Commission hears from West Midlands on region's infrastructure priorities

Discussions with local leaders and businesses to inform the work on the second National Infrastructure Assessment.

Published: 4 Jul 2022

By: Rob Mallows

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What West Midlands needs to build a thriving regional economy – and the role infrastructure can play in helping achieve that goal – was on the agenda for the Commission’s regional visit to Birmingham last week, the second in a series of six visits to cities and city regions around the country designed to help inform our thinking ahead of the second National Infrastructure Assessment next year.

Cllr Bob Sleigh

First up, Commissioners Bridget Rosewell and Julia Prescot discussed with Cllr Bob Sleigh OBE – Deputy Mayor for the West Midlands – and other stakeholders the opportunities provided by the West Midlands’ “trailblazer” devolution status, focusing particularly on the role of public transport – the visit coincided with the publication of a new report by the Commission on urban public transport – and what cities can do to ensure their strategic plans are future proofed in the face of changing working and leisure habits following the Covid pandemic.and net zero technology to help drive regional economic growth. The conversation around the table further touched upon the challenges of planning amidst economic uncertainty and changing working patterns and highlighted the scale of ambition the region’s leaders have for developing  the West Midlands’ industrial and technological specialisms.

Following the discussion Cllr Sleigh said: “The National Infrastructure Commission plays an important role in government decision making and we were keen to help them understand the challenges and the opportunities the West Midlands faces. This is an opportunity to showcase the innovation our region is known for and to highlight our pioneering work around the future of mobility and battery industrialisation. It is also a chance to discuss how we can take this even further and ensure the region is at the forefront of national and international research and development of the technologies our future will depend on.”

After that, the Commission group visited the ongoing construction work to expand the capacity and facilities at University station in Edgbaston. They toured the pavilion structure and heard about the unique collaboration taking place between the University of Birmingham, the NHS, Canals and River Trust and others, led by the West Midlands Rail Executive and WMCA. Once complete, this new station will be ready to handle projected demand increases for at least 20 years and will serve as an impressive gateway to both the university and hospital.

Bridget Rosewell at University Station

Later in the afternoon, Bridget, Julia and James met West Midlands Mayor Andy Street, their discussion developing many of the themes arising from the roundtable earlier in the day with his colleague Cllr Sleigh.

The day ended with an early evening roundtable event organised by the Greater Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, with solicitors Mills and Reeve kindly acting as hosts. Our Chief Executive, James Heath, introduced the key areas being addressed in the next National Infrastructure Assessment and the Chamber’s head of policy, Raj Kandola, then chaired a wide-ranging discussion with members. Infrastructure topics that came included the question of hydrogen transportation capacity, the role of infrastructure to support housing growth in the region, and the future of project funding and finance.

Bridget Rosewell, Commissioner, added: “The West Midlands is known around the world as a place where industry and innovation have flourished, and we want to help ensure that remains the case through long term planning and investment. As we face an array of challenges and opportunities in the second half of this century, our visit has given us invaluable insights to inform our future recommendations on government policy.”

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