SOLIHULL council’s leader has spoken out in entirely welcoming the go-ahead for the controversial high speed rail line HS2 – despite division and damage to livelihoods in parts of the borough.
It is estimated to bring thousands of jobs to the West Midlands region, including around the new Birmingham HS2 interchange station near the NEC in the borough.
But affected communities, including Balsall Common and neighbouring Burton Green, are bracing themselves for years of disruption at best, as are other communities just over the border in Warwickshire.
There have also been long-standing concerns among Balsall Common residents and councillors about the planned route for more than 100 lorries per day and traffic congestion during HS2’s preparation and construction.
As we reported, Prime minister Boris Johnson has been accused of launching ‘war’ on the Warwickshire countryside’ after this week approving HS2 – from London to the new Birmingham interchange station, and eventually onwards to Leeds and Manchester.
West Midlands Mayor Andy Street was among those who welcomed the decision, emphasising jobs and extra capacity on the rail network for the cost of ‘£4billion a year’.
The total bill is estimated to be between the official £88billion and a recent report’s £106billion forecast.
Now councillor Ian Courts, leader of Solihull Council, in a statement on the council’s website, said: “I am pleased for everyone in the borough that the government has ended all the uncertainty and has given HS2 the green light.
“We have long argued HS2 is vital to Solihull’s future prosperity and the prosperity of the West Midlands.
“As far as I am concerned HS2 in Solihull has always been about securing inclusive economic growth for our people; bringing jobs and opportunities for residents now and for our children in the future.
“We have worked hard to ensure the plans are in place so that the borough will benefit from HS2. All along our support has been based on an understanding of the jobs and business opportunities the railway, and station, will bring to the borough.
“We will continue to work with our local communities during the construction phase and take every chance to realise the significant environmental opportunities.
“We now have clarity and look forward to the first new intercity railway since Victorian times – providing a much needed increase to the nation’s rail capacity.
“I look forward to working with the new minister to deliver a railway that will benefit Solihull, our region and the country as a whole.”
But not all residents or representatives welcomed the announcement.
Solihull Green councillor Max McLoughlin, the leading opposition party at the council house, tweeted in advance of the expected announcement: “The simulated ‘will they, won’t they’ ends tomorrow.
“Expect they’ll be pushing to expand Birmingham Airport off the back of it too.
“Without even considering the environmental impact (as that seems to be ignored), BHX has the third biggest noise pollution impact in the UK.”
Coventry will miss out on a station, but will fight to keep intercity services on the West Coast mainline, which it is said will be freed up for more passenger and freight services.
Campaigners who have been camped for months in woodlands in Cubbington and Kenilworth next to Solihull borough hit out at Boris Johnson.
Matthew Bishop, who walked 100 miles from Cubbington to London in protest said, despite the go-ahead, campaigners would not be abandoning camp.
He told the Observer: “By approving HS2 Boris Johnson has declared war on the countryside.
“A week ago he was standing next to David Attenborough talking about the importance preventing species loss and loss of habitat – now he has given the green light to fell all this woodland and do the huge amount of damage that comes with it.
“He should fell the first tree following on from this review and take full responsibility for what he has approved.
“This will be his legacy, and it will never pay for itself. Middle England will take hundreds of years to recover from the devastation HS2 will cause.
“We are still camping and protesting at the site and we are calling on people to stand with us.”
Warwickshire Wildlife Trust also feared the consequences of Mr Johnson’s decision.
Trust CEO Ed Green said: “The potential damage from HS2 is too great – especially while we are facing a climate emergency.
“Green and sustainable transport is vital, but we won’t solve the climate crisis by making the biodiversity crisis worse.”