HS2: Economic case puts Nottingham top of the league

HS2 project Image copyright AP

Like anyone with a favourite train set, David Cameron isn't about to give up on HS2. In Prime Minister's Questions, he robustly defended the need for a high-speed rail link.

With Labour now questioning the overall cost, HS2 supporters may be getting rather nervous. That explains why the government has published another document - the fifth so far - on the benefits for our big cities.

This time, the key message is the economic spin-offs, rather than the shorter journey times promised by the new line to London.

And tucked away in the details of the Department for Transport's "Strategic Case for HS2" is the finding of a KPMG audit of the benefits for the regions.

Its model is based on improved connectivity: how businesses are able to connect with suppliers and potential customers. Its findings put a figure on that, and guess what: Nottingham and Derby emerge as the "city region" that will benefit the most from high speed rail.

The KPMG conclusion estimates a big improvement in business connectivity. This is the league table for the city regions along the route:

The government's HS2 report also estimates what that could be worth for the Nottingham/Derby economy: an extra £2.2bn a year.

But does that still make HS2 worth it? That's where the political and economic debate still remains.

"We are always supportive of infrastructure projects, even HS2. But they have to provide good value for money," Ron Lynch, head of the business organisation, the Institute of the Directors in the East Midlands, said.

HS2 opponent and Tory MP Andrew Bridgen believes Labour doubts over the £42bn cost now put the whole idea in doubt.

The proposed route would cut through his North West Leicestershire constituency, with an HS2 rail tunnel going under East Midlands Airport.

"A whole raft of independent bodies - even the Treasury Select Committee a couple of weeks ago - said there is no business case for HS2 and that it should be suspended," he told me.

Labour's current position is best summed up by Shadow Transport Minister Lilian Greenwood, herself a Nottingham MP.

"We are in favour, but the government can't be irresponsible about the cost. They've got to keep that cost under control and they've got to demonstrate to the public it's value for money," she said.

When the East Midlands HS2 station - between Derby and Nottingham - is built at Toton Sidings, London will be 51 minutes away, it will be 19 minutes to Birmingham, and it'll be one hour 42 minutes to Newcastle.

It's that prospect of such shorter journey times and the economic advantages that attract the leader of Nottingham City Council, Labour's Jon Collins.

"There's an opportunity for us to get a rebalancing of the economy, so that not all the growth is happening in and around London and South East, " he said.

"We'll see significant economic growth and economic benefits coming to the Midlands and the North from HS2. That's why people should strongly support it."

In the national debate over the economic spin-offs for the English regions, the advantage for Nottingham and Derby has barely figured.

The two cities' top position in the HS2 economic benefits league table may surprise many.

But ponder this: at the last general election, the East Midlands helped deliver David Cameron into Downing Street. The East Midlands may help deliver HS2 for the prime minister, if the economic case for this region wins over the sceptics.