Make a case for a high speed stop before trains pass city by
WHAT to do about High Speed 2? As matters stand, the new rail link from London does not seem to offer many benefits for North Staffordshire.
We have no Stoke-on-Trent stop and, according to the latest business case, there is even a chance of our existing rail service being downgraded.
And then comes the environmental blight and botched compensation scheme.
For all that, I still think we should back High Speed 2 (HS2). But we have to start campaigning to make it work for us.
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Because after the Government's High Court victory on Friday, it looks like the scheme is going ahead.
What is more, the Government will most likely be consulting on the rail route it has sketched out.
So, this summer we will have to make our voice heard to ensure this infrastructure delivers jobs and businesses in The Potteries.
Now, the purists want us to demand a reconfigured line which, rather than skirting to the west of Stoke-on-Trent (following the path of the M6), comes into Stoke itself.
They argue that only city centre stations deliver tangible benefits from high speed services.
On the other leg of HS2, this is exactly the debate gripping Sheffield.
The proposed scheme has the line stopping at Meadowhall – the out of town shopping centre on the edge of the city – rather than in the city centre itself.
There are now fears HS2 will lead to a further hollowing out of the city centre and campaigners want a central Sheffield stop instead.
But the associated costs of tunnelling means it is highly unlikely. What is more, the easy tram links to Meadowhall still make the planned stop a helpful boost for the Sheffield economy.
In Stoke-on-Trent, it is equally unlikely we will have much luck in having the train line altered, which means our nearest stop will be in Crewe.
This connection is planned to service trains heading out to Liverpool, ensuring Merseyside doesn't lose everything to Manchester when it comes to HS2.
The station will mean good jobs and supply chain opportunities in Crewe – and this major infrastructure development could hopefully trickle down some employment opportunities to Stoke-on-Trent.
It certainly offers a chance to revitalise some brownfield sites in Crewe and we should not begrudge them their ambitions.
But we won't gain much by arguing for a fast shuttle service from Stoke-on-Trent to Crewe.
No-one wants to have to change trains, onto a high speed service that will only shave off 15 minutes from existing travel times to London or Manchester.
So, if we can't get a stop in Stoke and don't want to change at Crewe then the answer has to be our own stop in North Staffs. What we need is a parkway station near to the Keele services, close by the M6, where the train line cuts closest to the motorway.
This would be the natural stop between Manchester and Birmingham and would ensure some benefits would come to Staffordshire from HS2, rather than just compulsory purchase orders and property blight.
A parkway service would assist the broader North Staffordshire economy and, in the round, would be to the benefit of the Stoke-on-Trent urban region.
Having a high speed service some 10 minutes out of town would certainly assist in attracting new businesses into the city.
At the same time, we cannot afford any reduction in current services along the West Coast Main Line. This is a particular concern as the latest plans for HS2 show a dramatic cut in the frequency of trains between London, Stoke and Manchester as well as their speed.
As HS2 threatens to put more freight traffic onto the West Coast Main Line, its traditional passenger services look under threat.
This is clearly unacceptable – to be passed over for a high speed stop and then to have a reduction in existing services is certainly not the kind of regeneration we were promised by the HS2 revolution.
And it is not just Stoke-on-Trent.
Cities such as Derby, Leicester, Wakefield and Stockport look in danger of being similarly left behind by the advent of HS2.
As the consultation begins, now is the time to make a renewed case for a North Staffordshire stop.
Both Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle councils have been lobbying the Department for Transport, but business and other city champions need to make their voices heard.
If HS2 is going to work for North Staffordshire, we have to start planning before we watch the train pass by all our stations.