HS2 Debate needs to focus on economic return and not political boundaries

Please see below a comment on the location of the HS2 station by Giles Searby – Chair of the LEP Professional and Legal services sector group and Partner at Keeble Hawson. It so much reflects what we, as a Chamber, passionately believe and have been saying for many months. The LEP let us down at the beginning of this process by not commissioning an impartial study of where the station should be located and it was left to Sheffield City Council who were never going to be seen as impartial by the rest of the region. So now we have a politically driven debate when all we should be focusing on is what gives the best economic return and the most jobs.

“Legend has it that a former South Yorkshire local government leader was once overheard to say that “the worst thing that ever happened to Sheffield was Bob Kerslake; because he gave Sheffield a sense of ambition and before they were content with their place”.

“Today, as I read the reactions to the Yorkshire Post article debating the Hs2 station location, I’m reminded of that sentiment.

“There is strong evidence that a Sheffield City Centre location for HS2 would lead to more jobs and stronger business growth across the Sheffield City Region. HS2 themselves agreed in their original options review https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/options-for-phase-two-of-the-high-speed-rail-network but cited additional cost and what is now known to be two minutes of extra journey time as barriers.

“A city centre station would give better connectivity between core northern cities – and therefore also dove-tail with HS3, strengthening the economic position of the North as a whole by helping to create a single, larger labour market and agglomeration benefits. This equates to more jobs for the whole city region and Yorkshire-wide.

“The wider Sheffield City Region needs a strong Sheffield city centre and vice versa. These are not mutually exclusive concepts. Getting Sheffield city centre to punch its weight must be an economic priority in the city region.

“Having the HS2 station located at Meadowhall would result in fewer jobs and less growth for everyone. Most of the job forecasts quoted re HS2 are not actually linked to having faster trains to London, they come from the regeneration potential that will exist around the HS2 stations themselves. Look at the ambitious regeneration plans published by Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham for their HS2 stations. We risk missing out on this massive regeneration boost in Sheffield City Region because the scope for wider regeneration is clearly less at an out of town parkway station. I see no scope for a cluster of leading international businesses next to a biomass plant, a sewerage works and a very constrained M1 viaduct.

“Whilst the initial investment to come into the city centre station would indeed be higher, this would be outweighed by a greater return on that investment. HS2 is a once in a generation investment opportunity; we have an obligation to maximise the return on investment for UK PLC, a concept businesses and HM Treasury more than understand. The idea of Manchester forgoing their regeneration plans and settling for a ‘Trafford Parkway’ station or Leeds settling for a ‘Morley Parkway’ Station, just because it was cheaper and took 2 minutes less on a journey to London is incomprehensible.

“So, should we be ‘content with our place,’ or should we be ambitious, determined, and do what would be best for the people and businesses of Sheffield City Region? I want excellence for Sheffield City Region. Investing in a city centre station would be an investment in the growth of the whole of the City Region and allow us to play our rightful role in the Northern Powerhouse.”

GILES SEARBY

Chair of Sheffield City Region LEP Business, Professional and Financial Services Sector Group
Partner, hlw Keeble Hawson LLP