'HS2 will open up more than a high speed line' says the boss heading multi-billion pound project
In Staffordshire, HS2's connection to the West Coast Main Line provides the opportunity for communities beyond our major cities – such as in Stafford and Wolverhampton – to capitalise on the benefits of high speed rail.
Stafford itself is in an ideal position to take full advantage of the introduction of HS2, writes Sir David Higgins, chairman of HS2 limited.
Stafford's station has served as a crucial strategic asset to the town and the region for almost 180 years, acting as an important junction between Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester.
The arrival of HS2 services will help catalyse growth.
Stafford Borough Council is determined to use HS2 to build on Stafford's reputation as an attractive place to live, work and invest in.
Regeneration projects already underway in the area include a £1.2 billion investment in new shops, businesses, industrial expansion and housing.
This includes the £100 million revitalisation of Stafford town centre close to the station, with a new retail and cinema development.
Stafford Borough Council is planning to oversee the building of 10,000 homes across the borough, including a major new development by the Ministry of Defence.
The commitment to the link between the HS2 line and the West Coast Main Line at Handsacre will also provide the opportunity to broaden the economic benefits of HS2.
Stafford's integrated high speed station will be used by a community far wider than the county town, opening up services to hundreds of thousands of people and businesses to the north, west and south including Staffordshire and the Black Country.
It will also enable people to access faster and direct services to London – providing a much-needed boost to transport links.
Stafford Borough Council is working in partnership with seven other local councils and two Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) on the development of a growth strategy for the so-called Northern Gateway Development Zone (NGDZ).
The NGDZ sees HS2 helping to supercharge development in the region, including at the proposed Crewe hub, delivering 100,000 homes and 120,000 jobs by 2040.
Key to success will be for each partner to identify and drive forward local opportunities.
Stafford Borough Council is commissioning a strategic vision and deliverable 'route map' and investment programme for Stafford station and surrounding areas, where the arrival of HS2 trains is expected to have the most transformative impact.
The aspiration is for under-utilised brownfield and industrial sites to be developed into high-density, high-value commercial and residential areas that allow the town to expand and improve the links between the town centre and strategic housing sites to the west of Stafford.
Birmingham and the wider West Midlands region are already enjoying the benefits of HS2.
Through the largest devolution deal to date, the West Midlands Combined Authority has been given responsibility for an investment package worth more than £4bn to deliver the Midlands HS2 Growth Strategy with the potential to add £14bn to the economy and create and support 100,000 jobs.
The government has underlined its commitment to seeing the Midlands as a whole develop by announcing a £12m three-year funding deal to help the Midland Connect transport partnership maximise the economic potential that HS2 will release in the region.
Construction of the National College for High Speed Rail in Birmingham is under way and is due to open in September 2017.
Growth hubs across the West Midlands have joined forces and developed a programme of support to help local businesses win HS2-related work.
A £20m Rail Growth Supply Fund was recently launched, providing loans of up to £2m to rail supply chain firms.
The Midland Metro's city centre extension to Birmingham New Street recently opened, with further connectivity improvements lined up.
Two new HS2 stations – Interchange at Solihull and Curzon Street in Birmingham city centre – are set to follow, with Birmingham also set to host a maintenance depot and state-of-the-art control centre.
HS2's headquarters is already in the city and will employ around 1,000 people.
The recently announced Curzon Investment Plan, worth almost £1bn, is designed to regenerate the area around the planned HS2 station: creating 36,000 jobs, 4,000 homes and 600,000m2 of commercial floor space.
Interchange station will create a world-class development opportunity for UK Central, Solihull.
Plans are being developed for a global business hub, Arden Cross, with the potential to deliver 20,000 jobs and 2,000 homes.
Within the wider UK Central area, forthcoming masterplans from Birmingham Airport, the NEC and Jaguar Land Rover will seek to make sure that the opportunities of the new HS2 station are fully realised.
The West Midlands Combined Authority Devolution Agreement has secured £348m investment for Interchange and other new transport links, in addition to identified sources of £288m for wider UK Central infrastructure.
Regions are using their local knowledge to identify local strengths and work out how the improved connectivity HS2 will deliver can take those strengths to a different level.
As I have seen over and over again in different parts of the country, longstanding rivalries and differences are being largely set aside as each area works out how it best fits into the whole.
The regional voice of Britain – so strong in the Victorian era when the original railways were born – is making itself heard again.
That is a process much to be welcomed because it is resulting in a much deeper and richer understanding of the economic potential of the country as a whole than is possible from a purely London perspective.
The next challenge will be to join up and integrate those local economic strategies into a truly national picture – not just for transport but for the economy as a whole.