Now that the economy is starting to grow strongly, we need to make sure that the whole country benefits, instead of depending too much on London and the South-East for growth and prosperity.
Gross value added in Dudley and Sandwell – the best measure of local economic growth – fell from an already poor 88% of the national average in 1997 to a shocking 74% when the recession began in 2008.
To attract the jobs and investment that our community needs, we have to make it as easy to do business here as it is in London or any of the world’s other major economic centres.
Last week the Government has published the High Speed Rail Bill, to build HS2 – the first new main line north of London since Queen Victoria was on the throne.
A lot of the focus has been on journey times between Birmingham and London.
Knocking 50 minutes off journeys from Rowley Regis to London will help, but the biggest benefit will be increased rail capacity and the extra local services that it will allow in the West Midlands.
Over the last decade rail use has gone up by 50%, and journeys around Birmingham and Coventry are growing more quickly.
Current rail links will be over capacity by the time that HS2 opens, and that will mean important regional services being reduced to allow for more capacity on peak inter-city routes.
We need a new line and so the question becomes whether we should build another rail line to nineteenth century standards or one that is fit for the twenty-first century.
HS2 provides more capacity – up to 1,100 extra each hour – at less cost per passenger than the alternatives put forward and allows local services to be improved in the Black Country.
Centro have already published a “West Midlands Connectivity Package” of local improvements that would spread the benefits of HS2 across the region, including increased capacity and connectivity from Cradley Heath, Old Hill and Rowley Regis stations to Moor Street and Stourbridge.
Anybody who travels to Snow Hill in rush hour knows how desperately we need this.
New routes from Sandwell & Dudley would operate every hour, services to Coventry, Shrewsbury and Telford would double, and connections to Birmingham International would go up from one an hour to one every ten minutes – greatly improving links to the airport.
HS2 is about investing over the next 20 years to create modern rail infrastructure for the next 100 years. Most of those costs fall towards the end of the project.
HS2, together with Centro’s package, is projected to create 12,500 additional jobs in the Black Country alone, boosting the Black Country’s economy by £900m each year.
If we are serious about bringing about regional growth then we can’t afford not to build it.