July 17 this year was significant for Yorkshire. When the Secretary of State confirmed the HS2 route between Birmingham and Leeds, it brought an end to the uncertainty about plans for the railway and paved the way for business and civic leaders to push ahead with plans to maximise growth.
But for some it brought sadness, and I don’t underestimate the anger that those set to lose their homes will feel. Treating those we are affecting with respect, and ensuring that the compensation they receive supports them in moving forward, is a priority for me and my team.
It’s easy to say when it’s not me impacted, but I urge people to take their time. Construction isn’t scheduled to begin until at least 2023 and access to compensatory schemes for eligible owner-occupiers is available until one year after the railway opens – 2034.
Finding a new home or making the choice to stay is a huge decision and I recognise the challenge this presents at this early stage in the project. In 2019 we will submit the hybrid Bill to Parliament, requesting the powers to build and operate the Birmingham to Leeds section of the railway.
Over the next two years we have a lot of preparatory work to do ahead of that submission. We’re developing a much more detailed picture of what the railway will look like and sound like along the entire stretch of the route and outlining the mitigation measures we’ll put in place to minimise impacts on individuals, communities and the environment.
This is a critical stage of the process and one I’m eager to see communities work with us to develop. Local knowledge is invaluable and we need that input if we are to maximise the potential.
Ultimately, we want to create the best possible railway. One that opens up opportunities and stimulates investment and growth across towns and city regions in the north. It must build on the country’s proud railway heritage and leave a lasting legacy for future generations to prosper.
I firmly believe that HS2 is much more than just a railway. It has catalytic effects and the potential to shift the economic geography of the UK. Phase One of the project, between Birmingham and London, is six years ahead of Phase 2b, but still nine years away from welcoming its first passengers. Yet when I look at the regeneration and growth that’s happening around our office in Birmingham, it’s easy to see the potential as it’s happening right in front of your very eyes.
Big businesses such as HSBC are moving in, choosing to relocate their UK operations to the city. Former banks and historic buildings which have lain empty in the city’s streets are being given a new lease of life, transforming the city into a buzzing new destination in its own right.
This is why city centre stations are important – and the right decision for Yorkshire. They have the infrastructure around them to support and maximise growth. And it’s not just in Birmingham, it’s happening in Leeds too because the city’s leaders have been quick to recognise the enormity of what’s on offer.
The regeneration of the South Bank in Leeds will be the city’s biggest transformation in over a century, doubling the size of the centre and creating a new destination for investment, living, learning, creativity and leisure. It’s predicted to provide more than 35,000 new jobs and there’s no doubting that the transformational impact HS2 will have on Leeds’ connectivity with the rest of the UK is a driving force behind this ambitious change.
There’s a genuine desire to forge ahead and a determination to get the right people around the table to make it happen. Confidence is what HS2 can and will bring to the city region is evident – you only need to look at how plans for the revamped station are progressing. A working partnership between the public and private sector is at the heart of the region’s strategic model and it’s proving to be a winning formula.
How HS2 connects with the rest of the transport system is critical and a crucial part of the picture. We’re driving a whole new way of thinking about wider transport connectivity and city regions are looking long and hard at their own local transport plans and putting steps in place to ensure that the benefits can be felt far and wide.
I’m proud of what I see happening in West Yorkshire and want to see that shared vision of prosperity right across the county. We’re about to embark upon our next round of community information events and I urge people in Yorkshire to come along and talk to us. I often hear people say “We don’t use the train now, it won’t benefit us”. It’s those people more than ever that we want to reach out to, to show them that the benefits are there for everyone, now and in to the future.
Paul Griffiths, Interim Managing Director, Phase Two