Planning applications jump fourfold along course of HS2

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The HS2 line between London and Birmingham has led to a fourfold increase in planning applications for homes, office and commercial buildings around the railway’s new stations in the West Midlands, according to analysis by HS2 Ltd, the state-owned body running the project.

HS2 Ltd and the Department for Transport are at pains to show the project has benefits after criticism earlier this month by a cross-party committee of MPs who said it offered “very poor value” for money and was suffering from a “failure of governance and oversight”.

Their research found that since the project was greenlighted in 2017 planning applications in a 1.5 mile radius of HS2’s new stations and depot in the West Midlands rose by 66 per cent compared with just 15 per cent in the areas immediately outside.

Sir John Thompson, the executive chair of HS2 Ltd, accused the project’s detractors of relying on “anecdotal evidence” when assessing the true value of the 140-mile line, which includes four new stations.

Although the cost of the London to Birmingham line has spiralled to £67bn in today’s prices — more than double the original £32.7bn cost of the entire line from London to Leeds and Manchester — Thompson said it was delivering increased long term prosperity.

“HS2 is a project of phenomenal scale and ambition,” Thompson wrote in the foreword to the report, adding that it would create “a legacy of world-leading industry, reimagined public spaces and international investment that will be felt for generations”.

The analysis of the impact in areas within a 1.5 mile radius of two new HS2 stations in central Birmingham and Solihull and a depot at Washwood Heath, found that planning applications were up by two-thirds and the number of residential homes had increased fivefold, with 55,000 planned since 2017, compared with fewer than 10,000 in the six years before HS2 was approved.

Developers in Birmingham said the line had helped to attract investment around the planned Solihull interchange near Birmingham international airport to the south of the city and at a new central terminus at Birmingham Curzon Street.

Rob Valentine says his company would not have opened a new £35mn office block without HS2 © Charlie Bibby/FT

Rob Valentine, regional MD for West Midlands at Bruntwood SciTech, a developer and investor, said the company had opened a new £35mn office block this year as the first phase in a 60-hectare Birmingham Innovation Quarter, a five-minute walk from the new station at Curzon Street.

“HS2 is a globally recognised investment and was important in the decision to move forward with that building, which was a speculative development outside the central business district. We wouldn’t have done that without HS2,” he said.

In the wake of the decision last October by prime minister Rishi Sunak to cancel the rest of the planned line north of Birmingham civic and business leaders in Manchester have raised concerns about the opportunity cost of the decision.

Map showing what is left of HS2 rail,

Henri Murison, chief executive of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership lobby group said that the mere passing of legislation for the Birmingham phase had triggered a wave of investment and regeneration across the city and wider West Midlands region.

“We could mirror this HS2 effect to some degree across northern cities by investing in intercity rail infrastructure,” he said, adding that an efficient and reliable northern transport system was “non-negotiable” if ministers were to “close the long-standing productivity gap with London”.


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