Lorely Burt writes: A real step change in connectivity for the West Midlands

As we start party conference, it is slightly odd not to have to pack a bag, book train tickets or google where to eat at the seaside. This year I’m thinking about what kind of snacks I need for our marathon online conference!

But this year, as we embark on Ed Davey’s first conference as leader, I believe we are in a good place as a party – strong, united and ready for a year of action and growth.  In my own part of the world, in the West Midlands we are ready too.

But as I look around the region, I see the impact of coronavirus and I worry about the potential long-term scarring for the young, those on the margins, the vulnerable and elderly. The rebuilding must start now. We need to create jobs and invest in our communities, and avoid returning back to the days of austerity.

Before COVID-19, the West Midlands was one of the fastest growing economies in Europe. The upcoming Budget and Comprehensive Spending Review offers us an opportunity to finally force the government to put fuel into the Midlands Engine. As the former MP and now Baroness Burt of Solihull, I back any sustainable infrastructure investment that can improve the lives of people living and working within the region. Midlands Connect, the strategic transport body for the Midlands, has developed a rail scheme with its partners that should deliver a real step-change in rail connectivity to Birmingham International and Coventry railway stations.

The ‘Birmingham Airport Connectivity’ project is central to fulfilling the region’s levelling-up agenda, aiding the region’s green economic recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic by supporting enterprise, development and regeneration across a number of important growth sites across the West Midlands. It will deliver new, direct rail services to Birmingham International and Coventry stations for over 2 million people, including those living in and around Derby, Sheffield, Doncaster, York, Darlington, Durham and Newcastle. Plus it’ll create an extra service an hour from Leamington Spa, Banbury, Oxford and Reading to Birmingham International and Coventry.

Birmingham International railway station is at the epicentre of a number of nationally-important assets including; Birmingham Airport, the second busiest airport in the UK outside London; the National Exhibition Centre; Resorts World arena and shopping park; and Jaguar Land Rover’s Solihull plant. Close by, the arrival of the HS2 Interchange station is stimulating huge investment and regeneration. To realise the full benefits of this transformational opportunity, the Urban Growth Company is promoting investment in 140 hectares of mixed-use development at ‘UK Central’, set to create up to 5,000 new homes, 650,000 square metres of commercial space and support 70,000 new and existing jobs.

This scheme is the most developed of seven projects collectively known as Midlands Engine Rail, a £3.5 billion package of improvements to revolutionise the region’s rail network, creating space for more than 700 extra passenger trains each day. Supporting transport schemes like this is critical if we are going to deliver a pro-business, pro-environment agenda and I for one am a wholehearted supporter.

No one is pretending that we will sustain our rate of pre-Covid growth for a while, but having the right infrastructure in place will not only create jobs, but ensure the runway is in place for the Midlands’ economic takeoff when it comes.


Editor’s Note:Lorely Burt has produced this article in association with Midlands Connect

* Lorely Burt was the Liberal Democrat MP for Solihull until 2015 and is now a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords.

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  • Do not forget the enthusiasm of the young in developing their ideas and the arts for after Covid they are the future.Their skills in all aspects will also help kick start the area and who knows then be transported into all regions of the country.

  • richard underhill.,. 20th Sep '20 - 11:20am

    Before making any decisions we should ensure we keep up to date with the fast changing political situation.
    Health secretary Hancock does not really know what he wants to do next. while refuting factoids about other countries, such as Sweden.
    Labour leader Keir Starmer has two problems:
    1) he wants to continue with with financing “zombie jobs and zombie businesses” with furlough and ignore the costs until he writes a Labour manifesto for a general election in 2024, but he lacks a heavyweight shadow Chancellor of the calibre of Dennis Healey or even the “knackered” Gordon Brown.
    2) He is also preparing for a U-turn after the Scottish election. He should remember that getting too close to the Tories in Scotland damaged Labour in Scotland at the 2017 referendum and therefore UK-wide. The UK does not have a written constitution, we should be careful not to be radical enough to allow critics to invoke the position of the monarch in the UK.
    We should therefore be deciding on what others would consider “red lines”. They can only be in the Leader’s speech which should avoid procrastination for the moment.

  • richard underhill.,. 20th Sep '20 - 11:23am

    Keir Starmer wants to avoid the long term scarring of high unemployment which he knows would create multiple scarring.

  • richard underhill.,. 20th Sep '20 - 11:26am

    n hunter 20th Sep ’20 – 10:58am
    Computer games featuring the beautiful eastern coast of Northern Ireland?

  • Laurence Cox 20th Sep '20 - 11:44am

    We should put extra fuel into the West Midlands by moving Parliament there, at least for the decade that it takes to renovate the existing Houses of Parliament, and preferably permanently. There are many countries that have found that making their capital separate from their main commercial centre works well: Australia, New Zealand, Canada, United States, and Brazil are just some examples. Birmingham is the one place outside London with good transport connections to everywhere in the country; any further north and connections from South Wales and the South West become problematic.

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