It is hard to say with confidence how many design revisions there have been with respect to bringing HS2 into Euston. With the latest news coming from Camden Council It may have reached double figures.
Back in 2011 the task facing HS2 Ltd was described as “open heart surgery on a conscious patient.” It was an apt description and five years on it is apparent that the organisation is still struggling to come up with the answer.
The staggering scale of disruption to commuters and to those living near Euston is difficult comprehend. To take just one aspect of the work, there will be 736,000 heavy goods vehicle journeys, peaking at more than 700 a day in 2022.
The most recently quoted budget figure of £2.25bn is misleading. As Camden Council points out, the sum does not include the overall redevelopment of Euston. In addition, the sum does not include the essential capacity improvements to the underground lines serving the station. The comprehensive solution in this respect would be Crossrail 2. An improvement scheme that focuses just on increasing underground capacity would cost up to £9bn at 2011 prices.
One can only assume the most recent rethink will add substantially to the budget for this part of the high-speed scheme. With Sir Jeremy Heywood currently looking at ways to find savings, the news from Euston could hardly be more unhelpful.
Even supporters of HS2 have urged the Government to step back and fundamentally review whether Euston can actually serve as the London terminus.
Old Oak Common may yet offer a way out.
Not surprisingly, the response from an HS2 spokesman made the usual, ‘move along…nothing to see here’, noises but one comment was particularly irksome to HS2 watchers.
It ran: “We can future proof the design.” The use of future proof is dropped into conversations on HS2 as are vision, step change and connectivity. Persuasive words indeed, but just words.
When pressed by the Lords Economic Affairs Committee last year, Sir David Higgins said that keeping to the high-speed route design requirements, even though HS2 was about capacity, future proofed the project. So although it’s not about speed, taxpayers will have to spend up to an additional £4bn just in case we might want to make it about speed at some time in the future.
The design challenges facing Euston are extraordinarily complex and HS2 Ltd still seems to be struggling. To talk about future proof looks like clutching at straws.