High speed rail could cause more harm to Birmingham’s economy than help it, a business academic has warned.
Professor Mike Geddes, of Warwick Business School, has called for a debate on the economic arguments for the proposed route which would enable passengers to travel from Birmingham to London in 46 minutes
He said there may be a case for new rail services linking Birmingham and the north of England, but better connections with London could actually make the West Midlands poorer.
Prof Geddes, a visiting professor at Warwick who previously advised the Department for Communities and Local Government, joined campaigners opposed to high speed rail in a lobby of Parliament this week.
He set out the case against a planned new line from London to Birmingham, which will later be extended to Manchester and Leeds, to Ministers including Transport Secretary Philip Hammond.
MPs opposed to high speed rail, including Jeremy Wright (Con Kenilworth and Southam), also took part in the lobby.
The Government, Birmingham City Council and business leaders have insisted the economic arguments support the case for high speed routes.
But Prof Geddes said he was not convinced, and highlighted a study by Imperial College, London, which warned high speed rail was unlikely to create significant economic growth.
He said: “You have to bear in mind that England is pretty well connected by fairly high speed rail at the moment.”
He said this meant that the impact on England would not match that in other countries where high speed rail lines had made a significant difference to the ability to travel between cities or regions. What high speed rail will do is to redistribute existing economic activity.
“The weight of the evidence is that redistribution tends to benefit the strongest regional economies most.
“It is on that basis that London is likely to be the largest beneficiary.
“Will there be benefits to places like Birmingham? I think we have to be agnostic. There is no evidence.”
Prof Geddes said he did not accept the findings of a study commissioned by pressure group Greengauge 21 and conducted by management consultants KPMG, which claimed a national high-speed rail network could create 42,000 jobs and boost annual economic output by between £17 billion and £29 billion.
The study did not make it clear how the figures were derived, he said. And he warned that any benefits to Birmingham were also likely to be at the expense of towns and cities which were not connected to high speed rail.
“If you are talking about redistributing growth to the big cities, that growth can only come from other places.
“That can only mean that other places not close to high speed rail stations lose out as economic activity moves nearer to those stations.
“Most of Warwickshire would be negatively affected, and places like Coventry will be particularly disadvantaged, because it won’t have a high speed rail station and the services currently running between Coventry and London will actually be cut.”
He also dismissed claims that high speed rail would effectively bring Birmingham into the wealthy South-east economy, allowing it to share in the wealth generated by London.
“What is the nature of the relationship between London and Birmingham likely to be? Most trips will be people from Birmingham and the West Midlands going to London to shop or do business, rather than the other way round. It would mean people going to spend their money in London.”
The Government will consult early next year on building a ‘Y’-shaped high speed rail network with separate legs from the West Midlands to each of Manchester and Leeds.
Work on the Birmingham to London section is unlikely to start until 2017 at the earliest.