The creation of a new railway station in Birmingham city centre should be a major boost to the city. It will help regenerate Birmingham’s Eastside and spur the creation of new retail and office space.
The city council also hopes it will allow the creation of a new “museum quarter”, providing an impressive welcome to visitors to the city. In a similar way, the West Midlands’ second new station, currently known as Birmingham Interchange, will prompt some accompanying development.
For a start, plans for high speed rail have strengthened the case for expanding Birmingham Airport. Hotels in the vicinity are bound to see an increase in trade. It may be that more will be built.
The station itself will be a major development, accompanied no doubt by some sort of retail concourse allowing commuters to buy a sandwich or something to read on the train. This is all well understood.
But what nobody wants is the creation of a brand new city, or anything like it.
The green space between Birmingham and Coventry is something we should all treasure. Without it, the towns and cities of the former West Midlands county would become one giant conurbation.
As things stand, the Meriden Gap is one of the most delightful places to live in the region. Nobody would be able to enjoy its green spaces, even for a day trip, if it was gone.
High speed rail will bring many advantages to Birmingham and the West Midlands. It must not be used as an excuse to tear up the countryside.
We should of course make it clear that no firm plans have been put in place to do any such thing. But the warning that a new city will spring up around the new station and Birmingham Airport comes from no less a figure than the chief engineer of project.
He also predicts that Birmingham Airport will rename itself London-Birmingham.
Unlikely as that might seem, the suggestion does highlight a deeper truth, which is that Birmingham’s airport will effectively become as “local” to London residents as Gatwick and Stansted.
It will certainly become as easy to reach, and may well be more convenient than the official London airports for many commuters.
This is a fact that Transport Secretary Justine Greening needs to remember when she is setting out plans for expanding aviation capacity.
Regional airports such as Birmingham can take the strain. In the medium term, we know that any new airport in the south is going to take many years to plan and build.
It makes sense to allow regional airports to provide needed capacity until then. In the longer term, it makes sense simply not to build a new airport in the south at all.
There is a ready-made solution to demand for air travel which is far cheaper and more sensible than an artificial island in the north sea. Birmingham Airport, and other regional airports, are ready to serve. Encouragingly, this is a message the Government appears to understand.
The Government’s aviation proposals are to be published in the summer.
If Ministers are serious about rebalancing the economy, they must make sure they take advantage of everything that regional airports have to offer.