At the risk of being provocative, isn’t the formation of the UK’s first tourism business improvement district (TBID) in Birmingham of miniscule significance for the local meetings and events sector compared with the advent of high speed rail?
The problem, I guess, is that the former is a lot less controversial than the latter. But then the former will need the latter if it is to be much more than a well-intentioned talking shop.
This is, of course, easy for me to say from the comfort of my ivory tower in Putney. But I genuinely do have concerns about the increasing gap between London and the rest of the country in terms of opportunity, growth and wealth. And I can’t see that changing much without improvements in infrastructure.
It was recently pointed out to me that we haven’t built a railway line north of London for 120 years. The current rail infrastructure is creaking, while across the water in France TGV services have been touching 200mph (322km/h) since 1981. They serve not only regional towns but those in Italy and Switzerland, while the 186mph Thalys uses the same track to serve Belgium, the Netherlands, France and western Germany.
Cross border co-operation mean services like the German-built InterCity Express, reaching 180mph, serves major destinations across much of Western Europe. We simply do not have this same kind of connectivity in Britain. And this is holding us back.
I do understand the concerns of the environmentalists and recognise the uncertainty that these creates for those living close to where the new line is planned. Wendover, for example, is just a stone’s throw from Grass Roots Group headquarters in Tring and, yes, a number of our employees are affected. Put me in their shoes and I confess I may be singing a different tune. But the reality is that disruption is a by-product of progress. We are fortunate in the country that we have a culture of healthy debate. But once the debate is over its time to make decisions and get on with it. Endless debate is no good for anyone.
To this end, it’s been a smart move by the government to appoint Sir David Higgins, ‘the man who delivered the Olympics on time and on budget’, to oversee the project. Earlier this month he stated that his priorities were to build the £50bn project more quickly and ‘get benefits to the north earlier’. Thank goodness for that.
I read elsewhere that under the Government’s plans, the first trains, running from London to Birmingham, weren’t scheduled to enter service until 2032. Stone me, the good venues of Birmingham and the erstwhile membership of the TBID are going to need them a tad earlier than that if the gulf between the prosperity of London and the second city is to be reduced.
I wish Mr Higgins every success. If he can repeat the job he did with the Olympics I wager the nation will be all the healthier for his efforts.
As for me, by the time the new high speed rolling stock arrives, I sincerely hope I will have my feet up somewhere nice and warm. In my place will be Grass Roots’ own new fleet of modern, high speed, technically brilliant, meetings management executives, making life even better for our clients. And I’m sure that whatever has been invested will be justified in exceptional service.
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