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 Solihull Council, Birmingham City 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 local 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.
Councillor Ian Hedley, leader of Solihull Council, said the new consortium could help highlight the benefits of HS2.
"I think it will give more attention to the benefits of the scheme - the No lobby has been very vociferous so far," he said.
"This is just to say that local authorities support the project and what it can deliver in terms of jobs and growth."
And he confirmed that the council would forge ahead with a public consultation which is due to start this Monday, February 28.
Gill Lewis, chairman of Hampton in Arden Parish Council said the authority had only a small window in which to comment: "After the Bill is passed, the scheme will be able to over rule local planning law," she warned councillors last month.
However Dorridge resident and chief executive of Birmingham Chamber of Commerce Jerry Blackett argues that it is vital to improve the transport network "High speed rail will attract companies from the overheated south east of England to the West Midlands," he said.
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.
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."
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.”