HS2 chiefs have performed an “astonishing” triple u-turn after appearing to ditch the plan to demolish Euston Station in favour of an old scheme that was scrapped last year following an intervention by the Chancellor George Osborne.
Rupert Walker, HS2’s Euston supremo, unveiled the latest tranche of design slides in the Surma Centre in Hampstead Road to a private meeting of rail officials and Camden community reps on Monday night.
The slides show a return to the idea of wedging a shed containing six high speed rail platforms on the west side of Euston Station, which would open in 2026. Five more platforms would be built inside the current station after 2034 in a move that could extend building works in Camden into the 2040s.
This new “phase 1” of HS2 – the third different official proposal for Euston by HS2 Ltd in the last two years – would cost around £2.6billion, officials told the meeting.
HS2 campaigner Paul Braithwaite, who was at the meeting on Monday and took a cheeky snap of the proposals which HS2 did not want to be released to the public, said: “This is really a retrograde step, and it’s money driven. It doesn’t even seem as good as the original one they were proposing. The thing that is astonishing is that all the time these things are going on behind closed doors. What is the point of these community meetings if this is the way things happened.”
In January 2013, HS2 scrapped its original proposal to demolish and rebuild the whole of Euston Station after bosses said at that time it was too expensive and warned it would cause too much disruption to the Euston rail service.
Designs for a new cheaper design, called “Option 8”, were released shortly after with a plan for seven platforms, bolted on the west side of the existing station between Melton Street and Coburg Street.
This plan was then scrapped in March 2014 shortly after Mr Osborne said he wanted a “really big development” at Euston Station while on a business trip in China.
Days after the minister’s intervention, which was also backed by Mayor of London Boris Johnson, the new HS2 Ltd chairman Sir David Higgins – who had taken up his new post after moving from Network Rail, which owns Euston Station – told the New Journal, during a press conference in Manchester, that “big players” were already “knocking at the door” to fund the transformation of the 35-acre site.
The Department for Transport, hours later, welcomed the “HS2 Plus” proposal with a statement saying that was a “significant opportunity to generate private sector investment”.
New comprehensive designs with glass skyscrapers and luxury flats were supposed to be unveiled last December, and images of a Manhattan-style parade of housing leading up the train tracks from Euston towards Parkway also emerged shortly before that.
But in November, HS2 officials admitted they had called off designers from Euston Station as it was “not a fundable solution”. Official minutes from the Euston Strategic Board meeting, held in Camden Town Hall, said HS2 has simply “stopped work” on the £7billion plan to demolish and rebuild Euston Station. The project has been “paused” because the idea “could not be made to work because there was no business case”, the minutes added.
The plan to bit-by-bit build platforms in Euston would dramatically extend the length of the proposed building works into the late to mid-2040s, a futuristic age when some have predicted hover cars and household robots could be the norm.
Ben Ruse, lead spokesman for HS2, said: “It is very important that we discuss proposals with local communities up and down the line. Monday’s meeting was part of this process. All the parties involved are currently looking at the best approach to deliver a redeveloped Euston station that positively transforms the area while minimising the impact on residents and passengers.
“The phased delivery option will reduce construction impact, minimise disruption to existing passengers, deliver HS2 on time, on budget and help provide long-term benefits and opportunities for the community.
“Much like the redevelopment of the King’s Cross St Pancras area with its new jobs, opportunities, housing and community assets, this is a long-term project that will keep developing during the coming months and years.”
All three major political parties are backing HS2, which has already cost taxpayers £1billion, according to a recent figures published by the Department for Transport.