The problem of how to bring HS2 into its planned London terminus at Euston is one of the biggest challenges on phase one of the project. So what is the final design likely to look like and when will it be delivered?
It is supposed to be a beacon of British engineering: a bold new station worthy of the UK’s newest high-speed railway line and an example of the regeneration power of HS2.
However, with work due to start on the £55.7bn project this year, the final vision for Euston is still shrouded in mystery, with successive schemes consigned to the dustbin and politicians at loggerheads over what should actually be built at one of London’s least-loved stations.
With no listed structures, almost all land in public ownership, and a local council that considers it an eyesore, in some respects the fifth-busiest commuter station in the UK should be a shoo-in for redevelopment.
However, Euston is situated at one end of arguably the most taxing part of HS2’s route, with inner London congestion and sky-high property prices skewing the cost of any scheme upwards.
The new high-speed lines also need to be threaded into Euston’s narrow ‘throat’ via a new tunnel – and, complicating matters further, the station needs to be kept open throughout development work.
While almost everyone acknowledges that London’s Euston is in dire need of change, a prohibitive factor behind a replacement remains the cost. The HS2 station alone is estimated at £2.5bn, and an overhaul of the entire site has been forecast at closer to £4.5bn.
The price tag has been high enough to ward off successive transport ministers and even George Osborne baulked at the proposals after briefly raising his own grand visions for Euston in 2014.
All that is agreed is that something needs to be done.
In December 2016, HS2 chair Sir David Higgins described the notion of allowing the mainline station to fester without improvement as a “disgrace”. But the designs for HS2’s Euston terminus drawn up by architect Grimshaw and consultant Arup in 2015 were met with derision by many, with the leader of Camden Council Sarah Hayward dubbing the proposals a “shed being bolted on to an existing lean-to”.
The plans would see a new terminus at Euston with lowered tracks, a ground-level central concourse and a condensed station footprint.
The work would be structured into three stages:
- Stage A, to be built between 2017 and 2026, would see six new platforms for phase one of HS2 constructed in a new station to the west of the current terminus;
- Stage 2 (known as B1) would deliver an extra five platforms for the high-speed line carved out of the current terminus, which will be reduced from 18 platforms to 11 by 2033;
- Stage 3 (B2), which is not part of the current HS2 bill, will see an overhaul of the mainline station, with the work forming part of Network Rail’s next control period (CP6), which runs from 2019 to 2024.
According to Camden Council’s cabinet member for regeneration, transport and planning Phil Jones, the most recent proposed plans are unacceptable: “The House of Lords recently agreed with Camden’s long-held aspiration for Euston – that the finished product should be a world-class station and that the government should facilitate this by providing funding to speed up development of the current Network Rail station.”
Camden published joint proposals along with the Greater London Authority in 2013 titled the Euston Area Plan, which states that a comprehensive redevelopment could deliver 15,000 jobs, 2,000 new homes and a £28bn economic uplift over 30 years - £14.5bn more than an HS2-only development.
“There’s a risk that [a mainline station] could just be a tart-up of the existing station in not so many words”
Mary-Ann Lewis, Camden Council
Camden says that to be successful it is vital that designs and development of both stations are aligned, with upfront funding for over-site development considered. However, with HS2 being stripped of its regeneration powers on recommendation of the Lords’ select committee report, the body’s hands could be tied.
The borough has also claimed the proposed plans will recreate the problems of the current station in a different form.
Giving evidence to the Lords’ HS2 select committee in September 2016, Camden called for a delay to the project’s build programme to allow more time to examine the complexities of the site.
The council’s programme manager responsible for the planning brief at Euston, Mary-Ann Lewis, said: “There’s a risk that [a mainline station] could just be a tart-up of the existing station in not so many words. We won’t know, necessarily, what the station that’s likely to be funded and designed in detail looks like until we reach GRIP 4 stage.
“That’s the critical point: that we can’t make an holistic consideration of a planning application without understanding what’s happening on the Network Rail side.”
HS2 southern entrance Euston redevelopment CGI
The council has called on HS2 to scrap a proposed ‘spine building’ in the new station, which would run north to south and split the station and proposed lowering the tracks in the mainline station – estimated to cost £400m – to the same level as the proposed high-speed terminus.
Underlining the uncertainty, Grimshaw and Arup were replaced by WilkinsonEyre and WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff in November last year, after the work was retendered by HS2 Ltd.
According to Richard Anning, CEO of Sydney & London Properties, which owns the Euston Estate office development at the front of the station, lowering the tracks as Grimshaw and Arup proposed would allow Euston to become a blank canvas.
“If you drop the track beds you have a clean palate with all of this land to do whatever you want and correct mistakes of the past,” he says. “However, if you talk to [the GLA] they will ponder whether £400m could be better spent elsewhere; if you talk to HS2 they’ll say, ‘Not my problem’; and Network Rail will tell you to talk to the Department for Transport – and that leads you back to the Treasury.”
Others have raised issues with how the HS2 station will be constructed.
Martin Sagar, partner at Camden-based practice Sheppard Robson, says the current design exacerbates Euston’s existing problems. “The project so far at Euston has been totally single-minded in getting the railway in. A broader view should be taken before any of it is implemented,” he says.
“If you drop the track beds you have a clean palate with all of this land to do whatever you want and correct mistakes of the past”
Richard Anning, Sydney & London Properties
“There are some bits of Camden that appear to be quite badly threatened by the current plans. Instead of saying, ‘Let’s make an ace station where everything connects together’, the two stations will sit side by side. It does seem crazy from an urban point of view to make proposals that appear to worsen the east-west links. It is a bit nuts.”
HS2 Ltd is also currently working on foundations for an over-site development that is yet to be drawn up. Mr Anning believes that pushing ahead with these plans could create problems later on: “HS2 is going on blindly with what is going on underneath, and they have no idea what is going to be built on top because it’s outside their remit. How do you design a foundation system without knowing what is going on above it?
“Any contractor who will be brought on is bound to value-engineer, so there is a major concern that there could be a cost saving in the transport element, which will endanger what comes after it.”
Hong Kong lessons
Neil Bennett, partner at Farrells, which drew up designs for Euston for former transport minister Lord Adonis in 2010 and has worked on the masterplan for the gargantuan West Kowloon station in Hong Kong, says that design issues need to be addressed at the earliest stage possible if the project is to be a success.
“In Kowloon we thought we had nine plots above the station that might be built on and had plans for core locations to allow for a number of scenarios. We allowed for different possibilities in our foundation design,” he says.
“We strongly suspect that [HS2] is going ahead on phase one without having a complete idea of what the final scheme will look like. They’ve taken the decision to compartmentalise HS2 and not couple it with the problems that redoing a live station brings.
“If you don’t properly engage at an early stage and think about all the parts of what stations need to be, then what happens is that the scale and quantum goes down.
“When you try to come back and make alterations, the costs go up, the risks go up and the returns to the public sector go down. It’s often more disruptive.”
HS2 concourse Euston redevelopment CGI
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has raised concerns over Euston too, calling for the planned new station at Old Oak Common to act as a temporary terminus until issues at Euston are sorted out.
Sure enough, in an interview with the Times last month, Sir David Higgins did not deny that trains for phase one could now stop at Old Oak in 2026 until work at Euston has been completed. This may be a case of HS2 buying itself time to develop the new station concept.
The mayor’s office has also backed Camden’s call for a comprehensive development.
“We strongly suspect that [HS2] is going ahead on phase 1 without having a complete idea of what the final scheme will look like, both to Network Rail to the side and above it”
Neil Bennett, Farrells
Deputy mayor for planning and regeneration Jules Pipe says: “The mayor and TfL are very supportive of a comprehensive approach to the redevelopment of Euston, including over-site development as set out in the Euston Area Plan.
“It must also establish an appropriate delivery vehicle incorporating a single development partner to implement change effectively.”
Mr Pipe rules out the possibility of creating a Mayoral Development Corporation to oversee all aspects of the site – but a spokesperson affirmed that the mayor could call in any scheme “as a last resort”.
The government is aware of the issues at Euston and, though transport minister Chris Grayling has so far been silent on the subject, HS2, the DfT and Network Rail released a public information notice (PIN) for a development opportunity at Euston in early February. The PIN confirms plans to appoint a long-term strategic master development partner for the “redevelopment and regeneration of land at Euston Station”.
Compared to previous schemes, the development opportunity takes in a far larger area – totalling 21 ha – than the original HS2 terminus and includes both the mainline station and the station approaches.
The proposals also redefine Euston as a new commercial opportunity area, which can create a “new quarter for central London” with up to 14,100 new jobs, 3,800 homes and 280,000 sq m of commercial space, with greater permeability through the site – all a far cry from the initial ‘bolt-on’ plans devised by Grimshaw and Arup in 2015.
HS2 is finalising the procurement strategy for the station, with the PIN expected to help inform the government of what opportunities are available at the site. An OJEU notice is set to be released by autumn, with a development partner appointed by the turn of the year.
Any proposals for a new mainline station, however, are still subject to a “future funding decision”, according to PIN.
HS2 Euston redevelopment CGI
An HS2 spokesperson says: “Ongoing development of the design in line with the wider aspirations of the Euston Area Plan will take place over 2017.
“The ‘detailed design’ will begin once the main works station contract has been awarded. This is currently expected in 2018 with the start of major construction work around 2019.
“We will be bidding with our partners Argent Related. So will the Chinese – they have their Hong Kong operation MTR – and we think Canary Wharf and British Land could show an interest”
Richard Anning, Sydney & London Properties
“Final decisions on development above the station would be subject to the usual local planning permissions. The important thing is that we act now to ensure that our plans do not inhibit future development of the site.
“However, I would stress, there is nothing in the plans for Stage 1 and 2 that either necessitates or prevents Network Rail lowering the track bed on Stage 3.”
With the master station contract due to be awarded in the coming months, and royal assent for HS2 granted on 23 February, private sector developers have begun to take an interest in the opportunities at Euston.
Sydney & London Properties’ Mr Anning confirms that, whatever eventually gets put forward, Sydney & London Properties will bid: “We will be bidding with our partners Argent Related. So will the Chinese – they have their Hong Kong operation MTR – and we think Canary Wharf and British Land could show an interest.
“So we are not the only one in town – but even if we don’t win, we just want to see it done properly.”
If the government can stick to its promises to deliver a credible development opportunity at Euston, then 2017 may yet see a decade of political flip-flopping over the fate of the station finally draw to a close, allowing the jewel in HS2’s development crown to consign this 20th-century transport hellhole to the history books.