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MPs’ bid to shunt HS2 maintenance depot out of Birmingham

MPs’ bid to shunt HS2 maintenance depot out of Birmingham

🕔14.Jan 2013

ldvA year ago this week, the leader of Birmingham City Council warmly welcomed Government plans to build a maintenance depot for the HS2 high speed rail project at Washwood Heath.

Mike Whitby said the 400 skilled jobs to be created at the derelict former LDV Vans/Alstom site were most welcome in a city gripped by recession and starved of fresh investment.

Twelve months later, after a change of political control, the council’s Labour administration is fighting to have the Washwood Heath depot scheme scrapped on the grounds that it will create a relatively small number of jobs while mothballing Birmingham’s largest industrial development site for decades.

In an unusual policy reversal, a project that was welcomed and described as a significant boost for a depressed area is regarded now as a clumsy strategic error that threatens to stand in the way of major job creation schemes.

A cabinet meeting today was invited to back a two-pronged approach to Government.

On the one hand to strongly support the proposed HS2 line between Euston and Birmingham, which will be a “significant catalyst for economic regeneration”, particularly in Digbeth where a high speed rail terminal is planned. On the other hand: we don’t want the maintenance depot, thank you very much.

These tactics are supported by MPs whose constituencies are in or bordering Washwood Heath.

Hodge Hill MP Liam Byrne and his Labour colleagues representing Erdington and Ladywood, Jack Dromey and Shabana Mahmood, have responded to a formal consultation about HS2 by demanding that the maintenance depot is built elsewhere in the West Midlands.

Reserving the 64 hectare site for HS2 purposes will blight the land and cause “immense and irreversible damage” to the economic prospects of east Birmingham, according to the MPs, who set out their views to the city council in a letter.

They argue that the site, now in the hands of finance institution AXA and property giants St Modwen, could generate 5,700 jobs on-site and a further 1,600 indirectly based on interest shown by developers. But the potential of 7,300 jobs in an area of Birmingham where unemployment is four times the national average would be lost for decades if the Government agrees to reserve the land for HS2, according to the MPs.

They also claim that Birmingham would be forced to identify alternative land in the green belt for compensatory industrial development if the LDV/Alstom site is reserved for the HS2 project.

The letter states: “The cost of safeguarding Washwood Heath is not just the loss of 64 hectares from

the green belt but a failure to address the employment needs of Birmingham in a sustainable manner where jobs are created where they are accessible to the workforce, and where physical

regeneration would benefit an acutely deprived community.”

An HS2 maintenance depot would create about 400 jobs on the vast site and would not open until 2026 at the earliest. The campaign to force a change of is backed by Birmingham City Council leader Sir Albert Bore, who wants to use the land for high-tech, low carbon motor industry research and manufacturing, with Jaguar Land Rover a likely tenant.

UK Mail has told the council it wishes to invest up to £25 million in its plant at Washwood Heath but is unwilling to do so while the threat of land being compulsorily purchased by HS2 is present.

Sir Albert Bore said: “There is a significant concern about the overall impact on employment land and subsequent implications for the city’s economy and potential for job creation. Overall there is a shortage of employment land in the city, and the blighting of land will create uncertainty and is likely to deter investment.”

The council is also protesting at compensation arrangements for householders and owners of properties in Birmingham near to the HS2 line which are said to be not as generous as those proposed for rural areas.

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