“Levelling Up The Tracks” – Infrastructure Summit Review

Sep 23, 2021

“Levelling Up The Tracks” – Infrastructure Summit Calls for Action to Unleash Innovation and Industrial Potential across HS2’s Eastern Leg


City leaders from across the political spectrum in Yorkshire and the East Midlands came together on Friday with major UK infrastructure firms, SMEs and industry academics to make the case for how full delivery of the eastern leg of HS2 is crucial for levelling up economic, industrial and innovation potential whilst highlighting the risks from further delay or cancellation.

Hosted online, the Levelling Up the Tracks – the Power of HS2 and British Railway Engineering” workshop went beyond well-established arguments about how HS2’s eastern leg will increase rail capacity and speed across the Midlands and North and improve stations. 

Instead, the event raised projects like track and train maintenance depots.  As essential investment in the UK’s rail infrastructure pipeline, the depots would accelerate engineering excellence and create new economic opportunities in eastern regions, currently scheduled to regenerate brownfield land in areas targeted for “levelling up” by the government. 

Participants included Conservative MP for South Derbyshire Heather Wheeler, Labour Leader of Chesterfield Borough Council Cllr Tricia Gilby, and  Labour Leader of Leeds City Council Cllr James Lewis.  They were joined by industry experts from leading rail engineering firms: Alstom UK & Ireland, the Spencer Group, Unipart Rail; plus SMEs and academics from the Northern Rail Innovation Network at Huddersfield University and Newcastle College’s Rail and Civil Engineering Academy.

Track and train maintenance depots will be essential for the eastern leg of HS2’s daily operations and must be located along the line.  Depots are planned for HS2 and NPR in Staveley in Chesterfield, Leeds, Newcastle, York and Birmingham which would create 2,500 new direct jobs in addition to around 30,000 new or safeguarded engineering, construction and supply chain jobs.

However, were HS2’s eastern leg to be cancelled, there would be serious implications for “levelling up” through loss of these vital infrastructure assets including:

  • Missed opportunity to regenerate over 250 hectares of brownfield land and the potential to blight industrial redevelopment projects preventing the creation of over 10,000 high quality engineering jobs for decades
  • Potential for damage to six clusters of UK rail industry specialisation and their extended supply chains in the Midlands and North
  • Damage to at least three exceptional school clusters’ engagement and skills programmes in some of the most deprived areas of the country

Given the significant industrial and innovation opportunities associated with these depots reliant on HS2 East, the workshop discussed industry evidence why the Rail Needs Assessment of the impact on HS2 Growth Strategies must factor in investment, R&D, skills, and jobs. 

Uncertainty is already having a negative impact on economic potential because valuable brownfield land is currently safeguarded as future sites for HS2 depots with delays bringing statis and sterilisation for current plans.

Taking the example of the Staveley Works Corridor and Manufacturing Zone, this remains one of the biggest transformative projects in the East Midlands. When the East Midlands HS2 Growth Strategy was produced it was projected to bring economic investment of £480m and by 2020 projections have reached £1bn, much of it private capital.  Plans centred around the Infrastructure Maintenance Depot and the railhead include the Derbyshire Rail Industry Innovation Vehicle (DRIIVe), the attraction of Talgo’s UK HQ, building the 17 HA Hartington Business Park and the creation of 2,200 high value jobs.

Participating in the event, Heather Wheeler MP, Conservative Member of Parliament for South Derbyshire, said: “The rail and supply chain industry is at the economic centre of Derby and my constituency of South Derbyshire. Future jobs in areas of the country hit hardest by the pandemic – like at the Staveley depot and across the East Midlands – willingly want this investment in our infrastructure.

“The Eastern leg of HS2 is also crucial to better support local services and our economic growth and recovery.  It is a once-in-a-generation chance to transform connectivity, attract investment, create new jobs, build new homes, boost skills and opportunity and level-up communities across the Midlands, North and beyond.

“We believe the Eastern leg is just as vital to levelling up as the delivery of the Western leg. Levelling up cannot just mean levelling up the North West and the West Midlands.  We believe the opportunities it could mean to our communities in the East Midlands, Yorkshire & Humber, and the North East are as important as the Western leg of HS2.”

Cllr Tricia Gilby, leader of Chesterfield Borough Council, said: “The Integrated Rail Plan has been delayed time and time again and this is costing the North and Midlands nearly £5 billion a year – this uncertainty is holding back our growth and recovery. The Council’s position on the completion of the HS2 eastern leg remains absolutely clear – the Government must commit to the completion of the Eastern Leg of HS2 in order to make ‘levelling up’ a reality for Chesterfield and ensure it is not just another hollow soundbite. HS2 is not just about speed and hitting decarbonisation targets, but about transforming connectivity, attracting inward investment, creating new jobs, boosting skills and bringing opportunities for young people. 

“Our plans for Staveley Depot have shown we can create a billion pounds worth of investment in just one centre. There are 2,500 new jobs at stake for the rest of the Eastern Leg, just at the depots alone and around 30,000 more in the supply chains. We simply cannot let this scale of investment and opportunity slip away. We must have full delivery of the Eastern Leg between Leeds and Birmingham.  

Cllr James Lewis, the Labour Leader of Leeds City Council, said: “Major rail investment is vital for Leeds and the wider region for job creation and economic recovery in the post-Covid world if the government is serious about delivering on its “levelling up” promises.  The HS2 Depot alongside a new station and rail link are all vital for delivering a new innovation corridor in Yorkshire and key parts of the Leeds Enterprise Zone.

“Drift, delay and continued uncertainty are having a financial impact today.  Every year that the eastern leg of HS2 is delayed costs our region £1.7 billion.  That is why today Leeds asks for an urgent decision on the Integrated Rail Plan so Yorkshire can get on with the job.”

Will Tanner, Alstom UK Communications Director, UK & Ireland, said: ‘Most of Alstom’s 6,000 UK staff are based in the Midlands and the North in cities and towns such as Derby, Widnes, Crewe and Mansfield. Investment in rail is not only essential for the economy, society and in achieving net zero, but also helps level up the regions of the UK by delivering the high skilled employment opportunities of the future.

Jon Bailey, Operations Director for Spencer Group, said: “The track, depots and stations along the Eastern leg route will provide high skill local jobs during the build, operation and maintenance phases of the project. The jobs and connectivity prize from the Eastern leg of HS2- if re-confirmed- is huge for the North & Midlands- and for ‘direct-employer’ companies like ours, based in Humberside.”