According to the Financial Times,
“The transport secretary is to announce plans for a design panel to ensure that the High Speed 2 rail line between London and the north respects rural areas, as he seeks to appease campaigners ahead of a judicial review….
“Similar to the panels which worked on the design of the Olympic Park and Crossrail, it will review plans for stations, large viaducts and bridges, and recommend improvements.
“I’m particularly keen to ensure high quality design for structures along the HS2 route – and to give communities confidence that they will be as sensitive as possible to the character of their setting,” Patrick McLoughlin, transport secretary, will tell the Campaign for Rural England’s annual lecture on Tuesday.”
The problem with HS2 is not so much whether the structures stand out or fit into the areas they pass through, as whether the railway ought to be built at all.
Of course, no-one wants badly designed stations, bridges or viaducts, but making them look pretty does not get away from the underlying flaws in the HS2 proposal.
The problems with HS2 start with whether the railway is needed at all – as we reported yesterday, alternative packages of incremental improvements could meet capacity needs without having to build a new railway. The economic benefits are based mostly around the value of saving small amounts of time on a journey, but ignore the way many people use train journeys to work these days.
Then there is the speed: a design speed of 250mph means that the route itself cannot avoid sensitive wildlife sites. The speed also means that HS2 will only be carbon neutral: a £33 billion transport project should be designed with carbon reduction as one of its aims. And many people are worried about the noise of trains, which will be heard even if the railway, or the structures it’s made up of, are out of sight.
And of course there is the issue of connectivity. The original plans excluded Heathrow. There is no interchange station with East West rail. There are concerns about the link between HS2 and HS1. No amount of prettifying of stations will make up for the inconvenience of complicated routes for real journeys: a better thought through new railway could have actually increased journey options, instead of simply duplicating existing routes.