Tom Watson plea for sleeper factory plan to feature in HS2 review
Boris Johnson has today been urged to examine plans for a rail sleeper factory on the Walsall-Sandwell border as part of the Government's review of HS2.
Network Rail wants to build the giant factory at Bescot Rail Yard in a scheme which has met widespread opposition, with campaigners concerned about noise, pollution and congested roads.
West Bromwich East MP Tom Watson says a probe into the "cost and social damage" of the factory should be part of an independent review of the £56 billion HS2 line, which ministers announced yesterday.
In a letter to the Prime Minister he claims the Bescot site is only needed as Network Rail's existing factory is Birmingham is being bulldozed to make way for HS2.
The Labour deputy leader said the sleeper factory scheme was "vehemently opposed by local residents and makes no financial sense".
"It will cost Network Rail, which is funded by taxpayers, millions of pounds to demolish the existing factory and build a new one at Bescot," he added.
"This scheme is neither economical nor sensible. It is unequivocally opposed by local residents. The sole rational for moving the factory from its existing site to Bescot is HS2.
"I urge you to ensure that the costs and social damage involved in moving the concrete sleeper factory are taken into account within the review of HS2.
"It will cost tax payers and my community dearly. That cost must be included in your review of whether it is sensible for HS2 to go ahead."
Mr Watson said the Bescot site is "totally unsuitable" for a factory, as the surrounding area contains several schools and children’s play areas.
"The production itself will cause air pollution and the increased congestion from the freight lorries will add further air and noise pollution as well as congestion," he said.
"The project presents a clear danger to the health of local children and will significantly affect quality of life for residents in the area."
The proposed factory will operate 24 hours a day, making hundreds of thousands of concrete sleepers for rail tracks.
Network Rail, which recently submitted revised plans for the scheme to Sandwell Council, say it will create hundreds of jobs and boost the local economy.
The review into HS2, which is expected to run until the autumn, was today welcomed by council bosses in Staffordshire as they vowed to do all they can to mitigate the impact of work on the line.
Staffordshire Council leader Philip Atkins, said: “While this is a decision for Parliament, from the outset we have made it clear that we will do everything we can to mitigate its impact, win timely compensation for affected communities and ensure we share in improved connectivity and economic benefits.
"While our position on HS2 remains unchanged, we welcome this independent review.”
About £5bn has already been spent on HS2, and preparatory works are set to continue while the report is being prepared.
The county council remains opposed to HS2 in principle and has called for all work in Staffordshire to be stopped until the full scope of the project is confirmed.
Joe Rukin, of the Stop HS2 campaign group, said that all work on the line should be “stopped immediately”.
Lichfield MP Michael Fabricant says he plans to tell the panel that the route is “both environmentally and financially too costly”.
However, business leaders across the region say the line is critical to the Midlands economy.