Rooting for unusable capacity and empty seats
In its “Taking root” report (31 October 2016), HS2 Ltd claimed to set out “some of the concrete actions being taken to prepare for the arrival of HS2 services” in the Midlands and north of England. Below is an example of the content.
[HS2 Ltd, ‘Taking root’ (extract), 31 Oct 2016]
Birmingham and the wider West Midlands region are already enjoying the benefits of HS2. Through the largest devolution deal to date, the West Midlands Combined Authority has been given responsibility for an investment package worth more than £4bn to deliver the Midlands HS2 Growth Strategy with the potential to add £14bn to the economy and to create and support 100,000 jobs. The government has underlined its commitment to seeing the Midlands as a whole develop by announcing a £12m three year funding deal to help the Midland Connect partnership maximise the economic potential that HS2 will release in the region.
Construction of the National College for High Speed Rail in Birmingham is underway and is due to open in September 2017. Growth hubs across the West Midlands have joined forces and developed a programme of support to help local businesses win HS2-related work. A £20m Rail Growth Supply Fund was recently launched, providing loans of up to £2m to rail supply chain firms. The Midland Metro’s city centre extension to Birmingham New Street recently opened, with further connectivity improvements lined up.
Two new HS2 stations – Interchange at Solihull and Curzon Street in Birmingham city centre – are set to follow, with Birmingham also set to host a maintenance depot and state-of-the-art control centre. HS2’s headquarters is already in the city and will employ around 1,000 people. The recently announced Curzon Investment Plan, worth almost £1bn, is designed to regenerate the area around the planned HS2 station; creating 36,000 jobs, 4,000 new homes and 600,000m2 of commercial floor space.
Interchange station will create a world-class development opportunity for UK Central, Solihull. Plans are being developed for a global business hub, ‘Arden Cross’, with the potential to deliver 20,000 jobs and 2,000 new homes. Within the wider UK Central area, forthcoming masterplans from Birmingham Airport, the NEC and Jaguar Land Rover will seek to make sure that the opportunities of the new HS2 station are fully realised. The West Midlands Combined Authority Devolution Agreement has secured £348m investment for Interchange and other new transport links, in addition to identified sources of £288m for wider UK Central infrastructure.
In 2006, Conservative MP Chris Grayling said, “You’ve all seen the bits of our Cities that need to be brought back to life. It’s not the City Centres.” But following the 2010 election, the Conservative / Liberal Democrat government set up ‘local enterprise partnerships’ controlled by big business, and gave some of them the power to decide where a regenerative ‘enterprise zone’ should be located in their area.
So what area did the Birmingham “and Solihull” LEP select as the location for its “enterprise zone”? Surprise, surprise, it chose none other than Birmingham city centre. But as Chris Grayling MP said in 2006, it’s not the centres of big cities that are in need of regenerating.
The Birmingham enterprise zone has been extended to cover the site of the Curzon Street HS2 station, to suit the LEP, and the local press is lined up with these special interests. Plainly, bringing HS2 to Curzon Street is not going to ‘regenerate the West Midlands’, or even just Birmingham. But it may well make lots of money for the special interests and politicians connected with the scheme.
People may have been under the impression that spending £20 billion on a new railway from London to Birmingham would lead to ‘organic’ private sector regeneration of the second city. But if that were the case, why is there a need for enterprise zone tax breaks, and a “£4bn Midlands HS2 Growth Strategy” as well? Shouldn’t this type of ‘£4 billion expenditure’ be included in the real cost of HS2? The real cost of the ‘Y network’ to the public purse must be much more than “£55.7 billion”.
Although the government is now saying HS2 is “not about speed, it’s about capacity“, the ‘Root’ report seems not to have got the message. Apart from regeneration waffle, the content is largely comprised of graphics of cherry-picked rail journey times ‘now, and with HS2’. But there is no information as to how many people actually make these journeys, or would want to in the future.
Indications from other sources suggest that current and anticipated future travel demand does not support provision of “8,800 seats a day between Durham and Birmingham”, or suchlike. The ‘Root’ report completely ignores the fact that the provision of enormous unusable HS2 overcapacity would come with equally enormous opportunity costs.