November 28, 2023

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Euston. It was one of the first names jotted down on the HS2 wishlist back...

Euston. It was one of the first names jotted down on the HS2 wishlist back when Labour was in government and fresh from the financial crisis it looked for an inspiring infrastructure project to bring Britain back from a recession.

Four elections, a pandemic and a Brexit vote later and the designs for Euston are still to be finalised.

However, as revealed by NCE sister-title CN last week, the terminus’s design has officially been downgraded from “world class” to “highly functional and affordable”.

This change is arguably confirmation of what has been a long, drawn out process for Euston that is still far from over. The differing aims of regeneration, infrastructure, cost and complexity compete at a constrained site in central London.

Lofty ambitions

Former chancellor George Osborne set the early tone for Euston’s regeneration in 2014 when he called for a complete rebuild of the 54-year-old station, seeing it as an opportunity to bring in jobs, new housing and retail to that corner of central London.

The terminus was picked over initial preliminary options to build the HS2 terminus at Battersea, Marylebone and even as a giant underground station underneath Regent’s Park.

Osborne’s ambitions were in-part influenced by his trip to Hong Kong, where he toured the vast MTR station in West Kowloon, designed by UK architect Farrells.

A number of obstacles lay in the way of Osborne’s railway dreams. The first was the protected views of London from Parliament Hill to the north of Euston; the protected views of historic places such as St Paul’s Cathedral run across the Euston site and lead to a number of issues in terms of any over-station development (OSD).

These were outlined in a Euston Area Plan published in 2014.

Former transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin also dreamed big when it came to Euston after a visit to the vast Hudson Yards project in New York. At the time the Hudson Yards developer Related was part of a JV – Argent Related – which was bidding to redevelop Euston. The grand plans however were never quite realised, leading to Camden Council to condemn HS2 for a “lack of vision” over Euston.

As well as having to factor in protected views, the government was also unable to decide whether it should overhaul the entire Euston station or settle for simply a HS2 terminus to be built to the west of the current site. In 2015 an overhaul of Euston itself was budgeted at around £4bn – £5bn. The government baulked.

Plans for HS2’s terminus continued as part of the delivery of Phase One of the project. The shortlist of five firms also included Canary Wharf Group and Landsec. However a number of developers including Landsec pulled out of the bidding, leaving Lendlease as the chosen master development partner for the station.

The staton underwent a number of design iterations and arguments flared up over whether the government should back a more costly plan which would have seen platforms sunk lower, or an ambitious plan proposed by Cross Capital Connect for a through station which would have taken HS2 services south to Waterloo and then east to Canary Wharf, at a proposed additional cost of £10bn.

A JV between Mace and Dragados won the contract to build the station and by late 2019 the costs had risen to between £1.8bn and £2bn from the previously estimated £1.3bn.

HS2 were then forced into a new “rethink” in early 2020 after the Oakervee review into HS2 deemed the Euston plans as ‘unsatisfactory’.

The review into the feasibility of HS2 has recommended that a new single plan for the then Grimshaw-designed HS2 terminus as well as the current Euston station should be drawn up.

The report, which has informed the government’s decision to move forward with the rail link, also called for a new Senior Responsible Owner (SRO) to help deliver a ‘single Euston plan’, working alongside Network Rail, the Department for Transport, HS2 Ltd, Lendlease and Camden Council. Oakervee added that ‘given the complexity of the Euston project, this organisation should not be HS2 Ltd’.

HS2 Ltd is still involved in Euston however and last year plans were changed again. The latest change will see the number of platforms cut from 11 to 10 and the station will now be built in one phase rather than two. Rail engineers have explained that cutting the extra platform from the designs could lead to problems down the line, with 11 platforms needed to ensure trains can arrive and leave on time.

The changes were made in part as a response to a £400M cost pressure on Euston, which HS2 chief executive Mark Thurston has noted is still “unclear” in terms of final cost.

Speaking to Parliament’s transport select committee in the DFT’s Clive Maxwell, director general of the government’s high speed rail group admitted that the current cost estimates for Euston were only 30% mature over a decade since Euston was picked as the HS2 terminus.

It was noted that it may take a further year to get a realistic price for HS2’s costliest station. HS2 told NCE that there has been no change “in ambition” for Euston, just that budgets are stretched post-pandemic, noting that the changes were publicised in March.

What is clear is that the Euston saga will continue to divide opinion for a while yet.

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