Soaring petrol prices will drive us on to rail

Birmingham’s redeveloped New Street Station is set to handle many more passengers than its current 40 million a year when it is up and running in 2015 as soaring petrol prices see a shift to rail.

That was the forecast from Stuart Kirkwood, head of development for Network Rail.

Speaking to a meeting of the Investment Property Forum held at the offices of international law firm DLA Piper, he said rail numbers were growing at five per cent a year.

“Fuel price jumps and congestion in cities is seeing more people turning to rail,” he noted.

The network was now so busy it was “like the M25”.

Reconstruction of New Street is well on its way and there are hopes the retail element including the anchor 250,000 sq ft John Lewis store could be opened ahead of time.

“Selfridges has been one of the images of Birmingham – we are confident a redeveloped New Street will be the same,” pledged Mr Kirkwood who revealed John Lewis had recently signed a legally binding contract, superseding a conditional one. The Pallasades upgrade and new John Lewis department store will create up to 1000 new jobs including 650 jobs in the John Lewis shop.

Accepting New Street had been “notorious” for 40 years as a dark, concrete, uninspiring station, he added: “We are looking to deliver a completely transformed experience for passengers.”

A new atrium will introduce natural light for the first time to a new concourse 3.5 times bigger than the existing space.  New entrances, escalators and lifts will make the station more accessible and improve pedestrian links across the city, opening up the south side of the city to redevelopment.

Robin Lovell, Network Rail development manager, told the meeting that New Street was the busiest station outside London and the refurbishment would promote vital regeneration around it. One thousand workers were on site yet a full train service was still running, the station will remain open throughout the redevelopment.

Despite the wider network being virtually full, there were more than 50 per cent more trains than under British Rail with 90 per cent arriving on time. But he stressed how with much more traffic on the network means that when there is a delay, it can have a significant effect: “Recently a fuse blew at Waterloo – it took six minutes to fix and three hours to get the network back to normal due to the huge volume of services which use the station.  Rail demand in the West Midlands is also soaring with the West Coast Main Line between New Street and London Euston due to be full to capacity by 2024.

That, said Mr Lovell, was why HS2 was needed to deliver the long term rail capacity needed for the West Midlands region.

Keith Stone, leasing director of the Pallasades shopping centre, which is also being redeveloped as part of the project, said the new shops there would be differentiating themselves from Bullring by targeting ‘aspirational spend’. That was the gap in the market and it was hoped to attract to Birmingham names not currently present in the city.

“With a world class station there is a huge brand opportunity,” said Mr Stone.

DLA Piper partner Fiona Thomson, who was involved in helping organise the event, said that it was excellent to see detailed plans and the holistic approach adopted by NR and BCC to the re-development of the whole both rail and retail.

She added: “The level of investment is fantastic and the potential wider benefits are hugely encouraging.

“It is going to give Birmingham a big lift.”