Business Monthly: Sheffield lep chiefs accused of poor leadership on HS2

HS2 in Sheffield city centre by HLM Architects
HS2 in Sheffield city centre by HLM Architects
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The boss of Sheffield Chamber has accused regional business chiefs of “poor leadership” and “lamely accepting whatever the Government throws at them” for refusing to get involved in the HS2 station debate.

Executive director Richard Wright said the leaders of the Local Enterprise Partnership - and council chiefs on its Combined Authority - had been “conspicuous by their absence” in the debate, which has galvanised the business community.

Richard Wright, of Sheffield Chamber of Commerce. Picture: Andrew Roe

Richard Wright, of Sheffield Chamber of Commerce. Picture: Andrew Roe

Sheffield Chamber, The Star and hundreds of businesses, back an HS2 station in Sheffield city centre to maximise the economic impact of the high speed line. HS2 Ltd’s own figures show it would create 6,500 more jobs than at the Government’s choice of Meadowhall.

Last month, 200 organisations attended an HS2 summit organised by the Chamber to debate the issue.

But Mr Wright said the LEP - the regeneration and business body which represents Sheffield City Region - had never commented or made a commitment to seek the best solution.

He added: “They appear to be lamely accepting whatever Government is throwing at them whether that be right or wrong. In my opinion this is just not good enough and shows poor leadership when they have a responsibility to debate it, decide on what basis the options should be evaluated and agree collectively to get behind which comes out best.

Sir Nigel Knowles. Picture: Andrew Roe

Sir Nigel Knowles. Picture: Andrew Roe

“The announcements around HS3 should be accelerating them into action but I see no sign of it.

“Sheffield Chamber is available to help in any way it can but we are not prepared to let this decision just pass us by without trying to ensure we get the best one for the whole region.”

Mr Wright appealed for the LEP and Combined Authority to get behind a final economic and strategic review of an HS2 station site.

He added: “Since the original decision to locate the station at Meadowhall, Transport for the North has targeted joining the major city centres in the North by HS3 with journey times of no more than 30 minutes.

“This means the HS3 station has to be in Sheffield city centre. This completely changes the context within which the original HS2 route decision was made. Three weeks ago we held a big event. We heard from three independent speakers and heard how Leeds City Region had established five principles to evaluate the location of their station. As a result the Chamber proposed five principles for Sheffield City Region to evaluate options.”

Region’s leaders are conflicted

No public debate and no decision.

Sheffield City Region LEP has consistently avoided the HS2 station debate - partly because it is so conflicted.

The business - and particularly the council - chiefs who lead the regeneration body are at loggerheads over Meadowhall or Victoria, despite the overwhelming economic evidence from HS2 Ltd.

Doncaster, Barnsley and Rotherham councils support Meadowhall.

Sheffield, and all five authorities outside South Yorkshire, are understood to support Victoria. Although the lack of debate means this is not official.

The Combined Authority - the public sector arm of the LEP - represents the entire region.

But its chair, Sir Stephen Houghton, is also the leader of Barnsley Council and supports Meadowhall.

He said: “We agreed as leaders that councils would make their own representations to Sir David Higgins. Wherever it is, we will support it.”

The LEP’s official statement on HS2 says it wants maximum economic benefit for the city region and for it to be “fully integrated” in HS3.

A spokesman added: “The LEP board fully backs Government plans for a new high speed rail network.

“The Government’s decision to locate a station in Sheffield City Region recognises its importance to UK growth.

‘Make ruddy mind up’ on HS2 site

Sheffield LEP’s fence-sitting on the HS2 station site sparked the ire of a Midlands business leader - in the strongest terms.

Peter Richardson, chairman of the Local Enterprise Partnership for Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, urged Sheffield to “make your ruddy mind up” over HS2, warning that any delay “looks like you’re not interested.”

Mr Richardson said his LEP was “challenged” by Sheffield’s “inability to determine where it wants the station.”

It could delay building their station at Toton, on the border of the two counties, and hit economic growth in the East Midlands, he added.

Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership has never stated a preference between Meadowhall - the Government’s choice - and Sheffield city centre.

Mr Richardson told a business audience in Derby: “When we are dealing in a political environment, any delay looks like you are not interested in it. We are challenged right now around HS2 by Sheffield’s inability to determine where it wants the station for HS2.

“If Sheffield can’t get its act together, that has a real impact on whether Toton will be sooner rather than later.

“It’s really important when we are talking to our friends in Sheffield that we say, ‘Make your ruddy mind up – get real.”