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‘Imminent’ decision on High Speed Rail college after multiple delays

A decision on the winner for the National College for High Speed Rail is said to be ‘imminent’, but the process in getting here has been slow. 

In June, the shortlist for the National College for High Speed Rail was announced, with Birmingham, Derby, Doncaster and Manchester all making the grade. 

At the time, it was stated that a decision would be made in July. However, more than two months on and nothing has been heard. 

The Department for Business, Skills and Innovation (BIS) said that to ensure the success of the college, it had appointed Terry Morgan to advise on its development. The first task for Morgan, who is the chairman of Crossrail and of the National Skills Academy for Railway Engineering, was to oversee the selection of the shortlist. He is also involved in the final phase of the selection process. 

RTM contacted BIS in July to ask when a decision would be made, and was told that it had been delayed until the beginning of September. Since then, BIS has only been able to tell us that a decision has still not been made. 

A HS2 official told RTM that the latest announcement they knew of was: “That there isn’t a new announcement.” 

Quietly confident 

Professor Jon Binner, deputy head of the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences at the University of Birmingham, told us that a decision is thought to be expected “at the end of September”. 

He added that the bid by Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP), which is supported by the Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education, has been well received by those involved at BIS, but that all the bids “seem to have gone down well”. 

Prof Binner said: “We’re crossing our fingers, our toes, and everything else that is cross-able that Birmingham has won it – this is our viewpoint, there is no basis behind this – and that the Conservatives could announce it during their party conference, which happens to be in Birmingham next week. 

“We’re quietly confident – but not overly confident – with our bid. We’re all in this state of hiatus where we just wait to see what happens and when it happens.” 

He also believes there is huge “logic” in selecting Birmingham as the winner, especially as the city is home to one of the world’s largest railway research groups. 

HS2 also recently announced that it would base its construction HQ in the city. 

History in the making 

But Derby, one of the UK’s most historic railway cities, is also optimistic. Neil Harvey, interim general manager at the Derby and Derbyshire Rail Forum (DDRF), told RTM: “We have no further update. I was in a HS2 meeting recently with some of the DfT people and they said an announcement is ‘imminent’, but it is a BIS announcement and couldn’t give any further information. 

“The bid, as far as I know, went fine, and I understand the other bids went down well also. We just have to wait and see. Obviously Manchester, Doncaster and Birmingham are all in the same position as us.” 

He added that this year Derby is celebrating 175 years of railways in the city, and DDRF represents the largest cluster of rail related companies in the world. “Obviously we hope we’ve got a good chance of being selected,” said Harvey. 

In Doncaster the bid has been spearheaded by the private-sector-led Centre for Rail and Technical Excellence (CREATE), which is coordinated by Doncaster council and supported by Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership, business leaders and partners. 

Mayor of Doncaster Ros Jones said: “CREATE and Doncaster is pulling out all the stops to bring the High Speed Rail College to the Sheffield City Region. It will be a huge boost for firms right across Yorkshire and the North-East if we are successful.” 

Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership said it was excellent news that its bid was shortlisted, but was still unaware when an announcement by BIS would be made. 

RTM has asked BIS for a comment on when the announcement will be made, and why there has been such a delay in the decision making process, but at the time of publication received no reply. 

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