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HS2 review could scupper West Midlands' growth plans

The government is to launch a review of HS2, with a decision on whether the project will go ahead or not due by the end of 2019, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has confirmed.

Phase 1 of the high-speed railway network between London and Birmingham is due to open at the end of 2026, with Phase 2, connecting to Leeds and Manchester, scheduled for completion by 2032-33.

Initially it was claimed that trains would travel at 250mph, although this figure has been reduced.

The Transport Secretary said: “Just because you've spent a lot of money on something does not mean you should plough more and more money into it.”

He called upon Ministers to: “Go and find out all the information that's out there… genuinely what it would cost to complete this project, and then we'll be in a much better position to make that decision - go or no-go by the end of the year.”

However, stakeholders in the events industry along the route have voiced their concerns, with the West Midlands Growth Company saying the new route would add £14bn to the region.

Neil Rami, chief executive of the West Midlands Growth Company – which aims to attract businesses, investment, visitors and events to the region – told CN: “The arrival of HS2 is expected to add £14bn to the West Midlands economy. Building this cutting-edge infrastructure, the largest project of its kind in Europe, has significantly raised the West Midlands’ profile as an international business destination. HS2 has already helped to attract major businesses to the region – from HSBC UK to Balfour Beatty VINCI and WSP UK – and has created thousands of jobs as a result.

“We fully support the development of HS2, which plays a vital role in attracting new investment to the West Midlands and realising the region’s full economic potential.”

The region’s largest venue, the NEC, supports HS2, and remains bullish that the London to Birmingham part of the route will not be cancelled. A spokesperson told CN: "The NEC Group of course remains extremely supportive of high speed rail to connect our business both north with south by using a competitive 21st century  technology. HS2 has the potential to turn Birmingham and Solihull into one of the most powerful regions in Europe and bring great benefit and opportunities to current and future generations in our region." 

In a feature for Conference News magazine in June 2019, Gary Masters, NEC Campus general manager, said: HS2 isn’t integral to, but does support, our ambitious plans to transform the NEC from a venue into an entertainment destination.  Axing it at this stage would be felt by us, as it presents an opportunity to drive economic growth, but the impact on transportation plans for the wider region would be greater.”

The review will be chaired by Douglas Oakervee, a civil engineer and former chair of HS2 Ltd.

In July, it was reported that the cost could rise by £30bn, up from the current budget of £56bn.

Also today, 21 August, it was announced that a new fast rail link between Luton Airport and London will be given the go ahead as part of a £600m package of rail improvements.

The new connection is scheduled to start in December 2020 with express trains between London St Pancras and Luton airport Parkway station every 30 minutes.

The service will be operated by East Midlands Railway (EMR) and will serve Luton, Corby, Kettering, Wellingborough and Bedford.