MPs have hailed a breakthrough for Birmingham jobs after a Government committee chair called on HS2 to adjust plans for a train maintenance depot in Birmingham so that unwanted land can be freed up for development.
The massive former Alstom and LDV sites in Washwood Heath are currently being held to provide a marshalling yard , called the Rolling Stock Maintenance Depot (RSMD) for Britain’s high speed rail network.
But Hodge Hill MP Liam Byrne and his colleagues have long argued that the site is much too large for HS2’s needs and parts could be developed with warehousing or industrial units now - creating much needed jobs for the inner-city area in the medium term.
By contrast, with construction of HS2 not set to begin until 2017 and the trains not running until 2026, it is argued that the delivery of jobs will take too long. Even then the RSMD would employ about 600 workers compared to thousands of opportunities which may be created by industrial development.
And the Labour MP, who has campaigned with landowners AXA to release the site, has been backed by a Parliamentary Select Committee which, while confirming the site is ideal for the HS2 depot, has urged HS2 Ltd to ascertain it’s needs now and release any unwanted land for development as soon as possible.
Mr Byrne welcomed the decision. He said: “This is a real breakthrough. The HS2 Committee has heard our call for jobs. Now HS2 Ltd must work with us on a Plan B that could see 2,334 jobs created in the inner city.”
He said the LDV/Alstom site is vital to the city as, the size of 100 football pitches, it accounts for a third of the undeveloped industrial land in the city. It is also at the heart of Birmingham’s inner city where unemployment is high and jobs in short supply.
Chairman of the HS2 select committee Robert Syms MP said: “On Washwood Heath, we were impressed by the submission from AXA and our colleague Liam Byrne and we sympathise with the need to address high unemployment in and around his constituency.
“We do not believe there is enough evidence to support a move of the RSMD from Washwood Heath. We impress on HS2 the need to adjust the scheme so there is minimum land take and for the shortest time.”
And HS2 has agreed to work on the plan B. Spokesman Ben Ruse said: “Washwood Heath is the most suitable site for the proposed maintenance depot. We respect the committee’s further instructions and will continue to work closely with petitioners and other relevant parties.”
Mr Byrne has been joined in the campaign by West Midlands MPs of all parties.
Lorely Burt, the Lib Dem MP for neighbouring Solihull said: “I have long argued for jobs to be protected at Washwood Heath whilst also being conscious of not damaging UK Central’s prospects for delivery.
“The Select Committee’s decision on Washwood Heath is quite obviously a ‘win-win-win’. A win for the people of Washwood Heath, Solihull and also HS2.
Now we need HS2 to engage fully with all interested parties to deliver the 2,300 private sector jobs set out in the alternative plans referred to by the Committee plus the 600 plus new railway jobs as soon as possible.”
And Conservative MP Caroline Spelman was delighted that an alternative site for the RSMD in her Meriden constituency was not selected.
She said: “The decision from the Select Committee is common sense in action in relation to the Washwood Heath site. This is a win-win situation where HS2 get to build some of the infrastructure they need while the rest of the site can be used to create many more jobs, without needing to displace the marshalling yards into my constituency. HS2 should now engage and respond positively to the AXA proposals. Anything less would not be in accordance with the Select Committee’s wishes.”