BER:20: Why HS2 will be transformational for the UK and the West Midlands


This blog post was produced for inclusion in the Birmingham Economic Review for 2020.

The annual Birmingham Economic Review is produced by the University of Birmingham’s City-REDI and the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce, with contributions from the West Midlands Growth Company. It is an in-depth exploration of the economy of England’s second city and a high-quality resource for informing research, policy and investment decisions.

This post is featured in Chapter 4 of the Birmingham Economic Review for 2020, on Connecting Communities: What Next for the Region’s Infrastructure?

Click here to read the Review.

The HS2 project will be transformative both for the UK and for the West Midlands. It will provide a new, low carbon railway, release existing capacity on the existing crowded network, and greatly improve connectivity across the region. 

After years of planning, design refinement and a comprehensive independent review, 2020 saw the Government give its backing to proceed with the HS2 Programme and the issuing of Notice to Proceed for our four main works civils contractors building Phase One of the project between the West Midlands and London.  The Prime Minister’s visit to Curzon Street earlier in the year cemented political support for the project.

This was an important milestone for us, and one which would not have been possible without the support of the Chambers of Commerce and the wider Birmingham business community.  I would personally like to thank you all for getting behind the project and helping to make it a reality.

The start of full construction is a shot in the arm to our industry, and the region. Around 10,000 jobs are already supported by the project. At its peak that figure will reach 30,000 including 2,000 apprentices.

An estimated 400,000 supply chain contract opportunities for UK businesses will be created during Phase One of HS2. Our assessment is that around 95% of those contract opportunities will be won by British-based businesses and around two thirds of those will be small and medium sized businesses.

Birmingham, along with other cities around the UK is already benefitting several years before the railway opens, as businesses move to the city in anticipation of the new connectivity. It’s estimated that HS2 will create nearly 500,000 new jobs and around 90,000 new homes in the Midlands and the North.

2020 also saw us achieve some major construction milestones as part of our early works programme, which is starting to bring the project to life for Birmingham and the West Midlands. 

We achieved planning permission for both of our Birmingham stations, Curzon Street and Interchange, and are now engaging with the market to bring on board construction partners to build them.

We also put in place the first permanent structure on the project – a road bridge over the M42 – which will help minimise impacts on communities around Interchange station and serves as physical reminder that the project is well and truly under way.

2020 also brought with it a challenge for all businesses, in the shape of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

HS2 Ltd takes seriously its role of being a good neighbour every single day, and throughout the crisis, the health, safety and wellbeing of the communities along the route of the new railway, and our staff has been - and always will be – our top priority. 

We work closely with our supply chain to continually review the works on all our construction sites in line with the latest Government guidance on dealing with COVID-19. Where we have able to operate within this guidance, we have continued to deliver HS2 in line with the Government’s strategy to invest in the UK’s infrastructure, creating jobs and supporting the economy during this difficult time.  

During the peak of the pandemic, we also took the decision to postpone all of our public face-to-face engagement events for the safety of our staff and the stakeholders and communities they work with. Our Helpdesk team remains operational all day, every day to answer any questions or concerns. We have put in place alternative ways of communicating and engaging with communities to ensure that we continue to keep them informed about the project in their area.

As we start to emerge from the peak of the pandemic, we at HS2 see the project as playing a critical role in the country’s short-term economic recovery, and the longer-term challenge of levelling-up the regions and transforming the way we live, work and travel in Britain.

Within Birmingham we are working with the Chambers and our supply chain to make this a reality.  Balfour Beatty Vinci (BBV), the main works contractor in the Birmingham area, have been awarded two contracts with a combined value of £2.5 billion, which we expect to filter down into the regional supply chain, creating opportunities for businesses of all types and sizes.

There are already over 100 local businesses from across the West Midlands contributing to the project, and around 70% of which are small and medium sized businesses.  

As well as supply chain opportunities, we expect the project to generate jobs for the region.  HS2 Ltd is directly recruiting 500 jobs over the next few months, 300 of which are based in Birmingham. Recruitment is underway now and we actively encourage applications from local people who are looking for work or a new challenge.  Our contractors are also looking to recruit many more jobs at the moment too, with Balfour Beatty Vinci JV alone bringing the potential for an additional 300 – 400 regional jobs by the end of 2020.

2020 has been a momentous year for the project, and we do not underestimate our role in playing a part in the region’s economic recovery. HS2 is something that Birmingham can truly get behind, and the year ahead is an exciting one for both the project and the city.

Mark Thurston