Tomorrow the Birmingham Chamber Group hosts a major event at the NEC. Secretary of State for Transport, Phillip Hammond will be addressing the West Midlands Business Community on “High Speed Rail – Creating Opportunities” in a Business Debate.
Believe it or not there are many business professionals in the region who would like to hear both sides of the story on High Speed Rail, not just endorsement by the Secretary of State of the HS2 proposal. However, as Arup, the company who were given £9 million of taxpayers money, by exchange of letter, to come up with the proposal are also one of the key patrons of the event it is not surprising that everything has been done to exclude business leaders who have connections with the STOPHS2 campaign. KPMG are also patrons and also produced a favourable report on HS2 on behalf of the government.
Lizzy Williams met with Phillip Hammond back in September and asked him about the blight on existing businesses since the March announcement. Lizzy requested he address that businesses affected do not, and still as yet will not, be receiving any compensation other than land value and then only then if they are compulsorily purchased if it goes ahead. This leaves a huge number of businesses with a big problem and now. A wide strip where the route could go is rumoured to be “red lined” in the City as somewhere not to invest money in. Existing units can not be re-let as businesses want security; it costs money to relocate if you are forced to, concerned staff who will go somewhere not threatened, there is no incentive to invest and difficulties with finance all because of the blight. You can listen to Lizzy talking to Phillip Hammond on other points on YouTube.
When Lizzy walked the line in September one business owner was furious that she was highlighting the route as he considered it detrimental to his business and was hiding the entire issue from his staff.
Mr Hammond confirmed to Lizzy that “there will not be any economic benefits along the line”. The West Midlands will be severed by HS2. Birmingham itself may see some benefits eventually but millions of pounds already invested in the areas the route passes through will be lost completely, including millions spent by Birmingham University on new campus facilities in central Birmingham . More concerning than that there is huge evidence that the economic case for HS2 does not have any merit and many experts in the West Midlands region have produced research that the proposal will in fact damage economies outside London. Professor Mike Geddes from Warwick Business School spoke at the National Lobby Day on 25th October on this very point. It is a proven fact that in Europe the major city served by such lines wins every time, sucking investment away from other areas – imagine the vortex of HS2!
The construction period could be 10 years or more. How will businesses be affected during the construction phase? Traffic congestion and disruption will get worse and for a very long time. The route affects every major route to the North and East of Birmingham.
The North South divide will in Lizzy’s opinion be encouraged by HS2. Lizzy believes that this will form a physical barrier between the South West and South East on this phase and will actually divide the country in four if the “Y” shape is progressed. “It was crystal clear when I walked the route that the M6, M42 and M6 Toll roads permanently severed communities and economies, HS2 will do this yet again but on a phenomenal scale. I am concerned that London will become the destination for everything and the rest of England will simply become a dormitory. The areas along the line without stations will simply become ugly sidings scarred forever. “
It would have been democratic for those businesses in the West Midlands already affected and others concerned about the impact of HS2 to attend and indeed speak but it seems they have effectively been barred from the event and debate. Mr Hammond is the only shareholder of HS2 Ltd. HS2 Ltd is currently spending £1.2m of our money per month on existing but on what? It appears only those who will directly benefit financially from HS2 get their say in this debate. They say money talks…