Plans to make Greater Birmingham a centre of excellence for high-speed rail under threat from Labour 'flip-flopping'
City leaders say Birmingham stands to miss out on tens of thousands of jobs if support for HS2 is pulled, after submitting a bid for £1 billion to take advantage of high-speed rail.
The region is putting together a bid to put HS2 at the heart of growth plans, including becoming a global centre of excellence for high-speed rail engineering, in its first ever submission to the Single Local Growth Fund.
High-speed rail is expected to create close to 50,000 jobs in the region directly, and the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP) is planning to capitalise through cleaner fuels and supply chain projects.
Several Labour ministers have been critical of the costs behind the scheme in recent weeks, leading Birmingham City Council leader Sir Albert Bore to accuse his own party of putting out a “a negative message”.
Sutton Coldfield Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell said Opposition concerns stood to have a knock-on effect to key schemes like the city’s enterprise zone and UK Central, the mixed-use development set to create 27,000 jobs around the HS2 station near Birmingham Airport.
He said: “I rather agree with Sir Albert that Labour flip-flopping is playing with the economic success of Birmingham in the future, and it should stop.
“HS2 is an investment in the West Midlands and Birmingham’s future success, jobs and infrastructure. It is a huge part of our economic future in the West Midlands.
“I am absolutely clear that HS2 is necessary, and in the national interest, but also in the interest of my constituents in Sutton Coldfield and Birmingham more widely.”
The Post can exclusively reveal today that GBSLEP is expected to submit a bid for more than £1 billion of public funds in its first ever submission to the Single Local Growth Fund. A draft plan will be submitted by Christmas, and will be officially entered in March.
High-speed rail accounts for a vast tranche of the plans, with UK Central a key part. It is thought the LEP is seeking about £200 million for a scheme that could ultimately see more than 100,000 jobs created around the M42 corridor, but it would be thrown into doubt without the nearby HS2 station.
It is also anticipated that 8,600 jobs would be created as a result of the proposed station sites and up to 22,000 more through regional and local rail enhancements and feeder services.
Steve Hollis, deputy chair of GBSLEP, told the Post that it planned to take advantage of HS2, and the rapid growth of Jaguar Land Rover, to build engineering centres of excellence in the region, uniting the private sector with colleges and universities.
He said: “The things we are particularly keen on are developing centres of excellence around HS2. We want to build not only a skill base that can serve the UK but a skill base that can be shared all around the world from here.
He said the LEP could target funding towards areas where skills are urgently required, as with engineering currently.
The proposals are expected to lever more than £100 million in private sector investment and see greater links with the local education sector.
He added: “Jaguar Land Rover are going to want to recruit tens of thousands of engineers over the next ten years and what we have seen is a mobilisation around the further education colleges. They are sending 250,000 bright, young things into the market every year, and they are coming together as a collective to deliver engineering capacity, and to provide these engineers.
Andy Street, the chair of GBSLEP, said it was “incredibly important” that the importance of HS2 to the West Midlands’ economic plans were recognised.
He said: “Short-term political decisions in terms of infrastructure investment are one of the key reasons for the imbalance in the UK economy which LEPs are working hard to address.
“The connectivity and economic possibilities that HS2 offer are huge and our long-term vision is focused to a large extent on capitalising on this.
“The inward investment potential of projects such as UK Central and the Birmingham City Centre Enterprise Zone are massively enhanced with greater connectivity.”
Mr Street said while he had been encouraged by government support, it was vital that HS2 had cross-party support.
While Ed Miliband is a supporter of HS2, Shadow Chancellor Ed Ball’s aides insist that no decision has been made and the party is open to other means ot creating more capacity.
Mr Street, however, pointed out that HS2 is a key economic development issue in the West Midlands and beyond.
He added: “We would be still more encouraged to see a full cross-party consensus and would go even further in seeking a determination to accelerate the delivery of HS2.
“This would give us even greater impetus to forge and deliver our own economic vision and deliver the change the economy needs.”
The political significance of HS2 was highlighted this week in a letter seen by the Post written by Birmingham’s Labour leader Sir Albert, on behalf of the Core Cities Group, which includes Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield.
Sir Albert expressed anger over the decision of the party leadership in London to perform a U-turn over the project.
Gordon Brown’s government announced it was committed to building a new high-speed rail line linking London, Birmingham and Manchester in 2010. But after Labour insiders suggested the party was not convinced – even if costs don’t rise any higher than the current budget of £42.2 billion, which includes 28.2 billion for the line and £14.4 billion in contingency funding – he was forced into action.
In a letter to Shadow Transport Secretary Mary Creagh, he said: “If the party continues to put out such a negative message on HS2 I will be concerned that there will be a protracted public conflict between the party leadership and the Labour led core cities at a time when we should be working closely together to develop a winning campaign for 2015.”
Labour MP for Selly Oak Steve McCabe said that while he supports the high-speed proposals, the party was right to highlight concerns over value because of a lack of clairity over the costs of the scheme.
Mr McCabe said: “I am in support of it, there is no question about that, and it is my expectation that it will go ahead.
“However, considering this is a government which has been talking for three years about the value of economic competence to lead us into a multi-billion pound project where there are real doubts about whether they can contain costs and remain in budget, this does not seem an unreasonable question to ask.”