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Midlands focus: could HS2 turn Solihull into a boom town?

Solihull could be set for an unprecedented era of economic growth and rising property prices on the back of the arrival of HS2, according to developer Elevate Property Group.

The firm behind the Princes Gate apartments in Solihull has welcomed the government’s recent decision to go ahead with HS2 despite concerns over its rising costs and social and environmental impact.

The nationwide infrastructure project – the largest in Europe at present – was given the green light by Boris Johnson earlier this month, and, once complete, will be a high-speed rail link connecting London to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.

It will bring Solihull and south east Birmingham within the magic ‘one hour’ commute to London, with the Department for Transport saying the scheme will cut journey times from Birmingham to the capital from one hour 21 minutes to just 52 minutes.

Once the second phase is complete, Birmingham to Leeds is expected to take just 49 minutes, down from two hours.   

Midlands focus: could HS2 turn Solihull into a boom town?

The first phase - the new railway line running between London and the West Midlands, carrying 400m-long trains with as many as 1,100 seats per train – was originally expected to be completed by the end of 2026, but has now been pushed back to a start date of between 2028-2031.

It’s set to offer trains which can reach speeds of up to 250mph, with services running as often as 14 times an hour in each direction. London Euston will be the capital’s main HS2 hub, with one stop at Old Oak Common in North West London before the line reaches Birmingham Interchange and Birmingham Curzon St.

Phase 2 - originally set to be completed by 2032-33, now set to open between 2035-40 - will link Birmingham to Crewe, Wigan and Manchester in one direction and an East Midlands Hub and Leeds in the other.

Price boost for Solihull

According to the latest predictions from national estate agents Savills, Solihull could be on the verge of a sustained period of house price growth – in part boosted by the HS2 effect.

Property prices in the West Midlands are expected to increase by as much as 18.2% over the next five years, compared to a national average of 15%. 

“Solihull has always been one of the most desirable areas in the West Midlands in which to live and invest and has historically outperformed the region as a whole,” David Hofton, sales and marketing director at Elevate Property Group, said.

“We expect investment in the areas around the Solihull borough, NEC and Birmingham International Airport to grow exponentially with the coming of HS2’s Interchange Station, which will connect to London in 38 minutes and Manchester in 37 minutes.”

Midlands focus: could HS2 turn Solihull into a boom town?

He added: “Princes Gate is just 15 minutes from the site of Interchange Station and with travel times into London as low as 38 minutes and property prices as little as half those quoted in some London boroughs, Solihull suddenly looks very attractive, both to investors and to owner-occupiers.”

With the UK already witnessing a surge in property sales and prices increasing following the general election and Brexit finally taking place, Hofton predicts a further rise in property prices in the Solihull, south east Birmingham and north Warwickshire areas.

“Interest is definitely on the up and canny investors can see that HS2 bringing London within one hour can only help drive prices in one direction. This means that there has never been a better time to buy and Princes Gate is perfectly positioned to take advantage of increasing demand for quality accommodation.”

Princes Gate, which offers 100 studio, one and two-bedroom apartments in the heart of Solihull, is now 80% sold, according to Elevate. It says its selling agents Smart Homes have reported ten reservations in the first six weeks of 2020.

Consort House, the first phase, is now 100% sold, with the remaining apartments on offer in the Royal House phase.

Its address - 2-6 Homer Road - is within walking distance of the town centre, local amenities and Solihull train station.

A number of major employers are situated on Homer Road, including the National Grid, Waitrose and John Lewis, all yards from the development.

Elsewhere, Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council recently granted itself planning permission for Westgate, a landmark office building of Grade A space totalling 149,790 sq ft, which will be located on the corner of Station Road and Homer Road. The building will be capable of housing almost 1,400 employees.

“With all that is going on around Solihull – Interchange Station, the NEC, Birmingham International Airport - plus the continuing development of employment space such as Westgate and at Blythe Valley, this is all putting the borough on the UK map,” Hofton concluded.

“HS2 runs in both directions and it could be a gamechanger in terms of perception, raising the image and attractiveness of Solihull, Birmingham and north Warwickshire, especially to those currently living in London looking to make a lifestyle choice.”

Why has HS2 proved so controversial?

While it’s led to a definite uplift in house prices and investment in areas that are set to benefit from the line, HS2 – first started under the Labour government in 2009 – has faced significant complications and opposition.

Backers of the project says it’s needed to level up the country, increase investment in regions that have been left behind London in recent years, and boost productivity and local economies in major regional centres of the North and Midlands. They also say Britain lags behind other parts of Western Europe when it comes to high-speed rail infrastructure, with much of the UK’s existing infrastructure dating back from when the railways first arrived in the Victorian era, meaning they have to be regularly fixed, updated and amended as a result.

Midlands focus: could HS2 turn Solihull into a boom town?

Supporters also say other planned rail projects – such as Northern Powerhouse Rail – rely on HS2, and say the project is too far down the line, with a sizeable chunk of work already carried out on phase 1, to be scrapped now.

Additionally, those in favour point to the increased capacity HS2 will provide, helping to reduce the impact of heavily overcrowded commuter trains – a particular issue in the north of England. The Department for Transport says that the project will triple the capacity of trains across the entire route.

Opponents point to its spiralling costs. The initial budget was around £36 billion, but this had risen to just under £56 billion by the time of the 2015 Budget, and had increased again to around £85 billion by the time the government ordered a review on HS2 in August 2019 to see whether and how the project should proceed.

According to the official review - leaked to the Financial Times in January – the government now estimates that the total cost of the project could be £106 billion, and potentially even higher than that if further issues arise.

The government and Boris Johnson have placed the blame at the door of HS2 Ltd, the company running HS2, for being incredibly wasteful. In a recent interview with Sky Kids’ programme FYI, Johnson said HS2 Ltd had ‘just wasted money’ and criticised the way they had managed the scheme as ‘hopeless’.

Midlands focus: could HS2 turn Solihull into a boom town?

Those against the scheme also cite the environmental damage of the project, in addition to the social impact on people who have lost or will lose their homes as a result of the new line.

A number of pressure groups, including Stop HS2 and HS2 Action Alliance, have been set up to oppose the scheme and lobby local MPs and the government to stop it in its tracks.

Stop HS2 argues that the operation of the line will cause rising carbon emissions at a time when they need to be cut, as well as damaging areas of natural beauty and the ecosystems they support. Its slogan - ‘No business case. No environmental case. No money to pay for it’ - can regularly be seen on posters in or close to areas that will be affected by HS2.

Politicians themselves are split over the merits of HS2, with strong backers and detractors in equal measure. Those in favour insist that HS2 will create thousands of new jobs, narrow the North/South divide and bring much-needed economic growth to left behind communities in the North and Midlands.

Others, in particular MPs representing constituencies which HS2 will pass through, are opposed to the scheme on the grounds that it will have a detrimental impact on their local communities. Many say the money for HS2 would be better served on local transport projects.

Although HS2 has now been given the go-ahead and is likely to have clear benefits for certain areas – including Solihull – the committed opposition to it is unlikely to fade anytime soon.  

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