Three years to set up the design panel

The announcement of the launch of the independent design panel for HS2 has received a certain amount of publicity. Design Week says that members will advise on “all aspects of design for the project” and Architects Journal refers to an “eclectic mix of industry experts”.

The Government’s press release says the panel “will support HS2 in realising its aim of applying the best design principles to all its work“, with Robert Goodwill saying “This Independent Design Panel is crucial to ensure HS2 achieves its full potential for everyone. This includes making sure that passengers get the experience they want from HS2 and that it is sympathetic to the landscape through which it is built.”

However, for all the glossy spin, the design panel is too late to have a real influence on the design, especially with landscape issues.

The Hybrid Bill is already going through Parliament: many of the features that could have been designed to be more sympathetic are already fixed in place (as far as HS2 Ltd are concerned).

The Design Vision says that “Where a particular impact is unwanted, design is there to find the best solution. In order to respond effectively to community concern and need, it is important to have strong design engagement. ” However the best solution may have already been designed away by designs already taken.

Or as Ralph Smyth, Head of Infrastructure at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “With HS2 contracts going out to tender, the formal launch of the HS2 Design Panel has come not a moment too soon.”

What’s not being said is the length of time it took to set up the design panel. In a speech in November 2012 (yes, three years ago) Patrick McLoughlin told the CPRE “I’m particularly keen to ensure high quality design for structures along the route, ones that are sensitive to the character of their setting. So I can confirm today that I have asked HS2 Ltd to look at establishing an independent HS2 design panel – just as we did for the Olympic park and Crossrail.”

It could be that HS2 Ltd were just very slow in getting round to setting up the panel. It’s also possible there was never any intention for the design panel to start work much before Royal Assent, and the 2012 announcement was a cynical attempt for the HS2 Ltd to appear concerned.

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