Monday, March 24, 2014

News: HS2: Sheffield not ready

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The Sheffield city region's readiness to take advantage of the £50 billion high speed rail project (HS2) is potentially being held back because of a lack of local consensus regarding where the station should go.

The HS2 Growth Taskforce has outlined how HS2 could be an exciting and transformational opportunity for cities in the North to invest in future economic growth and enable them to compete with cities around the world.

The Taskforce, which brings together figures from across the political spectrum and the private and public sectors, recently published the "HS2: Get Ready" report calling for action now to simplify and join up funding to deliver construction fast around HS2 stations sites. By accelerating regeneration and development of brownfield land on the route the report argues that big benefits will be seen in just a few years.

The report also calls for city regions to work together to integrate local transport networks, recommending that city regions both on and off the HS2 route, make detailed, long-term, local and regional transport plans that fully consider HS2 opportunities.

The project aims to provide extra capacity to handle increasing demand on the rail network. By 2033, a South Yorkshire station will be on the proposed route from London to Leeds via Birmingham and the East Midlands. The new chairman of HS2 Ltd, David Higgins, recently proposed bringing forward completion from 2033 to 2030.

Plans including the proposed location of a HS2 station at Meadowhall were announced last year. The location is backed by the South Yorkshire Integrated Transport Authority (SYITA) - the precursor to a Sheffield city region combined authority, Rotherham Council and Barnsley & Rotherham Chamber.

In response to the government's consultation, Sheffield City Council said that it is strongly opposed to the proposed route and believes that the current preferred station location chosen by Government is a mistake. Instead, a vision for an HS2 station at Victoria, closer to Sheffield city centre, is being put forward.

The Sheffield City Region (SCR) Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has declined to commit to backing a specific site for a South Yorkshire station and instead reiterated its stance that the location should be based on achieving the greatest economic benefit.

Consultants at Atkins have been commissioned by the HS2 Growth Taskforce to undertake research on how HS2 can connect markets, businesses and people and unlock regeneration and development. Its research assesses the readiness of each station location to reach its potential.

The readiness of the region's businesses and skill levels in the workforce are assessed, as are the physical constraints and opportunities of locating a station at Meadowhall. It also looks at the package of £1.5 billion worth of connectivity improvements called for by the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE) to ensure that the station and the region reaches its full economic potential.

The main worry for the consultants is the discord amongst policy makers in the city region.

The report states that: "In the case of Sheffield, and despite the current HS2 Ltd proposal for a station at Meadowhall, HS2 policy-readiness at the city region level is potentially being held back because of a lack of local consensus regarding the optimal station location for maximising economic growth and regeneration.

"Moves towards the establishment of a Combined Authority for the SCR will provide a sound platform for the governance and delivery of economic growth and regeneration plans focused on a new HS2 station in Sheffield. Again, the maturity of these structures will be held back until greater certainty and consensus over the issue of station location is achieved.

"The key challenge to governance arrangements will be the achievement of consensus over which station location option will deliver the greatest overall net economic benefit for the city region. More detailed, objective assessments will be required to inform this decision should HS2 Ltd open up the possibility of reconsidering both the Meadowhall and Victoria options."

HS2 Ltd website

Images: HS2 Ltd

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