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30.01.18

A transformation for the Midlands

Source: RTM Dec/Jan 2018

Maria Machancoses, director of Midlands Connect, outlines how the region has the potential to become a world leader if the industry and government play their cards right.

In the 2017 Budget, the government announced billions of pounds of deals which will give responsibility for the planning and construction of better transport infrastructure to the UK’s regions. Within a week, the plans were reiterated in the Industrial Strategy, with specific reference to the work of organisations including Midlands Connect.

The question now is, how do we best use this financial and legislative support to get the region moving, and prove what we’ve always been saying – that whatever benefits the Midlands, benefits the UK?

Regional infrastructure investment took front and centre stage in last year’s Budget, being listed as one of the government’s ‘Grand Challenges,’ with a £1.7bn Transforming Cities Fund and a £31bn National Productivity Fund recognition that strong, connected regions create strong national economies.

However, while this is positive news, to me it means the Midlands can do better. Productivity here is below the national average. If we raise productivity to the national average, we can add £54bn to the Midlands and UK economies by 2030, as set out in the Midlands Engine Vision for Growth in 2017.

That’s why, as part of the Midlands Connect Final Strategy, we identified what is stopping the region achieving its potential and outlined how we can solve that issue. If our towns and cities are better connected – to each other, the rest of the country and the world at large, allowing talented workers and businesses within the region get to where they need to be – the faster this potential will be unlocked. 

Taking full advantage of the extra capacity released by HS2 will be vital to unlocking this productivity potential. An additional £300m announced in the Budget to be invested in HS2 infrastructure to accommodate future Midlands and Northern Powerhouse rail services will have reassured businesses that the government is serious about ensuring that every stop along the way will benefit.

For the cities which already have regeneration projects planned around HS2 stations, this is a major boost. For instance, in 2016, Birmingham announced that 4,000 homes will be built around Curzon Street. The East Midlands Hub around Toton has ambitions to create 10,000 new jobs and a range of housing options, with a network of new garden villages amongst its growth strategy. Almost 2,000 new homes and 16,500 new jobs could be created around the Birmingham Interchange station near Birmingham Airport. Similarly, ambitious plans have been laid out for the Crewe Hub.

This all signals a transformation for the Midlands. We can complete that transformation by fully integrating HS2 into the wider transport network. That’s why we’re developing business cases to maximise the benefits of classic compatible services, open up new services on the existing network to capitalise on released capacity on to HS2, and get more freight off the roads and onto the rails.

The rail industry has a massive opportunity to benefit

HS2 is the biggest rail infrastructure project in Europe. We know that. And the industry is poised to reap huge benefits from this level of investment, including local businesses.

However, the long-term benefits around HS2 are sometimes glossed over. To bring HS2 into reality, 25,000 construction jobs will be created, including up to 2,000 new apprenticeships. The government estimates that 70% of these jobs will be outside London and 60% of contracts within the supply chain are expected to be awarded to local SMEs, with suppliers required to advertise subcontract opportunities to further boost SME accessibility.

HS2 Ltd has shown its commitment to the Midlands. Its headquarters moved from London to Birmingham, and earlier this year the National College for High Speed Rail opened with a campus in Birmingham, specialising in advanced digital technology, civil engineering and command, control & communications. Added together, this presents a major opportunity for Midlands businesses to thrive.

Industry consistently tells us that they need certainty to thrive. Rail and construction businesses within the sector are no different. That is why our strategy aims to give as much assurance as possible to businesses about what improvements are coming to our transport networks and, crucially, when. The sector needs that certainty to properly plan for the future, making sure it has the capacity and skills needed to deliver the ambitious infrastructure projects we believe will lead to a better-connected and more productive Midlands.

The Midlands Rail Hub: it’s never just been about Birmingham

As part of the Budget, Midlands Connect received £6m for furthering the development of the Midlands Rail Hub and the Midlands Motorway Hub. These steps bring us closer to fulfilling the Midlands Connect ambition of creating plans that will unclog the congested road and rail network at the heart of the UK and deliver stronger connections across the region for businesses and commuters.

The Midlands Rail Hub will create an additional 85,000 seats a day on the transport network and put on an extra 10 trains an hour into Birmingham by 2022. However, it isn’t all about Birmingham. One of the most important foundations our strategy was built upon was to connect the west to the east, from the Welsh borders to the Lincolnshire coast. It was never just to unclog the Birmingham network.

This means the investment from the government will be fed across the network to improve times between cities such as Nottingham and Crewe (25-minute reduction) or Derby and Stoke-on-Trent (28-minute reduction). If these changes can be implemented then everything becomes more accessible, and not only will it benefit the people and businesses already here, it will attract those businesses looking to invest in our cities or move their headquarters here. Faster connections to reach all the best talent will further establish the region as a significant power on the world stage. 

The sums add up – and now for action

The Midlands is already attracting investment from around the world. At the moment we are trading with 178 countries, and we are the only UK region with an export surplus to China – currently almost £3bn.

It is for these reasons that Midlands Connect and the Midlands Engine have earned the backing of government. With the correct infrastructure around HS2 and the best possible execution of the Midlands Rail Hub, we can bring together the Midlands from west to east and north to south and reach each other faster, cleaner and more comfortably than ever before.

This region has the potential to be a leader on the world stage. And now it has the backing to do it

Top Image: Ross Jukes Photography

FOR MORE INFORMATION

The Midlands Connect strategy can be found at:

W: www.midlandsconnect.uk/publications

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