Midland councils have told ministers they could create 22,000 jobs and boost the local economy by £1.5 billion if they are allowed to seize control of public transport.
Proposals for a new “local transport body” are included in the “city deal” bid drawn up by Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership, representing Birmingham, Bromsgrove, Cannock Chase, East Staffordshire, Lichfield, Redditch, Solihull, Tamworth and Wyre Forest.
The plans have been inherited by Birmingham’s new Labour administration, which seized control of Birmingham City Council from a Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition in elections earlier this month. However, officials involved in drawing up the bid consulted opposition politicians as well as the city’s leaders in developing the proposals.
There is no guarantee the ideas set out in the bid document will be accepted by ministers, and the final city deal will be the result of lengthy negotiations.
According to the bid, substantial investment is needed in the region’s transport network to gain the full economic benefits of the planned high speed rail line, which will include two stations in the West Midlands, one in Birmingham city centre and one outside Solihull, near Birmingham Airport.
The document makes no mention of Centro, the existing passenger transport executive responsible for public transport in Birmingham, Solihull, Coventry and the Black Country. Centro’s authority extends to the boundaries of the old West Midlands County Council, which was abolished in 1986, but this area now contains three LEPs – Greater Birmingham and Solihull, Black Country and Coventry & Warwickshire – which may increasingly become the focus for co-operation between local authorities.
The bid document also states that the new transport body would work “in collaboration with neighbouring areas such as the Black Country on cross-boundary schemes”.
It would take control of funding from both local authorities and central government, and one of its goals will be to improve transport links to the proposed high speed rail stations.
Treasury figures show that £244 is spent on transport per head in the West Midlands region. Ministers have set an ambition of devolving as much transport spending as possible to local bodies.
Through the transport body, the LEP would have “the final say in decision-making” on local transport schemes, and be accountable for them. It would also attempt to “influence” decisions made by transport bodies such as Network Rail and the Highways Agency.
Other proposals in the bid include making Birmingham – rather than London – the national headquarters for the high speed rail project as the new line is being designed and built, “so as to maximise opportunities to develop both the professional service and the advanced manufacturing sector and support the rebalancing of the economy away from London and the South East”.
There would also be an obligation on developers working on the two new stations to ensure they regenerated the surrounding areas.
And Birmingham Airport receives firm backing in the bid document, which states: “We believe that part of the solution to the capacity problem of London’s Airport lies with Birmingham Airport.
“Thirty-six million people live within two hours travel time of the airport. This will increase with the arrival of High Speed Rail, which will position it closer to central London (in terms of travelling time) than some of the established airports serving London.
“Considerable investment is underway including the £65 million project to extend the runway allowing bigger, long-range jets to serve the city from as early as 2014. There is an opportunity to recognise this potential in the emerging Aviation Strategy.”
Other proposals include connecting firms in Digbeth, Eastside and the Jewellery Quarter in central Birmingham – an area known as Birmingham’s “digital district” – to super-fast broadband with speeds of 100mbps.
Fast wireless services using 4G technology – faster than the 3G technology now typically used – could also be available across the city.
But the bid document warns that telecommunication companies will only be persuaded to invest in the required infrastructure if there is also significant public funding.
It points out that the area is already home to 21 per cent of the UK video games workforce as well as leading animation and TV production companies and award winning digital agencies. Digital business employ 64,000 people in Birmingham – but this number could rise significantly with the right infrastructure.
The LEP is also calling for a major focus on economic growth in an area it is calling the M42 Economic Gateway, between junctions 4 and 6 of the M42. This includes Birmingham Airport, the National Exhibition Centre and a major Jaguar Land Rover plant.
The proposals involve allowing the LEP to keep business rates paid by firms in the area for a period of around six years, with the cash spent on measures to grow the local economy. This would include transport improvements which could cost up to £1.5 billion.
And the LEP hopes to create 3,000 jobs in the “green economy” by making energy efficiency improvements to 15,000 houses and 40 public buildings from 2012 to 2015.
It has also asked for the Government to contribute towards a £5.8 million “Green Deal” scheme which would include finding new ways to heat tower blocks and improving energy efficiency in schools.