Business leaders from Chesterfield travelled to London on Friday on a mission that could secure millions for the town’s economy.
They were there alongside the representatives of more than 11,000 British companies to call for the eastern leg of the £55bn HS2 high-speed rail project to get the go ahead.
If the project was to finally get the green light, experts say journey times from Chesterfield to London would come down to 1 hour 15 minutes and an estimated £4.1 billion would be pumped into the East Midlands and Yorkshire.
Speaking to the assembled leaders of Friday was Chris Hobson, director of policy at East Midlands Chamber.
He said: “The business community is fully committed to grasping the opportunities that HS2’s eastern leg will bring.
“Plans are already being developed to increase connectivity within the regions in order to maximise the economic benefit and to ensure it can be felt beyond the urban centres.
“The economic benefits have been clearly identified and we don’t want to see the East Midlands and other parts of the country on the eastern leg route miss out on this opportunity for growth.
“It is vital that the Government confirms its commitment to project and, just as importantly, the location of the station hubs, so that linked infrastructure projects can be planned.”
In the last few weeks, the new Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling, has given the strongest indication yet that the controversial and long talked-about project would be built.
On October 12, he told a special conference of industry insiders that the UK needed HS2 ‘more than ever’.
He said it would create extra capacity, boost jobs and growth and help ‘link the country together’.
“You can take it from me today, HS2 is going ahead,” he said.
What route the track will take, however, is less clear.
The original route through Derbyshire would have affected hundreds of homes in the county and crossed the much-loved Chesterfield canal no less than four times.
The new route - which incorporates a spur into Chesterfield itself - is, according to Robin Stonebridge from the Chesterfield Canal Trust, ‘much, much better’.
He said: “We have heard that an announcement is imminent - possibly before the Autumn statement on November 23.
“But we have been told four or five times before that it would be made in the not too distant future.
“It took them 1000 days in between the consultation beginning and the route announcement - and then that was torn up when they changed it. If it is true that the final decision is actually going to come then we would finally know where we stand.”
But despite continued misgivings in some quarters, most in the town’s business and political community are just keen to get on with building a project that could revolutionise the area.
Peter Swallow, chair of Destination Chesterfield, said: “HS2 represents a fantastic opportunity for Chesterfield in terms of both the option of a stop on the route and the previously announced maintenance depot.
“The journey time to London by rail is already good but having an HS2 stop would increase this, further benefitting the local economy and attractiveness of the town and new developments like Chesterfield Waterside and Peak Resort, to investors.
“And while we do not yet have the detail, Staveley is perfectly positioned for the depot and it could contribute significantly to regeneration of the area in terms of employment during construction and beyond.”
The Government publishes a command paper setting out its proposals for Phase 2 from Birmingham to Leeds (via the East Midlands and Sheffield).
The Government publishes a consultation document on Phase 2. It explained the Government’s case for Phase 2 and set out the proposed route from the West Midlands to Leeds with stations in the East Midlands close to Derby and Nottingham, Sheffield and Leeds. The consultation closed in January 2014.
Sir David Higgins publishes his second report on developing Phase 2 recommending a new station in the East Midlands to the west of Toton and a further station at Sheffield’s Meadowhall shopping complex.
David Higgins publishes new recommendations on the proposed route for HS2 in Derbyshire, avoiding the Chesterfield canal and including a ‘spur’ off the main track to Chesterfield and Sheffield.
An announcement on the full Phase 2 route is now expected in autumn 2016. This is two years later than the end of 2014 date envisioned in by the Government in summer 2013 when it published its consultation on the route.
‘Public engagement’ events will take place in communities along the proposed final route.
The government hopes to introduce a bill into parliament paving way for work to begin on the project.
If approved, it is thought work would begin on the project six years from now.
The Government wants part of Phase Two – the route between the West Midlands and Crewe – to open in 2027, six years ahead of the rest, so that the North and Scotland will ‘realise the benefits to people and places sooner’.
Phase Two of HS2 will begin operating trains as part of the integrated HS2 network and with the rest of the UK rail network.