High speed rail will lead to the creation of an entire new city based around “London-Birmingham Airport”, the chief engineer of the new line has predicted.
Campaigners opposed to high speed rail reacted angrily after Professor Andrew McNaughton, chief engineer for the rail project known as High Speed Two (HS2), said the line would be the catalyst for a new settlement between Birmingham and Coventry.
And he predicted that Birmingham Airport, which will be next to a planned new HS2 station, would rename itself London-Birmingham, because it would be so easy to reach from the capital.
Coventry City Council, which is opposed to HS2, said his comments justified fears that the city would be swallowed up by a “Greater Birmingham” because of the rail line.
Prof McNaughton was speaking a few days before David Cameron, the Prime Minister, announced plans to build a series of settlements across the country.
Mr Cameron highlighted the “garden cities” created by social reformers and Quakers in the early years of the 20th century, which were designed to combine the benefits of city living with the benefits of life in the countryside, including fresh air and green spaces.
Stressing his commitment to simplifying planning regulations, Mr Cameron said: “There will be costs and protests. And I am certainly not doing it in the hope of immediate political advantage.
“I can see the furious objections – the banner headlines – already.”
Prof McNaughton made his comments at a conference for rail industry professionals in Derby, called iRail 2012.
He predicted that the airport and nearby National Exhibition Centre area would become the heart of a new city following the construction of the planned Birmingham Interchange station, which will serve the HS2 line.
He also suggested that HS2 would allow Birmingham Airport to rename itself “London-Birmingham”, because it would be closer to central London in journey times than either Stansted or Gatwick.
The planned new central station in Birmingham city centre would trigger development of that city’s east side as a new commercial quarter, Prof McNaughton said.
Meanwhile, a new station at Euston in central London, which will include housing as well as commercial and retail development, would be “the biggest development of any kind ever seen in London”, he said.
And a detailed proposed route for the second phase of HS2, running from Birmingham to Leeds and Manchester, will be passed to Transport Secretary Justine Greening within the next two weeks, and could be available for public scrutiny in the autumn, he said.
Prof McNaughton’s comments about the possible impact of Birmingham Interchange station at the airport follow the publication of a Department for Transport document which shows a number of trains running directly from London to the North and Scotland will stop at the Interchange station and avoid the planned new Curzon Street station in Birmingham city centre.
John Morris, head of government and industry affairs at Birmingham Airport was cool on the name change suggestion: “Why on earth would we do that?
"Birmingham is globally known, it is the city of 1,000 trades. The name we have is renowned worldwide.”
One service an hour from London Euston to Manchester will stop only at Birmingham Interchange, as well as a separate service from London Heathrow to Manchester.
In a similar way, one service an hour from London Euston to Leeds will also stop only at Birmingham Interchange, along with a separate service from London Heathrow to Leeds.
There are also plans eventually to run high speed services once an hour from London to Edinburgh with only one stop on the way, at Birmingham Interchange.
And there will be two more services from London to Birmingham Curzon Street which stop at Birmingham Interchange on the way.
The plans, set out in a Department for Transport document called “Economic Case for HS2: Updated appraisal of transport user benefits and wider economic benefits” are subject to change, but they illustrate that Birmingham Interchange is expected to be a major station in its own right.
Opponents of HS2 seized on the comments.
Joe Rukin, co-ordinator of the Stop HS2 campaign, said: “We have always suspected that HS2 is really a developers’ charter, especially around Birmingham Airport where the arrival of the HS2 station will be coupled with an Enterprise Zone, where the Government have said planning applications would be granted more or less automatically.
"We have been saying for almost two years that if HS2 goes ahead that would mean the complete destruction of the ‘Meriden Gap’ green belt which separates Birmingham and Coventry and in November 2010, Coventry City Council unanimously voted to oppose HS2, citing one of their reasons as it being a way to shoe-horn in the idea of ‘Greater Birmingham’ which they have been fighting for decades.”
If major development takes place, it could hit the Meriden constituency of Caroline Spelman (Con), the Secretary of State for the Environment.
But she insisted: “The Government has a brownfield first policy, so old industrial sites on the west of Coventry and east of Birmingham would be prioritised.”
Councillor John Mutton, leader of Coventry City Council, said: “This was exactly the reason we voted against HS2 because we thought it would take all the inward investment out of Coventry.”
Business leaders have stepped up their backing for HS2, which they believe will create 22,000 jobs and provide a massive boost to the West Midlands economy.
Birmingham Chamber of Commerce Group has presented evidence to an All-Party Parliamentary Group inquiry into HS2, warning that rail travel in the UK is “a disaster waiting to happen” unless new capacity is added. The Chamber argued that HS2 will safeguard local services by relieving pressures on the current West Coast Main Line.
Michael Ward, president of Birmingham Chamber, said: “HS2 offers us the chance to build national transport infrastructure around the needs of our 21st century economy. Currently we’ve shaped our economy around our Victorian infrastructure and it is high time that we begin to invest in our future.
“Transport is vital to the success of business and HS2 will create 22,000 jobs and add an extra £1.5 billion of investment into our economy every year.”
David Cameron, in his speech on Government plans to improve Britain’s infrastructure, said HS2 would “transform connections in our country just as motorways did in the 1960s”.
He said: “It’s not only about a quicker line between London and Birmingham – that’s just the first stage – but a national network that connects to Leeds and Manchester with vastly faster, better services.”