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Homeowner clears legal hurdle in bid to stop ‘catastrophic’ Euston tunnel design

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A north London homeowner has been granted permission to bring legal proceedings against HS2 for its Euston tunnel design, claiming it will ‘endanger the lives and properties of residents nearby’

A High Court judge gave Hero Granger-Taylor permission to proceed with her claim against Euston’s ‘three tunnels’ that she has been fighting for since June 2019. HS2 has been given 21 days to submit its response to the claim.

The claim relates to latest design specifications given in updates to residents. However, HS2 said that the designs are yet to be finalised and would still be subject to internal structural and safety checks.

A joint venture between Costain, Skanska and Strabag is delivering the Euston tunnels and approaches for HS2.

Granger-Taylor raised the complaint after a warning made by civil engineer Colin Elliff outlined the potential for ’catastrophic collapse’ of a retaining wall in her neighbourhood at Park Village East near Mornington Crescent.

The report conducted by the specialist railway engineer Colin Elliff revealed the design could cause a huge 10m high, 120-year-old wall to collapse into the new tunnels below or onto the existing West Coast main line, potentially crushing railway passengers.

The report claims the unstable retaining wall will cause 130tonnes per metre of pressure downwards onto the proposed 9m wide tunnel just 1.5m below.

Jayesh Kunwardia, Partner at Hodge Jones & Allen, who represents Granger-Taylor, said: ’Understandably, we and Ms Granger-Taylor are delighted with the result of the hearing. The judge recognises our claim that the Three Tunnels Design is a potentially lethal proposal and of great concern to the local residents.

‘This latest outcome may result in HS2 Ltd taking the view that the Three Tunnels Design is unworkable and therefore being forced to reconsider the entire scheme.’

Granger-Taylor, who lives half a mile from Euston Station, said: ’People in the Euston area have now suffered for ten years the huge uncertainty which the HS2 scheme has brought with it. It is a real relief to have been vindicated by the law.

’I am heartened that this decision will have thrown a small spanner into the works of the behemoth which is HS2. The lives and properties of those near to Euston cannot just be ignored and we demand proof of basic safety measures so that no lives are at risk.’

A spokesperson for HS2 added: ’The court’s decision does not mean that Granger-Taylor has been successful in her case. This is merely the court allowing her to have her case heard. In fact, a previous judge ruled that there was no case to answer in November 2019.

‘As we build Britain’s new high-speed railway, safety is our top priority. At Euston, we are currently working through a rigorous design and independent checking process, including geological and structural testing, before we begin construction of the Euston approach tunnels. We are confident our work will be delivered safely.’

The next hearing is due to take place in May.

Meanwhile an unpublished government report seen by the Financial Times claims that the cost of building the high-speed rail link could cost up to £106billion - almost double what HS2 esitmated the budget would be in 2015 (£56 billion). 

The Oakervee review, the newspaper claims, also recommends pausing the second phase of the project while experts look at whether conventional lines could help link Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds instead.

The government’s response to the review and a decision about the future of the rail project - which has already cost the taxpayer £8billion - had been promised before the end of last year.



Readers' comments (8)

  • Given the rigorous structural checking that's required as part of any construction project, let alone HS2, it's unthinkable that such a massive old retaining wall would be endangered - and could threaten the lives of countless train passengers, as local residents.
    But wasn't there 'a little local difficulty' in someone's Islington back garden during the tunnel boring for HS1?
    And hasn't there been a quite unbelievable failure of design and construction standards in the building of the new Royal Liverpool University Hospital?
    Clearly, quality management in this country needs to be taken with a pinch of salt - and, after all, the American designers of the Liverpool hospital might even try and claim diplomatic immunity, so congratulations to Hero Granger-Taylor, Colin Elliff and Jayesh Kunwardia for having the temerity to challenge the competence of those responsible for the structural design of the new Euston tunnels.

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    well said!

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  • Fair points Robert

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  • Industry Professional

    An ex-colleague of mine was involved with representing some residents in East London when there was a collapse of the ground during HS1 tunnelling. I recall that he told me at the time that HS1 were very fair about resolving the problem. I would like to think that those involved with HS2 would be the same but, moreover, that they would do everything they could to stop something going wrong in the first place!
    One problem at the moment is that feelings and opinions on HS2 are being pumped up at the moment for various reasons with, I suspect, various agendas more opaque than others.
    Personally I am in two minds over whether HS2 is a good idea or not. It is a lot of money and the estimate should have been better in the first place. I do wonder if the promotors were too optimistic in order to get political approval. However, doing nothing at all is not an option. Jeffrey (an Engineer)

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  • For 'Industry Professional': I believe that HS2 is a 'good idea' - but that it's not being well enough executed.
    The benefits are a great deal more than a really rather small time saving between London and Birmingham - with the latter station so badly located (and designed as a terminus) that the new high speed service is unlikely to appeal to anyone travelling beyond the immediate confines of Birmingham.
    The potential benefits for freeing capacity on existing routes - particularly for freight - can't be underestimated, yet have received limited coverage in the media and risk being discounted by both our politicians and the electorate.
    The architectural treatment of the Euston station development is surely half-baked if it doesn't include the resurrection of the glorious Euston Arch - and as I understand it the current resting place of much or all of the arch's stonework is known.
    Talk of having resolved the problem when the ground collapsed due to HS1 tunnelling misses the point - if this retaining wall were to collapse onto a train on the WCML outside Euston station all hell would break loose.

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  • Industry Professional

    I do not think that we are far apart Mr Wakehan.
    I do agree that there are worrying signs of far too many flawed designs in recent years. Yes, things have always sometimes gone wrong (Ronan Point (1968), Summerland (1973), Abbeystead (1984), Heathrow Tunnel 1994, etc) but I remain uneasy.
    I did say in my original comment that I would like to think that HS2 "would do everything they could to stop something going wrong in the first place."
    I also cannot see that nothing new can be built.
    I am wary of us being too short-sighted in saying no to HS2 but I struggle to accept any comparison between keeping speeds to say 125-140mph compared with those in the early 19th Century who claimed something like "people would die if they travelled at 30mph".
    We need to move forward but in a more sustainable way and one which is more balanced towards the cities of northern England.

    Jeffrey (an Engineer again) - my comments come up as "industrial professional" as it is entered via the IHS.

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  • I recall a little difficulty between Thornfield developers who were proposing to demolish and redevelop the unlisted part of Smithfield market a few years ago, and SAVE who were determined it should be - well, obviously, Saved. Thornfield and their architects/engineers/ advisers denied the significance of disused tunnels near Farringdon station which predated the market. Had they been destabilised (which they would have), it would have had disastrous results. That was only resolved by Judicial Review and public inquiry. Happily now the Museum of London should be moving into the Smithfield buildings, assuming the new government doesn't decide to deflect all cultural spending (if any) to their new friends in the north, while the functioning meat market faces new problems. (If that ruffles any feathers, I'm wholly in support of increased cultural spending in the north, in fact it would be a better use of much HS2 money. I just don't trust Johnson, Javid and the rest to do the decent thing anywhere.)
    As for Euston, by all means reinstate the Euston Arch, but the cost of the HS2 operation around there, and the loss of housing, social and otherwise, is ludicrous when compared with making the terminus at Old Oak Common.

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  • Judith Martin's comment brings to mind an incident on the 8th of March 2013 when a train driver in the Network Rail tunnel between Old Street and Essex Road reported water ingress - and the driver of an empty train, on being asked to slow down to investigate, found that two 2m long sections of a pile boring auger had chewed through the cast iron tunnel lining and fallen onto the track.
    It transpired that about half the piles for a development 13m above the crown of the tunnel would have intersected with it had they all been constructed.

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