The Bill for Phase 2a of HS2, between the West Midlands and Crewe, has recently been granted Royal Assent – and work is already taking place in the south of Staffordshire where part of the first phase of the route from London is located.
Now a Staffordshire County Council scrutiny committee is set to monitor the effects of HS2 on the area on an ongoing basis, after it called for information on the economic impact of the scheme.
A report to Friday’s prosperous Staffordshire select committee said: “The county council does not support HS2, and acknowledges the significant human impact of the scheme on our residents and communities. We remain focused on getting the best deal for Staffordshire in terms of mitigation, compensation for residents, improved connectivity and economic benefits.
“We will retain this focus throughout construction, undertaking our statutory role to minimise impacts wherever possible and ensuring that commitments made during the parliamentary process are delivered.”
Councillor Philip White, cabinet member for economy and skills, told Friday’s meeting there were “a limited range of benefits on offer to Staffordshire during the construction phase”, including local employment and an effort to “buy locally”.
He said: “They are also employing a small but welcome number of apprentices from Staffordshire into a variety of trades and professions. They have a very welcome scheme available for organisations that have been impacted by the HS2 construction process that people can bid into for various mitigations.
“But it’s relatively small in my opinion compared to the impact that HS2 is likely to have on our area during the construction phase. The real benefits of HS2 will remain to be seen, and I am somewhat concerned that the basis on which HS2 was agreed was pre-Covid, with the travel patterns that prevailed then, so we’re all waiting to see how that settles down.
“Ostensibly the benefits that HS2 will bring will be the stop at Stafford, with real opportunities there to regenerate Stafford town, and to generate far more economic activity in that area. It’s very pleasing to see that Stafford’s benefited from a large sum of money from the Future High Streets Fund to get that regeneration going, along with support from the county council and the borough council.
“We have a duty to try and extract those benefits, both short term in terms of mitigation and long term in terms of the benefits for our economy.”
But Councillor David Smith, who represents a rural Lichfield ward, described the situation in Hints, where work is already taking place, as “chaos”.
“We have had a whole string of complaints”, he added. “We have narrow lanes that are being accessed by very heavy vehicles and trying to get past cars that are parked.
“There is only grief in south east Staffordshire, there is no benefit. It’s faster for example to go to London from Lichfield than it is to go via HS2. It’s all grief and no benefit as far as we’re concerned, which is very unfortunate as there was an opportunity to have done something tremendous.
“The lack of a station in south east Staffordshire really is a great omission. That’s too late to correct.”
Councillor Keith Flunder, who represents a Staffordshire Moorlands area, said: “Speaking for the north and the Moorlands, I can see the benefits in terms of economics, contracts and spending, but it’s a bit light on benefits that could come. Will these new links affect the existing train services?
“Could we get some idea of what could be if we only lobbied a bit more, looking at more trains running, links to green structure or maybe having areas where we could fit into new battery operated systems? We’re going to have to move quickly to get those benefits from what might be seen at the moment as a mostly negative situation.
“I think that maybe we could grasp the nettle a bit more and see where the roots go.”
Councillor White responded that the area may see improved rail services on other lines.
“There is a consultation ongoing which is looking at what improvements we believe would benefit Staffordshire”, he added. “That’s looking at offsetting impacts of HS2 but also how we can offer greater connectivity into HS2 for passengers who use other lines.
“We are in dialogue with the DfT (Department for Transport) about that and it’s fair to say pretty much all our railway lines would benefit from investment that would make them more connective into HS2.”
Newcastle Councillor Kyle Robinson said: “In relation to Kidsgrove Station we are already seeing some of the benefits HS2 may bring. In recent years developers and investors have focused particularly around Kidsgrove Station.
“I think this is important for North Staffordshire and there are some real opportunities. Where we can work with HS2 to get the benefits those conversations should start as soon as possible and I’m sure the county are aware of that.
“While some areas will benefit it is really important we take on board concerns from people who have got worries. We need to be ready for that and make sure we have got things in place to support our residents.”