The man behind plans for a £2 billion main railway station at Birmingham’s Eastside has hit out at “half-wit” politicians for failing to back the idea.
Murray Rayner said he remained convinced that the project was the only viable way to meet growing demand for travel by train and that the city council scheme for a £600 million refurbishment of New Street Station would be “full to bursting” on the day it opened.
Mr Rayner was speaking after the House of Commons Transport Committee described the New Street Gateway proposal as a “cosmetic” exercise which, while creating additional space for passengers to wait in airport-style concourses, would not provide extra track capacity or address the bottleneck of trains queuing to get into the station through narrow tunnels.
The MPs urged the Government to look again at the possibility of building a new station at Eastside.
Mr Rayner, a surveyor, who played a major role in designing the Bullring shopping centre, worked with construction firm Ove-Arup to develop proposals for Grand Central.
At the beginning of 2006, Alistair Darling, then the Transport Secretary, said he was concerned that Gateway would not address capacity constraints and he would re-examine the case for a new station at Eastside.
But the Government subsequently backed New Street Gateway and agreed to commit £400 million to the scheme, with the rest of the cost being covered by private sector contributions.
The new-look station is expected to be completed in 2014.
Mr Rayner accused the council and its partners, Advantage West Midlands, Network Rail and Centro, of failing to take Grand Central seriously.
He said: “There is only so much we can do. If the politicians have decided they want to be half-witted, then that is it.
“The council hasn’t been prepared to see us or talk to us and I think that is slightly odd.
“I could understand it if they had weighed up the evidence and then decided to go for Gateway, but they have never given a reason and we have had no reasonable debate about it.
“Whenever anyone mentions Grand Central people at the council go apoplectic. Why are they so worried?”
Under Mr Rayner’s plans New Street, Moor Street and Snow Hill would remain open as secondary stations to the central hub at Eastside, which would be situated at one of the few places where the large number of lines which serve Birmingham can be separated.
Moor Street and Grand Central would connected by pedestrian walkways and could share a central ticket office.
He said there were no plans to demolish the Gun Barrel Proof House at Digbeth or to flatten most of the Warwick Bar conservation area to make way for Grand Central – an assertion made by Councillor Martin Mullaney, the chairman of the city council transportation scrutiny committee.
Mr Rayner added: “We are talking about a major project that would do tremendous things for the dynamism of the whole city.
“Grand Central could probably be achieved for less than £2 billion. But they are planning to spend £400 million of Government money on New Street and that doesn’t even do anything for capacity.
“The capacity at New Street just isn’t going to be feasible. The chances are the capacity will be full to bursting on the day it opens
“As for airport-style lounges, I have never heard of them in a railway station environment.”
Birmingham City Council reiterated an appeal made earlier this week by chief executive Stephen Hughes to stop indulging in “pointless arguments” about Grand Central.
Mr Hughes said he accepted there could be problems with rail capacity in the future but this could be resolved by building an £11 billion high speed link between Birmingham and London, running out of Moor Street Station.
Further debate about Grand Central was a waste of time because land earmarked for the scheme had been sold, Mr Hughes added.