HS2 the 'wrong answer' for the West Midlands, says Green leader Natalie Bennett
The £50 billion HS2 project will cluster resources at London and is the 'wrong answer' for the West Midlands, according to the leader of the Green Party.
Speaking to the Express & Star, Natalie Bennett said the scheme's huge bill would be better spent on local infrastructure in Staffordshire and the Black Country.
Her damning assessment comes just weeks after the region's business leaders revealed a £3.3bn vision for the HS2 that would create 52,000 jobs.
Miss Bennett, said: "Those behind the scheme seemed to have missed the fact local trains need to run from east to west, not just down to London. That is what would help build a stronger local economy.
"HS2 is the wrong answer for the West Midlands. It would be much more beneficial if the government were to put the same amount of investment into local infrastructure, particularly in terms of encouraging people to walk and cycle, and into improving local bus services."
A Midlands Growth Strategy developed by the Greater Birmingham & Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP) seeks to draw maximum benefit from HS2 by securing government funding for dozens of connected projects.
These include extending the Midland Metro from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill through Dudley town centre and introducing super-fast electric bus services linking HS2 stations to the i54 in Wolverhampton as well as Walsall, Halesowen and Lichfield.
Campaigners say the strategy outlines transport packages which are already needed.
And Miss Bennett is in no doubt which part of the country would benefit most from the high-speed rail line.
She added: "Under the HS2 proposals 72 percent of journeys would be people travelling into London. All HS2 will achieve is an even greater focus of resources around the capital.
"It will encourage rich people working in London to extend their commuting distance even further, which is unhealthy socially and for the environment, and it would be counter-productive in creating strong local economies."
Miss Bennett, who failed to secure a seat in Parliament in the general election, said HS2 was another example of government policy failing to back local economies.
"The current direction of the government benefits big international companies," she said. "What we need are strong local economies built on small business and co-operatives.
"If you spend £1 in your local shop it has been found that around 50p of that stays in and benefits the local area.
"However, if you spend £1 in a big supermarket you are lucky if 1p stays locally."
The HS2 network will stretch to 351 miles from London to Manchester and Leeds. In the Midlands, stations will be built at Curzon Street in central Birmingham and close to Birmingham Airport.