The continuing growth of the UK economy relies on infrastructure investment, as does the economic success of central London. A new high speed rail line direct to the heart of London will help to ensure that Westminster continues to be an economic powerhouse, generating more than two per cent of GDP of the entire country. Westminster Council has voiced its strong – but conditional – support for the HS2 rail link between Birmingham and London.
The commercial benefits of HS2 are obvious. Ninety-five per cent of visitors to London head straight to the City of Westminster to take in a show at one of our theatres, dine in one of our restaurants, and benefit from the services and products offered by the borough’s 34,000 businesses. HS2 will deliver an extra 15,000 people, and their purchasing power, to Westminster’s doorstep every day to provide a much-needed boost to the West End economy.
Improved links with the Midlands and the long-term capacity to connect with the North of England and Scotland will allow Westminster businesses to draw on a wider pool of labour and stimulate job growth. This influx of talent and brainpower will generate innovation and encourage startup businesses to lay down roots in the City of Westminster.
The Council has always backed new businesses. In the past year, we have been proud to participate in the development of Hub Westminster, a social enterprise providing premises and facilities to up to 1,000 entrepreneurs and startups, and we are continuing our support for innovators and small businesses by backing the HS2 rail link.
While we welcome proposals to link the capital with the North more efficiently, Westminster Council has worked hard to ensure that the impact on the borough’s residents will be minimal.
We have experience in reaching compromises on contentious issues. When negotiating Crossrail developments in Westminster, we worked with developers to make sure that the best possible deal was struck for Westminster businesses and residents and that disruptions will be kept to a minimum. Ultimately, Crossrail will deliver benefits to the borough’s businesses, as it will bring the international travel hub Heathrow within minutes’ reach of Paddington in Westminster. This time around, we have asked that the HS2 route be diverted to run underneath the existing West Coast Mainline tracks rather than under the Queen’s Park conservation area, where it would have a negative impact on residents and on local infrastructure.
London is a global city and improved infrastructure will give us the tools we need to compete in a global economy. Our economic rivals are no longer Manchester or Glasgow, but Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Silicon Valley. The government is taking steps not only in rail and transport, but in power, telecoms, and other infrastructure projects, and London has the opportunity to capitalise on its position at the heart of this national agenda. Better transport networks throughout the country will boost our competitiveness and present much-needed commercial benefits to businesses both in the Midlands and in central London.
Cllr Brian Connell is Westminster City Council Cabinet Member for Enterprise and Volunteering.
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