Mind the gap

I have a question for you. Imagine that you work in Birmingham. If  HS2 was built, would this encourage you to buy a house in London and commute from there to your job in Birmingham? I think that the answer is probably a resounding “NO”. However swap the situation around, and the prospect of working in London and living in the countryside near Birmingham becomes much more attractive.

The proposed new HS2 station at “Birmingham Interchange” (or whatever it ends up being called) offers this prospect to a new army of high speed commuters for which thousands of new houses will need to be built. After all, the catchment area of this proposed station will be out of the sprawl of Birmingham, in pleasant countryside (assuming that your house is sufficient distance from the HS2 route), and the delights of the Capital will be only 38 high speed minutes away.

Unfortunately, the pleasant countryside in which you will want your brand new house to be built will probably lie within the green belt and not just any old green belt, but the strategically vital Meriden Gap. Strategically vital because it separates Coventry from Birmingham, and is all that stops the proud and historic City of Coventry having to be renamed “East Birmingham”.

The impacts that the construction of a “park and ride” HS2 station, and the associated industrial and housing development stimulus, will have upon an area where the integrity of the green belt has already been weakened by developments such as the National Exhibition Centre and the expansion of Birmingham Airport is a topic that I have long intended to be the subject of one of my blogs. However, what has really spurred me into action is the report (in Rail News) that in a speech given by the Technical Director of HS2 Ltd, Professor Andrew McNaughton, to the iRail Conference in March he predicted that:

“… the National Exhibition Centre area would become a new city, focused on crucial interchanges of railways and motorways … [and] … the airport alongside the NEC would be able to claim the title of ‘London Birmingham’, because it would be closer to central London in journey times than either Stansted or Gatwick.”

Now the prediction of a new city between Birmingham and Coventry did not particularly surprise me, as it seems a reasonable conclusion to draw, but the truthfulness of this admission did take me aback a little; after all the prospect of HS2 stimulating housing development is not, as far as I can see, envisaged in the Appraisal of Sustainability. Professor McNaughton’s revelation did however cause something of a commotion in the local and national press and even spawned a Commons question from Dan Byles MP (North Warwickshire).

The reaction of the Daily Telegraph is typical:

“… the development would effectively obliterate the open countryside east of Birmingham to create Britain’s longest continuous conurbation, stretching 40 miles from Coventry to the far side of Wolverhampton.”

It would appear from the answer given to Dan Byle’s Commons question by Greg Clark, Minister of State in the Department for Communities and Local Government (here) that Professor McNaughton may not have cleared his remarks with his political masters prior to making his revelations. The Minister cut the good professor adrift without a paddle, saying that the Government has “not made any assessment of the comments” and has never “made such a policy proposal”.

Dan Byles also wrote to Professor McNaughton, requesting clarification of his remarks. In his reply Professor McNaughton, emphasised that he had been speaking in an academic and personal capacity, and not on behalf of HS2 Ltd or the Government, and that he had been mis-reported (see here). Unfortunately, I have not been able to locate a transcript of the iRail proceedings, and so am unable to form an opinion on to what degree Professor McNaughton’s remarks may have been mis-reported.

Personally, I think that Professor McNaughton got it about right and that HS2 represents a very severe threat to the Meriden Gap green belt.

The moral of this skirmish appears to be:

If you want a frank assessment ask an engineer; if you don’t, ask a politician.

PS: An excellent review of the status of green belts in the West Midlands was published by CPRE West Midlands in June 2007. What Price West Midlands Green Belts? may be downloaded here.


26 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by hs2isright on June 4, 2012 at 7:06 am

    Yet again are you trying to mislead people with your stophs2 propaganda. If you read the article again from the Daily Telegraphy does it say the anywhere housing or any other development has been given approval, you find the answer is NO. Any development will have to go through the new planning approval system which you need to read but you comment on this again. Your blog this time is straight forward scaremongering.


    • I was not trying to mislead at all. I merely repeated the reports of what Professor McNaughton had said. I also, to be even handed, reported the “retractions” that had been made by the Minister and the Professor.

      I also presented my own view that HS2 would encourage long distance commuting, that the obvious hot spot for these commuters to live was around the Birmingham Interchange station and that this would place the Meriden Gap green belt under threat. Do you deny that this is a reasonable hypothesis? Professor McNaughton seems to think that it is.

      I did not say that any planning permissions had been granted in connection with HS2 and would not expect that nearly fifteen years before HS2 is due to open that there will have been any such planning applications. Of course the Birmingham Interchange station and its massive car park will be built on green belt land, but no planning permission will be required for this due to the hybrid bill powers

      As a parish councillor I have taken close interest in the National Planning Policy Framework and have, of course, read the document. To be honest I found it so much waffle and have to agree with those who have dubbed it a “planner’s charter”.

      If you wish to accuse anyone of peddling “StopHS2 propaganda” then perhaps you should target Professor McNaughton; after all he was the one who floated this particular boat.


      • Posted by hs2isright on June 4, 2012 at 8:33 am

        Yes the hybrid bill will cover the building of the station only, but this will be the outline desgin only. The local plaining office will have a significant input in the design so the impact will be reduced. So you say a massive carpark will be required but you are also say that no one will use it. So which is it? The catchment area for any interchange station is not just the local area but your propaganda does not say that.

        Again you may be a local parish councilor but you do not understand the planning document, how can reducing the planning law into a 50 paper document be waffle, should waffle not increase the size of any document. Basically the new document has moved the approved progress to a stainable development where brown field sites are used first.

      • That the new station will be built on green belt land is not in dispute. HS2 Ltd admits this in the Appraisal of Sustainability.

        It is also clear that Birmingham Interchange will be a “parkway” station, designed to allow passengers to drive to catch the train (bad for the environment). I don’t recall ever commenting on whether the car park will be full or not. Irrespective of how many use it, the plans are to accommodate 7,000 cars (again on green belt land).

        My hypothesis (or “propaganda” as you kindly refer to it) is that commuters looking for a house will seek one that involves a short drive to the railway station, rather than a long one. Is that an unreasonable surmise?

        I think that you will find that a lot of people involved in local government are unsure about how the NPPF will work in practice. I am intrigued by your idea of “stainable” development; perhaps that means staining green fields brown so that no one will notice. But more seriously, if you look at the Local Plans that are being produced for consultation around the country, I think that you will find that provision is being made for a lot of new housing on green belt land. Brown field sites tend to be snapped up by the supermarket chains, as they are generally closer to town centres.

        By the way, fifty pages allows plenty of scope to waffle.

      • Posted by hs2isright on June 4, 2012 at 11:32 am

        Your words “It is also clear that Birmingham Interchange will be a “parkway” station, designed to allow passengers to drive to catch the train” Last time I checked a small (not) station called Birmingham international will be close to the proposed interchange station. So you are saying that no one will use the existing station to connect to the new station.

        I think you are very wrong with that “lot of people involved in local government are unsure about how the NPPF will work in practice.” In my option the new NPPF makes the planning process a lot easier to use. Again what a entertaining statement “Brown field sites tend to be snapped up by the supermarket chains, as they are generally closer to town centers” if you look at the Solihull or Birmingham UDP you will see that both councils prefer to use brown field sites for any development. Additionally both council are in support of Hs2.

      • I’m afraid that I can’t follow you “hs2isright”. Can you help me please by giving an example of a journey where you might arrive at Birmingham International by classic rail and then transfer to HS2 at Birminghasm Interchange?

    • Posted by hs2isright on June 4, 2012 at 12:37 pm

      So you are saying that no one will connect via the new station form the existing station and that 100% will drive to the station. The new station will connect the new line with the existing rail network so any journey going to London, Hs1 or Europe will give passengers the choice to use the new line or not. However, the location of the new station close to international will give the connection to any local services.


      • No I didn’t say that “hs2isright”. I asked if you could give me an example where someone would arrive at Birmingham International on a classic train and make the transfer, by people mover or whatever is provided, to the new HS2 station.

        Please don’t put words in my mouth. I don’t think that everyone will drive to the new station; I hope that some, at least, will use public transport. However, you can’t escape the fact that a “parkway” station (there is a clue in the name) is primarily designed to accommodate car users. HS2 Ltd gets this, even if you don’t. That is why HS2 Ltd is planning to build a huge car park.

      • Posted by hs2isright on June 4, 2012 at 1:03 pm

        If you like to read my comment again you see that i have given you an example, but the way you try to use the 7,000 huge cars statement in my oprion is misleading. The amount of land used will be small, as the carpart will be muilt level in desigin.

      • The point that I made about the car park was that HS2 Ltd is expecting up to 7,000 cars to be parked at the station every day. Ignoring any multi-use of spaces, that is up to 7,000 car journeys every day. The footprint occupied by the car park is not the major problem, it is the environmental impact of all of those shortish car journeys; this is the point made by “aboodoo”.

        As far as answering my request for an example of a journey that will require the passenger to transfer from classic rail at Birmingham International to HS2 at Birmingham Interchange, I’m afraid that what you claim is an answer is not specific enough. What I’m asking for is for you to give me an originating station on the classic network where the sensible journey would be to interchange from classic to HS2 at Birmingham International. I can’t think of one, can you?

      • Posted by hs2isright on June 4, 2012 at 2:12 pm

        I think you are missing the point or just believing your own propaganda. So any local service within the west midlands will be able connect to the new station thus giving the people the option to connect to HS2. Basically I live in Staffordshire and will be able to connect with Hs2 via a train from Stafford, or Stoke on Trent and connect to the new station at either Curzon street or new interchange at Birmingham. However, Stoke on Trent are trying to build their own interchange station so hopefully I will have a third option when the “Y” is finished.

      • You must really be keen to use HS2 “hs2isright”. Stafford to London by Virgin Trains takes 1hr 21 min and Stoke to London is about one hour and a half. Why on earth would you want to go via Birmingham and HS2?

      • Posted by hs2isright on June 4, 2012 at 3:30 pm

        You asked for a simple example, stoke to london via hs2 will be? So I hope they get a station. This is now geting boring and will you just agree that you are trying to post a blog that is scaremongering in this case.

      • My blog was perfectly reasonable since I said no more than it had been reported that Professor McNaughton had.

        When it comes down to it you don’t have the facts to back up the ridiculous assertions that you make. You have not been able to give me an example where it makes sense to transfer from classic rail to HS2 at Birmingham International, have you? Taking HS2 from a possible station at Stoke hardly qualifies as an example, does it?

      • Posted by hs2isright on June 4, 2012 at 4:59 pm

        Yet again when you lose an argument you try to be insulting, I stated the any person has the option of getting a connection from Birmingham international to the new interchange station. But your blinkers propaganda cant see this. – But I guess you will not allow this comment. when it comes to fact you just use propaganda.

  2. Posted by aboodoo on June 4, 2012 at 9:59 am

    …not to mention that any development which may follow from the Birmingham Parkway station is likely to be without an overall strategic plan and be car dependent sprawl (as it’s not part of the project, but an afterthought). Encouraging people to drive to a station from a wide catchment does not suggest a “joined up” approach has been taken in planning terms, and shorter car journeys are less efficient, while motorway driving in a modern car can be surprisingly efficient (in fuel/emissions terms).

    I’ve mentioned this before – the likelihood of ending up with a string of “Bristoi Parkways” along the route, where the land value uplift of having a High Speed station will create massive pressures for development. If these are not being dealt with now then there is not a hope in hell’s chance of developing this in anything like a sustainable manner, and if there is poor public transport connectivity between HS2 and other modes, then these developments will contribute nothing to the local area other than mode traffic. I thought we learnt years ago that that wasn’t the way to develop new housing and businesses, but here we are in the UK promoting a High Speed Railway that is going to create massive numbers of car journeys, and provide poor connectivity to cities other than London. As I alluded to in my comments on HS2 being “Global Worst Practice” ( http://beleben.wordpress.com/2012/03/21/global-worst-practice/#comment-825 ), which I’d be happy to expand on, given more time, other countries have been here before, and the general consensus over these out of town stations has been that they perform well below expectations, even with development around them (with the exception of Japan, where planning has been much more integrated, and every single HS station has been at a railway junction – even so, they routed Shinkansen close to or into the centres of the very biggest cities)


    • Thank you for your contribution Anzir and welcome to the site.

      Having been accused of “misleading people” with my “Stop HS2 propaganda” is was good to have the support of a professional and independent transport analyst for my view that a new parkway station in the area around Birmingham Airport would not be good for the environment.

      Thanks also for the link to your comment on the Beleben site, which was helpful. I am, of course, aware of the high quality of both the blogs and the comments on that site.


      • Posted by aboodoo on June 4, 2012 at 7:52 pm

        I can’t seem to reply where I want to reply, but here goes: HS2’s “Birmingham Parkway” station will be “near” Birmingham International, as in just over a mile away. To make a transfer from a local train at this station (an example journey could be Aberystwyth/Shrewsbury/Telford to London, or Coventry to London), you would have to get off at International, catch the AirRail Link shuttle to the new Parkway station, then wait for the HS train. This adds two interchanges, with a wait for an intermediate transfer. In Transport Planning methodology, this is (as a rule of thumb) weighted so that a minute of walk, wait or transfer is equivalent to two minutes of “in-vehicle” time, which means that to be viable as a journey, the transfer must save you twice the amount of time that it takes.

        Let’s do the journey… I have caught a train in Coventry to Birmingham International. This takes about 10 minutes. Now I must get off the train at International and get on the AirRail Link. The walk is about 2 minutes, all told, then about a minute and a half to wait for the link train (which would be running about every 3 minutes, as now). The link train takes another 2 minutes, then it will take me about 3 minutes to walk to the correct point on the platform for the HS train. This assumes near perfect station design, but let’s give HS2 Ltd the benefit of the doubt for now. That’s 8.5 minutes. Also there will be a Birmingham Interchange stop about every 10 minutes, so that’s on average 5 minutes to wait. So that would be an average of 13.5 minutes for that connection, or a maximum (assuming everything goes to plan) of 20 minutes if you just miss the AirRail Link and the HS2 train. That 13.5 minutes carries an inconvenience penalty of another 13.5 minutes (effectively what the 2x weighting means), so means the journey on HS2 would need to be 27 minutes faster in order to make sense.

        Taking the precautionary approach, a journey on HS2 with these changes would need to be 40 minutes faster in for a traveller to think of it as faster in practice.

        If you only count the literal walk and wait, the penalty would be 11.5 minutes (discounting the travel time on the AIrRail Link), meaning a journey would have to be 23 minutes faster.

        What does this mean? If we take Birmingham Airport to London to be 39 minutes by HS2, and Coventry to London to be 65 minutes by WCML, there is a raw time saving of 26 minutes, but it would actually take 18.5 minutes (assuming you were boarding the train at Coventry, ignoring the effect of service frequency) to get onto the train at Interchange, plus a 5 minute wait and 39 minute journey, making a total of 62.5 minutes, making HS2 a whole 2.5 minutes faster than the classic line. If you add the minimum weightings that are sensible (that 11.5 minute penalty), then Coventry to London by HS2 is counted in transport planning terms as 9 minutes SLOWER by HS2 than the classic line. Oh.

      • Thanks Anzir for responding to my question that “hs2isright” was unable, or unwilling, to answer.

        The point that your figures illustrate – and providing relevant facts and figures is a far more intelligent way of reinforcing a point of view than we have seen on this thread so far – is that the current plans mean that HS2 will be very poorly integrated into the existing rail network in the West Midlands. Unless you live relatively close to the site of Birmingham Interchange, or far from any station on the existing network, the new HS2 station will not be a realistic option. Most of Coventry, for example, is, I would venture, too far away from the Birmingham Airport area for Coventrians to elect to use HS2 to travel to London.

      • Posted by hs2isright on June 5, 2012 at 7:43 am

        Again are you trying to mislead people. I stated that the new station you will be able to connect to the existing network but again you are so blinkered you can’t see this. Here is some a good example for the when the full new network is built – Shrewsbury to Heathrow, the passenger will have the choice of connection at Curzon street or the new interchange and then to Heathrow – time from interchange to Heathrow 33min. Now let’s see how long it would take now 3hrs 56mins. So here is an example and do your blinkers see that.

      • Calm down “hs2isright”. I sense that your blood pressure is reaching unhealthy levels.

        I must be blunt with you however. I deeply resent your accusation that I am “misleading people”, which you have repeated in your latest comment. Presumably this time you are referring to something that I said in my previous comment. It would appear that what you object to is that I have said that HS2 will be poorly integrated into the existing West Midlands rail network. What is “misleading” about this statement? Both of the Birmingham stations will be some distance from the existing counterparts, New Street and B International. Now, of course, we can hope that some form of interconnecting link, such as a people mover, will be provided at both sites, but it will stil be inconvenient and take time to transfer to and from HS2. This is hardly an ideal situation; surely even you can admit that.

        As is usual with you, the discussion has been dragged a long way from the original topic of my blog, which you also considered misleading. If I had wanted my blog to mislead, as you accuse me of trying to do, surely I would have confined by comments to the original reports of what Professor McNaughton had said and not included the retractions? I do take great pains to fully research my blogs and do not shy away, I hope, from tackling any matters which don’t fit in with my anti-HS2 stance.

        At last you have given me an example of where transferring to HS2 from the existing network part way on a journey might be advantageous. Well done, I knew that you could manage it if you tried. It’s a pity though that we will have to wait until the Manchester/Leeds extensions are completed. Couldn’t you find an example that works for just London/West Midlands? No, I can’t either.

        If you will permit me though, I would like to pour a little cold water on the use of HS2 to access Heathrow. In its report to Government in 2009, HS2 Ltd estimated that the HS2 market share for passengers wishing to access Heathrow from the West Midlands, North West, North and Scotland would be about 2,000 passengers per day, which HS2 Ltd equated to “just over one train load each way” (paragraph 3.3.10 on page 71). Bearing this small market in mind and the limited trains paths that will be available on the shared leg of the Y, I don’t expect that HS2 services to and from Heathrow will be particularly frequent. I hope that you don’t find that comment misleading.

      • Posted by hs2isright on June 5, 2012 at 9:50 am

        Well done, typical anti Hs2 posture if you can’t win an argument you get insulting. Just to let you know my blood pressure is find, how is yours?

        The design of the new station has not yet been done, so I hope that there will be a good interchange between these two stations but like you I am only guessing. We will have to wait until the design is done for this to be determined. I be the first to admit that WHEN Hs2 is built long haul trains on the existing network will be reduced making way for more commuters trains so therefore your comment are futile.

        Now this is getting boring and i have work to do. – lets see if you post this

      • As you can see “hs2isright” I did post it, without any edits.

        What does

        “I be (sic) the first to admit that WHEN Hs2 is built long haul trains on the existing network will be reduced making way for more commuters trains so therefore your comment are (sic) futile” mean?

        Why does providing more commuter trains on the existing network make my comment futile?

        What does this have to do with the integration of HS2 into the West Midlands rail network?

        Are you suggesting that the existing long-distance services will be reduced to such an extent that people are “forced” to use HS2 despite the inconvenience of connecting to the nearest station?

        I ask these questions in the full expectation that if you respond it will be with some other irrelevant remarks and will not provide any satisfactory explanations.

      • Just to get back to the original subject of my blog, I note that the suggestions for development in the Meriden Gap have started. The Birmingham Post carried an article yesterday (5th June) reporting on remarks made by the Chief Executive of Birmingham Airport Paul Kehoe at a conference in London.

        Mr Kehoe announced that the Airport was considering “moving” the airport terminal about one kilometer closer to the planned HS2 station (i.e. building a new terminal, presumably on green belt land, to replace the existing terminal). He also said that the plans could include creating an Enterprise Zone around the airport and station.

  3. Posted by hs2isright on June 4, 2012 at 8:04 pm

    That comment is almost as funny as saying will take 20mins to get from crzon street to new steet. Let s a outline desgin for the station before you start saying it will take 26minutes.


  4. Posted by aboodoo on June 5, 2012 at 10:22 am

    Again, somehow I can reply where I want to, but hey…

    HS2isright said “The design of the new station has not yet been done, so I hope that there will be a good interchange between these two stations but like you I am only guessing. We will have to wait until the design is done for this to be determined.”

    Outline designs for the stations have been published as part of the plan for HS2, complete with red line (planning/construction boundaries) and relatively detailed plans of tracks and platforms (which HS2 Ltd reckon to be within about a metre or two of the final locations, pretty good going when you consider that OS MasterMap (the base mapping for these plans) is generally accurate to about half a metre). This means that we know pretty near exactly where the stations are going to be, and how many platforms they will have. Additionally, the documents for HS2 tell us that an extension to the AIrRail Link shuttle at Birmingham International/Interchange is funded as part of HS2, but a rapid transit connection (Midland Metro) between New Street and Moor Street/Curzon Street is not. We know that one end of Curzon Street station will be next to Moor Street (so why not call it Moor Street?), and there will be a back entrance at Curzon Street “arch” near Millennium Point (or will this be the front entrance, since Prof McNaughton was keener to run HS2 into an empty wasteland than the second largest city centre in the country…?)

    A High Speed Line done well could be a great thing, but there are far higher priorities on the railway, particularly those of commuters (and the WCML isn’t the busiest commuter corridor anyway), and HS2’s design is, quite frankly, awful. When I used the term “Global Worst Practice” on the other blog, I meant it – 50 years of High Speed Rail around the world has taught us many things, which HS2 Ltd seem to have ignored. Also it doesn’t take someone who’s researched rail timetabling for a year and a half (like me) to notice that the proposed service level on HS2 between Birmingham Junction and Y Junction exceeds the proposed signalled capacity. Oops.


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