Delivering pre-bid website support and creative communications

Challenge

The HS2 interchange is set to be a world-leading station and an investment in Britain’s future. It will unlock value across the West Midlands, transforming Solihull into a civic destination hub, driving job creation and wider economic growth, and levelling up the region. A partnership of two internationally renowned construction and civil engineering companies, Sir Robert McAlpine and VolkerFitzpatrick, and one of the world’s leading professional services firms, WSP has formed under the name Unity, to deliver the world’s first BREEM validated station. We were tasked with developing a web presence to position the partnership ahead of the bid process for Interchange.

UnityLogo_01
HS2
CS-Insight-v2

Insight

It was vital that decision-makers had confidence in those potentially delivering Interchange and that information was available quickly and easily. The website also needed to provide an anchor point for bid-related marketing activity.

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Strategy

The breadth of expertise within the partners is significant so we set out to emphasise its credentials as well as inspire confidence in the partnership itself by highlighting past collaborations. Given the audience, we also made a conscious decision to keep the website to key pages only, with an accessible design.

Amplify

A partnership between our creative services and construction team, we developed key messages and content, including case studies to demonstrate competence, experience and excellence. To bring the team’s value to life, we created an icon style and a series of other graphics that underlined the collaborative approach to the project.

Outcome

The website received positive feedback upon its launch.

In the Union Connectivity Review, Independent Chair Sir Peter Hendy concluded that the Government’s policies to build back better and level up require different, strategic cases for transport investment across the country. The review built on the ambitions of the Integrated Rail Plan (IRP), widening its scope from transforming connectivity in England to the rest of the Union.

Hendy’s Review emphasised economic growth, job creation and social cohesion, themes that have since been echoed by both Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

The potential implications of this are far-reaching – covering a wide range of projects, from the pre-application stage all the way through to construction. If implemented, its recommendations will offer plenty of opportunities as well as challenges, with planners and contractors potentially having to navigate very different infrastructure planning systems and political landscapes at the same time.

The Review outlined recommendations to improve connectivity with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In the Chair’s words, these provide ‘comprehensive, achievable and clear plans forward to better connect the whole of the United Kingdom’.

For Scotland, this could mean reduced rail journey times and increased capacity on the west coast main line, alongside an assessment of the east coast road and rail corridor.

In Wales, it recommended improving the North Wales coast main line and rail links to the Midlands from Cardiff. It also recommended improvements to the A55, M53 and M56 roads and the South Wales Corridor. As anticipated in our latest edition of infrastructure insights, it also recommends improving port capacity at Holyhead, identifying the North Wales Coast Line as a key route for communities and businesses.

However, Welsh MPs are asking why the Government has decided Wales is not entitled to a share of HS2 spending (as per the IRP), with Liz Saville Roberts saying it ‘reveals the reality of this union of inequality’. Such concerns highlight the importance of clearly communicating the purpose of reports and the relationships between them.

Over the Irish Sea, this could mean upgrading the key A75 link to improve freight and passenger connectivity (Northern Ireland).

The Report also recommended the following:

  • Design and implement UKNET, a strategic transport network for the UK. UKNET will assess and map out key points across the UK that are essential to stronger, more direct transport connections. With additional funding and regular review, this can better serve the UK’s social and economic needs.
  • Plan improvements using multimodal corridors to support levelling up and net zero.
  • Support the development of sustainable aviation fuel plants in areas that are particularly reliant on aviation for domestic connectivity.

The UK Government will now carefully consider these recommendations in detail and work to identify the solutions that work best for the people of the UK – although the Prime Minister has already committed to setting up UKNET: “If we want to truly level up the country then it’s vital that we improve connectivity between all corners of the UK, making it easier for more people to get to more places more quickly.

“Sir Peter Hendy’s review is an inspiring vision for the future of transport, which we will now consider carefully. Determined to get to work right away, we will set up a strategic UK-wide transport network that can better serve the whole country with stronger sea, rail and road links – not only bringing us closer together but boosting jobs, prosperity and opportunity,” he said. The Review was also praised by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

The Review is a positive step towards a better-connected, more economically buoyant United Kingdom. But, its success will depend on the delivery of relevant, benefits-focused narratives and engagement tailored to local people. Associate Director Pippa Gibbs Joubert tells us more about successful engagement for infrastructure projects.

Carol Stitchman, Technical Director Rail Group, WSP 

In Copper’s Perspectives series on UK rail stations, we’re asking construction sector leaders for their insights on challenges and opportunities arising from the new ‘golden age’ of station development. 

Following on from her role as a panelist in Copper Consultancy’s recent event, Insights from a new golden age of rail stations, Carol provides a behind-the-scenes account of modern station design and accessibility. 

The redeveloped Birmingham New Street Station opened in September 2015 after a £750 million transformation. Carol’s work at Birmingham New Street spanned 14 years from feasibility to completion. 

As Head of Design for Network Rail, I worked to transform Birmingham New Street station into a major transport and shopping hub, stimulating economic growth and regeneration for the Midlands region. Today, Birmingham New Street is the busiest major station outside of London. 

At the heart of the development of Birmingham New Street is inclusive design. Inclusive design aims to deliver spaces and places for everyone and puts people at the core? of the design process of spaces and places. In the development of Birmingham New Street, we worked with stakeholder panels to help us develop spaces that were truly inclusive, ensuring that people were at the centre of the design process, so everyone can use the railway safely, easily and with dignity. 

We did a lot of work around accessibility with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), one of the UK’s leading sight loss charities and the largest community of blind and partially sighted people. A key priority for us was how could we make Birmingham New Street station a lot easier to navigate for the visually impaired. 

The RNIB suggested that most members would want to first and foremost be able to access and navigate to the ticket office simply to buy tickets and or seek assistance for travel. To do this in a vast area, we located the ticket office in the centre of the station. In this area, we included a contrasting floor surface in the centre of the station in the atrium. We referred to this as a ‘pebble in the pond’, and the flooring in this area, glass blocks, differentiated texturally with the granite surface around it. If you are sweeping your cane in that area, you can feel the change in texture helping you to identify exactly where you are in the station. 

We also included sensory aroma cues to act as a navigational aid in the centre of the station. The Pret a Manger coffee shop which has a distinctive smell has been deliberately placed centrally by the textured flooring to act as another navigational instruction for our visually impaired travellers and visitors. Both sensory indicators are designed to tell visually impaired customers that they are in the centre of the station and the ticket office is located right in front of them. 

There are three distinct entrances into Birmingham New Street station, and we also created a ‘shoreline’ to help with access into the station. Shorelines are an important element of how a visually impaired person navigates. Shore lining is following a wall, kerb, hedge or other contrasting surface to the one a person is walking on to maintain a specific orientation while travelling through environments to arrive at a decision-making point. Shore lining allows a person to use their cane either to constantly contact a surface or use two-point touch technique to cross an open space and easily travel towards the station. 

From speaking to visually impaired groups interviewed early in the design stage, we found that they often counted the number of steps to help them navigate themselves from point A to point B, so we placed positioned lighting columns in particular locations along the shoreline at the eastern entrance opposite the Bullring and a certain distance apart, so they acted as another helpful navigational aid. 

Looking to future station developments in the city, the future HS2 Curzon Street Station in Birmingham – which, when built, will be the first brand new intercity terminus built in Britain since the 19th century – is unique, as it has a lot of landscaping around it which is very unusual for a railway station in a city centre location. 

One distinct feature of the Curzon Street Station design is the change of levels from the different entrances from the east of the west. One question we asked ourselves when designing this new station is how we could help our visually impaired passengers navigate through each entrance/exit, so they know which entrance they are approaching. 

To help announce to visually impaired passengers which entrance they are arriving towards, we asked our landscape architects to introduce scented landscaping that would differ at each entrance/exit to help with navigation, and we also included shorelines into the design, like at Birmingham New Street. Shorelines at Curzon Street include the buttresses that are part of the architectural design that support the roof. 

In the Curzon Street design, a customer information hub has replaced the traditional ticket office. Following feedback from visually impaired groups, this is placed directly at the front of the station western entrance and not at a right angle to the main entrance. Obstacle detection and warning can improve the mobility, as well as the safety of visually impaired people especially in unfamiliar environments. 

Based on our increased understanding and consideration of wellbeing and mental health awareness, a new element has been incorporated in the Curzon Street Station design to help our passengers who perhaps are not comfortable in large crowds. Large transport buildings like railway stations and airports attract large numbers of people, however for some, this is not a comfortable situation to be in. We incorporated quiet rooms in the design where people can retreat from the crowds. For passengers who would prefer not to be inside at all, the Curzon Street station design has a large public square to the western entrance with the opportunity to create areas outside where they can wait in a place of safety and be under cover, sheltered from the sun and the rain. 

Accessibility in station design must be a priority. Taking a journey by train is not as straightforward process for all passengers. Passengers have unique needs, therefore, it’s vitally important that this is taken into consideration in station design. Speaking directly to groups that use our stations means we have a better understanding of how we can design infrastructure that is accessible and inclusive for everyone, ensuring that all passengers can use and move through the station safely and independently. 

Carol Stitchman, Technical Director Rail Group, WSP has worked in the railway industry for over 20 years. Major projects under Carol’s belt include Birmingham New Street station where she was Head of Design and led the design for the station redevelopment. Following her award-winning work at Birmingham New Street for Network Rail, Carol went on to work for WSP as a Technical Director in the Rail Group division. 

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Hala Lloyd, Lead Architect for the Phase One Area North stations, HS2 Ltd

In Copper’s Perspectives series on UK rail stations, we’re asking construction sector leaders for their insights on challenges and opportunities arising from the new ‘golden age’ of station development.

Following on from her role as a panelist in Copper Consultancy’s recent event, Insights from a new golden age of rail stations, Hala highlights the importance of major station developments leaving behind a positive and lasting legacy.

In her role as HS2 Lead Architect, Hala will help deliver the station buildings and public realm at both Curzon Street Station and Interchange Station. A key element of her work includes leading design engagement with the independent design review panel and key local stakeholders.

I have been fortunate enough to help deliver some notable station developments in the UK. I now support HS2, the largest infrastructure project in the UK since the Victorian age and one of the most prominent in Europe. In its entirety, the project will include 345 miles of new high-speed track connecting Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and London.

HS2 will connect 30 million people and eight of our largest cities, with 25 stops from Scotland to the southeast. My role is to help bring forward the Phase One station buildings and public realm at both Curzon and Interchange in Birmingham and Solihull, respectively. While station functionality is crucial to the project, it is also essential to consider where they are and how they will impact current and future generations living nearby.

Our design vision for Curzon and Interchange aimed to secure a lasting legacy right from the outset. Our plans are underpinned by three pillars that informs our design approach, guidance and station requirements. Firstly, people will use the stations, so we must ensure that everyone benefits from and enjoys our design. Secondly, we recognise the importance of place. We have developed designs that make the stations a destination and somewhere people want to be, not merely a means to travel. Thirdly, we want our stations to last for a long time while benefiting their local communities. To hold our local stakeholders and us to account, an independent design review panel regularly measures our progress against these fundamental principles.

We are also keen that our stations designs align with local strategies. For Curzon, we have collaborated with Birmingham City Council to identify five key moves required to embed the station in its setting. This will enable future regeneration to take place in this part of the city. We are supporting Urban Growth Company and Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council with their plan for regional growth in the UK Central Hub. We want Interchange to become a major catalyst for economic growth there, bringing together the NEC campus, Birmingham Airport, Arden Cross, Jaguar Land Rover and Birmingham Business Park.

We have established some twenty-first century game-changing design requirements for Curzon and Interchange, aiming to create a lasting legacy.

Firstly, we have set out to ensure safety considerations span the lifetime of the stations, all the way from design to deconstruction. To meet this goal, our stations designers have looked to maximise an off-site manufacturing and, pre-fabrication mode of construction.

To set new benchmarks for equality, diversity and inclusivity, we are ensuring high standards permeate through design requirements, engagement, activities and delivery. As a result, we are already driving diverse and inclusive outcomes. For example, we have set mandatory requirements above current industry guidance for inclusive customer experience, including gender-neutral toilets, adult changing places, facilities for guide dogs and faith and quiet rooms.

The final key design requirement is to build sustainable stations to help the UK meet its commitment to become a net-zero economy by 2050. Consequently, we have set a BREAAM target of ‘Excellent’ for all stations, placing them in the top 10% of UK buildings. We have also established a requirement for all stations to reduce carbon emissions by 50% compared to the Phase 1 baseline assessments. Again, our station designers have responded to our challenges. ARUP exceeded our target by achieving a BREAAM ‘Outstanding’ certification for Interchange. This is a global first for any train station and puts it in the top 1% of UK buildings to achieve this rating at design stage.

We endeavour to leave a lasting legacy by upskilling Britain. We have already begun to meet this aspiration and intend to keep up our strong start. To start with, at peak construction, we will need 30,000 people to design and build HS2, including over 2,000 apprentices. More than 2,000 businesses have already delivered work on HS2, and 70% are SME’s. Throughout this project, we will always aim to maximise training and employment opportunities both at HS2 and in our extensive supply chain. This will not be exclusive to the south either, with employment opportunities available along the entire Phase 1 and 2 routes.

Community engagement and art and culture are of fundamental importance to the station projects and their legacy. Thus, we have sought to embed creative design thinking in developing and delivering our stations from the beginning. Additionally, we have engaged with local communities in the design stages for both stations to maximise inclusivity. Our engagement involves many activities and spans HS2 and our supply chain, including leafletting to homes, engagement events, displays, and interactive presentations.

Our engagement has generated a tremendous amount of feedback, especially on the design of the stations. The key messages we developed around Curzon and Interchange adhered to peoples’ opinions on external landscaping, diverse environments and heritage. The feedback has also been absolutely invaluable in helping our designers to progress the projects. While we have held thousands of engagement events involving numerous attendees, our engagement needs to ramp up now that the station contractor has been confirmed for Curzon. The same requirement will exist for Interchange when a contractor is selected.

In essence, our objective to leave a longstanding legacy is integral to the station projects at Curzon and Interchange. We have already begun bringing this into reality through our design vision and requirements, the employment opportunities we have created, and the brilliant feedback we have listened to through our community engagement. Of particular note, the sustainability credentials of the stations are of utmost importance as they can play a crucial role in promoting a positive agenda. It is not just about how they technically perform, but it is also about sustainable community growth. Younger generations must be brought along in our development process because their insights are vital, and they will benefit from the outcomes they influence.

Hala Lloyd joined HS2 in 2016 as part of the engineering team. Then in 2017, she was appointed Lead Architect for the Phase One Area North stations. Hala has over twenty years of experience working on transformational public sector projects, including the redevelopment of Birmingham New Street Station and Crossrail at Farringdon.

Subscribe to Copper updates to hear about our next rail-themed event and receive future industry news for the rail sector.

Pride was a little odd for AECOM last year, as it was for organisations around the world. Gone were the parades, parties, and on-street protests thanks to the pandemic, but the LGBTQ+ community still rallied round, arguably more than ever. Collaborating with Building Equality, companies from across the construction and engineering industry worked together to host countless online events and ensure the community still felt supported.

With the prospect of in-person Pride events back on the table for 2021, the excitement from the LGBTQ+ community and beyond is already palpable. Due to re-opening dates being pushed back in many countries, we’re looking at the prospect of ‘Pride season’ rather than ‘Pride month’, and that’s no bad thing. It certainly feels like more companies than ever, across all industries, have changed their logos and voiced their support on social media for Pride season. It’s been amazing to see after a turbulent year, but it’s more important than ever to remember that we must be proud every day of the year, not just during Pride. It’s also important to keep in mind some of the positives we learned from the pandemic, we’ve proved that not only can online events and support be effective, they’re also low carbon and largely accessible if done right.

Year-round support for LGBTQ+ colleagues should start with establishing an employee resource group to raise and work on concerns. The group should be a safe, accessible, intersectional space, not only for the LGBTQ+ community but also allies and those who want to offer support but aren’t sure where to start. These groups generally start as grassroots movements, but it’s equally important to show that there’s not only leadership buy-in but also visible support and representation at the highest levels that cascades through the business.

Whilst employee resource groups tend to provide social support; policies, procedures and language use are also significant in terms of ensuring the LGBTQ+ community feel supported. Often overlooked, guidance on issues such as transitioning, pronoun use and the importance of allyship can be a vital resource; for both the LGBTQ+ community and managers alike. Much of this guidance is already available online, with relatively minimal work required needed to make it relevant for individual businesses.

This Pride season let’s make sure our support for the LGBTQ+ community is more outwardly visible and authentic than ever, it’s important to remember that Pride started as a protest and people around the world are still having to fight for their basic human rights. Arguably the real work starts not during Pride but during the rest of the year, when businesses and colleagues need to ensure that there is continual support for the LGBTQ+ community.

Pride: a deep sense of satisfaction in what you’ve accomplished; in who you are; and in what makes you unique. To celebrate Pride this month, we’ve encouraged our colleagues to share their stories and show that by championing inclusion and diversity (I&D), we can feel more empowered and united.

Let’s go on a quick tour of our global offices to see the work and activities carried out by our Pride@Stantec Employee Resource Groups – an initiative launched in 2017 to create a safe, supportive space for LGBT+ colleagues and allies to come together.

In the Netherlands, you’ll notice a flash of colour on entrances, as you print a document, grab a coffee, or visit a bathroom. Our Pride symbol, a rainbow pixel heart, in the form of stickers are placed in locations to communicate our inclusive culture.

In San Francisco, our Pride events coincide with the city’s world-famous LGBT+ Pride. To help new employees feel welcome in our large office, our staff send emails with their photos so everyone can quickly recognise and greet new starters.

In Canada, we held our first ever Pride float in Edmonton’s 2017 parade. The float helped colleagues get to know each other better and also encouraged to build up a local contingent of allies. The blend of people involved has demonstrated the concept of inclusion—it isn’t about creating exclusive clubs; it’s about bringing everyone together.

In the UK and Ireland, we’ve participated in national Pride activities including parades in various cities, and a 2020 Virtual Pride Parade. Last year, we established a partnership with Stonewall, dedicated to empowering individuals and transforming institutions to better support the LGBT+ community. This year, we’re holding virtual Pride celebrations from 28 to 30 June, producing role model videos around What Pride Means to Me, and are getting involved in Manchester Pride. Each reception area of our UK offices also now has an amazing ‘Everyone is Awesome’ Lego set.

In New Zealand, we launched inclusion workshops for teams which gave participants the opportunity to share their own experiences in a safe setting. The focus is also leading by example, and at the end of each inclusion workshop, the leaders ask participants what they’ll personally do to increase inclusion.

We encourage our staff to call out things that need to be corrected and be a voice for those who might not be brave enough or ready to be the voice themselves. This year, we’ve created Pride banners for our virtual meetings, and encourage staff to use pronouns on email signatures and LinkedIn profiles. Our people share their stories, through webinars, internal communications platforms and employee groups.

Other activities to increase the inclusiveness of our Company include examining our language, our policies and benefits programmes, setting up Inclusion & Diversity Councils, and hosting unconscious bias training. We’ve been named by Forbes as a top employer for diversity, are proud of our new partnership with Workplace Pride, and joined forces with other organisations, including Stonewall in UK, OK2BME and Pride at Work in Canada, and Rainbow Tick in New Zealand.

Over the years, we’re proud to say we’ve made some incredible progress. However, as we continue to evolve, so does our understanding of how we need to take this to the next level. The inclusive workplace we want to achieve empowers and inspires and provides psychological safety and wellbeing. Without inclusion, diversity is that much more difficult to achieve. To attract and retain top talent from all walks of life, we need to ensure inclusion is a way of being. Truly transformative work is born from diversity. Harnessing the power of all the characteristics that make us who we are is vital to our success. We design with community in mind and to genuinely fulfil that promise, we commit to equity in design and to be representative of the many communities we serve.

On Thursday 20th May, the Department for Transport unveiled their much-anticipated Shapps-Williams Plan for Rail which outlines their strategic ambitions for the sector. The plan includes  the creation of a new public body titled Great British Railways to own the infrastructure and propose the delivery of all network services.

Despite falling passenger numbers and an uncertain recovery, the plan’s promise of an ‘existential change’ to the management and delivery of UK rail projects is welcomed and represents an acknowledgement towards the scale of action required to secure recovery from the pandemic. The question remains, however, on what this means for the future of community engagement for the sector.

Throughout the plan, there is a clear ambition to leverage the positive potential for rail to connect communities, foster a sense of placemaking and act as a “catalyst for regeneration across [the UK’s] towns and cities.” The promise of greater control for local people through new Community rail partnerships highlights the potential for communities to take a more active role in guiding and implementing social value. Reforms to Transport Focus, the independent watchdog committed to shaping positive outcomes for users, meanwhile, will enable operators to align ongoing investment more closely with local and regional needs. Yet, with most of these reforms representing minor changes to existing programmes, there is clearly a scope for the Department for Transport to consider additional measures if it hopes to deliver the existential change it has committed to for communities and regions across the country.

To achieve this, the industry needs to consider a robust approach towards community engagement and consultation during planning and project delivery.  The new government mandate for Great British Railways to set out its business plans in five-year intervals promises to provide a more integrated planning framework, but it is less clear how the new Project Speed initiative and the Department for Transport’s newly-created Acceleration Unit will deliver effective forms of engagement for communities at all stages of the project lifecycle.

Building an enlightened framework for community and stakeholder engagement during the planning process means understanding local priorities. Copper’s recent Public Attitudes to Rail Report found that 48% of passengers expect strong connection to their local transport network as a first priority for rail stations, with a majority of participants citing that it was more important for the government to invest in local rail projects rather than  major regional rail projects. Fostering this sense of ownership and placemaking early in the planning process will be important for Project Speed to succeed, and with new digital engagement tools from solutions specialists such as Costain now able to monitor public opinion more accurately and consistently at programme level, industry can better keep track of shifting attitudes that will inevitably emerge as we recover from the pandemic.

Understanding public priorities for rail infrastructure can also drive positive community engagement toward existing infrastructure. Our Public Attitudes to Rail Report found that investing in rail to enable the transition to a low carbon economy was an important priority for future growth, with 58% of participants supporting investment in rail because it could help take private vehicles off the road. Empowering communities to make these positive changes through Community rail partnerships can therefore help to deliver sustainable regeneration and give local people a vested interest in the positive potential of new and existing projects. As the wider industry seeks new ways to innovate in decarbonising existing infrastructure, understanding public attitudes throughout the planning process is a paramount factor and can ultimately help win support of local communities towards new and existing projects.

This is a watershed moment for the future of the UK’s rail industry, and one that Great British Railways should capitalise on. New digital engagement tools will continue to expand the industry’s capabilities around early community engagement, and there is a clear public appetite to ensure our infrastructure can deliver for the UK’s net zero agenda.  As the industry starts to get more visibility around sector growth through proposed updates to the Department for Transport’s Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline review, building consensus early and engaging at all stages of the project lifecycle to accurately and consistently track public opinion will help create firm and lasting foundations for future Community rail partnerships and secure the success of Transport Focus. Only these measures can offer the ‘existential change’ the Department for Transport is looking to deliver on.

To find out more about Copper’s capabilities in the Rail sector, you can read our Rail Credits document here or email alex.rowntree@copperconsultancy.com

As well as building Britain’s new low-carbon, high-speed railway, it’s also important that HS2 Ltd attracts a diverse range of people to help deliver Europe’s largest infrastructure project. As a result, we want our workforce to represent the diverse communities along our line of route and the future generations the railway will serve once operational.

With our four core values – Integrity, Leadership, Respect and Safety – diversity spans across all that we do at HS2. Furthermore, our CEO, Mark Thurston has made diversity and inclusion a personal commitment as we collectively strive to leave a stronger and more representative workforce for the next generation, capable of delivering the UK’s future pipeline of infrastructure projects.

Earlier this year we became the only organisation in the UK to have achieved the Clear Assured Platinum Standard accreditation. We received the award in recognition of our commitment to embedding inclusive best practice into all elements of its work, including the design and delivery of the new railway.

Underpinning much of this activity is Onboard, our employee network for LGBTQ+ people and Allies. The network aspires to be an exemplar network for both our own employees and supply chain partners, and also demonstrates how we’re being a good neighbour in the communities we work in.

Onboard has helped to update policies and documents to make HS2 Ltd more inclusive. Changes it has made as a result include a more comprehensive trans inclusion policy and gender-neutral toilets. This approach is being applied to support future generations as we design our infrastructure and rolling stock.

Onboard also collaborates closely with a range of other employee engagement groups, including HS2’s own Gender Balance, BAME and 2Gether Disability Networks, as well as equivalent associations within our supply chain.

An example of this collaboration is the recently launched HS2 Allies Programme. The programme is shared by all the Networks and each group runs a session for HS2 employees – including our Executive team and Board – on how to be an Ally both in and out of the workplace.

However, we’re certainly not complacent as an organisation and there is always more that we can do, including the challenge to embed our same level of commitment across the thousands of companies that make up our UK supply chain. In fact, later this year we will be publishing the LGBTQ+ diversity of our supply chain – thought to be an industry first – and it will be one of the best benchmarks of LGBTQ+ inclusion in construction.

From a personal point of view, being part of Onboard is intrinsic to my experience as an out gay employee at HS2 Ltd. From social, networking and learning opportunities to policy and monitoring, Onboard makes me feel valued and visible in the same breath – which is a great feeling. A particular highlight was getting to represent HS2 Ltd at Birmingham Pride in 2019 together with Building Equality, an alliance of construction organisations and professionals working together to drive LGBTQ+ inclusion in the construction sector.

Alongside our workforce and its legacy, what we deliver for LGBTQ+ communities is just as crucial as our industry commitments. We have collectively gone above and beyond mandatory regulatory obligations in setting new standards, using focus groups, workshops, panels, and soundboards to understand what inclusive design means for those with protected characteristics.

Over the next few years, as our stations start to take shape and our track gets laid along the length of the country, our design vision will become even more apparent to our future passengers. Together, we will prepare to experience a railway network that offers greater choice, reliability and improved accessibility, and this is something we can all be proud of.

This May, parties will face their first electoral test since the Covid-19 pandemic, and voters will decide who has the most compelling vision of Britain’s ‘new normal’. This will be a vision that needs to deliver for villages, towns and cities across the country, while addressing underlying changes to living and working structures.

We are following five battles across the UK, each of which will have significant implications for development and infrastructure plans locally and nationally.

The battlegrounds we are focusing on are the West Midlands Mayoral, the Tees Valley Mayoral, Northumberland Council, West of England Mayoral, and Thurrock Council. These elections provide an excellent platform to examine the influence and cut-through of the government’s levelling-up agenda, writ large in the commitment to ‘build back better’ through extensive infrastructure development.

About the West Midlands mayoral election

The West Midlands electoral area includes the metropolitan boroughs of Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton. It is a diverse region home to over 2.5 million people. The area has the potential to spearhead the country’s green revolution, just as it did in the 18th Century with the Industrial Revolution. The candidates vying to win the upcoming mayoral election will need to be bold, ambitious, and optimistic.

Runners and riders

(First and second choice prediction poll conducted by Find Out Now (FON) from 1 to 7 April and first choice prediction poll run by Redfield & Wilton Strategies (Redfield) from 18 to 21 April)

In 2017, the election was a two-horse race between the Conservative’s Andy Street and Labour’s Siôn Simon. Street won with an extraordinarily slim majority of 3,766 votes in the second round. This election is predicted to be no different.

Andy Street (Conservative)

FON poll prediction – First choice vote share: 45% | Second choice vote share: 52%

Redfield – First choice vote share: 46%

Incumbent Mayor, Andy Street, is pitching himself for a second term based on his record over the last four years. He claims to have attracted £3.3bn worth of investment in the region since 2017 and has committed to securing £10bn in his next term. He also wants to deliver 100,000 jobs in two years. He hopes some jobs will come from leading infrastructure projects like HS2. He is a keen advocate for HS2, believing that it will make West Midlands the heart of the UK’s transport system, attracting businesses to the region.

Street unveiled a £15bn metro and rail masterplan for the West Midlands in 2020, including delivery of eight new Metro lines and 21 new rail stations by 2040. Planning permission has been secured to reopen five stations so far. They are expected to open by 2023 and cost £61m. While Street is a keen proponent of the plans, he is not providing all the funding himself and is undoubtedly benefiting from government support. The Department for Transport is providing £20m, Birmingham City Council £21m and the West Midlands Combined Authority £21m. Street claims that he secured £250m from the government to extend the rail network in 2017 and promises to “bombard Grant Shapps” with plans for eighteen more stations if he wins the election.

Street’s green credentials are noteworthy. He wants to make the region net-zero carbon within 20 years. He will agree on a programme of new segregated cycle routes, hire a new Executive Commissioner for cycling and walking, complete the roll-out of the West Midlands bike hire scheme and deliver more hydrogen powered and electric buses, including making Coventry’s bus fleet all-electric. He believes his infrastructure and development plans can be met without impinging on the green belt, something that remains to be seen.

Liam Byrne (Labour)

FON poll prediction – First choice vote share: 38% | Second choice vote share: 48%

Redfield – First choice vote share: 37%

Street’s primary challenger, Liam Byrne, is positioning the West Midlands region at the forefront of the green industrial revolution. He wants to convene a COP-WM to bring important stakeholders in the area together to make the West Midlands the first net-zero region and the green workshop of the world. This translates into a new training and skills programme which will provide 200,000 green manufacturing and trades jobs.

Byrne will create a new Mayoral structure called GrETHA (Green Energy, Housing, Transport Agency) and give it £500m of borrowing capacity to deliver those projects. The structure will issue West Midlands Green Bonds to further increase funding. Unlike Street, he does not rule out building on the green belt.

On HS2, Byrne wants to accelerate the project to provide more jobs. He previously led a campaign against the Washwood Heath Depot because he preferred the land to be used as a business park. He has criticised the planned design of Curzon Street station and proposed that a new science museum be built in it. He wants the £2.75bn contract to manufacture the HS2 train fleet to be given to a firm in the Black Country.

Byrne has pledged to create a 10-year transport plan including the setup of a West Midlands Project Speed to replace Street’s tube map and see how the transport infrastructure programme can be delivered faster. He will urge train companies to move to electric or hydrogen trains and aims to continue the ‘very light rail’ programme in Coventry to provide a fleet of 100 shuttles and reignite the East Birmingham and Solihull Tram proposal. He wants to make Coventry’s bus fleet all-electric and half of West Midland’s fleet electric or hydrogen based by 2025. The 2025 target is ambitious and provides more certainty than Street.

Byrne has promised to roll out a walking and cycling network across the region to double cycling use by 2025, so 50% of all journeys in town and cities are either or walked or cycled by 2030. He will also appoint an active travel champion.

Jenny Wilkinson (Liberal Democrat)

FON poll prediction – First choice vote share: 4% | Second choice vote share: N/A

Redfield – First choice vote share: 6%

What makes Jenny Wilkinson’s bid distinctive is the promise to establish local Citizens’ Assemblies to help find solutions to challenges, including the climate emergency and system racism in public institutions.

It is unclear whether voters will buy into Wilkinson’s call for direct democracy. Considering the stunningly low turnout of 27% at the 2017 election, residents do not appear to be engaged.

Steve Caudwell (Green)

FON poll prediction – First choice vote share: 8% | Second choice vote share: N/A

Redfield – First choice vote share: 5%

While Steve Caudwell is unlikely to cause any major upsets, if the frontrunners can convince Green voters that they have the best environmental solutions, that might secure them the edge as the second-choice candidate and win the second round.

Unlike the other candidates, Caudwell wants to bring buses back into public ownership and end the West Midlands Railway franchise.

Pete Durnell (Reform UK)

Redfield – First choice vote share: 4%

Pete Durnell is an anti-establishment libertarian who previously ran as a UKIP candidate in the 2017 mayoral elections.

He is the only candidate openly critical of HS2, calling it a “massive vanity project, and clearly not the best way to spend £100bn”. Instead, he wants to spend the money on an integrated transport network.

Voters might select Durnell as a protest vote, so who knows where their second choice will go.

Local issues

Unsurprisingly, the key concern for voters is health. This comes after Covid-19 has ravaged communities over the last year, causing 100,000 people to lose their jobs. According to Redfield & Wilton Strategies’ recent poll, the key issues for voters are:

  •  Health (50%)
  • Policing (42%)
  • Environment (37%)
  • Economic growth (33%)
  • Education (33%)

Of those key issues (note: education not included), Labour is more trusted than the Conservatives to deliver on all key campaign issues except for strengthening the economy. The green revolution and infrastructure development is key to economic recovery in the West Midlands, where the Conservative’s Andy Street is perceived as particularly strong. While Labour is trusted to handle the majority of local issues better, the Conservatives are polling ahead. Could Street’s record on infrastructure make the difference?

Wider picture

Whatever the outcome on May 6, the future of the West Midlands region is integral to the United Kingdom’s green revolution and economic recovery from Covid-19. The future Mayor needs to fight hammer and tong for the West Midlands to ensure it benefits from government funding and plays its role as the second most populous region in the country. Byrne has already criticised Street for not being bold enough and planted his flag as the candidate to do it. He said: “People in the West Midlands can name Andy Burnham and they can name Sadiq Khan, but they can’t name their own Mayor,” he said. “Lots of people in the Midlands feel we now risk being overlooked.” Will voters side with Byrne or will they back Street with his infrastructure and development focused record as Mayor and background as Managing Director of John Lewis?