Chatsworth owner Duke of Devonshire urges Government not to shelve HS2 link to Chesterfield
Civic leaders have urged the Government to bring HS2 to Chesterfield amid fears the Eastern leg could be shelved – potentially costing thousands of jobs and billions of pounds.
Chesterfield is earmarked as a stop on the proposed eastern leg of the high-speed railway line from Birmingham to Leeds – but a national study has suggested better improvements could be made by investing in existing infrastructure.
Leaders across Chesterfield have now published a report which says axing or delaying the extension could blight the life chances of Chesterfield residents for generations to come, arguing any changes to the proposals “would leave an already deprived area struggling even further, cut off from future prosperity, instead of helping it to ‘level up’ with more affluent areas in the south”.
The Don’t Cut Here report says the town and its surrounding areas could lose out on more than £55 billion of income, more than 10,000 new jobs, including skilled jobs at a proposed HS2 infrastructure depot in Staveley, and the creation of thousands of new homes if the plans are delayed or shelved.
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The report has been backed by leading figures across the town, including the Duke of Devonshire, owner of Chatsworth House.
Integrated Rail Plan
The Government is due to announce its plans for HS2’s eastern leg in its Integrated Rail Plan next month, which HS2 says will be “informed by an assessment from the National Infrastructure Commission”.
However, the NIC assessment suggests the north could be better served by prioritising regional links through upgrades of existing lines, including the Midland Main Line between London and Sheffield, via Chesterfield.
Coun Tricia Gilby, council leader, said HS2 brings hope of a brighter future to the town – something which now hangs in the balance.
She said: “We need to give our young people hope they can thrive in towns like ours, not just survive. HS2 coming to Chesterfield gives us the confidence to tell the next generation that the future is bright.”
The report suggests the HS2 station at Chesterfield would also become a tourism gateway to the Peak District, while shelving it could threaten the station masterplan, resulting in a lost opportunity to redevelop a major part of the town centre.
The Duke said: “With HS2, we have a chance to establish Chesterfield as a nationally-connected gateway to the Peak District National Park, ensuring economic growth and greater prosperity for the area. It will also enable visitors to arrive in the most environmentally friendly way.
“This matters, because north Derbyshire has not had the easiest of times over the past few decades and it would be good for all of us to see Chesterfield and the areas around it enjoy a more prosperous future.
“So the prospect of HS2 coming here offers real hope for the years to come.”
Hope of better times
And Patrick Evans, Chesterfield Foodbank project coordinator, said: “We spend every day helping out people whose lives are at crisis point. The problem in places like Chesterfield and the communities that surround it is that the issues which lie behind those crises have been around for a long time because this is a place that’s never really recovered from industrial decline.
“What HS2 should bring is not just rejuvenation but finally some hope of better times after all these decades.
“In particular, the depot that is being planned for Staveley will bring desperately needed jobs back to a deprived area that has been neglected for too long.
“The knock-on effects these good jobs will have on the people who live in these communities is almost beyond measure. Investment in their lives is long overdue and HS2 finally offers them a way forward, but if those jobs don’t come the consequences will be depressingly familiar. It would be devastating.”
Their feelings have been echoed by leading civic figures.
Scott Knowles, chief executive of the East Midlands Chamber of Commerce, which is based in Chesterfield, said: “The importance of this opportunity to regenerate, level up and make a real difference to people and communities cannot be overstated and must not be missed.”
Think big and take action
Lord Bob Kerslake, former head of the Home Civil Service, who chaired UK2070 Commission, which highlighted the issues behind ‘levelling up’, said: “In the wake of the pandemic, it’s clear that Government needs to think big and take action at an historic scale. Investing in a new infrastructure backbone is a good place to start, and the basic principle behind levelling-up suggests Government’s heart is in the right place.
“By the same token, failing to connect towns and communities like Chesterfield and Staveley to that new infrastructure backbone would seriously compromise those efforts.
“Rarely can a single decision have been so consequential. We desperately need to connect more places and more people to better opportunities. There are detailed investment plans along all points of HS2’s eastern leg – some of which have been developed with government’s help. To cut the artery which would feed those growth opportunities would be an historic error.”
Natalie Gasson-McKinley, of the Federation of Small Businesses in Derbyshire said: “Rather like small firms, small communities are too often overlooked in debates about major investment. If levelling-up is to mean anything then that has to end and we need to see HS2 trains rolling into places like Chesterfield.”
A Department for Transport spokesman said: “We’re committed to bringing the benefits of high speed rail to the East Midlands, Yorkshire and beyond.
“Our Integrated Rail Plan will outline how projects, including HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, can work together to deliver the reliable train services that passengers need and deserve, as quickly as possible.”