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.