HS2 Phase 2b critical to business confidence, says East Midlands Chamber director

Investing in key infrastructure projects like HS2 are crucial to rebuilding the confidence of investors in the post-Covid world, an East Midlands business leader has claimed.

Chris Hobson, director of policy and external affairs at East Midlands Chamber, warned the Government that failure to back the Eastern Leg of the high-speed rail line would affect sentiment in the region – with tangible knock-on impacts that would stifle job creation and economic growth.

He was speaking at the Levelling Up webinar hosted by transport body Midlands Connect shortly after it was announced that Phase 2a – connecting the West Midlands to Crewe – had been given royal assent in Parliament.

The future of HS2 Phase 2b – which will connect Birmingham and Leeds via a new East Midlands station in Toton and Sheffield, along with a spur of the line bringing HS2 trains to Chesterfield station – is uncertain after the National Infrastructure Commission recommended a scaled-back version of this line to stop at East Midlands Parkway station.

Businesses need solid Government commitments to plan ahead

Asked by The Sunday Times’ deputy political editor Caroline Wheeler what impact transport investment had on private sector confidence, Chris said: “It has a massive impact and I’d turn it the other way around to say that a lack of investment knocks confidence.

“It’s fantastic news that HS2 Phase 2a has been granted royal assent but there’s still uncertainty in the East Midlands about what’s going to happen to Phase 2b.

“That has a knock-on impact on confidence. When I speak to particularly our larger members, when they assess their asset plans in their various estates, they’re looking over decades rather than years.

“They want to know what the future holds and it’s really important the Government and policymakers don’t underestimate the impact of continually putting off decisions or making firm commitments to projects like this.”

Confidence might not be tangible, but the impact of it is

Chris also highlighted the importance of the connections that businesses, whether they trade locally or internationally, have to physical locations.

“They feel a commitment to the place they’re situated,” he said. “When I talk to members, they’ll talk about being a ‘Mansfield business’ or a ‘Market Harborough business’ – they feel real affinity to where they are as they’re often run by local people and employ people in their communities.

“So they want to buy into an exciting vision of what the future looks like for their business, families and communities they serve. Actually having a plan for infrastructure investment and seeing it take place gives confidence and makes businesses already here want to grow and invest.

“For those companies that are looking to move out of London or the South East – or potentially bring supply chains closer to home – they want to be excited about where they’re doing that so there’s a massive link between transport investment and confidence.

“And while confidence doesn’t feel tangible, the impacts of it very much are so it’s very important to see that investment going forward.”

Chris also spoke about a lack of quality work spaces hampering the influx of inward investment enquiries received by Derby, Leicester and Nottingham during the pandemic as more companies look to leave London, as well as the importance of embracing the region’s thriving advanced logistics sector.

Other panellists at the Midlands Connect Levelling Up webinar were Jane Stevenson MP, former Bassetlaw MP Lord John Mann and Lord Ravensdale, co-chair of the Midlands Engine All-Party Parliamentary Group.

The next event to be held in the webinar series will explore decarbonisation and takes place on Thursday 18 February. For more details, click here.

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Council leaders urge Government to back HS2 Eastern Leg in response to NIC report

Chesterfield Borough Council has released a response to the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC)’s recently published report that has recommended scaling back HS2’s Eastern Leg in favour of regional rail link development.

Don’t Cut Here! A Case study on Why the economies of Chesterfield and Sheffield need HS2 in full has been released today (Wednesday 22 December 2020), urging the Government to deliver on its promise of developing HS2’s Eastern Leg to “regenerate, level up and make a real difference to people and communities” in Chesterfield and Derbyshire.

The case study has been released by Chesterfield Borough Council, in conjunction with Connecting Britain to highlight what it says are HS2 East’s “enormous opportunities for the UK economy that will drive growth, but which are currently at risk of being thwarted.”
It follows the NIC’s Rail Needs Assessment for the North and Midlands, which was published in December and included an option to leave out most of Line 2b East until 2050 and beyond, something which local authorities claim would have a “devastating” economic impact on the region.

Chesterfield Borough Council has referenced the Staveley Corridor regeneration, which is centred around a new HS2 Staveley Infrastructure Maintenance Depot (IMD) and promises a huge scope of opportunity for the area, with creation of jobs, infrastructure, housing and inward investment.

Opportunities for growth and regeneration include the £125m reopening of the Barrow Hill Line, a £100m link road, the development of 3,500 new homes and the creation of 2,200 new jobs around the area. But the IMD will only be required if HS2 East is delivered in full by 2040.

The document also covers the lasting legacy of HS2 in the eastern region, which would see one million people better connected by the line, 10,000s of cars taken off the roads and 1,000s of bi-modal trains replaced, supporting the government’s decarbonisation targets.

Much of HS2 East’s proposals are focused around masterplans which are already in place for the development of Chesterfield and Sheffield Stations, incorporating pedestrian friendly access and local public transport links.

Responding to the publication of the report last week, Councillor Tricia Gilby, Chesterfield Borough Council Leader, said she was ‘hugely disappointed’ that of the options presented the National Infrastructure Commission does not recommend delivery of the eastern leg of HS2 in full.

“This directly conflicts with the Government’s pledge to levelling up in areas like ours. It also seriously undermines local plans for growth in the North and the Midlands,” Cllr Gilby added.

Now Councillor Gilby joins other regional leaders in pushing forward the case for the Government to commit to the HS2 Eastern Leg in full – to realise the ‘once in a generation’ opportunity to shape the region’s future, and avoid land already earmarked for related development being left in limbo for years.

“After decades of underinvestment in strategic rail infrastructure, delivering HS2 is a once in a generation chance to transform connectivity, attract investment, create new jobs, build new homes, boost skills and opportunity and level-up communities across the North, Midlands and beyond. This is even more crucial to our economic future in optimising recovery from the pandemic, which has hit the North and Midlands hard.

“For Chesterfield, the failure to deliver the Eastern Leg in full means facing the prospect of reduced connectivity for our communities, as well as damaging the momentum we have built up around our ambitious comprehensive plans for both Staveley and the area around Chesterfield Station.

“In the Staveley area alone, planned growth worth at least £1bn has been catalysed by the planned HS2 maintenance depot. Taking this away would be a huge blow for an area that has had its hopes raised on the back of HS2’s plans and would leave a huge question mark over how we can deliver the ambitious growth plans our communities need and deserve.

“It is vital that the Eastern Leg of HS2 is delivered in full and that delivery starts as soon as possible. This is about more than just rail and trains – it’s about new jobs, new homes and new starts for communities that have been denied these opportunities over many years.

“This is a critical issue for Chesterfield and Staveley. I will not rest in working with council and business leaders along the planned Eastern Leg to hold Government to account and to ensure that the Prime Minister honours his commitment to deliver HS2 East in full. Time is of the essence to re-assert the strength of Chesterfield’s social and economic case ahead of Government’s planned publication of its Integrated Rail Plan.”

Scott Knowles, Chief Executive at East Midlands Chamber, said: “HS2 East is home to 13 million people, and about six million jobs, equating to 20% of the UK, larger than the economy of Denmark. Chesterfield shows how the investment does far more than just getting people to city centres. The importance of this opportunity to regenerate, level up and make a real difference to people and communities cannot be overstated and must not be missed.”

Dom Stevens, manager of Destination Chesterfield commented: “Chesterfield is already moving forward with significant plans and developments so that the town can maximise the wide range of economic benefits HS2 has to offer.

“The originally proposed spur of the line arriving at Chesterfield Station will improve connectivity, journey times and capacity on our rail network locally and nationally, bringing with it vital investment opportunities.

“We would urge the NIC to rethink its recommendations and take into the account the huge strides our town has already made to regenerate its economy, with HS2 playing a huge role in attracting new people into the area to invest, live and work.”

To read Don’t Cut Here! A Case study on Why the economies of Chesterfield and Sheffield need HS2 in full online visit: www.chesterfield.gov.uk/media/1492665/chesterfield-borough-council-hs2-document.pdf


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