HS2 Update

By local writer Martin Sheppard

If you go anywhere near Euston, you won’t be able to miss HS2’s road closures, trenches and demolitions, though the 60,000 bodies it is sacrilegiously digging up in St James’s Gardens are screened from sight. These are all, however, merely preliminary works, authorised under an Enabling Act to prepare for the HS2’s two main contracts in Camden. HS2 itself is designing the HS2 station, to the west of the existing Euston Station. Further north, in the Primrose Hill area, HS2 has let out the final design of its works to contractors (SBS in our area) on a ‘Design and Build’ basis.

Astonishingly, after years of preparation, millions of pages of detail and innumerable meetings with HS2’s so-called ‘Engagement Team’ (whose principal aim is to keep HS2’s plans hidden from scrutiny), the scope and details of its main plans for Camden are still uncertain.

One clear cause of uncertainty and delay is that the cost of the contractors’ plans, here and elsewhere, exceed HS2’s spiralling budget. No final plans for the Camden Cutting and Primrose Hill sector are expected till June (if then). It seems clear, however, that the Heath Robinson ‘Birdcage’ plan for Park Village East is going to be replaced by a portal nearer Euston and a large cavern between Mornington Bridge and Parkway. This will be less damaging to Park Village East and to Primrose Hill. The final alignment of the tunnels near Primrose Hill has yet to be decided.

            The good news is that HS2 is so grossly above budget and behind schedule that it may yet be cancelled. No good reason has ever been put forward for this damaging vanity project, the largest and whitest of white elephants. HS2’s attempts to reduce its runaway costs of construction can only be made by reductions in speed, capacity and specification, all of which undermine its already laughably feeble business case even further. A number of Cabinet ministers have now indicated their willingness to cancel the project, but the unremitting focus on Brexit means that any decision is unlikely until after 29 March.

            The bad news locally is that HS2 has closed Gloucester Gate for five months to allow the diversion of a 42-inch water main. HS2 typically failed to engage on this project with the community in Primrose Hill, news of the proposed closure only coming out in December. It has also refused to postpone the closure, to allow time for explanation. Given that HS2’s main plans for area are still unfinalised, and that the water main diversion was decided upon when the Birdcage design was envisaged, it is difficult to see how the need for this closure can be justified. The Gloucester Avenue Association, on behalf of Primrose Hill as a whole, has been pressing HS2 for urgent answers. HS2’s determination to dig at all costs, without due notice and even where the work may be completely unnecessary, is typical of its approach to ‘engagement’ and of its complete disdain for local communities in Camden.