High Speed 2 Update: Impact and opportunities for the capital

Friday 20 July 2012

Euston Station interior

Old Oak Common

Euston Station exterior

The jury is still out on the extent of HS2’s economic benefits to London and the rest of the UK. But extensive plans are being drawn up to make the most of the proposed line, with a focus on old Oak Common as the ‘Canary Wharf of the West’ along with a rejuvenated Euston station and environs.

Those were the overriding themes to be drawn from a special NLA session on Wednesday morning, organised to provide an update on the impact and opportunities for the capital from the high-speed line.

HS2 technical director Prof Andrew McNaughton said that the scheme was necessary to provide London – ‘the only true metropolis in Europe’ and a city faced with 1 million more people by 2031 – with the capacity it needs and to connect the rest of the country’s ‘spine’ of major conurbations. The project has the go-ahead to develop detail for a hybrid bill by the end of 2013 on the first stage of the ‘Y Network,’ with a view to getting the line up and running with a full commercial service in 2026.

McNaughton said that a two-station solution was required at the London end of the line at Old Oak Common and Euston, because without this, any speed advantages would be lost in congestion.  ‘If anyone doesn’t understand that, try Shanghai’, he said. As part of the plans, Euston will be expanded with 10 new platforms, potentially underground in order to foster better pedestrian movement across the site. Development opportunities at Old Oak Common will be ‘enormous’, he added, but part of the four-pronged process toward the mayor’s approval of the project will be assessing HS2’s environmental impact – felt to be considerable by many observers.

One such, Camden Council leader Cllr Sarah Hayward said the effects of HS2 on her borough would be wide-ranging, with people losing their homes and businesses, especially in the half of Drummond Street which will be swallowed up by Euston expansion. Furthermore, said Hayward, construction work will impact adversely on local schools, and blight over areas will cause uncertainty. ‘The impact is already quite devastating for people’, she said. ‘HS2’s impact on Camden is devastating and has been ill thought-through’.

But rather than talk of ‘mitigating’ the line, we should be maximising its positive elements, said Arup’s Global Rail Leader director Colin Stewart. ‘We’re looking for something for the next 50, 100, 200 years’, he said. ‘It’s legacy, so we have to get it right’. Transport for London managing director, planning, Michèle Dix was more positive: ‘Old Oak Common is a big, big opportunity to not just have a transport interchange but a big development here’, she said. ‘Our job is to widen the remit.’

LSE London director Tony Travers said that although Government sees HS2 as a major economic driver to the rest of England, from railway developments of the past it is ‘not at all clear there will be that kind of impact.’ He added that it was questionable why an area so close to London as Old Oak Common had been so resistant to economic development thus far, and there were concerns about the line undermining overground routes. But development of the ‘tired 1960s Euston station could be used as a catalyst to bring substantial change to an area with poverty and monocultural housing.’

Neil Bennett of Terry Farrell + Partners said he believed that Old Oak Common could see development comparable to Canary Wharf in scale. But he added that it was important to view all of Britain’s transport infrastructure improvements as part of an integrated system. Finally, GLA strategic planning manager Martin Scholar said that the HS2 plans were an important proposition with a ‘subtext’ of regeneration benefits, not least at Park Royal, and helped by emerging Opportunity Area Planning Frameworks. ‘Transformational change should be the aim at Old Oak Common. We’re trying to lobby for more than a rail-to-rail interchange’, he said. ‘It’s not Crewe.’

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

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