Transport Secretary Grant Shapps: West Midlands would prosper without HS2
The West Midlands' economy will prosper even if HS2 is scrapped, the Transport Secretary has said.
Grant Shapps backed the region to flourish regardless of whether the Government decides to press ahead with the controversial line, which has been under review due to concerns over its spiralling costs and impact on the environment.
He said a decision was due "shortly" on the future of the route, which is is set to run from London to Birmingham before carving through 45 miles of Staffordshire countryside, and is considered vital for the region's future success by West Midlands Mayor Andy Street.
Mr Shapps spoke to the Express & Star during a visit to Birmingham where he officially opened the new £22m Regional Transport Coordination Centre (RTCC), which provides transport bosses with an ‘at a glance’ view of transport systems across the region.
He said he would revitalise transport across the region, pledging trains that run "to the minute" and hinting that he would be examining the performance of the M6 Toll.
Describing HS2 as a "massive decision" for the West Midlands, he said: "I come to the whole subject as someone who is very neutral about this. We're getting pretty close to making a decision but we are not quite there yet.
"I think West Midlands will thrive regardless of what happens because as I've seen today, it has got so much going for it."
He said he was "taking advice" from experts on current HS2 contracts, amid concerns that some had risen drastically in cost. "I'm clear that HS2 has to deliver value for money for the taxpayer," he said. "It has to provide a return so we get more out than we put in."
Mr Shapps also addressed the failings of West Midlands Trains, doubling down on a threat from the Prime Minister to remove its franchise if services did not improve.
The Transport Secretary – who describes himself "a frustrated commuter" – recently called time on Northern Rail over its poor performance.
He said West Midlands Trains had been "just not good enough. He said time was running out for the franchise to improve and pledged to make it the norm for services to run to schedule.
"We've got to stop concentrating on whether trains are five or 10 minutes late and calling that 'on time'," he said. "I want to see punctuality, so trains are running to the minute.
"Clearly West Midlands trains have been missing this target. I've been clear that we won't put up with this. The recovery needs to be quick. They are reaching the end of the line to bring those improvements."
On the M6 Toll, Mr Shapps said: "I do think it is important that it does the job of relieving congestion from the M6. There may be a case for looking hard at that and seeing if it is actually performing that task properly."
Mr Shapps added that he wants to see local railway lines and stations across the Black Country re-opened.
During his visit Mr Shapps also cast his eyes over the first phase of the city’s Westside Metro extension, which is the first route in the country to operate solely on battery power.
He said it was essential that the West Midlands had a "reliable, green transport network in place to allow it to realise its huge potential".
Looking ahead to the 2022 Commonwealth Games, he added: “Our ongoing investment in the region continues to bear fruit with the new Transport Coordination Centre putting better journeys front and centre and the Westside Metro extension underlining this Government’s determination to be the greenest on record.”
Mr Shapps also met with Mr Street and industry leaders at a roundtable event hosted by the West Midlands Chamber of Commerce, where they discussed transport priorities.