Monday, October 27, 2014

News: Higgins confirms view on Meadowhall as HS2 station location

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Sir David Higgins, chairman of HS2 Ltd, has reiterated his view that Sheffield Meadowhall is the right answer for the South Yorkshire hub on the proposed HS2 line but admits the final decision is "finely balanced."

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

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 (picture, below).

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 has reiterated its stance that the location should be based on achieving the greatest economic benefit. The newly established combined authority set up a HS2 Programme Board, whose first job was to commission new reports from consultants Pell Frischmann on the two station locations.

Launching his latest update report on the £50 billion rail network in Leeds, Sir David said: "The decision on the South Yorkshire station location is finely balanced. HS2 is strongly supported in the city region and Sheffield Council is arguing for a station closer to the city centre. I can see the regeneration benefits of Victoria but it has implications in terms of costs and time. I believe that Meadowhall stands to benefit the region as a whole."

In the report Higgins goes on to say: "The debate over the final location of the HS2 station in Sheffield is essentially one between the differing economic impacts and costs of a city centre versus a hub location. There are different views across Sheffield city region about which location offers the greatest balance of cost and benefit for the city region as a whole. All sides however have been amongst the most vocal supporters of the HS2 project and in the vanguard of recognising the benefits it can deliver.

"Supporters of a city centre location see the opportunity to regenerate the area North East of the city centre by locating the station at Sheffield Victoria, an old station shut since 1970. In doing so, they seek to enhance Sheffield city centre's role as a job creator for the wider city region and to enhance city to city connectivity, particularly as part of a "Northern Powerhouse" of connected cities playing a stronger role in UK economic growth.

"Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham strongly argue for the hub to be based at the existing station, Sheffield Meadowhall, in the east of the city. Supporters of this proposal state that a Victoria station option would be more expensive because of the difficulties of building an alternative line into and out of the city; add six minutes to the journey time to Leeds and further north so disadvantaging the North East compared to the North West; and, in particular, it would increase journey times to their towns.

"I am aware that Sheffield is carrying out further work aimed at addressing these points, but, until this work is complete, there is insufficient evidence to recommend altering the current proposal at this stage, so I remain of the view that Sheffield Meadowhall is the right answer for the South Yorkshire hub. My hope is that, as has happened elsewhere, a consensus is reached on the way forward to which Ministers can respond."
Work on the two station locations, including connectivity studies, business case analysis and station design, is planned to conclude in February 2015. It is anticipated that the Secretary of State will make a final decision on route and station location in May 2015 following the recent public consultation review and advice from HS2 Ltd.

The report also highlights the importance of improving the connections between the north's great cities and a potential new high speed rail connection east-west from Manchester to Leeds, dubbed HS3.

In the report Higgins said: "The triangle of Manchester-Leeds-Sheffield is central to the Northern powerhouse economy, and the lack of high performance road and rail links between Manchester and Sheffield should be a matter of national concern, as identified by the One North report. The environmental challenge facing any proposal to enhance transport links on that corridor is daunting. But we should, as a nation, be prepared to undertake a sober, considered and ambitious conversation about how to release untapped economic prosperity in the North, to strengthen prosperity while protecting its valued environment."

James Newman, Chairman of the Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership, said: "The LEP board fully backs Government plans for HS2 and we strongly agree with this latest report’s emphasis on the significance of Phase 2 of the project which is critically important to future business growth in the North. We fully support the inclusion of a Sheffield City Region station as part of the Eastern leg of the network, as this forms a key part of our Strategic Economic Plan.

"This latest report from Sir David will further boost confidence in the project among businesses and potential new investors in the Sheffield City Region, although we are disappointed that the final route alignment will not be announced until after the General Election."

HS2 Ltd website

Images: HS2 Ltd / Sheffield City Council

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