The Government is 100% committed to the HS2 high speed rail line with building work scheduled to start next spring, Transport Minister Andrew Jones told senior figures from the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) today.
Speaking at a WMCA fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, Mr Jones said HS2 was “going to happen” and praised the West Midlands for the way it was working to embrace and maximise the economic opportunities offered by the project.
The fringe event – ‘HS2 at the heart of the West Midlands Connectivity’ – wrapped up a busy four days for the WMCA which has seized the opportunity as host region for the conference to closely engage with Government at the highest level.
WMCA chair Cllr Bob Sleigh, left, Laura Shoaf of Transport for West Midlands, and Mark Rogers, chief executive of Birmingham City Council at a conference fringe event.
WMCA chair, Cllr Bob Sleigh, said: “As hosts we were determined to show how further devolution of powers can help secure not just a more prosperous West Midlands but a stronger and better balanced UK economy.
“I believe we have succeeded in doing that over the last few days and in putting not just our own region but the wider Midlands firmly in the national spotlight.
“We have received tremendous support from Government. We have seen ministers use this conference to make a number of key announcements in support of the WMCA as well as the Midlands Engine and its transport component Midlands Connect.
”Government clearly recognises the contribution this region can make to the wider UK economy through its manufacturing prowess and role as a dynamic exporter – qualities that will be even more important to the nation after Brexit.”
On Monday Chancellor Philip Hammond told the conference the Government was already working with the WMCA on a second devolution deal to include new powers on transport, criminal justice, data, planning and skills.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling used his keynote speech to announce an extra £12 million funding for Midlands Connect, which is in the process of drawing up a transport strategy to power the Midlands Engine and capitalise on HS2.
Cllr Sleigh added: “This week has shown that the Government has real confidence in the West Midlands and in our vision to transform people’s prosperity and wellbeing.
“We now look forward to working with Government to deliver the powers and investment needed to realise that vision and safeguard and grow our future economy.”
One of the WMCA’s key messages to Government during the week has been the need to press on and build HS2 as quickly as possible in order to provide badly needed capacity on the existing rail network and to help rebalance the national economy.
Today’s fringe meeting, sponsored by train manufacturer Alstom, heard how it was essential for the Government to confirm Phase Two of the route going north from Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds this autumn and for Phase One from London to Birmingham to obtain Royal Assent.
WMCA chief executive Martin Reeves said Phase Two would put the West Midlands at the heart of the UK high speed rail network offering unrivalled connectivity to other major UK cities.
But he added: “HS2 must continue to meet its key milestones. The first high speed trains must arrive in Birmingham in 2026, particularly if Birmingham is successful in its bid for the 2026 Commonwealth Games, and continue to link to the North by 2033 in order to boost economic productivity and open new business opportunities for the cities of the Midlands.”