If the Midlands makes the most of HS2, the UK will get most out of the Midlands
Maria Machancoses, programme director at Midlands Connect and director at Midlands Engine, writes for RTM about the opportunities HS2 will create for the region and the country.
According to transport secretary Chris Grayling, the first phase of HS2 is set to be completed in the next 10 years. This means that the Midlands, through which HS2 runs, needs to be ready to take full advantage.
For Midlands Connect – the transport partner of Midlands Engine – this means planning and implementing strategic investment, to make sure that the Midlands and the UK can get people and goods to places faster; in turn boosting job prospects, the economy and the UK’s place in the global market. We’ve already received an additional £12m from government which was announced at the Conservative Party conference, signifying the importance Westminster places on investing in the regions. This funding will keep Midlands Connect running until at least 2020, and is the result of huge vocal support we have been receiving from influential members of government since our inception in 2015 who see that the Midlands is vital to creating a strong UK economy.
These funds will enable Midlands Connect to implement its transport strategy beyond March 2017. Key to this will be ensuring the Midlands is ready for the arrival of HS2 in 2026. These measures include smart payment systems, additional coaches on trains and regeneration around HS2 stations. Prime minister Theresa May has already openly praised forward-thinking investments such as the £900m commitment to build 4,000 houses at a revamped HS2-ready Curzon Street station in Birmingham City Centre.
However, preparation for HS2 is just part of the strategy needed if the Midlands is to make the most of HS2 and the UK is to make the most of the Midlands.
Picking up the Pace
Earlier this year, Midlands Connect launched its Picking up the Pace report – the first step in a long-term plan to not only unlock growth and jobs, but also tackle the significant transport challenges that impact both the Midlands and the wider UK. Problems with the transport system affect business performance in terms of efficiency and reliability, which when we are looking to increase our competitiveness globally and introduce more business to the UK, is a major concern.
Picking up the Pace highlighted that with strategic investments in the Midlands rail, road and aviation networks, the region and the wider UK can truly prosper. This transport investment has the potential to create 300,000 new jobs, increase productivity by £1.1bn and save businesses £0.5bn per annum in agglomeration costs – no small feat.
With such a high prize on offer, it is vital we fulfil the potential of the region by building the infrastructure to allow both SMEs and large-sized businesses to get their products and people to where they need to be, faster. For one, HS2 will increase passenger capacity for rail journeys, and we plan to push for 10 extra carriages to each train, helping to relieve pressure on the Midlands motorway grid. Additionally, our recommended improvements for freight transportation via rail will be essential to business in the future.
We are working closely with HS2 and Network Rail to identify schemes that have the ability to unlock economic growth and network capacity. In terms of rail, it is not about the Midlands investing in miles of track. Actions of intent, such as building 4,000 houses at Birmingham’s revamped HS2-ready Curzon Street Station, need to be carried out. Smart card ticket payment across the Midlands would be a much more efficient, and relatively swiftly implemented, way to travel – an initiative that Grayling has given a deadline of 2018 for rail companies to make available to all customers. This would encourage more people to use public transport and connect with each other across cities, easier and faster.
HS2 is not just a matter of linking one end of the country to another, it is a chance to breathe new life into areas across the Midlands that it links, not to mention the countless jobs that the project brings with it. If we look at the rest of the world’s successful economies, it is clear they are not leaning on one single super powered capital, but a network of strong, well-connected, well-developed regions.
As the engine of the UK, the Midlands is strategically important. It already generates £240bn annually toward the national economy and is at the epicentre of the nation’s transport network. Therefore, if the Midlands is moving, so is the rest of the UK. The region has a fantastic opportunity with HS2 to further ignite the economy, but it is essential we have the right infrastructure in place before its arrival. If the Midlands is HS2-ready the rest of the UK can reap the economic benefits.
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