HS2: Why we must not waste this golden opportunity

Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce

The delivery of HS2 in full will play a vital role in shaping the future of the West Midlands and the country as a whole - let’s not waste this golden opportunity.

As we approach the summer, excitement is building as our great city readies itself for a global sporting extravaganza.

Hosting the 2022 Commonwealth Games will shine a spotlight on the city like never before and as a region, we are primed to cement our position as a major player on the global stage. I’m sure many of those visiting Birmingham for the first-time won’t fail to be impressed by the huge transformation the city has undergone over the last decade.

Record levels of foreign investment, a thriving innovation eco-system coupled with a young and diverse workforce all points towards a city on an upward trajectory – and central to this transformation is HS2.

The impact of this once in a generation project is there for all to see in our region. Phase One of the Project is already delivering benefits for the West Midlands, with HS2’s workforce across the region currently exceeding five thousand and expected to grow as the programme moves forward. 

Businesses are already benefitting as well, with strong representation from the West Midlands within the 2,500 that have already delivered work on the Project. 

Major employers such as HSBC have relocated their headquarters to the city citing HS2 and the game changing socio-economic benefits it will bring to the West Midlands as a key reason.

The twin headwinds of Brexit and the pandemic hit the region hard – with significant falls in employment, output and productivity.

Throw into the mix the uncertainty generated by a global energy shortage and the crisis in the Ukraine and we’ve got a fairly precarious landscape that businesses are having to navigate on a daily basis.

 It’s for those reasons why we need HS2 more than ever. For example, the West Midlands Combined Authority HS2 Growth Strategy projects the programme to add £20 billion to the regional economy and support 175,000 jobs.

The Interchange in Solihull is expected to support 70,000 new and existing jobs and create 650,000m2 of commercial space. Arden Cross alone has a gross development value of £3.2bn and will contribute 16,000 new jobs, £1.4bn net GVA and three thousand new homes.

This week, second reading on the HS2 Phase 2B will take place in Westminster and it’s fair to say its outcome will play a vital role in bringing the Government’s Levelling Up agenda to life.

Some would question the relevance of the Phase 2B Bill for those of us who live in the West Midlands given that this part of the Bill focusses on the Crewe to Manchester leg and the expansion of the network to the east and west of the country. It’s worth pointing out the western section of the HS2 network will better connect the UK’s three largest economic centres – London, Manchester and Birmingham.

Not only will this allow for much faster and more frequent connections, it will also remove the need for businesses to concentrate in the South – a huge factor when it comes to rebalancing our economy.

More importantly, delivering the western leg of the project will play an essential part in tackling the structural issues which have stifled economic growth outside of London for decades.

Namely, HS2 will free up capacity on our rail network by shifting long-distance services onto the new network which will release space on the current lines and use for more trains or local and regional routes.

HS2 will also connect major population centres with a modern and reliable railway service which boosts productivity.

In turn, this will open up new markets and supply chains for businesses while broadening access to jobs and training opportunities for people without having to move home – a key lever in delivering levelling up in practice.

Finally, let’s not forget the role will play in securing our zero-carbon future as thousands of freight journeys will shift from road to rail.

We owe it to ourselves and our future generations to ensure HS2 is delivered in its entirety and that’s why I’ve written to politicians across the spectrum urging them to back the project and to remind them what’s at stake here.

Put simply, no other project comes close to delivering the environmental, economic and strategic elements required to unlock the latent potential that lies at the heart of this country.

Let’s keep up the momentum and ensure the Bill moves swiftly through the legislative process.

Henrietta Brealey
CEO, Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce