Birmingham’s political and business leaders are locked in a furious behind-the-scenes row over plans to bring high- speed rail services to the city.
Council leader Mike Whitby is pushing for trains to come straight into Birmingham city centre, creating a direct link with London – and has made this clear to senior members of the Government and the Conservative opposition.
But many business leaders argue it is essential that high-speed services serve the National Exhibition Centre and Birmingham Airport, eight miles to the east of the city centre.
They fear that sending trains straight to central Birmingham could place the NEC at a disadvantage against rival exhibition centres on the Continent.
And they claim that excluding the airport from the new network could damage economic growth in the West Midlands.
Both Labour and the Conservatives have announced they will build a high-speed links connecting London and Birmingham, but the proposals are at a very early stage and no decisions have been made about which stations will be used, or whether new ones will be needed.
This has sparked a frenzy of lobbying, with local authorities trying to influence the Government and the opposition.
Coun Whitby has made his views clear in meetings with Transport Secretary Lord Adonis and George Osborne, the Conservative Shadow Chancellor.
Advantage West Midlands, the regional development agency, has also told the Government inquiry that it favours running services directly into central Birmingham.
Coun Whitby said: “We need to learn the lessons of high-speed rail on the Continent, when in some cases they built hub stations well away from city centres and regretted it. Of course, we want people to be able to travel to the NEC and airport. We are open to all modes of transport for doing that.”
Birmingham Airport wants a fresh analysis of all the options and their potential impact on the region’s economy.
Spokesman John Morris said: “Let’s make sure that the jewel in the crown, which is what the NEC and airport are, is connected to high-speed rail.
Paul Thandi, chief executive of the NEC Group, said: “We should do the economic impact work and come to a conclusion based on that.”
The call has been backed by many of the region’s business organisations. Richard Brennan, chief executive of Birmingham Forward, which represents the city’s professional and financial sectors, said: “There are a lot of options and I think we need some debate. High speed would provide a way of getting to the NEC from Continental Europe.”
Creating a new rail line to the NEC and airport would be far less expensive than a new line into Birmingham city centre, which would need to run through built-up areas, he said.