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Chinese on track for HS2 investment, but will trains be running by 2026?

Chinese on track for HS2 investment, but will trains be running by 2026?

🕔29.Feb 2016

There were no prizes for guessing where Chinese Minister of Commerce Gao Hucheng would be taken when he visited Birmingham at the end of last week.

Business Secretary Sajid Javid and city council leader John Clancy were both very keen to show off the investment potential offered by 141 hectares of prime development land surrounding Curzon Street, from where HS2 high speed trains will glide to London Euston in just 49 minutes.

As the council’s Curzon HS2 Masterplan puts it, the new link will bring 21st century rail connections into the heart of the city centre when it opens in 2026.

And to quote Cllr Clancy:

HS2 will super-charge the city as the place to invest and locate, and we are already feeling the positive impacts here and across the wider region.

The Masterplan assesses the economic impact of the proposals from 2014 to 2056, encompassing a 30 year period of development post-completion of the HS2 Station.

The proposals will bring forward over 700,000 sq.m of development for a range of employment-generating uses and the construction of about 2,000 new homes.

It is estimated that the arrival of HS2 will create almost 1,000 full time equivalent (FTE) gross jobs. The operation of the station itself will create in the region of 200 gross jobs.

Over 14,000 (net) jobs will be created within the Masterplan area for the period to 2056. A large proportion of the jobs created are expected to be within “higher order occupations”, according to the council.  It is estimated that around 61 per cent of employees will be either managers, professionals or associate professionals.

The gross GVA per annum as a result of the jobs created is estimated at £1.3 billion.

Overall, it is estimated that the redevelopment could have a cumulative GVA impact of around £3.1 billion at the Birmingham level.

Mr Gao, as he gazed across Digbeth in the general direction of London, will have been too polite to ask the obvious question, but it must have been running through his mind. ‘How on earth can it take the British 10 years to build a railway track 119 miles in length?’

The Chinese Minister’s researchers will doubtless have filled him in on the judicial reviews and the intricacies of parliamentary democracy, the marathon two-year session of the HS2 Bill Commons select committee, the hundreds of petitions opposing the new railway, and the changes in design the Government has accepted in order to placate protesters.

The Bill will now make its way to yet another select committee, in the House of Lords, and it is probable that legislation approving the Euston-Birmingham HS2 line will not be on the statute books until the end of the year, or possibly the start of 2017. This has raised doubts about meeting the 2026 timetable for services to begin operating.

Simon Kirby, the chief executive of HS2 Ltd, told MPs recently that his hefty £750,000 salary was justified by the high importance of delivering the project on time, and gave no hint that the new railway would be delayed beyond 2026.

Mr Kirby, appearing before yet another select committee, this time the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, said the impact of the project was “absolutely not underestimated” and admitted HS2 “had not well managed expectations”.

He stated that much time was taken up at board meetings discussing complaints from people living close to the proposed line and that “further recruitment efforts were underway to enhance community engagement and many events were taking place” to respond more quickly to public concern.

Transport Minister Robert Goodwill, attending the same committee meeting, was asked by Conservative MP Andrew Turner whether HS2 was simply too large a project to succeed. Mr Goodwill said the scheme was being delivered in phases and that capacity was being successfully built. Over 500 people had been recruited in the last twelve months.

Meanwhile, Sir David Higgins, the chairman of HS2, has been re-emphasising the ability of high speed rail to act as a powerful economic driver, rebalancing the economy as councils and local enterprise partnerships in the Midlands and the north of England realise the investment potential heading their way.

Sir David, speaking in Manchester, said local authorities and LEPs not just in Birmingham, Manchester, and Leeds, but also in the North West, the East and West Midlands, and Yorkshire were using HS2 not just to re-think their transport systems, but also how they attract private investment to their areas – and business has responded.

Sir David said:

It is fair to say that overall confidence in the project at the time was low. While Manchester had quickly recognised its potential, others were less sure – about its relevance, its purpose, its achievability and, above all, whether the price tag was worth paying at a time when money is short.

Two years on, I do not kid myself that everyone is convinced but I do think people are much clearer about why HS2 is in Britain’s long term national interest. People are much more aware of the need to rebalance the economy between North and South but also how the increased capacity and connectivity that HS2 will deliver will help achieve that objective.

They are also much more engaged because they can see how HS2 can improve, not just their local transport system, but the economic potential of their area and its attractiveness to outside investment.

As for the West Midlands, Birmingham is already changing before our eyes a decade in advance of the first train arriving at Curzon Street, which is already a focus for relocating companies and new property developments, while UK Central is beginning to live up to its name, linking the airport, the NEC, the business park and HS2, with plans for thousands of new homes.

Sir David noted that Birmingham city council had “made HS2 a key part of its pitch” and business leaders were taking note.

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