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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 28th Aug 2013

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Business leaders in Greater Birmingham joined the growing opposition to the Institute of Director’s (IoD) statement that building HS2 would be “a grand folly”. And Chiltern Railways continues its track record of success for right time train punctuality. Jerry Blackett, (pictured) chief executive of Birmingham Chamber of Commerce Group (BCCG), said: “We believe that the really ‘grand folly’ would be to believe that it is possible to squeeze meaningful amounts of capacity out of the existing rail network. Network Rail have made it very clear that this is not physically possible.

“And here at the BCCG we have the local knowledge that understands the overwhelming economic benefits that HS2 would bring by spreading wealth throughout the country.”

The BCCG endorsed a 12-point rebuttable of the IoD’s conclusions. They were:

IoD says that some of the specifics of the business case have been challenged by their members, but then go on to say 80 per cent of their members support the provision of more capacity for long distance train travel with 41 per cent supporting HS2.

Even small bits of work on the existing rail network cause massive disruption. NR has just announced a total closure (blockade) of 12 miles of the West Coast Mainline for five weeks between 2014 and 2015. This will cause massive disruption for passengers and will not deliver any additional capacity.

Would IoD directors polled change their views if they really understood what the cost of disruption is likely to be to business just to keep the existing east and west coast mainlines running at their current levels?

Roads are important to everyone but the long-term answer to our capacity needs is a fit-for-purpose roads and rail network. Rail is vital to avoid a “heads in the sand” response. The position with fossil fuels and the chronic congestion on our trunk routes is there for all to see.

Without HS2 we will have very little capacity for additional rail freight leading to even more road congestion
Businesses should expect HS2 to control costs and deliver value for money.

Following HS1, T5 and London 2012, the UK is now a world leader at delivering projects on time and to budget. Indeed we have UK businesses working on rail schemes in Moscow, Rio, and the gulf states.
Any talk of costs being £80bn is simply nonsense. The Institute of Economic Affairs in their criticism included a host of schemes that are nothing to do with HS2 and then bundled them together and called that a £30bn cost increase.

In terms of delivering value for money surely the core cities prediction of 400,000 jobs and GG21 prediction of 20,000 construction jobs for 15 years provides jobs on a scale too good to turn aside.

Did the IoD ask their members the right question…would businesses really turn down the opportunity to create 400,000 jobs?

This is not an either or equation. The cost of getting “1,000’s” of smaller schemes through design and planning would be enormous and we have seen over the last 30 years that piecemeal investment makes no impact on the economy or on job creation as the existing workforce has capacity to soak up the investment.

As shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle said ….. we have to decide whether we want to be ambitious for our future or to simply manage the decline of our infrastructure and slip further down the league of global competitiveness…

Mr Blackett said that the IoD’s stance was disappointing and added: “Richard Threfall, the head of insfrastructure at KPMG, who produced a report in 2010 on the benefits of HS2, says that their work showed that a high speed rail network in the UK could boost annual economic output in 2040 by between £17bn and £29bn, recovering the currently anticipated £50bn cost within just a couple of years.

“And last year 64 per cent of respondents to the CBI-KPMG Infrastructure survey considered HS2 would have a positive impact on business. HS2 offers a transformational impact on the UK’s economy and its future competitiveness. If we fail to invest the UK will be on a downward spiral to a second tier economy.”

…. and Chiltern Railways continues its track record of success for right time train punctuality
Chiltern Railways has been named top rail operator for right time train punctuality for the ninth period running, according to research released today by Network Rail.

The official rail industry figures, which are based on the percentage of services that arrive within a minute of their scheduled time, revealed that 87.5 per cent of Chiltern Railways trains were on time against a national average of 67.6 per cent, placing the train operator miles ahead of companies such as Virgin and London Midland.

Andrew Munden, operations and safety director said: “We are delighted to maintain our position at the top of the league table for the ninth consecutive period running. Ensuring that our passengers have a punctual service is incredibly important and these statistics reinforce the dedication of our staff from across the business to provide a first class experience.”



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