Another Ridiculous waste of money.

Stoke Sentinel

Revealed: The £800k cost of Stoke-on-Trent’s failed HS2 bid

By PhilCorrigan  |  Posted: August 27, 2015

  • MONEY WELL SPENT?: Stoke-on-Trent looks set to miss out on HS2.

COUNCIL leaders in Stoke-on-Trent have spent more than £800,000 of taxpayers’ money trying to bring HS2 to the city in a bid which now looks to have failed.Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s previous Labour administration spearheaded efforts to secure a Potteries station on the high speed railway.

Although the Government has yet to make a final decision on the route of the line between Birmingham and Manchester, the intermediate stop will almost certainly be in Crewe.

And now a Sentinel investigation can reveal the city council spent a staggering £801,531 on developing and marketing its plans for the ‘Stoke Route’.

The then Labour-run authority agreed to spend the cash just days after HS2 Ltd chairman Sir David Higgins published a report overwhelmingly supporting the Crewe bid.

Former council leader Mohammed Pervez today defended the spending, saying Stoke-on-Trent had to make a ‘compelling’ case to Government.

He added that while the city is now unlikely to gain a high speed rail station, developing thebusiness case for the ‘Stoke Route’ could still reap rewards.

But others believe it has been a ‘ridiculous waste of public money’ at a time of cutbacks.

The amount spent since 2013 includes:

£789,295 on professional services;

£6,366 on marketing;

£3,138 on travel and;

£2,732 on workshops and meetings.

The bulk of this amount, £651,732, was spent in 2014/15, while a further £16,840 has been spent in the current financial year despite the bid looking to have failed.

A KPMG report commissioned by the Government found Stoke-on-Trent could lose £78 million a year if bypassed by HS2.

And the council’s case for the Stoke Route was largely based on the potential economic benefits of an HS2 station in North Staffordshire.

Mr Pervez says that these economic arguments, developed by highly-paid consultants, will still be useful in ensuring Stoke-on-Trent benefits from HS2, wherever the station is built.

He said: “It was very important that Stoke-on-Trent put forward a compelling bid to Government in terms of how a Stoke-on-Trent station would benefit, not just the city, but the UK economy as a whole.

“But it wasn’t just about a station. It was about showing what the economic impact would be. Having done that we are now in a better position to make demands of Government, in terms of how HS2 can benefit Stoke-on-Trent.”

HS2 Ltd chairman Sir David Higgins published his HS2 Plus report, which was overwhelmingly in support of the Crewe route, in March 2014.

The report came just days before the full council approved paying consultants £150,000 to further develop the Stoke Route and ring-fencing a further £800,000 for further lobbying. This was in addition to the £109,000 that had already been spent up until that point.

Council leader Dave Conway’s City Independents group opposed spending more than the initial £109,000. But he also believes the business case built up could help the council’s efforts in lobbying Government.

He said: “We weren’t against HS2 – we were against spending more money on it after it became clear the station was going to Crewe.

“Now it may be this £800,000 won’t have gone completely to waste if we can get something for Stoke-on-Trent from HS2. We are in talks over that.

“I was aware money was still being spent on the bid when I became council leader, but it was a minimal amount.”

While council leaders said they would seek financial contributions from the private sector to reduce the bid’s cost to the taxpayer, none have been forthcoming, despite many North Staffordshire firms backing the Stoke Route.

The only contribution has been in the form of work carried out by Staffordshire Chambers deputy chief executive Jane Gratton.

Mrs Gratton today defended the decision to spend the money citing the potential jobs and investment HS2 could have brought to the city.

She said: “We fought a long campaign to make sure the city was not by-passed. We have met senior ministers and they recognise the ambition and fantastic potential here in North Staffordshire.”

Supporters of the Stoke Route claim placing a station in the largest settlement between Birmingham and Manchester will maximise the economic impact of the £50 billion HS2 line. But it appears the Government believes that Crewe, with its ‘360 degree rail connectivity’, would be the better option.

It is now understood the city council is focussing its efforts on working with Cheshire East Council to ensure Stoke-on-Trent will still benefit from HS2 even without a station.

Labour’s Stoke-on-Trent South MP Rob Flello, who was part of a team who took the Stoke Route campaign to Parliament, said: “The city council was right to try to secure an HS2 station because accountants KPMG have said Stoke-on-Trent will be the only city in the country to lose money by not having a station – something in the order of £70 million.

“If we had known from the start the Government and HS2 Ltd would make sure Crewe would win no matter what, then things may have been different, but we were assured that this was a fair process.

“Of course, had we given up, we would have been accused of not fighting for what was best for the city. At least now we might end up with some HS2 trains diverting through Stoke-on-Trent, services the city would not have stood the slightest chance of getting had we not kicked up such a fuss.”

Tom Simpson, chairman of Sandyford and Goldenhill Residents’ Association, also believes the city council was right to try to bring investment to the Potteries.

He said: “It is a lot of money and you wonder where it has all gone but if the bid had been successful, nobody would be complaining.”

But Alan Barrett, chairman of campaign group March on Stoke, believes it has been £800,000 down the drain.

He said: “It was always going to go to Crewe, because it’s in George Osborne’s back yard. The council was naive to think it had a chance.”

The Government had been expected to announce the final decision by the end of last year but it could now be as late as next year.