A Transformation for the Midlands
Ahead of the UK Infrastructure Show 2018, we speak to the event partners about the importance of infrastructure. In today’s article we speak with Maria Machancoses, Director at Midlands Connect.
A delegation of political, business and civic leaders from across the Midlands headed to MIPIM in March – the world’s biggest property show – with £10Bn of investment opportunities up their sleeves and a renewed sense of confidence in the region.
It’s not a hard sell; the statistics speak for themselves. The Midlands is the largest and fastest growing economic region outside London, worth £207Bn to the UK economy. Our region is the centre of the UK automotive and rail industries, with world leading manufacturers JLR, Bombardier, JCB and Toyota amongst many others with major bases here. The Midlands is firmly at the cutting edge of the life sciences sector and is home to 20 universities, producing 112,000 skilled graduates each year.
We’re a creative, industrious and ambitious region. But how well connected are we?
Midlands businesses benefit from an enviable location in the heart of the country, but regional productivity still lags behind the national average. To address that, and truly rebalance the economy away from London and the South East, there must be a sea change in regional infrastructure investment. By connecting our towns and cities more quickly and efficiently with each other, the rest of the country and the world at large, the Midlands can begin to fulfil its potential.
That’s why I was so pleased to see such a focus on connectivity and infrastructure by the UK Midlands delegation at MIPIM. Our place at the heart of the £55Bn HS2 network makes us the first region to benefit from this once-in-a-generation transformation and the economic growth that’s already accompanying it.
With it, Birmingham Airport becomes the UK’s first HS2-ready airport in 2026, opening an already thriving hub to millions more passengers. And we’re pressing for the East Midlands Hub station at Toton, on HS2 Phase 2b, to open in 2030, earlier than planned, to transform east-west connections and help cement East Midlands Airport’s position as the UK’s largest for dedicated air-freight.
On top of that, HS2 gives us the opportunity to add unprecedented new levels of capacity to the existing rail network, integrate it fully with high speed lines and spread the economic benefits right across the Midlands; further and wider than just those towns and cities with a dedicated HS2 station.
These opportunities were at the forefront of the Midlands Connect vision we outlined in our landmark 25 year strategy in 2017; a vision of a well-connected region with a productive and prosperous workforce, growing the Midlands economy for the benefit of UK Plc as a whole. To achieve that we are making the case, based on strong and sound evidence, for when and where targeted infrastructure should take place in the Midlands.
Midlands Connect also believes that regional bodies like ours could and should have greater influence over those investment decisions. We’re already working closely with the Department for Transport and its delivery bodies Network Rail, Highways England and HS2 Ltd. Our voice is being heard, but we’re working towards an even more influential role.
This year, we start the process of becoming a Sub-National Transport Body, a legal entity acting as a bridge between central and local government with unprecedented influence over transport and infrastructure improvements.
This is an exciting time to be in the Midlands, and transport is at the vanguard of the renaissance.
And the Government is listening; in the 2017 Autumn Budget, billions of pounds of deals were announced giving responsibility for the planning and construction of better transport infrastructure to the UK’s regions. Within a week, the plans were reiterated in the Industrial Strategy, with specific reference to the work of organisations including Midlands Connect.
This is a clear recognition that regional decision making can unlock huge economic potential. The Midlands can do better. Raising productivity to the national average would help with the Midlands Engine’s ambition of adding £54Bn to the Midlands economy by 2030, creating 300,000 new jobs in the process.
HS2 offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the construction industry
Masterplans for the Midlands’ four HS2 hub stations at Birmingham Curzon Street, Birmingham Interchange, Crewe and Toton promise thousands of new homes and jobs clustered around them. A third of the Government’s £31Bn National Productivity Fund is to be dedicated to housing – a big win for construction firms.
The Midlands Connect strategy makes it clear that better transport connections will stimulate house building and other construction projects. Our partners at Midlands Engine estimate at least 600,000 new homes could be built across the region in the next 15 years.
Industry consistently tells us that it needs certainty to thrive. That is why our strategy aims to give as much assurance as possible to businesses about what improvements are coming to our transport networks and, crucially, when. That allows the construction industry to create the capacity and skills needed to deliver the ambitious infrastructure projects which lead to a better connected and more productive Midlands.
Investing regionally, attracting internationally
The Midlands has proved time and again that it’s capable of attracting investment from around the world. We are trading with 178 countries, and are the only UK region with an export surplus to China which currently stands at almost £3Bn. This, combined with International Monetary Fund projections that above 80% of world growth is likely to come from outside the EU in the near future, makes it clear that we need to attract more international business.
However, to attract this investment there must be space for businesses and their workforces to travel with comfort and reliability. The region is already drawing near capacity. Estimates suggest that by 2023 there will be an additional 24 million passenger journeys each year running through the Midlands.
Midlands Connect is making the case for capacity improvements as a catalyst for economic growth. As part of the 2017 Autumn Budget, Midlands Connect received £6M for furthering the development of the Midlands Rail Hub – which will add an extra 85,000 seats a day – and the Midlands Motorway Hub, a plan to identify solutions to the clogged motorway network around the West Midlands metropolitan area.
But infrastructure investment is a catalyst in itself. HS2 will create 25,000 construction jobs, including up to 2,000 new apprenticeships. The government expects that 60% of contracts within the supply chain will be awarded to SMEs. Midlands businesses are in prime position to reap the benefits.
We have the backing; let’s make it happen
Regional organisations such as Midlands Connect and the Midlands Engine have earned the backing of government. We have been given the financial clout to deliver on long term plans with clear long-term economic benefits. Whether it is developers being given the flexibility to build new homes, or SMEs being heavily involved in the construction of HS2, the Government is working with Midlands Connect to develop a clear pipeline of infrastructure projects over the short and long term, and give the construction industry the crucial certainty it needs to plan for the future.
This is a chance for the Midlands to build and thrive on a regional level and impress on an international stage. Because when the Midlands succeeds, Britain succeeds.
Midlands Connect Strategy: Powering the Midlands Engine can be found on our website: www.midlandsconnect.uk/publications
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