In light of recent reports and future political events raising doubts about HS2 in the region, Ian Morgan, the Chair of both the East Midlands HS2 Business Advisory Group and the Chamber of Commerce for the East Midlands, has written an open letter setting out reasons for supporting it.
A number of potential contenders in the future Conservative Party leadership battle have recently raised concerns about the project’s value.
And last week, the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee published a report, Rethinking High Speed 2, which roundly criticised Government for its handling of the biggest rail investment programme in the UK since Victorian times.
While Rethinking High Speed 2 did not suggest that the project should be axed, it failed to mention the transformational economic benefits it would bring to the East Midlands – in fact, it did not mention Toton, Chesterfield or Staveley.
Responding to this, Ian said that recent reports “have fundamentally misunderstood, or even ignored completely, the opportunities HS2 creates”, adding that “delivered in full, it will be transformational for the East Midlands economy.”
Under the current plan, there would be a trains-maintenance depot at Staveley, Chesterfield would be one of the station stops and there would be a station hub at Toton, which would allow massive regeneration of the surrounding area.
Ian said: “[HS2] will better connect us to other major hubs across the UK and free up vital capacity on the wider road and rail networks, keeping our businesses competitive.”
He also mentions how having Toton as a focal point had brought businesses and academia together like never before to look at future skills development and spurred further investment in the region.
While agreeing that, as with any major infrastructure project, costs need to be controlled, Ian warned that the East Midlands must not allow itself to be drawn into an ‘either/or’ debate over HS2 and future infrastructure investment, describing the project as “a catalyst” for a successful East Midlands for decades to come.
Ian’s intervention comes at a time when businesses have warned that continued uncertainty around the project is starting to stifle growth, with some companies on the route being unsure whether to invest in premises or move.
The legal part of the planning process for the Eastern Leg of HS2 Phase 2B has yet to be finalised by Government, however, the Treasury has committed £2m to the East Midlands Development Corporation to develop a strategic plan for an area including Toton, the soon-to-be-decommissioned Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station and East Midlands Airport.
Businesses alongside local authorities in the East Midlands are calling for the legal certainty to be given as soon as possible.