Midlands prepares for decade of transformational change

With the Midlands on the verge of an unprecedented time for infrastructure delivery, Ryan Tute spoke to ACE Midlands chair Ruth Jeffs on the challenges ahead.

Ruth Jeffs, chair of ACE Midlands.

With the arrival of HS2 and the Commonwealth Games, together with large-scale investment programmes into local rail networks and housing, the Midlands is on the cusp of a never seen before delivery programme, but how well prepared is the region to make the next decade a success?

To provide an insight into the challenges and expectations within the Midlands, Infrastructure Intelligence spoke to regional director of engineering consulting group Waterman, Ruth Jeffs, who also chairs ACE Midlands. 

Jeffs believes it’s an exciting time for the region and is hoping local authorities and stakeholders can come together to ensure projects are delivered on time and on budget. She is also full of praise for the role West Midlands metro mayor Andy Street has played since being elected.

“He has brought a lot of influence on a national stage which we haven’t had before in the midlands,” she said. “It’s something we have lacked in the past and that is partly to do with politics and due to the fact he has been elected on a Conservative ticket at a time when there is a Conservative central government. It means his influence has enabled opening up more investment to the region but I believe there is potentially more in terms of devolution that could happen locally and it’s up to Andy to prove he can deliver and provide ministers with further confidence to relinquish more control,” says Jeffs.

Jeffs also believes that attracting major infrastructure projects like HS2, international sporting events like the Commonwealth Games and titles like the UK’s City of Culture, which Coventry will receive in 2021, are vital in pushing the region forward with key deadlines to strive for.

“The Midlands is on the edge of such a large delivery programme, the likes of which we have never seen before,” the Jeffs added. “I believe there is beginning to be an understanding of the amount of work that needs to be done to maximise those opportunities. These events provide deadlines that can’t be missed and the Commonwealth Games in particular is a showcase event where the world will be watching so the pressure is on to ensure it’s a success,” she said.

While Jeffs believes that the introduction of HS2 will be “transformational” for the area and will improve the region via investments like the HS2 Connectivity Package, she would have liked to have seen the high-speed rail network pass through Birmingham’s central station. 

“I still regret the fact that HS2 comes into Curzon Street and terminates there,” she said. “You don’t actually pass through Birmingham city centre itself, it splits at UK Central which is just outside Birmingham. So, I think it’s not yet known what that area will look like in the future but it will change beyond recognition. Overall, HS2 will be hugely important with upgrades to the local rail network and in terms of making the city centre more vibrant and improving business links between other areas of the country,” Jeffs says. 

While there are many exciting developments on the horizon for the region, ACE’s regional chair for the Midlands would like to see more joined up thinking between everyone who has a part to play in the delivery of infrastructure moving forward, from chief executive level to the road safety officer. 

“Institutionalised approaches to delivery are not going to work with the programme we have at the moment,” Jeffs added. “This involves where I see their approach to technical approvals being very process-driven and long-winded and just not right for today’s commercial world, so there are differences that need to be looked at. 

“It comes back to something that ACE has been talking about as a whole, which is not moving the deadlines. I think one area where we will need to get more involved is with how we can actually meet delivery programmes when we inevitably hit issues. Everybody needs to have that transparent, open approach so it’s supportive and enabling rather than destructive,” said Jeffs.

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