On second thoughts …

In my blog The failings of the brewery entertainments manager (posted 26 Apr 2013) I mentioned that  HS2 Ltd has performed an embarrassing volte-face on the design of HS2’s Euston terminus. I reported that Frank Dobson, Member of Parliament for Holborn and St Pancras, had been quoted by the Independent on Sunday as claiming that the plans “have been massively scaled down after officials discovered they had underbudgeted by 30 to 40 per cent”.

Rumours that had been circulating for a month or so were finally confirmed publicly by HS2 Ltd at a meeting of the Euston Community Forum on 18th April 2013. This ended a period of “behind closed doors” discussions with Camden Council members and others, with HS2 Ltd, at pains to keep its obvious discomfort out of the public eye, resorting to pledging local representatives to keep these discussions confidential. It is good that HS2 Ltd has finally lifted its veil of silence; it wasn’t particularly effective anyway, as the local paper, the Camden New Journal has been keeping us all reasonably abreast of developments despite the attempts at secrecy.

In an embargoed press release that was made public on the day following the Euston Community Forum meeting, HS2 Ltd promotes the plan as “minimising disruption to commuters and residents” and admits that the original plan “would have taken more than a decade” to realise. These two statements are interesting admissions in themselves.

The implicit admission that rebuilding Euston Station as originally proposed would have been “disruptive” is at least a welcome move towards honesty. As I discuss in my blog Sorry we can’t do it because we’re incompetent (posted 5 Feb 2012), the Government’s strategy up to now has been to play down considerably the disruption that a major rebuild will involve, especially when making comparisons with the alternative of upgrading the existing lines.

That we are now being told that the work as originally planned would have occupied more than a decade of construction, is also confirmation of reports by the Camden New Journal that HS2 Ltd has been forced into a rethink as the original plan would not have been completed in time for the scheduled in-service date. Compare “more than a decade” with the original estimate of “seven to eight years” given in the leaflet Euston Station that was published for the 2011 public consultation

The HS2 Ltd press release includes a drawing of the new proposal for Euston Station, shown with the roof removed.

(source: HS2 Ltd)

(source: HS2 Ltd)

The press release informs us that the original plan “envisaged a complete rebuild of Euston Station, including all existing platforms”. Now we are being told that “most of the benefits for Euston could be achieved without having to knock down and build the entire station”. In fact, the plan appears to be to keep the fabric of the existing building largely intact and retain most of the existing platforms with some additional lengthening. Additional platforms required to accommodate HS2 will be housed in what might uncharitably be described as a “lean-to” added to the western side of the existing station. All in all, the new station will provide twenty-four platforms, the same number as the original plan, but with a different configuration.

We are told that Euston Station will be “revitalised for passengers” by providing “new, improved facilities … in a redeveloped, integrated station with a new, combined concourse and façade”. These facilities will include “a new Underground ticket hall” – no confirmation has been given of whether this will still be “four times larger than the current one … to cater for the increased passenger numbers” as we were originally promised in the Euston Station leaflet.

It is hard to see that a proposal that retains the existing station fabric largely intact can really provide the “high quality, user-friendly terminus” that we are promised in the Euston Station leaflet; even HS2 Ltd is only claiming that the new proposal retains “most of the benefits” of the old scheme, so some things have obviously been sacrificed. Chief amongst these is probably the “residential and business premises, new streets, public spaces and community facilities” that the Euston Station leaflet promises us “could be created above the new platforms”.

It is true that the HS2 Ltd press release promises “potential opportunities for over-station development”, but my understanding is that construction over the existing station building is unlikely to be possible, so any development potential will probably be confined to the area over the new annex, and will be severely constrained as a result.

The realisation that the promises of regeneration coming along with HS2 are largely evaporating has led to some local representatives making statements that appear to support the original proposals. However, I think that the good people of Camden need to tread a little carefully in their dealings with the Government on this issue. In one of his (or perhaps her) excellent blogs, Beleben warns against Camden councillors and others being seen to be in a position of backing the original proposals rather than “articulating the fact that, annexe or rebuild, HS2 means years of disruption and no benefit for the average Camden resident”.

In reading the reactions quoted in the reports in the Camden New Journal, I fear there is a real danger that some local representatives are falling into this trap. No other than the local Member of Parliament, Frank Dobson, appears to be a case in point. He is quoted in the March newspaper article as saying:

“They are now proposing changes that will remove every one of the benefits from the locality from HS2 coming to Euston. The housing and jobs disappear. The new station disappears. All gone.”

However, I am pleased to see that at least one councillor, Paul Braithwaite, appears to be avoiding this pitfall. Supported by the Pan Camden HS2 Alliance, Cllr Braithwaite is promoting a proposal for a rebuilt Euson Station based upon a “double decking downwards”, or DDD, concept. This idea, which I first mentioned in my blog … and suggestions for how to avoid them (posted 14 Jul 2012), is described by its promoters as one which will “reduce the disruption to west Euston while opening up around one-third of the existing station for much-needed redevelopment”.

Since HS2 Ltd appears to have run out of sensible ideas for the redevelopment of Euston Station, perhaps the Government should pay more attention to the possibilities of this proposal from the local community.

It seems to me that this Euston debacle is the first sign that the wheels may be coming off Mr Cameron’s shiny new train set. Surely, HS2 is meant to be a prestige project; and yet it now looks likely that its London terminus is set to be what one Camden councillor has described as a “cheapskate fraud against the citizens of Camden”, rather than the landmark architectural statement that such a project demands. Ministers have been keen to evoke the spirit of the Victorians when doing the “vision thing” about HS2. I ask you, would the Victorians have resorted to such a penny-pinching option as now seems to be being proposed. I think not!

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5 responses to this post.

  1. Peter,

    I think the Euston rethink is better news than you fear. The best aspect is that HS2L are making big changes to the plan they have clung to for 2 years through all the criticism. The downside is that the revised plan still involves expansion of Euston at the cost of demolishing adjacent property. Many of us believe that Euston can be adapted to take 400m HS Eurogage trains without destroying any neighbouring property. The key is to send some trains to destinations other than Euston and to use redundant internal spaces for more platforms.

    The station can be transformed from the passenger point of view without totally rebuilding it. The extra passenger circulation space can be won be splitting passenger circulation onto 2 levels. Birmingham New St shows how the passenger experience can be transformed without destroying the existing station and without any reduction of services during construction.

    All that is needed now is for HS2L to have a Road to Damascus moment and realise that the route they chose for HS2 is also a mistake.

    Reply

    • The really depressing thing, is that faced with the need to totally rethink Euston for cost reasons HS2 Ltd has come up with a scheme that is basically the same, in terms of the station building footprint and the number of platforms. None of the smarter things that HS2 Ltd could have done, some of which you suggest, have been adopted.
      I don’t think that clever thinking is within the capabilities of the organisation and don’t share your optimism that the Euston rethink is a signal that any appreciable changes are going to be made to the plans, quite the opposite in fact.

      Reply

      • OK, so the Euston rethink is a relatively small change, but compared with HS2L’s fierce defence of their poor plan for over 2 years, it’s encouraging. There is light at the end of the tunnel, even though it keeps getting longer. HS2 could yet bring the government down.
        What smarter things do you suggest?

      • Let me just say Les that, having spent many hours in meetings with HS2 Ltd representatives, I find it impossible to have any optimism that the design mistakes that we both seem to agree about are going to be corrected. Time and cost pressures mean that it will be very much head down and muddle through in order to get the hybrid bill before Parliament sometime in the next twelve months.
        As for “smarter things”, I hope that my blogs have detailed a number of areas that need to be reexamined and suggested improvements. Look, for example, at my series on the Railfuture proposals and my blogs on Euston Station as well as my suggestions for reducing environmental impacts in my own neck of the woods.
        As to whether HS2 will prove to be a problem for the Government, I have learnt one thing from three years involvement with HS2 and that is that you can’t second guess Westminster; normal rules of logic do not apply.

  2. I have read all your blogs since I discovered them and I’ve learned a lot from them. Thankyou for your comments about the Railfuture proposals; I was involved in drawing them up! Railfuture is for the principle of HS rail but against the current plan, as are several other organisations. Please don’t despair of winning a government rethink of HS2 – it’s a distinct possibility though it will probably take some scandal or embarrassing revelation to make it happen. A jump in the estimated cost would do it. An example is that the original estimates included a blanket rate per mile for rerouting services such as gas, electric, water, telecoms. The cost of this can form over half of an urban scheme, so when HS2L get into detailed design and costings they may get a nasty shock. That may explain the recent examples of cost-cutting.

    Reply

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