Business and public sectors unite behind high speed rail
24 Feb 2011
Key players from the West Midlands private and public sectors have joined forces to launch a powerful consortium in support of the proposed high speed rail link between Birmingham and London.
Go-HS2 is a collaboration between big business including The NEC Group, Birmingham Airport, Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, Business Birmingham, the city’s inward investment agency and public bodies Birmingham City Council, Solihull Council and transport authority Centro.
The organisations have come together after carefully weighing up the arguments for and against the project. The consortium has spent months analysing research into the rail link’s impact on the West Midlands economy and its ability to release badly needed capacity on the existing rail network, especially on the congested West Coast Main Line (WCML) running between the region and London.
Geoff Inskip, chief executive of Centro, said: “Go-HS2 galvanises support for the project within the business and public sector and enables us to speak with one voice on what we believe is the biggest opportunity for wealth and job creation in a generation.
“HS2 can bring 22,000 new jobs to the West Midlands and boost its economy by £1.5 billion a year and it’s this potential for regeneration combined with its ability to meet future rail demand that makes the case.
“We all recognise the huge part HS2 can play in creating a successful and prosperous West Midlands and that’s why we are united in our determination to see this high speed rail route delivered.”
Paul Kehoe, CEO of Birmingham Airport, added; “High Speed Rail should be considered as a national project, as a network is built in coming years. The first element – from London to Birmingham – means that the West Midlands can be an early beneficiary, as the UK economy becomes more balanced and less London-centric”
Apart from the significant economic benefits for the region, Go-HS2 members believe the high speed route is vital to secure the long term viability of the existing rail system after expert research from Network Rail showed that the WCML will have reach full capacity by the mid-2020s after which it will be unable to fully meet demand.
The research also showed that all the alternative options such as longer and more frequent trains or expanding the existing line have been examined and exhausted and cannot meet future demand.
Go-HS2 believes that because a new rail line has to be built, it would be short-sighted not to spend a relatively small amount of extra money and make that line high speed thereby unlocking all the extra economic and journey time benefits such a railway brings.
Go-HS2 is also concerned that failure to build the new line could see local and regional services pushed out at the expense of more profitable inter city services. That would hit hundreds of thousands of regional commuters, damage local economies and stifle economic growth and job creation.
By contrast, building the line would not only bring jobs and economic growth but also release badly needed capacity on the existing rail network.
In the West Midlands this would allow increased service frequencies to local destinations such as Lichfield, Tamworth, Nuneaton and Rugby and more regional services linking towns currently without direct services. Places like Kenilworth could have new services such as a direct London service. The released capacity would also enable more freight trains to operate along the West Coast Main Line.
Mike Whitby, Leader of Birmingham City Council, said: “There can be little doubt that HS2 will bring significant economic benefits to the region’s economy, providing a vital link to London and beyond that Europe for businesses, tourists and the public alike.
“That the membership of this consortium is drawn from such a diverse group, straddling public and private sectors alike, really demonstrates how the region is speaking with one voice on this issue.”
Paul Thandi, CEO, The NEC Group, said: “The NEC Group is increasingly global in both its offer and reach. The prospect of High Speed Rail connecting us to London in under 40 minutes presents huge growth opportunities for our business , helping to attract events with truly national and international appeal, while boosting business tourism.
“The NEC site alone, which is also home to the LG Arena as well as the exhibition centre, attracts more than three million visitors each year - 70 per cent of which are from outside the West Midlands, and 10 per cent outside the UK. We create 25,000 jobs and generate £1.8billion economic impact – so with time being one of the most precious commodities, if it’s easier and faster to get to us, then this is a great advantage – attracting even more visitors from a broader market that, in turn, will greatly benefit the wider regional economy.”
Jerry Blackett, chief executive of Birmingham Chamber of Commerce: added: “High speed will attract companies from the overheated south east of England to the West Midlands helping to create badly needed new jobs and increased prosperity.
“ But high speed rail is crucial to the wider UK economy. Failure to address our fragmented transport infrastructure will leave us unable to match our closest international competitors who have been quick to recognise the economic benefits of integrating high speed rail with other transport – such as aviation - and have invested heavily in it.”
Neil Rami, head of Business Birmingham, the city’s inward investment programme, operated by Marketing Birmingham, said: “Birmingham is a business city that must be served by first class transport links if it is to deliver the private sector jobs its economy is demanding.
“International investors we speak with are underlining the importance for their business of operating in a country with a 21st century rail network, which for them means high-speed rail connections.
“Regional economies must be given the tools to make themselves attractive investment propositions, just as their counterparts on the continent. We must ensure that it is not just the South East that can compete in the global market place. UK Plc deserves better.”