In January 2012, the UK Government gave the go-ahead for a high speed rail network called High Speed Two (HS2) which would be a Y-shaped rail network providing direct, high capacity, high speed rail links between London and Birmingham, and on to Leeds and Manchester. The intention was to improve capacity across the rail network, shorten journey times between Britain’s major cities, boost the UK economy and create tens of thousands of jobs.
Here in the Midlands, it represented an even bigger, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. As well as driving immediate economic growth and prosperity, it was also a chance to create an economic, social and environmental legacy for generations to come.
Very quickly, it became clear that the opportunity was about much more than building a high speed rail network. It was about using the arrival of HS2 as a catalyst for unprecedented regeneration and development, and the creation of sustainable jobs. It meant improving the skills of local people, while putting local businesses in the box-seats to win and deliver work over many years. It was also about improving regional, national and international connectivity.
This ambitious thinking was captured in The Midlands HS2 Growth Strategy and presented to the UK Government in April 2015. The strategy predicted delivering 104,000 jobs with 10% of those jobs going to local people. It would also deliver 2,000 apprenticeships while up-skilling 36% of the local population to NVQ Level 4+. 700 businesses would be supported and the region would create £14 billion additional economic input.
The level of ambition was recognised and rewarded in November 2015 when the newly-formed West Midlands Combined Authority secured the UK’s largest ‘devolution deal’ from central Government to date, which included £4 billion to deliver the HS2 Growth Strategy. Now, along with dozens of partners and stakeholders from across the entire Midlands region, a full programme of activity is underway to deliver the benefi ts, many of which are already being felt.
The region will be home to two, world-class high speed stations. An Interchange Station located in Solihull close to Birmingham Airport and the National Exhibition Centre will be the fi rst stop for passengers leaving London. And a landmark HS2 station at Curzon Street will provide a world-class destination for passengers arriving in Birmingham city centre with a development zone created providing a major focal point for jobs, investment and residential communities.
The National College for High Speed Rail – the UK’s fi rst national college for 30 years – is building one of its campuses in Birmingham, providing thousands of young people with in-demand skills and a rewarding career and developing the next generation of highly-skilled engineers.
Birmingham is also home to HS2 Ltd’s construction headquarters employing up to 1,300 people from engineers who will help design the railway to procurement specialists. In addition, 500 people will maintain the rolling stock depot in the city and further jobs will be created at a new state-of-the-art control centre.
The benefits stretch beyond Birmingham. A full programme of supply chain support has recently been launched through the region’s LEP-led Growth Hubs which will help businesses across the region to prepare and bid for HS2-related work over the coming years. A £20 million Rail Supply Growth Fund has also been recently launched to help those same businesses to access loans of £500,000 to £2 million. And the recent Metro extension to New Street Station in Birmingham city centre is the first of a number of planned extensions which will further enhance the region’s connectivity.
There is so much more to come for Birmingham and the Midlands. Our world-class universities, impressive connectivity and youthful population have already helped attract major international investment, making us a leading international destination for business and tourism alike.
The arrival of HS2 and all its associated benefits will ensure that success story continues. There is a real sense of expectation and excitement about how this region will play a major part in UK growth and job creation both now and for many years to come. This is just the beginning.