One of Birmingham’s key industrial sites is being left to rot indefinitely because of HS2.
Thousands of jobs in one of the city’s most deprived areas at the prime former LDV site in Washwood Heath have been ‘kiboshed’, the project manager told the Birmingham Post, in an exclusive interview.
Two years of demolition and clearance has been completed but it was supposed to be followed by inward investment and a jobs bonanza.
However, the regeneration scheme for the sprawling complex has been shunted into the sidings by the controversial – and still in doubt – £43 billion HS2 project, which is set to swallow up the whole site.
Proposals to market the land for industrial use, potentially creating up to 7,000 jobs, are now mothballed for an indefinite period despite continuing uncertainties over the future of the high-speed rail project and its timescale, the developer admitted for the first time.
The news was greeted with anger by local MP Liam Byrne, who pledged to demand a debate in the House of Commons on HS2, asking why a third of Birmingham’s available industrial land was being left unused for so long while unemployment grows, and tangible redevelopment schemes were being allowed to fall by the wayside.
The apparent demise of any industrial development plan for the Drews Lane site was disclosed as West Midlands Fire Service said HS2’s plans to compulsorily purchase the car park and rear yard of the brigade’s headquarters in Nechells would cause huge disruption for vehicle access and parking.
Stephen Morgan of Birmingham-based agents Savills, project manager for the demolition and remediation work of the former LDV complex, said thousands of tonnes of concrete had been recovered from below the site over two years to make it an attractive site for marketing to potential users.
He said: “We are now finished with the demolition and the site clearance, and phase two was going to take off 10 acres of the site to give access for a maintenance depot for HS2.
“But they have decided that they require the vast majority of the remainder of the site to serve as a construction depot.
“There is no point in continuing marketing the development. At the moment, they want the whole site – they have kiboshed all development proposals.
“It is frustrating for our clients AXA who had hopes and optimism to move the site forward. In an ideal world, if we do not get HS2 we would be building on it, provided we found tenants.
“It would be an ideal site to market – it is a very clean site. But no-one is going to sign up for a site which could be taken away.
“When they first indicated that they wanted the bottom of the site for access to the maintenance depot, it has always been mooted as a possibility that the bulk of the site would be needed for HS2. It is now on hold for an indeterminate period.”
Meanwhile, West Midlands Fire Service bosses have thrown down the gauntlet to HS2 to compulsorily purchase the whole site at Nechells to enable the brigade to move into a new purpose-built HQ.
John Edwards, chair of the West Midlands Fire and Rescue Authority, said: “We’re not talking about just any business here, our building is the nerve centre of the West Midlands Fire and Rescue Service and houses our vital control centre which mobilises fire appliances for the whole of the West Midlands and will soon mobilise for Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent as well.
“HS2 has to recognise this and enable an orderly relocation for us given that their planned actions will render our HQ unfit for purpose.”
Phil Loach, chief fire officer, said: “In no way should this have any effect to the services we provide to our communities. This is of great concern to us and we urge representatives of HS2 to reconsider and compulsory purchase the whole site.”
Representatives of both WMFS and HS2 plan to continue negotiations over the forthcoming months.
At Washwood Heath, Birmingham City Council had drawn up its own plans for a hi-tech business park on the site, creating up to 7,000 jobs for manufacturers and green technology businesses.
By contrast, it is estimated that the rail depot would create only 400 relatively low-paid jobs.
The demolition and remediation followed the end of van-making at Drews Lane in 2009, when LDV finally collapsed after piling up debts of £75 million.
The demise of the van-maker cost 800 jobs at the factory and several thousands more in the supply chain when LDV fell into administration in June 2009.
The complex boasts a proud industrial heritage pre-dating the LDV era and was home of the luxury Wolseley car company from the 1920s.
Mr Byrne said he was planning to set up a West Midlands debate on HS2, involving Solihull Liberal Democrat MP Lorely Burt and Conservative Andrew Mitchell, MP for Sutton Coldfield, to press for official figures on job creation in Birmingham.
Mr Byrne (Lab Hodge Hill) said there was no concrete offer of job creation in the city from HS2, but the city has been prepared to allocate space for the development.
He said: “Last time I asked them, before Christmas, we said ‘where is the job offer for Birmingham’, and they said they haven’t got one.
“We want a guarantee of something like a half or a third of the jobs in Birmingham, in return for taking out a third of our industrial land and destroying a chance of creating jobs.”
He added: “If we are handing over a third of our industrial land in Birmingham then it is going to put more pressure on the green belt in Sutton Coldfield, so it isn’t great news for Andrew either.”
HS2 lead spokesperson Ben Ruse said: “The land at Washwood Heath is required for the construction and operation of a train depot, which will create 500 new jobs. This was included in the recently published environmental statement for phase one.
“The completion of construction works will free up approximately 16 hectares of land for regeneration on the site.
“HS2 is working with Birmingham City Council to support this proposal, so that it eventually provides employment opportunities for people in the West Midlands. In addition, more than 8,000 jobs will be generated through the construction of the two new stations at Birmingham Airport and Curzon Street.”
Meanwhile, the new chairman of HS2 pledged to deliver the project more cheaply as he started the role.
Sir David Higgins also said his priorities were to build the project more quickly and “get benefits to the north earlier”.