Welcome to another fun-packed year in HS2 Land, part 8

(… continued from Welcome to another fun-packed year in HS2 Land, part 7, posted on 26 Jan 2015).

During his speech to the House of Commons on Friday 23rd January (see footnote) the Rt Hon John Hayes MP, Transport Minister, provided the first real indication that I have heard of what the Government intends to do to realise Chancellor George Osborne’s vision of “a really big re-development of Euston”. He said that he was determined that “the development of Euston should be ambitious and bold”. He revealed that he was:

“… absolutely determined that we should end with something that takes its inspiration from the [Euston] arch. We do not want some vile, low-budget, modern monstrosity. We want a building that is grand and fit for the future, that is a landmark destination and that is as glorious as the new redevelopment of St Pancras or the addition to King’s Cross.”

If you have read the pleas that the new Euston station should be a landmark building that I have made in my blogs On second thoughts … (posted 30 Apr 2013) and Making more room at the trough (posted 21 Apr 2014) you might think that I would be overjoyed at the Minister’s intentions. Well I am, but I am also trying not to get too excited; after all it was a politician speaking, and the easily-forgotten promises of a Minister at the Dispatch Box in a near-deserted Chamber on a Friday, and especially one who does not include the subject under debate in his portfolio, do not imbue me with confidence.

However, what the Minister then went on to say really made my ears prick up and my mouth start to salivate with anticipation:

“I want a neoclassical building on a grand scale at Euston, and it does not take a lot of working out to realise that the inspiration—the genesis for that—should come from the redeveloped arch.”

And, in my opinion, he is right to think this. If the Euston arch – or more correctly propylaeum – is to be the centrepiece of the new station, then the architecture should take its theme from this neoclassical structure. After all, the rebuilding of the Houses of Parliament following the fire that destroyed most of the Palace of Westminster in 1834, took its neo-Gothic inspiration from the medieval Westminster Hall that had survived the conflagration and, perhaps even more so, the Henry VII chapel at the east end of Westminster Abbey – so this concept is hardly new. Also, a glance at the Euston redevelopment proposal by Sydney & London Properties reveals just how incongruous the arch would look placed in front of a totally alien modern building. So a neoclassical Euston station might blend in better with the arch, and would also hark back to the original station building that was unceremoniously swept aside in the 1960s.

The problem is that contemporary architects do not appear to do “blend in” very well. Parliamentarians do not have to look very far for an example; Portcullis House, a building that I have nevertheless warmed to over the years, can hardly be said to be compatible with its surroundings. Also, I don’t think that many, if any, modern architects would admit to consulting the pages of Andrea Palladio’s The Four Books of Architecture for inspiration, and I would be surprised if there are any budding Inigo Joneses working in today’s architectural practices.

So it is not clear to me just what a modern neoclassical building might look like, but fear that it might turn out to be more Tesco than Greek temple.

Whilst he was in the mood for dispensing beneficence, the Minister also made a key promise in response to a claim by the Rt Hon Cheryl Gillan MP that there was a “rumour” afoot that the cost of the redevelopment of the station had risen “to about £7 billion”. The Minister felt able to claim that the work could “certainly be done within existing budgets”, only leaving us with the question of just what that “existing” budget might be.

So, it appears, the ship of state is sailing serenely on, but beneath decks there may still be problems in the engine room. An article in the Sunday Telegraph last November, claimed that HS2 Ltd “has been forced to scrap plans for its London terminus at Euston, dealing the high-speed rail project a potentially fatal blow”. Now, whilst I think that the author of that piece, Andrew Gilligan, goes a little too far in drawing this conclusion, he does provide some compelling evidence that, at least at that time, all was far from well with the redevelopment review.

He cites “minutes” for a meeting in October 2014 in which Rupert Walker, Head of High Speed Rail Development at Network Rail and joint HS2 Ltd/Network Rail Development Director for Euston, reports that the “designers had stopped work” giving the reason that “they simply couldn’t get the costs and benefits of the scheme to balance in an affordable way”.

Since these minutes have been published we can verify this for ourselves – Mr Walker’s views appear under agenda point 3. Particular problem areas identified in the minutes include the costs and technical challenge of building over railway tracks and the proportion of affordable housing required by Camden Council.

The newspaper article quotes a claim by Sarah Haywood, leader of Camden Council and also an attendee at the October meeting, that these problems place “a serious question mark” over whether HS2 Ltd will be able to open a new station at Euston in time for the opening of the HS2 service. Bearing in mind the time that will be required to consult on the plans, carry out an environmental impact assessment and consult on the additional provision to the hybrid Bill that will be required, I can certainly envisage the plans not being ready for the HS2 Select Committee to deliberate on when they have worked their way down to the London area on their current perambulations through the shire counties.

(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.

PS: Since I posted it has been pointed out to me that there is at least one architectural practice that specialises in traditional and classical architecture, the appropriately named Adam Architecture. So, who knows, perhaps the Minister’s vision may come to fruition.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Les Fawcett on January 30, 2015 at 4:12 pm

    The costs for rebuilding Euston, or at least for the HS2 stations as a whole, have been given at various times, but the problem is that 3 schemes in succession have been drawn up then abandoned. Currently, design work is “paused”. It may be that HS2 are attempting the impossible. If that is so they should have realised it 5 years after they were appointed. They still don’t seem to have realised that there is no need for all HS2 trains to go to Euston. A sensibly-routed line could send some trains through Heathrow and some to St Pancras without touching Euston. The scope of HS2 has been cut at the same time as the costs have rocketted. The connection to HS1 has been abandoned and there’s no firm plan to connect to Heathrow, just a vague notion of building a spur later even though there would be no paths available to serve it.
    HS1 in Kent was not built to the plan put forward by the civil servants. Instead, Michael Heseltine took up a plan put forward by Arup consultants and went over the heads of his cabinet colleagues to the PM to get it adopted. We are in the same position again with the civil service plodding on with a disastrously bad plan long after it became obvious that it isn’t what the nation needs. Where is today’s Michael Heseltine?

    Reply

  2. Posted by chriseaglen on January 31, 2015 at 7:02 am

    He exists as the same person for HS1. More commonsense and railway and transportation planning experience is required. Hopefully the next Parliament will start again. The HS1 original plans were BR plans all across Kent. Arup could produce a better approach but the dogmatic highest speed table top and laser route have resulted in a proposal that is not providing the wider rail benefits for most people. Some of the muted civil servants know this but dogma can dictate.

    The radial rail routes to and from London need more interlinks to provide the enabling works and are neither costed or routed at this time. HS2 is not a fully clearly scoped project but is now in the horse trading phase as road bypasses and tunneling replace spurs and rerouting to maintain an interim budget number. Not the way to run a railway or a nation.

    Reply

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