Could Derby be left at end of line by plan to make Toton site of new high speed station?
BUSINESS leaders warn that HS2 could be in danger of becoming a "white elephant" if a link is not created between Derby and a proposed station at Toton.
Yesterday, the Government announced details of the next phase of the £32 billion high speed rail network – including its preferred route and the location of stations.
The section that affects Derby runs from Birmingham to Leeds and the station serving the East Midlands will be at Toton Sidings, between Derby and Nottingham.
Some have questioned the effectiveness of an "out-of-town" parkway-style station.
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In Derby, officials had been hoping that the station would be sited in the city but, instead, ministers opted for Toton, a goods yard close to junction 25 of the M1 and A52 over the border in Nottinghamshire, about 10 miles from Derby.
Now, business leaders and rail industry figures are calling for some kind of link between Derby and Toton, which would make it easier and more attractive for potential HS2 users in Derby.
John Forkin, managing director of Marketing Derby, a public/private sector organisation which attracts investment to Derby, insists a link to the city is "critical" to HS2's success.
He said: "First of all, we welcome this latest announcement on HS2, which will bring significant benefits to the UK economy. It's really important that it comes through our area and that we have a station in the region.
"However, it is disappointing that the Department for Transport's preferred option is for a station outside of the major cities. We believe that the best economic option was to site the station in Derby. I'd be interested to find out why Derby was overlooked.
"Consultations will now begin and, to my mind, it is absolutely critical that there is some kind of link created between Derby and Toton."
Mr Forkin expects Nottingham to push for its existing tram network to be extended to Toton – and would like to see this link extended to Derby. He said: "If this does not happen there is a very real danger that HS2 could end up being an expensive white elephant. I would like to see a high-speed tram link running from Derby station to Toton. This could also mark the start of a tram network in Derby itself, linking Pride Park and the city centre."
Mr Forkin believes a tram link would also help alleviate existing problems on the road network.
He said: "The whole point of HS2 is to increase connectivity between cities and take cars off the road.
"There is little point in having a station in the middle of nowhere that people have to drive to."
Derby and Derbyshire Rail Forum, which represents about 100 businesses involved in the rail industry, has welcomed the Government's HS2 announcement but it, too, believes that options to create a link between Derby and Toton need to be explored.
This could involve a tram or the creation of a rail link using existing "classic lines" that are no longer in use. DDRF spokesman Rupert Brennan-Brown said: "We welcome the announcement on HS2, which will provide significant opportunities for the supply chain, but we are keen to find out more detail about what plans the Department for Transport has in terms of linking up Derby and Nottingham with Toton.
"This could be in the form of a new rail link, which could use some existing routes, which are no longer in use."
But Derby City Council has said it will fight on to bring the station to the city.
Leader of the council Paul Bayliss has said the authority was prepared to pay tens of millions to do so.
He said: "The choice of Toton is very disappointing because we had undertaken a detailed study of the economic benefits to the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire area of the two alternative station locations.
"This report was provided to Government and has been available publicly and it shows that the two counties would derive greater benefits from a station at Derby.
"A tram would be entirely pointless because firstly the cost would be absolutely astronomical and the speed the tram goes means that it would take too long to get to Toton to connect with HS2.
"What we would prefer is for the route to go through Derby, meaning the need to build an extra platform at Derby station to facilitate it.
"A report we commissioned shows the economic benefit for Derby would be £440 million, compared to £300 million at Toton and £410 million at Nottingham.
"Our argument is that the money could be partly funded by the £32bn total cost of the HS2 project the Government has said it will cost, with us having to put some money in ourselves for on-site car parking or a park and ride scheme.
"We would be prepared to do this, to find that money, because the economic benefit is so huge for the city."
Adam Wilkinson, city chief executive, said: "We will be responding to Government on the basis that Derby would be a better location for a station serving the East Midlands and we will be submitting further information that will evidence such."
A spokeswoman for East Midlands Airport – which will see the line pass underneath in a tunnel – said it supported major transport investment but added: "We will clearly need to digest the announcement and we will then work closely with HS2 to understand the implications for East Midlands Airport in more detail."
HS2 would free up capacity on the Midland Main Line, which has already been earmarked for £500 million of government investment, to fully electrify the line.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin – also MP for Derbyshire Dales – said: "It's not just about journey times, it is also about capacity. We are finding the railways are overcrowded. We've seen massive growth in rail passenger numbers, so this is taking HS2 so it serves the north."
According to George Cowcher, chief executive of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire Chamber of Commerce, HS2 could unlock economic benefits of around £3.8 billion for the region. He said: "Around 55% of local firms are firmly behind bringing high speed tail to the East Midlands.
"This is not just about faster train times between Derby, Nottingham and London – it's also about connecting the East Midlands to a first-class UK and Europe-wide rail network and the opportunities that brings to local firms, as well as making the region an extremely attractive place for inward investment.
"High-speed rail will bring all the regions of Britain closer together and create the capacity our businesses need to invest with confidence, expand and compete on a global scale."
Mr Cowcher agreed that a solution needed to be found to connect Derby and Nottingham with HS2.
Justice Minister Christopher Grayling visited Stanton-by-Dale yesterday to put his support behind HS2.
He joined Erewash MP Jessica Lee at Stanton Bonna, which, among other items, manufactures concrete railway sleepers, including winning a £20 million contract to supply the London to Kent Channel Tunnel Rail link.
Mr Grayling said: "HS2 will be, I hope, fantastic news for the economy and the creation of jobs in the East Midlands.
"We have to go through all of the due processes but hope, if the Bill is approved, to get working straight away on tendering processes for various elements of the project which could see business in the region benefit."
Peter Richardson, chairman of the D2N2 Local Enterprise Partnership, which covers Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, said HS2 was "crucial" to the region.
Mr Richardson, who is also chairman of the Derby Renaissance Board, which oversees the city's regeneration, said: "One of the most crucial factors in enabling business growth is the quality of the country's infrastructure, yet for too long, the UK has struggled with dated, over-burdened rail services whilst its competitors in Europe and elsewhere have invested in 21st-century high-speed rail.
"In order for local businesses to develop and grow, they need to be connected to a rail network that not only brings London and the regions closer together but also creates the additional capacity we need to compete.
"I'm delighted the DfT has finally confirmed its plans."