It’s been a rough few weeks for the HS2 project.
Within days of winning election to City Hall Sadiq Khan questioned the current plans for HS2's London Terminus. News also leaked that the Cabinet Office, concerned at its exorbitant and escalating cost, is undertaking an urgent review of the whole project.
This came after news that the Treasury, at official level opposed to HS2 from the beginning, was getting increasingly worried that spending on HS2 is out of control.
Then a damning report, published by a group of economists, engineers and railway experts, called for a one year pause for a full review of the proposed design of the line all the way from London to Manchester – with a view to improving the project's benefits and reducing its costs.
Whether you back HS2 or oppose it as a concept, what's becoming impossible to deny is that the current plans for HS2 need re-thinking, no more so than at the London end, where the Euston redevelopment is looking increasingly untenable. The costs of expanding the station to accommodate HS2 and the tunnelling and new track into Euston are enormous – estimated at around 10 per cent of the total £56bn price tag for the project as a whole.
Then there’s the vast disruption and damage for Londoners during the absurdly long construction period, particularly those in and around Camden. The current plan is to spend 17 years on the approach into Euston and what will effectively be a new station for HS2 to the west of the existing station; and only after that is work likely to start on redeveloping the existing Euston station.
So, for 15 to 20 years and quite possibly more, residents and businesses will be blighted by the building works – noise, air pollution, traffic chaos and loss of homes and public spaces.
HS2 Ltd have stuck doggedly to their current proposals for Euston, rejecting out of hand any suggestions for alternatives such as the imaginative proposals put forward by Lord Berkeley for bringing HS2 for its last few miles into Euston on the existing West Coast Main Line and creating new platforms for HS2 within the existing Euston station footprint.
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HS2 Ltd must now come up with a new plan for Euston that is less destructive for the local communities and ensures that the work is completed in no more than ten years. They should seriously consider Old Oak Common, which is to have a station for HS2 anyway and will be linked to Crossrail, as the terminus for London. Or at the very least, Old Oak Common should be the temporary terminus for phase 1 of the project to enable a decent plan for an integrated Euston to be agreed, taking in HS2, the existing classic services as well as Crossrail 2.
This is too big a project to get wrong. The enabling legislation is now in the House of Lords. It can only be hoped that their lordships join Sadiq Khan and many others in insisting on a serious rethink.