Political and business leaders from across the East Midlands have reacted angrily to proposals suggesting the region’s HS2 connection to Birmingham and the North could be drastically scaled back.
The National Infrastructure Commission’s Rail Needs Assessment Plan comes ahead of the Government’s announcements about how and where it will fund major rail investments aimed at helping the UK recover from Covid-19 and create jobs across the country.
Regional leaders in the Midlands and the North have spent the past five years developing detailed plans which use HS2’s arrival at Toton and Chesterfield as the centrepiece of a joined-up economic growth strategy which would create thousands of jobs and transform rail connections between the East Midlands, Birmingham, Leeds, the North East and Scotland.
But the NIC has tabled ideas which include a proposal for the HS2 line to terminate at East Midlands Parkway – a location dismissed as unworkable by feasibility studies – and put passengers back on to the old network if they want to travel further north.
Despite indicating that future rail connectivity could be scaled down in the Midlands, the NIC’s report appears to assume that the second stage of Crossrail in London – previously estimated to cost Â£27 billion – should go ahead.
Government will take the final decision on which option to choose in the East Midlands, with political and business leaders in the region now doubling down on their demands that it honours its commitment to build the station at Toton and deliver HS2 East in full.
Councillor Kay Cutts MBE, the Leader of Nottinghamshire County Council and Chair of the HS2 East Midlands Board, said:
“What the NIC is suggesting amounts to far more than just a change in station location. It is a fundamental scaling back of HS2 in the Midlands and Yorkshire. Parkway is in the middle of nowhere and was dismissed by feasibility studies for sound reasons: it is little-used, increases station costs, and returns less to the economy. It also reduces transport connections to our communities, to the rest of the Midlands and up into the North. No assessment of an historic investment in infrastructure should ignore the needs of a region now nor the prosperity of its people in the future. Yet we fear the NIC’s focus on upfront cost does just that.”
“A clear understanding of the East Midlands economy would tell you that moving HS2 to Parkway is a poor deal for the region, and poor value for UK taxpayers. We have spent years talking, planning and carrying out feasibility studies. In the wake of Covid, people want to see us get on and deliver. Levelling-up should mean that the East Midlands is no longer going to be treated like the poor relation. So let’s see a positive decision from Government to build Toton and deliver HS2 East in full.”
The already-agreed HS2 Hub Station at Toton would be integrated with major development proposals for Toton and Chetwynd, which include the delivery of thousands of new homes, a ‘Garden of Innovation’ intended to attract knowledge-related jobs, and a detailed connectivity strategy which links more people to employment and opportunities.
Councillor Milan Radulovic, Leader of Broxtowe Borough Council has said:
“This news is massively disappointing and frustrating for us. Having fought for years for Toton to be the hub station site, supported by East Midlands authorities, the Midlands Engine and Midlands Connect organisations, this scaling back would tear away the hard work and analysis that has told us that Toton is the best location for the station.”
“Direct connectivity between HS2 and the conventional rail network at Parkway would be impractical because of the differences in vertical and horizontal alignment between the lines (removing the option for direct Leicester to Leeds services for example). Parkway is remote from centres of population and the region’s largest rail market – the Nottingham area. The existing parkway station has consistently failed to meet its original patronage targets since it opened in 2009. The station would be difficult to serve by public transport (previous attempts to run scheduled bus services to EMP proved uneconomic). Plus, the scale of local flood risk reduces opportunities for adjacent development and would lead to greater pressure on Greenbelt sites elsewhere in Rushcliffe.”
“Casting yet another shroud of uncertainty over Toton is so unwelcome, particularly now, and, if Government policy changes to adopt this recommendation there will be huge adverse consequences for our area. The impact of this scale back would be enormous. Instead of being the centre of an exciting project to generate thousands of extra jobs and homes, our area will struggle to generate the much needed investment and financing it requires to achieve the ambitious goals we have worked for years to develop. The business case for investment in the area will have been shot to bits. Indeed, the business case for the whole of the HS2 extension will have been fatally undermined.”
“The Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda will be exposed to have been a hollow sham. If the station ends up being at Parkway, the prospects for a transformative regeneration project at Toton which can connect up with areas in the North of Broxtowe and beyond to Amber Valley and the North will be destroyed. There will be no delivery of jobs and growth on the scale of what has originally envisaged. Once again our area will be left behind, with all the investment going to the already more prosperous south. We are constantly overlooked for funding investment and as a result child poverty, lack of social mobility, underachievement and low wages are intractable features that affect the lives of many of our people.”
It has also been built into proposals for an East Midlands Development Corporation, launched earlier this year by Midlands Engine Chairman Sir John Peace as an ambitious bid to transform the regional economy through the efficient delivery of a series of major, large-scale developments. East Midlands Parkway was built as an interim stop on the Midland Mainline. When it opened in 2009, the ambition was for it to carry 743,00 passengers a year. But in 2018-19, the isolated site was used by only 360,770 people.
Regional leaders are concerned because the NIC’s assessment does not appear to take into account the benefits of local growth strategies around Toton, Chesterfield and Staveley, Sheffield and Leeds. They claim it fails to understand the complex geography of the eastern leg and undervalues its economic benefits as a result. The final decision on HS2 will be taken by Ministers early in the New Year through the Government’s Integrated Rail Plan for the North and the Midlands.