Could the high-speed rail link derail Leicestershire's trade hopes?
An approved new high-speed rail link between the north and south could spell bad news for Leicester and Leicestershire. Here, business editor Ian Griffin explains why.
Leicestershire finds itself at the centre of a battle between two rail lines.
It may read like a story from Britain's past, but its outcome will help determine the region's economic prosperity for decades.
The Government yesterday gave the go-ahead for the £32 billion high-speed HS2 rail link connecting London with the north of England, via the East Midlands.
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Trains travelling at 225mph will cut the London to Birmingham journey time by half to just 49 minutes when the first phase of the project is completed by 2026.
A second phase would see HS2 proceeding on a Y-shaped route to take in Leeds and Manchester, with this sector being completed by 2032/33.
While business and political leaders in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds – the main cities to benefit from the scheme – welcomed the news, their counterparts in Leicestershire and the East Midlands expressed concern.
They are worried the huge project could delay, or even scupper plans for a project to cut travel times on the Midland Mainline, which links Leicester, Loughborough and Market Harborough with London.
Businesses and politicians say the full electrification of the Midland Mainline, which would slash 70-minute journey time between Leicester and the capital by 15 minutes, is critical to the future of the city and county's economy because it would help attract businesses and skilled workers from the south.
It was hoped approval would be granted later this year, with the improvements completed by 2020.
However, it is feared an announcement could now be put back.
Transport Secretary Justine Greening has said the East Midlands would benefit from HS2, but locally people are not so sure.
It has been stated the route will pass through the East Midlands, but it is unlikely to be near cities.
There is speculation the region's sole station could be built close to East Midlands Parkway, near Castle Donington, highlighting a lack of any major benefit to the region's main cities.
Martin Traynor, chief executive of Leicestershire Chamber of Commerce, has even said he would prefer HS2 to stop at Nottingham, rather than no city at all.
However, for most business leaders in the region, the priority is the electrification of the Midland Mainline.
The stretch between London St Pancras and Bedford is already electrified, and upgrading the remainder of the track would cost about £700 million, much less than HS2.
Experts say the move could be worth up to £195 million to the East Midlands.
Leicestershire's business and political leaders claim this would be a far better return for the region than HS2 could ever bring.
VIEWS: What our leading business people think to the scheme getting the go-ahead
Martin Traynor, chief executive of Leicestershire
Chamber of Commerce
“The focus should be on the electrification of the Midland Mainline. I agree we desperately need to upgrade the rail network but we should be careful what we wish for. My concern is HS2 will attract investment to the West Midlands.”
Ian Borley, senior partner at KPMG, in Waterloo Way, Leicester
“With so much money being put into HS2, the concern is if it would mean the investment in the electrification of Midland Mainline would be lost, or at least put back. It’s not something I could see bringing any benefit to the area.”
Rory Palmer, deputy mayor of Leicester
“We need to see more national infrastructure projects being given the go ahead. HS2 will provide long-term benefits to those areas on the route, but for Leicester and the East Midlands to prosper we need to see the green light for Midland Mainline investment.”
Lesley Pendleton, Leicestershire County Council transport spokeswoman
“My concern is we will get the environmental devastation without the economic benefit. The Government has assured us that the electrification of Midland Mainline will go ahead despite what happens with HS2.”
Robin Pointon, managing director of travel consultancy Go Travel Solutions, Leicester
“I think HS2 and an electrified Midland Mainline would complement each other and, hopefully, the case can be made because of the projected growth of rail travel.”
Andrew Bacon, chairman of Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership
“Although there will be some economic benefit of HS2 in our area, the electrification of the Midland Mainline would present better value for money and a greater return in terms of economic benefits for Leicestershire.”