The company behind the HS2 high speed rail project is planning to move to Birmingham once construction work starts – meaning potentially thousands of jobs for the city.
HS2 Ltd has been looking at properties in the city ahead of a potential move after 2015, once political wrangling calms down.
The company currently employs about 500 people directly – the vast majority of which are in London – but that number is likely to soar into the thousands once building work starts on the first phase between the capital and Birmingham.
But it said the move was just the start as high-speed rail is expected to create close to 50,000 jobs in the region directly. Community leaders say it is an important step, as it is vital HS2 spurs economic regeneration in the city.
Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP) recently revealed plans to develop a high speed centre of excellence were at the heart of a £1 billion bid to boost the region’s economy.
HS2 Ltd spokesman Ben Ruse said: “It is likely that as we move into the construction phase we would certainly expect to have our construction arm based around the West Midlands.
“If nothing else, that would seem logical given that Birmingham is at the heart of the country, but more importantly at the centre of HS2.”
HS2 Ltd recently came under fire for employing 550 people in London and just seven in Birmingham.
However, the company set up to develop the £42 billion rail line set to run between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, said it was important to be near the Department for Transport while plans are being worked up. And high-speed rail is integral to the region’s growth plans. A large chunk of GBSLEP’s bid to the single local growth fund is aimed at creating jobs by making the region a centre of engineering excellence for high-speed rail.
It is also anticipated that 8,600 jobs would be created as a result of the proposed station sites and up to 22,000 more through regional and local rail enhancements and feeder services.
MP Gisela Stuart (Lab Edgbaston) said the power of HS2 in terms of regeneration is overlooked by many in the city.
She said: “I was in favour of HS2 anyway, but I think it is essential as it goes through the planning phases that the focus is on regeneration, and the jobs must come out of London and into the regions.
“And I would have thought Birmingham was the perfect place.”
She added: “I don’t think Birmingham has ever fully appreciated the importance of HS2. If you look at what New Street station does it has three incredibly important functions – local commuters, regional and national linkage, and people tend to overlook how important national linkage is.
“Any extension of that can only be good for us, but in typical Birmingham fashion this is often overlooked.”
A key tranche of plans drawn up by GBSLEP and Birmingham City Council is encouraging better links between colleges and the engineering sector, particularly around HS2 and Jaguar Land Rover.
Post columnist David Bailey, professor of industrial strategy at Aston University, said it was an important step for HS2 to firm up its ties to the West Midlands.
He said: “We want as much economic benefit out of HS2 as possible. The danger is it simply reflects the current position of London.
“HS2 needs to be plugged into the regeneration of this area, in terms of the transport and in terms of economic development.
“If we are going to do it, let’s make the most of it.”