Friday, June 19, 2015

News: LEP "let us down" on HS2

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Sheffield Chamber of Commerce believes it was let down by the Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) in not backing a South Yorkshire station location for the proposed HS2 line early enough.


Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin confirmed that high-speed rail was a priority in a recent speech in Leeds. He said that the The full "Y" network of HS2 will be built - From London to Birmingham and Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds. Construction is set to start in just two years.

South Yorkshire is included on the route to Leeds with plans including the proposed location of a HS2 station at Meadowhall announced in 2013.

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.

Whilst vocal in its support for HS2 coming to the city region, the 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.

In an article on its website, Sheffield Chamber said: "The LEP let us down at the beginning of this process by not commissioning an impartial study of where the station should be located and it was left to Sheffield City Council who were never going to be seen as impartial by the rest of the region. So now we have a politically driven debate when all we should be focusing on is what gives the best economic return and the most jobs."

The established Sheffield City Region Combined Authority set up a HS2 Programme Board in 2014, whose first job was to commission new reports from consultants Pell Frischmann on the two station locations. Draft outputs were presented in November and final studies were set to be presented to the HS2 Programme Board on the January 5.

The reports are still being finalised and further studies are taking place. A consortium of BDP, Ekosgen, WSP and JLL are undertaking economic regeneration and planning work. A study is also being commissioned to present the case for early investment and completion of a transport hub combined with focused regeneration ahead of the arrival of HS2. Station designs for both locations are also being drawn up.
Giles Searby, chair of the LEP Professional and Legal services sector group and partner at Keeble Hawson, has come out in support of a station at Victoria, which could cost an additional £680m but has additional economic benefits. He said: "The wider Sheffield City Region needs a strong Sheffield city centre and vice versa. These are not mutually exclusive concepts. Getting Sheffield city centre to punch its weight must be an economic priority in the city region.

"Having the HS2 station located at Meadowhall would result in fewer jobs and less growth for everyone. Most of the job forecasts quoted re HS2 are not actually linked to having faster trains to London, they come from the regeneration potential that will exist around the HS2 stations themselves. Look at the ambitious regeneration plans published by Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham for their HS2 stations. We risk missing out on this massive regeneration boost in Sheffield City Region because the scope for wider regeneration is clearly less at an out of town parkway station. I see no scope for a cluster of leading international businesses next to a biomass plant, a sewerage works and a very constrained M1 viaduct.

"Investing in a city centre station would be an investment in the growth of the whole of the city region and allow us to play our rightful role in the northern powerhouse."

Sir David Higgins, chairman of HS2 Ltd, told parliament's Economic Affairs Committee last year: "Something that I keep coming back to when we have this debate in Sheffield and in other areas is that we are building a spine; we are building a motorway, not an A-road. Therefore, it will defeat the purpose if this railway line has to weave through every city — if it has to go through Derby, Nottingham and Sheffield city centres the whole way up.

"As to the debate on Sheffield, there are four cities that make up the 1.3 million people who are in "Greater Sheffield." Three of them passionately want Meadowhall, and they see that as critical for all the jobs. The high-tech job growth in that area is coming in Rotherham and Barnsley, and a lot of the railway jobs and new academy are in Doncaster. All I have said to them is, "You need to be united. It is no use you fighting amongst yourselves on this issue.""

Last year, Higgins 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."

Having recieved more evidence, the Government is set to make its Phase Two announcements this autumn, confirming the location of the South Yorkshire station.

HS2 website

Images: HS2

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