Councillors and MPs in Stoke-on-Trent are lobbying Ministers to tear up plans to route HS2 through Crewe in favour of their city.
The city council and MPs are making a case to reject HS2 chairman Sir David Higgins’ proposals as part of ambitious plans to revive the city’s fortunes, dramatically increase its population and turn it into the heart of a new “super-economy” to rival London, bringing together the Midlands and the North West.
They say they could save taxpayers £3 billion by hosting a station in the city rather than Crewe.
Ministers have vowed to consider the city’s ideas, although there is some scepticism from local politicians about whether they will get a fair hearing.
Stoke-on-Trent South MP Rob Flello (Lab) warned that the Government could face a judicial review if it ignored the city’s proposal.
Winning a high speed rail station would be a major boost to Stoke-on-Trent’s attempts to revive its fortunes following decades of decline.
North Staffordshire’s mines have closed, the Shelton Bar steelworks which once employed 10,000 people is no more and the ceramics industry, despite the continued success of many individual firms, is a far smaller than in the past.
Now the council and business community are working together to attempt to rebuild the economy by attracting inward investment, with a focus on the availability of unused brownfield land, ripe for development.
They hope to build on existing strengths, such as the presence of advanced manufacturers Olympus Engineering and Alstom, to turn Stoke-on-Trent into the UK’s centre of advanced manufacturing and make it an international centre for research and development.
The council hopes to increase the city’s population by 50 per cent, bringing it to 700,000 by 2033, and eventually to boast a population of a million.
And it hopes to double the city’s economic output, from £5 billion to £10 billion, by 2033.
It also aims to see Stoke recognised as one of England’s “core cities” – an elite grouping which includes Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield.
While it insists that a high speed rail station is not essential to its plans, the council argues that it could provide a massive boost.
And it argues that Crewe does not have ambitious plans – while Stoke aims to “spark up a massive arc of industrial energy, creating a new economic powerhouse, a ‘super-economy’ joining the North West and West Midlands”, as the council’s official submission to the Government’s HS2 consultation puts it. Stoke’s proposal involves building a new high speed rail line between Lichfield and Stone, both in Staffordshire, replacing Sir David’s proposal for a line between Lichfield and Crewe.
Trains would then continue on West Coast Main Line track upgraded to high speed rail standards through Stoke and on to Manchester, Macclesfield and Stockport.
The council argues that this would be at least £3.1 billion cheaper than Sir David’s proposal and £5 billion cheaper than the original plan which involved tunnelling under Crewe. It would also mean Manchester was included on the high speed rail line seven years earlier.
A £250 million station in Stoke would offer direct services to London Euston, Birmingham’s planned new HS2 Curzon Street station and Manchester Piccadilly.
The council has made its case to Sir Albert Bore, leader of Birmingham City Council, and Mr Flello said he had lobbied Conservative Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, Lib Dem Transport Minister Baroness Kramer and Labour’s shadow Transport Secretary Mary Creagh.
He said: “My hope is that Ministers will realise our proposals make sense, not just for Stoke but for Manchester and Birmingham too.”
The authority has now set up an electronic petition on the Downing Street website at epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/62199.
Council Leader Mohammed Pervez said: “HS2 boss Sir David Higgins has said he thinks the rural town of Crewe is the place for a station, even before the consultation submissions have been properly assessed.”
He added: “The Stoke-on-Trent case is more compelling. This is the UK’s 13th biggest city. We are ambitious and development ready. The Stoke-on-Trent option would be the best way to boost the UK economy, releasing the city’s enormous growth potential.”
Ministers have insisted the Stoke plan will get a fair hearing.
HS2 Minister Robert Goodwill said in the House of Commons: “We are considering the recommendation on Crewe as part of our response to the Phase Two consultation which will include analysis and consideration of the proposals to reroute the line through Stoke-on-Trent, as well as all other responses to the consultation.
“I will respond to the consultation on Phase Two later this year.”