Key industrial sites on the eastern edge of Birmingham city centre could be blighted for two decades if set aside for the second phase of high speed rail (HS2).
The former Alstom and LDV sites in Washwood Heath have been earmarked as the likely location of the construction and maintenance depot for the next generation of high speed rail trains and tracks.
But with the first phase, between London and Birmingham, scheduled for arrival in 2026 at a cost of £17 billion and the second phase, extending the lines to Leeds and Manchester several years later the land could be left empty for a generation.
The 55 acre Alstom site has been earmarked for development since the train maker closed in 2004 and LDV’s 64 acre site has been awaiting development since the van maker crashed three years ago.
Now both have been kept sidelined until later this year when, following a three-month consultation with local authorities and train operators, the Secretary of State for Transport Justine Greening is expected to decide where the HS2 depot will go.
By the time the consultation is launched it is expected that the City Council will be under Labour control.
As part of that consultation Birmingham City Council will be asked to back one of three options for the sites. The first is no HS2 depot and use the land for something else.
The second is a small depot for phase one between London and Birmingham creating about 300 jobs. And the third is for a major depot covering the entire HS2 network creating 7,000 engineering and maintenance jobs.
While the highest investment and jobs would seem to be the better option, the delay of 20 years while the line is completed means that a large bank of land would be idle.
Labour group regeneration spokesman Coun Tahir Ali (Nechells) said: “These site are in areas such as Washwood Heath and Shard End which have 40 per cent youth unemployment, some of the highest rates in the country.
“These jobs are badly needed. But the third option leaves the land blighted and unusable.”
He said that the local MP Liam Byrne had carried out his own consultation with residents and a majority preferred the scheme which delivered a few hundred jobs and left the greater part of the industrial land available for development in the short to medium term.
He said: “The residents have told us that is what they want and the Labour group is likely to support that option. We hope the Government will listen.
“We want the jobs and development sooner rather than later. Waiting until 2030 is not an option as far as we are concerned.”
Council assistant director of development strategy David Bull said: “In three months we are expecting to be consulted over what land will be required for HS2, including the proposals for the depot at Washwood Heath and whether this land should be safeguarded.
“We have the three options of no facility, one smaller facility or the larger facility. We will look at the evidence base for those options and provide that information for the Cabinet to make a decision.”
He said that private land owners affected would be consulted over issues of land blight.
He added that the Secretary of State is set to announce her decision in the autumn.
The city council and the three main political parties have backed HS2, as has Birmingham’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
However, the council’s transport scrutiny committee has admitted its frustration at the time scales involved.
Chairman Jerry Evans (Lib Dem, Springfield) said: “The Government has criticised local authority planning process for being too slow and full of major obstacles, but when a decision taken a few weeks ago will not be presented as a bill until 2013, not receive Royal Assent until 2015 and construction can’t begin until 2017 then perhaps the Government should look at its own planning processes.”