PLEASING all of the people all of the time was never going to be achievable by HS2, the Government company charged with delivering the high speed rail line between Yorkshire, the North West and London.
The sheer number of interested parties who will be affected by the hugely ambitious project means the journey towards the start of services in 2032 will require the cutting of as many Gordian knots as it does the digging of railway cuttings.
The opposition to a Meadowhall hub is largely fueled by the desire to make good much of the damage inflicted on Sheffield city centre by the establishment of the shopping centre in 1990.John Ledger
Britain’s most expensive rail line - the most recent estimate puts the cost at £42.6 billion but opponents claim that figure could double - continues to create conflict at every step of the consultation process, and there seems little prospect of harmony breaking out along the route.
The heated debate surrounding the location of the HS2 hub in South Yorkshire serves to demonstrate the difficulty planners have in winning hearts and minds.
HS2’s preferred option is to create a new rail station at Meadowhall, from where a network of travel connections by road, rail and tram would link the line to the wider South Yorkshire region.
Government figures suggest the Meadowhall station will create between 4,000 and 5,400 jobs and support 300 new homes on a site adjacent to the popular shopping centre.
However Sheffield City Council and the city’s MPs have consistently voiced their opposition to the Meadowhall proposal and championed their own preferred option of locating it in the city centre.
According to a Government study from 2012 that option would create a further 6,500 new jobs for a city which has suffered more than most from the dismantling of the country’s manufacturing industry.
The lure of an employment boost is often hard to resist but HS2 have yet to show any indication that they are considering a re-think, much to the measured relief of the rest of South Yorkshire.
The Government has stated that it would only consider changing the location if the move has the consensus of the whole region, but that possibility now looks remote.
This week three Labour MPs - Michael Dugher (Barnsley East), Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central) and Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) stressed the need to keep the station at Meadowhall, a view shared by civic leaders in surrounding towns who are fearful that a hub in the heart of Sheffield would severely dilute the economic benefits that HS2 will bring to the wider South Yorkshire region.
Meadowhall’s accessibility by road and rail means that towns like Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham have a better chance of taking full advantage of HS2, allowing them to play a fuller role as key components of the Northern Powerhouse.
The additional journey times associated with travelling into, and out of Sheffield city centre to reach HS2 will certainly act as a deterrent to both commuters from Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham and prospective employers looking to establish new businesses in outlying towns.
The opposition to a Meadowhall hub is largely fueled by the desire to make good much of the damage inflicted on Sheffield city centre by the establishment of the shopping centre in 1990.
The ‘Meadowhall effect’ has been felt keenly across the North - an estimated 12 per cent of the British population live within an hour’s drive of a venue which houses almost 300 shops and restaurants - but its biggest impact has been on Sheffield city centre.
In 2013, retail turnover in the Sheffield city region totalled £830m, a significant majority of which (£670m) was rung through the tills beneath the green glass dome of Meadowhall. For much of the last 25 years, shoppers in South Yorkshire shoppers have migrated to Meadowhall to the detriment of town centres, and nowhere has been harder hit than Sheffield.
A planned expansion of Meadowhall has met with opposition from Sheffield City Council, who have backed a £480m retail quarter scheme designed to increase footfall in the city centre.
Optimism that HS2 could relocate the new station to Sheffield city centre has been fuelled by the decision last November to scrap plans for a brand new station on the outskirts of Leeds in favour of an ambitious redevelopment of the existing station.
The new-look Leeds station will allow people to switch easily from HS2 services to existing local rail routes and proposed high speed trans-Pennine services, known as HS3.
There had been little support for the South Leeds station and business leaders were united in their backing for the decision to create a ‘Yorkshire hub’ in Leeds city centre, a situation which contrasts sharply with events in Sheffield.