS2 will free up railway capacity through the city that is much needed, even now, to cope with rising demand in a part of the country – the West Midlands – where general engineering activity and manufacturing is roaring ahead … and with record exports. The British economy’s recovery is being led out of the United Kingdom’s remaining manufacturing hub. According to the West Midlands Economic Forum, in the past three years exports from the region have risen faster even than those of so-called ‘tiger economy’ countries such as Brazil or India.

Indeed, Indian-owned Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) is a significant contributor to the export boom and is increasingly searching for more skilled people.  The railway, too, is an indirect beneficiary, with more and more trains being required to take the finished JLR products from Solihull and Castle Bromwich – or increasing numbers of motor car engines from the BMW factory at Hams Hall – to ports such as Felixstowe and Southampton for export to both mainland Europe or to the rest of the world, particularly to China.

Far from there being “no need for enhanced local education and skills development” in Coventry – as HS2AA’s Richard Houghton claims – JLR’s requirements alone have already led to Warwick University (which, despite its title, is located well within the City of Coventry, mid way between Canley and Tile Hill rail stations) agreeing with the Warwick Motor Group and JLR to the development of a National Automotive Innovation Campus.

The University’s announcement of the deal last November said the new facility would be “an iconic £100 million building” that will “foster collaboration, cohesion and cross-fertilisation of knowledge.”

So the automotive industry in the West Midlands, helped by Warwick University in Coventry, is potentially ahead of the rail industry, which is now playing catch-up for HS2, the wider industry and other upcoming infrastructure projects by planning to provide a major new facility to train the next generation of engineers – civils, mechanical, electrical.

For the past half century, Derby has been a key centre of research and development for the railway industry – ever since British Rail foresightedly established the Railway Technical Centre there 50 years ago – so perhaps it is appropriate that Derby University has been quick to propose its School of Engineering and Technology as home to the new college for railways and other major infrastructure projects.

According to HS2 Ltd the new rail engineering college “forms part of the Government’s work with HS2 Ltd to ensure the new north-south railway delivers a tangible skills legacy that will serve the UK for the next century and continue the proud tradition the UK has for worldwide demand for its engineering expertise.”

David Higgins added: “This country produces some of the best engineers to be found anywhere in the world. The problem is that there aren’t enough of them, and there isn’t a long enough guaranteed work-stream to keep them here. So they tend to go overseas.

“HS2 provides us with a unique chance to address both issues. The sheer length of the project means we can offer people a rewarding career in engineering staying in this country, whilst the multiplicity of skills required means we will be equipping a new generation with experience at the cutting edge of technology.”

And, despite the views of HS2AA’s Houghton, places like Coventry will benefit from HS2.  Recognising that it should seek to get the most out of HS2, Coventry city council last year withdrew its objections and ended its membership of the 51M group of local authorities, led by Buckinghamshire, opposing the scheme.

When the first phase of HS2 is completed, three London-Birmingham-and-beyond intercity services an hour will transfer to the new line, making room for three additional services over the present route between the West Midlands, Milton Keynes and London, offering much more capacity at Coventry.

The need for extra capacity is underlined by the fact that, of the stations around the country with the greatest increase in passengers during the last five years, Coventry recorded the highest growth – 30 per cent.

The city council is also anxious to regain direct services to the East Midlands and North East, which Coventry lost in 2008 when the Virgin High Frequency (VHF) timetable resulted in insufficient capacity for CrossCountry services to Leeds and Newcastle, which are now routed via Solihull.

And due to the intensity of 200km/h Virgin north-south trains through the Trent Valley, the loss of pathing across Nuneaton meant the Coventry-Leciester-Nottingham service had to be withdrawn. 

Redoubling the Coventry-Leamington line south of Kenilworth during the forthcoming Control Period 5 could enable the Newcastle CrossCountry service to return to the ‘Coventry Corridor’ – and the proposal I put forward with Michael Byng last year for the Whitacre Link (restoration of the original Stonebridge Railway) is acknowledged by Coventry city council as an ideal way not only of connecting the city with HS2 but of offering a means to operate services directly from Coventry and Warwickshire to the East Midlands, via Leicester or Derby.

It really seems that HS2AA’s Richard Houghton – who has distinguished himself in recent pronouncements by claiming that HS2 will do nothing to create extra capacity for commuters into London and Manchester (when it will actually create significant additional capacity by releasing train paths and/or terminal platform space) and by wrongly claiming levels of overspending on earlier big projects by averaging the percentages, rather than averaging the actual costs – should gain a better understanding of what HS2 is really intended to achieve.

As David Higgins said in welcoming the new Further Education College for railway engineering skills: “HS2 gives us the chance not just to re-balance the economic geography of the country, but also our national skills base. It is an opportunity we should seize.”

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