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East Midlands Chamber News

East Midlands leaders call for full delivery of HS2’s Eastern Leg to bridge East-West divide

A group of MPs, civic and business leaders from across the Midlands has written to Boris Johnson calling for the full delivery of HS2’s Eastern Leg from Birmingham to Leeds, via the East Midlands.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, the cross-party group cites a new report that demonstrates stark social and economic inequalities between the eastern and western regions of the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine.

Mind the gap: The role of HS2’s Eastern Leg in bridging England’s east-west divide, authored by campaign group HS2 East, highlights that communities surrounding the Eastern Leg of HS2 Phase 2b suffer from lower productivity, poorer social mobility and receive lower levels of transport investment than communities surrounding its Western Leg, set to run from Birmingham to Manchester.

Signatories, which include East Midlands Chamber chief executive Scott Knowles and president Dawn Edwards, cite HS2’s Eastern Leg as an essential investment to address these inequalities, highlighting the huge regeneration schemes it is set to catalyse across the East Midlands, Yorkshire and North East – creating more than 150,000 highly-skilled jobs.

In the letter, the group says: “After signalling your commitment to Phase One and Phase 2a of HS2 earlier this year, we urge you to provide certainty to the communities of the Midlands and the North that so urgently need investment to speed their recovery from Covid-19.

“After decades of chronic underinvestment in transport, these regions are in desperate need of the regeneration, job creation and economic growth HS2 will bring.”

It adds: “For generations, the people living in these areas have been overlooked. It is a fact that the communities along the Eastern leg of Phase 2b suffer from lower productivity, are more financially stretched and less likely to achieve social mobility.

“In accordance with your ‘levelling up’ agenda, we urge you to tackle these issues by taking action now.”

Research highlights East-West divide in productivity and social mobility

Productivity along the Eastern Leg of HS2 Phase 2b was found to be 10% lower than along its Western Leg, while the three Eastern Leg regions – Yorkshire and the Humber, the East Midlands and North East – have the three lowest productivity rates in England, falling 35%, 33%, and 32% respectively below that of London.

These Eastern Leg regions were also home to twice as many “social mobility coldspots” than the Western Leg regions – areas where local authorities were within the worst 20% UK-wide for a range of criteria, including the education provided to deprived children, grades they receive and jobs they secure.

This was particularly pronounced in the East Midlands, which accounted for 26% of England’s social deprivation coldspots.

Writing before the Government is expected to publish its Integrated Rail Plan, which will examine how best to integrate Phase 2b of HS2 with Midlands Engine Rail and Northern Powerhouse Rail, the leaders are clear that all HS2 phases must be delivered in full.

East Midlands Chamber chief executive Scott Knowles said: “HS2 is the single-biggest transport infrastructure project in a generation and represents a huge opportunity for businesses, with the potential to unlock economic benefits of more than £4bn for the East Midlands and part of Yorkshire.

“By connecting the region with a first-class UK and Europe-wide rail network, it will bring enormous opportunities to local firms and make the East Midlands a much more attractive location for inward investment.

“It was an important milestone when HS2 Phase One work begun recently, but if the Government is serious about it’s ‘levelling up’ agenda, then it must push on and confirm the rest of the proposed network in full to deliver those benefits as soon as possible.”

Broxtowe MP Darren Henry said: “The Government has committed to levelling-up the UK economy, and delivering the Eastern Leg of HS2, in full, is an essential step in doing this.

“As well as creating thousands of highly-skilled jobs, the Eastern Leg will also speed our transition to a cleaner, greener transport network.

“Poor access to transport is a key indicator of social deprivation, we need this investment to improve local and regional connectivity and speed the way to a productive recovery from Covid-19.”

Councillor Kay Cutts, leader of Nottinghamshire County Council, added: “Now is the time to build back better and build back greener, accelerating our economic recovery from Covid-19.

“The Eastern Leg of HS2 is an integral part of this solution, one that will create opportunity and spread the benefits of investment and regeneration to the local communities that need it most.

“Government has committed to levelling-up the UK economy, it must now deliver on this promise, starting with the full construction of the Eastern Leg.”

Among the 54 signatories of the letter include former Transport Secretary Lord Patrick McLoughlin, Amber Valley MP Nigel Mills, Derby City Council leader Chris Poulter, D2N2 Local Enterprise Partnership chairwoman Elizabeth Fagan and Sir Peter Soulsby, the Leicester city mayor and chairman of Transport for the East Midlands.