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Birmingham Curzon scheme is perfect reply to HS2 deniers

Birmingham Curzon scheme is perfect reply to HS2 deniers

🕔28.Feb 2014

HS2’s capacity to regenerate the eastern edge of Birmingham city centre was never in doubt, and plans for a 350-acre scheme around Curzon Street underline the sheer scale of what’s proposed.

The new developments will be focused around a city centre station – Birmingham Curzon – where HS2 will terminate on its 49 minute journey from London from 2026.

What’s being described by the city council as the largest regeneration scheme in the country will deliver over 14,000 jobs, 600,000 sq metres of new employment space and 2,000 homes. The city’s economy will be boosted by £1.3 billion each year, it is claimed.

There’s also to be an extension to the Midland Metro tram system, taking services to Birmingham Curzon, which opens up the possibility of a future extension out to Birmingham Airport and the NEC.

All of this, when taken together with other schemes including the redevelopment of Paradise Circus, the refurbishment of New Street Station, and the city centre tram extension out to Broad Street, certainly brings home the fact that the centre of Birmingham is undergoing the biggest transformation since the early 2000s – something made all the more remarkable by the dire financial straits the council finds itself in and the aftermath of recession and credit crunch.

It is, of course, a perfect answer to the HS2 deniers as it sets out precisely why high speed rail can deliver far more than faster train journey times between Birmingham and London.

Naturally, the Birmingham Curzon project and metro extension relies on the Government delivering its half of the bargain by giving final approval for HS2.

This will not happen until after the 2015 General Election, and perhaps may not happen at all if a Labour Chancellor in the shape of Ed Balls was to get cold feet. Mr Balls, it should be remembered, famously told Chamberlain Files last year that he would not write a blank cheque for HS2.

Sir Albert Bore, the Labour leader of Birmingham City Council, sent out a clear message to all political parties: “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.”

He was backed up by Len Deighton, Commercial Secretary to the Treasury and chairman of the HS2 Growth Taskforce: “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.”

There will, inevitably, be a discussion among Labour councillors in Birmingham about the type of jobs to be created by the Curzon station project. The council in a press release refers to jobs in creative, learning and research sectors and the “booming professional and financial services industry”.

How many of the 14,000 will be temporary construction jobs, how many will be low-paid retail jobs? And how many will be high-end office jobs filled by staff commuting in from other parts of the West Midlands.

These are questions seized upon by Cllr John Clancy, who will challenge Sir Albert Bore for the city council leadership in May.

Cllr Clancy said: “Clearly I welcome any project designed to create thousands of jobs in the city. The Curzon Street plans look exciting and have great potential.

“For me, as usual, it seems like big retail and leisure are a bit too much to the fore and should not be the only option. SME-based, small scale, modern manufacturing could be as likely to surround and be served by it.

“I also worry about HS2’s current impact on our ability to provide sustainable, long-term industrial land inside the city’s boundaries. We are already at crisis point in the supply of high quality industrial land, with only about 77 hectares left – record low. We’ve only got 17 hectares left of the ‘good’ category of industrial land.”

There may also be debate within Labour ranks about repeating the pattern of events from 1990 to 2005, when regeneration was focused almost entirely on Birmingham city centre.

These have included the Bull Ring, the pedestrianisation of New Street and High Street, the Snow Hill offices complex, redevelopment of the former Post and Mail building, the new library, the extension of the tram system. Further high quality office space is planned for Paradise Circus.

The trickledown effect from these schemes, generating jobs for Brummies in the inner city wards and outlying suburbs, is not yet apparent. Unemployment remains higher than average in many wards and skills levels are low.

How the once in a lifetime benefits from HS2 can be used to spread prosperity for the masses rather than the few, to quote Birmingham council’s new chief executive, must be a matter for urgent debate among city leaders, you would think.

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