Review calls for HS2 Ltd to be stripped of project

Planning for the London terminus for HS2 is so far behind schedule that the state-owned company charged with delivering the high speed rail line should be stripped of the project.

The damning recommendation is part of a review commissioned by Boris Johnson, seen by the Financial Times, into whether the government should continue with the project. The prime minister is expected to decide within days whether to proceed with the scheme, which was originally approved in 2017.

The report, by former chairman Doug Oakervee, said the redevelopment of Euston was so far behind schedule that HS2 Ltd, the public body set up to build the railway, should “not be in charge” of the work to deliver the new high-speed station in the heart of London.

Despite planning on the project starting a decade ago, the route that the 250mph trains will follow into the proposed HS2 terminus is still not fixed and there is no agreement on how the station and the existing 1960s terminus and underground station that sits beside will be developed.

The National Audit Office warned in a report published last month that it was impossible to pin down the costs for Euston because of the failure to finalise the plans for the station. The cost of the new terminus alone — excluding the price of land requisition and reparation — is now estimated at £2bn, up from an initial £1.5bn.

HS2 is beset by ballooning costs, with the latest estimate for the new railway, which would link London to Birmingham in its first phase before speeding on to Manchester and Leeds in a Y-shaped fork by 2040, put at £106bn. 

The project has already cost £8bn of taxpayers’ money, some of which was spent on evicting local Euston residents from their homes so they could be demolished in preparation for the extensive building work needed to create a new central London rail hub.

Embargoed to 0001 Friday January 24 File photo dated 23/8/2019 of the construction site for the HS2 high speed rail scheme in Euston, London. HS2 is over budget and behind schedule because its complexity and risks were under-estimated, according to the Whitehall spending watchdog. PA Photo. Issue date: Friday January 24, 2020. The National Audit Office (NAO) warned that it is impossible to "estimate with certainty what the final cost could be". It published a report urging the Government and HS2 Ltd to be "transparent and provide realistic assessments" in relation to the high-speed railway. See PA story RAIL HS2. Photo credit should read: Victoria Jones/PA Wire
Some buildings near Euston have been demolished as part of preparatory work for HS2 © Victoria Jones/PA

Tony Travers, a professor at the London School of Economics and a member of the Oakervee panel, said the “relaxed manner” in which HS2 seemed to have approached planning for Euston was particularly surprising given it was one of the areas on the proposed route most affected by disruption. There was also a big development opportunity for the government to recoup some of the money spent on the project.

“All the households around Euston will have to put up with years of disturbance and if it was an affluent area it is hard to imagine it would have been done like this,” he said.

A spokesperson for HS2 Ltd said: “We are continuing to work with stakeholders to refine the design prior to submitting for local authority approvals.”

Moreover, Network Rail, the state-owned body responsible for the existing station, confirmed it has yet to produce a final design or agree a budget for its redevelopment at Euston. “We are committed to working closely with HS2 Ltd on many aspects of this scheme including work on longer-term aspirations to turn Euston into a transport hub fit for the 21st century,” Network Rail said.

Redeveloping the existing station is crucial to coping with the projected influx of passengers from HS2. It is already overcrowded and struggles to cope with more than double the 20m passengers a year it was meant to handle when it was last redesigned in 1968. 

Camden Council, the local authority, has hit out at the approach by both HS2 Ltd and Network Rail. It labelled the plans “piecemeal” and has called for a joint development of the new high-speed station and the existing one, which could create 3,800 new homes and 14,000 jobs in the area.

“There is already a massive hole and building site in Euston so we need some certainty but we also want one plan for the entire area,” says Danny Beales, the Camden councillor handling the regeneration.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by High Level/Shutterstock (9769965b) Euston Railway station, London NW1 Aerial views of London, UK - 15 May 2018
The narrow approach to Euston is causing HS2 planners problems © High Level/Shutterstock

Adding to the problems is the challenge of how to squeeze the new high-speed tracks for HS2 into the narrow approach existing rail services have to take into the station. Although it has yet to publish any in-depth drawings it has proposed building much of it underground in three tunnels. 

But those proposal are being challenged in the High Court by Hero Granger-Taylor, a local resident. She has demanded to see the detailed plans, arguing that building the tunnel so close to the surrounding housing and infrastructure is “hugely dangerous” and “unworkable”.

Professor Roderick Smith, a former chief scientific adviser to the Department for Transport and the head of Future Rail Research Centre at Imperial College London, said Euston is a “good example of how so many elements of HS2 are ill thought out”.

“I’m a great supporter of building a high-speed rail network but they are doing many wrong things in the most expensive way,” he added.

One option is to end HS2 at Old Oak Common, a site in the west of London proposed as an interchange station with the new Crossrail line. The Oakervee report proposed that as a temporary solution until Euston is “got right”. But it warned that scrapping the final few miles of HS2 into central London would have a “significant negative impact” on the business case for HS2.

One former HS2 development manager at Euston said a key issue has been the large number of contractors and stakeholders involved in the station redesign. “It is a total mess.”


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