Welcome to another fun-packed year in HS2 Land, part 7

(… continued from Welcome to another fun-packed year in HS2 Land, part 6, posted on 22 Jan 2015).

There is another very important “known unknown” in the plans for HS2, and that is what on earth the Government is going to do about Euston station. These plans were thrown into total disarray by an announcement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in an interview with the London Evening Standard that was published in February last year. Seemingly inspired by the sight of the “giant new high-speed terminus currently under construction” at Kowloon, Hong Kong, Mr Osborne enthused:

“Here we are at a high-speed terminal in the middle of a great city. Well, we want to build a high-speed terminal in the middle of a great city too.”

He was, he said, thinking in terms of “a really big re-development of Euston”.

Since the plans for Euston station that are in the Phase 1 hybrid Bill hardly qualify as “really big”, unless you are looking at the price tag that is, what Mr Osborne was signalling was a major rethink of the proposals. Sir David Higgins duly obliged his political master by suggesting, in his report HS2 Plus, that the Government should look at “a more comprehensive redevelopment of Euston” and this was confirmed by the Transport Secretary in a written statement to Parliament on 17th March last year. In that announcement, Mr McLoughlin said that he would “ask HS2 Ltd and Network Rail to develop more comprehensive proposals for the redevelopment of Euston, working with the rail industry and the local community”. He also promised that the Euston arch would be rebuilt – “well”, I say with a certain touch of irony, “that’s nice!”

Significantly, the Transport Secretary’s announcement also identified the redevelopment as “a significant opportunity to generate private sector investment that can reduce the overall burden on the taxpayer” – well, that’s nice also.

According to Andrea Leadsom MP, writing on her blog site, Sir David had in mind a timescale of six months to complete the review. Ten months have now passed and we are still waiting to see the plans – typical of the blatant disregard for promises made on timescales that we have learnt to expect from HS2 Ltd and the Government.

A few days ago as I write, we had an update on the timescales for the delayed announcement on the future of Euston station when the Rt Hon John Hayes MP turned up in the House of Commons to respond on behalf of the Government to a Second Reading debate on the HS2 Funding Referendum Bill, a private Members’ Bill introduced by Christopher Chope MP (see footnote). Mr Hayes is a Minister of State in the Department for Transport, but he has not spoken before on HS2, as far as I am aware, and no railway responsibilities are identified for him on the Department for Transport (DfT) website. I imagine that, being a Friday, he was the only DfT minister on duty.

Perhaps because he was speaking to another minister’s brief, Mr Hayes appeared willing to make commitments about the plans to redevelop Euston station – he even said at one point that the commitments that he was making would “leave Department for Transport officials quaking”.

In the first place he conceded that “any redevelopment should take full account of the interests and wishes of the people in the immediate vicinity” and said that would “commit the Government to engaging with those communities, to ensuring that what is done matches the local interest”. But, of course, we have all seen what HS2 Ltd’s interpretation of “engagement” is, so it was significant that the Minister also promised that “the views and representations of the people in the surrounding area [would be] built in to [the Government’s] thinking”. He claimed that the Government couldn’t “say fairer than that” and, I think that he was right in this. However, it will be his Government’s (or rather the next one’s) deeds on which it will be judged, not words spoken by a Minister at the Dispatch Box.

The Minister was also prepared to make a commitment – or perhaps that should be a revised commitment – on timescales. He told the handful of Members present in the Commons Chamber that he did “not think it is unreasonable to say” that the plans would be made available for local consultation by September 2015. So this is another unknown that should become known in 2015.

The Minister added – perhaps with his fingers firmly crossed behind his back – that what he “did not want to get to” was “a further statement in September saying that [the plans] have been further delayed” and I think that we all say “Amen” to that.

The Minister also lifted the veil a little to reveal what the plans for Euston station might look like, but my thoughts on what he said about that will have to wait until my next posting.

(To be continued …)

Footnote: The Minister’s speech is recorded in columns 508 to 519 of the House of Commons Official Report for Friday 23rd January 2015.

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