“THIS is probably the most contentious matter we have had before us for a very long time.”
Those were the words of Solihull Council Leader Ken Meeson on Tuesday, as councillors gave their conditional backing to the controversial HS2 rail project, which would see a new high speed rail line link London with the West Midlands.
Following a day of deliberation with HS2 officials last week, the contentious £17 billion scheme divided political parties at a Full Council meeting.
Councillor Nick Stephens (Labour and Co-operative Party, Chelmsley Wood,) said: “Parts of Chelmsley Wood will be affected by this and it seems no effort has been made to minimise the effect.
“I would make a strong recommendation that the route north be realigned away from Bluebell Park. The way this has been handled by HS2 leaves a lot to be desired.”
But Lib Dem Councillor, Norman Davies (Olton) supported the recommendations saying: “We must give public transport a priority and try not to be Little Englanders in this.”
Environmental concerns were raised in the lengthy meeting as both Councillor David Bell (Con, Meriden) and Councillor Jim Ryan (Con, Bickenhill), swore to protect the Meriden Gap.
Coun Ryan, who abstained in the final vote said: “I’ve campaigned for 35 years to protect the Meriden Gap and I can’t step back now.”
New Mayor, Councillor Irene Chamberlain (Lib Dem, Lyndon), chairing her first full council meeting, also abstained.
But several councillors said the importance of jobs and investment to the Midlands should not be overlooked. Councillor David Jamieson (Labour, Kingshurst & Fordbridge) said: “We need to assert ourselves as a region.”
And Councillor Ted Richards (Con, Castle Bromwich) added that Solihull needed to stand up and be counted and have a place at the table. “The worst thing is if the West Midlands was bypassed,” he said.
Several conditions were imposed by councillors before the final vote including an environmental assessment and blight compensation schemes and assurances from government the scheme would not cost borough tax payers.