Harper urged not to delay rail hub plans after ‘disappointing’ HS2 news

Plans to launch the Midlands Rail Hub to improve east-west connectivity need to get under way, a transport body in the region has said.

Transport secretary Mark Harper has been urged not to delay plans for the Midlands Rail Hub after the “disappointing” announcement that HS2 to Manchester would be axed.

Mr Harper was in Birmingham on Thursday to meet stakeholders including West Midlands mayor Andy Street and Midlands Connect, which researches, develops and progresses transport projects in the area, in the wake of the Prime Minister’s announcement last week that phase two of HS2 from Birmingham to Manchester would not go ahead.

Both Midlands Connect and Conservative mayor Mr Street have been vocal about their disappointment at the decision, but the focus is now on delivering alternative transport projects in the region – including the Midlands Rail Hub.

The rail hub would help “maximise” Birmingham Moor Street in a bid to provide more train services in and out of the city to other areas of the Midlands.

Maria Machancoses, chief executive of Midlands Connect, said it is vital the government gets on with the project without delay.

Speaking to the PA news agency at the Department for Transport in Birmingham after meeting Mr Harper, she said: “We made it very clear to him that HS2 is already in our DNA, so of course we were disappointed when, just as we start to see things happening, we are told the line would stop here.

“On a positive note, the government did identify the road and rail programmes that Midlands Connect had already identified, so hopefully we will now be able to deliver them.

“That’s the message today – it’s great you have supported our east-west connectivity programmes, we now really need to get on with it. Let’s not keep rethinking and redesigning, it needs to happen now.

“We were reassured that there wasn’t going to be any delays or rethinking on the rail hub so that was very good to hear.

Conservative Party Conference 2022
West Midlands mayor Andy Street (Aaron Chown/PA)

“He understood very well that we need to finalise the designs and get it into shape very quickly. We did feel he was listening.

“We can’t stop and think – the message was very clear today.”

Explaining why the rail hub is necessary, Ms Machancoses said: “Travelling between the west and the east is painful, it’s slow. The train services between Nottingham and Birmingham for example – you go from Birmingham, you get to Derby, then you stop and go backwards and that’s the way to Nottingham.

“Coventry to Leicester – two cities not that far away from each other but there is only one train service an hour and you have to stop on the way and change platform, yet they are so close to each other.

“It makes people totally reliant on the car. Less than five per cent of journeys, maybe three per cent, between Coventry and Leicester are made by train.

“If we want people to have more options to travel sustainably, if you want less people on the roads, you have to invest in good train services.”

Mr Harper said while the stakeholders he met reminded him they “fundamentally didn’t agree” with the decision to cut short the HS2 route, the discussions they did have about alternative projects were positive.

He said: “In the Midlands, just under £10 billion is being spent on alternative transport projects – some of that is rail, some of that is roads.

“A big investment here is in the Midlands Rail Hub, that was something Andy Street argued the case for right at the beginning of me doing this job and now we’re in a position where we can fund that in full and that was welcomed by Andy and the other stakeholders.

“The rail hub, the road investments we have set out, they are the things they want to see to grow the economy, provide jobs and grow the wealth in this region.

“We talked about how we should deliver those, the timings of those, and things we need to think about as we deliver them so it was a really useful two-way conversation and we’ll be having plenty more of those in the weeks and months to come.”

Mr Harper said residents will start to see the benefits of scrapping phase two of HS2 “in a few weeks’ time” – including the extension of the £2 bus fare cap until the end of 2024.

He said: “The money we are saving, we think we are investing that into projects that will deliver better economic return for the taxpayer and also be on the things that more people use every day.

“For example, buses don’t always get talked about in the national conversation but twice as many journeys a year are made on buses as on trains – they are the most popular form of transport and by keeping the cost of them down, means you deliver a much better offer for people trying to get to work, to college, to university, to their everyday appointments.

“It really does offer more practical benefits every day of the week.”

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