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Birmingham wins tug of war over former LDV land

Ruling means site will be shared between HS2 and manufacturers in major jobs boost for the city

The former LDV site at Drews Lane, Washwood Heath
More details have emerged about the future of the former LDV site in Washwood Heath

A huge new business park on the former LDV van-making site in Birmingham will create 3,000 jobs and herald a return to manufacturing on the land, the Birmingham Post can reveal.

Civic leaders say the Washwood Heath land will provide a home for suppliers capitalising on massive investment by Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) and the construction of the HS2 high-speed rail network.

It follows the resolution of a long-running row between HS2, the Government-owned firm constructing the high speed line, and politicians including Birmingham councillors and MPs such as Liam Byrne, Labour MP for Hodge Hill.

The city council originally planned to use the site to build a business park creating an estimated 6,000 jobs or more - but HS2 earmarked it as the home of a new maintenance depot instead, creating 300 to 600 low-skilled jobs.

Mr Byrne, whose constituency includes the site, accused HS2 of refusing to listen to the concerns of local politicians and told the House of Commons last year he would stage an occupation of the land to prevent HS2's plans.

But the House of Commons committee charged with considering complaints about the rail line has ruled HS2 must allow a business park to be built alongside the rail depot.

Hodge Hill MP Liam Byrne has been campaigning for better use of the old LDV site
Hodge Hill MP Liam Byrne has been campaigning for better use of the old LDV site

And now the Post has confirmed it will mean high-quality advanced manufacturing will return to the area.

Although the original plans have been scaled down, it means thousands of jobs can be created in one of the most deprived parts of Birmingham.

The High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill Select Committee said: "Washwood Heath is in an area of high unemployment.

"Although the maintenance depot will create jobs, Liam Byrne persuaded us that its potential for additional regeneration needed more recognition."

HS2's chief engineer, Professor Andrew MacNaughton, has drawn up revised plans for the site to ensure the train maintenance centre and a business park can both go ahead.

Mr Byrne pointed out the site was close to the JLR plant in Castle Bromwich.

He said: "As JLR grows, this is the best possible land for suppliers as it's just down the road from Castle Bromwich.

"There's no reason why there shouldn't also be a range of engineering jobs associated with the high-speed rail industry.

"The fact that we are getting the HS2 college is magnificent. We will have great skills in Birmingham coming out of the HS2 college.

"That puts us in a brilliant position to develop a whole range of automotive and train-related engineering jobs on site because we will have the skills locally."

Artist's impression of the planned HS2 station in Curzon Street
Artist's impression of the planned HS2 station in Curzon Street

The site could also house logistics jobs, such as those involved in warehousing or business mail services, he said.

"There is a strong interest in logistics because of its connectivity."

Mr Byrne added: "This is a huge breakthrough for east Birmingham. HS2 planned to offer a paltry 300 jobs on the biggest development site in Birmingham. Now, they've been forced to give us the space for ten times more.

"It has been a slow, patient slog through the corridors of power at Westminster. But we've got a deal that could now transform the jobs market in Hodge Hill and Washwood Heath."

The site's owners, AXA REIM, welcomed the committee's decision.

Tim Hellier, head of the planning and environment group at AXA REIM's legal representatives Berwin Leighton Paisner, said: "Our client will continue to work with HS2 to seek the release of as much temporary land at the earliest possible opportunity so that we can get it back into valuable economic use."

JLR has made a series of announcements about investment in the West Midlands in recent years, including a £120 million investment in its Solihull manufacturing plant revealed in September, £450 million to double size of Wolverhampton engine plant announced in November and a planned new £500 million site in Coventry, announced in January.

The National College for High Speed Rail will provide specialist vocational training for future generations of engineers and help train the workforce needed to build HS2 between London and Birmingham and other major rail and infrastructure projects.

Pic: Bond Bryan Architects CGI of the new National College for High Speed Rail in Birmingham
CGI of the new National College for High Speed Rail in Birmingham

The battle to make the most of the Washwood Heath site is not entirely over as Mr Byrne said he would now attempt to convince HS2 to make the required land available as soon as possible.

Arguments will shift to the House of Lords where another committee is now considering the detail of the HS2 scheme.

While the decision by MPs is a partial victory for Mr Byrne and Birmingham City Council, the Commons committee did reject calls to free up the whole of the land.

Transcripts of the Committee's debates show it received representations from AXA to shift the maintenance depot to a site near Birmingham Airport, which were opposed by Solihull Council and eventually rejected by MPs.

Construction of the HS2 line is due to begin next year.

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