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HS2 review: Architects speak out in support of under-fire project

Gal 12016 euston hs2 platform wide 005d

Leading figures in architecture and construction have backed the under-scrutiny High Speed 2 project, emphasising its importance to economies in the north of England

Last week prime minister Boris Johnson ordered a full review of the rail link, with a report expected to advise within weeks on whether to scale down or even scrap the controversial scheme.

Transport minister Charlotte Vere told the House of Lords last month that the government had already spent £7.4 billion on HS2, which will ultimately speed up journeys between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.

Vere refused to confirm or deny reports that HS2 chairman Allan Cook had written to the government putting the anticipated total cost of the project at £86 billion – some £30 billion higher than previously expected.

Johnson – who has reportedly said the scheme could come in above £100 billion – is under intense pressure from some Conservative MPs to intervene, and pledged a review when campaigning for the party leadership.

But Sadie Morgan (pictured), chair of HS2’s independent design panel as well as a national infrastructure commissioner and co-founder of Stirling Prize-winning dRMM, has led a chorus of high-level support for the rail link.

‘HS2 is a project with the potential to reduce the North-South divide and provide real growth opportunities for the northern cities – especially if combined with a commitment to the Northern Powerhouse Rail strategy,’ she said. ‘We must not lose sight of the benefits to the North and long-term improvements to the nation’s transport infrastructure.’

Rogers Stirk Harbour partner Andrew Tyley said boosting transport infrastructure was the most significant contribution a generation could make to its successors.

‘Our future is dependent on investing in infrastructure to create connections at this time of great division in this country,’ he said. ‘It is not the vision that is flawed – we have to overcome the inefficiencies that have led to this problem.’

Falconer Chester Hall director Alastair Shepherd said HS2 should be expanded as a project rather than shrunk or scrapped. The scheme as planned would have a ‘transformative effect’ on cities such as Birmingham, Leeds and Sheffield he said, but should reach even more parts of the UK.

‘Having an office in Liverpool, it’s disappointing that a short spur from the West Coast Line isn’t being seriously considered,’ he said. ‘Better connections to cities such as Liverpool, Newcastle and Hull would have a massive impact on their respective economies, which are sometimes challenged by their geographic locations.’

He added: ‘Regardless of whether the project proceeds or not, the entire scope needs to be reviewed, from inception to implementation. As a country, there needs to be clear consensus from the outset to ensure large scale infrastructure projects work for the whole population and are more streamlined in their execution. East–west connections in the north of England should be one of the first priorities.’

Hiro Aso, who is famous for his work at King’s Cross station and also worked on the Leeds station masterplan ahead of HS2 while at Gensler, said the Leeds project had multiple dimensions and justifications, and was about ‘PS1’ or ‘proper speed 1’ as well as HS2.

Aso, who is now urban transport leader at Hassell, added that the industry could find comfort in the government’s decision to appoint a former HS2 chair to lead the review.

‘Doug Oakervee is someone who values infrastructure but can also scrutinise the project with deep experience, so I’m hoping the construction sector will find his findings positive,’ he said.

Another key figure in the birth of the project, former transport minister Andrew Adonis, was outspoken in his criticism of the review this week, branding it ‘stupid’.

He tweeted: ‘HS2 review is about as stupid as you can get and screws Birmingham and the North. Classic Johnson. It throws [the] project into flux and will cause big delays, loss of confidence and cost increases. HS2 will almost certainly continue afterwards in modified form. What a shambles.’

Adonis added: ‘Membership of the review is about evenly divided between supporters and opponents of HS2, who will now engage in a massive bun fight while the transport department runs for cover and HS2 Ltd is paralysed by indecision.

‘Designing an infrastructure project by committee is always bad, but redesigning by committee of contrarians is reckless and irresponsible.’

Tom Thackray, director of infrastructure at employer body the CBI, said the business message on HS2 was clear.

‘Back it, build it, benefit from it,’ he said. ‘The debate has gone round the houses too many times.

‘We firmly believe that committing to HS2 in full, once and for all, will spread the flow of investment across the Midlands, the North of England and into Scotland. The current poor connectivity in the North is a major obstacle to encouraging companies from growing in the region and is a barrier to inward investment.’

An AJ Twitter poll last week, showed 61 per cent favoured continuing with the project, with 39 per cent against.

Among the project’s critics is Conservative MP Cheryl Gillan, whose Chesham and Amersham constituency is on the proposed HS2 route.

Welcoming the review, she said: ‘First, the cost has risen astronomically. The latest estimate is in excess of £100 billion. The forecast is totally unrealistic, with much of the information being based on the situation 10 years ago, which has not been updated.

The scheme is based on the way we worked 10 years ago … the money can be spent better

‘Second, the scheme is also based on the way that we worked and travelled 10 years ago. I believe that the money can be spent better, benefiting the Midlands and the North, on practical improvements with proven benefits to rail passengers and residents, and on infrastructure like better broadband.

‘Third, this project is not environmentally friendly. Our emphasis now should be on protecting the environment, not destroying it or paying lip service – HS2 planted thousands of trees which subsequently died as they were not maintained after planting.’

A National Infrastructure Commission spokesperson said: ‘This review is an opportunity for the government to put the project on a more stable footing, and to work closely with businesses, communities and political leaders around the country to create a consensus about the best way to proceed.’

According to the BBC, ministers had discussed the possibility of HS2 going over budget and beyond schedule as early as 2016.


Readers' comments (7)

  • Industry Professional

    It seems that projects can never be generally received as a good idea. They are either portrayed as unwanted or as an over-blown vision. Those for a project are often deemed to be "feathering their own nests" while those against risk being NIMBYs. One wonders how anything can ever get done reasonably efficiently and without major delays. Just look at the new Berlin Airport mess. Perhaps we should just stone another witch and everything will be OK???!!!
    Personally, I think a compromise may be necessary on the maximum speed requirement to help manage costs and risks.
    I do accept that overall capacity on the rail network requires something to happen. I also accept as a southerner, that better rail links between Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester and Liverpool (amongst other cities) should not be sacrificed for the London to Birmingham part.

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  • Over the weekend a family member with expertise in transportation made a point that it would probably only benefit those who would be able to commute from the midlands into their well paid jobs in London rather than attract the very same people to move wholsale into the very places HS2 is meant to be invigorating thus only actually benefitting the ‘incomers’ inflating local house prices and creating dormitory suburbs

    If we were a nation with the same land mass as say France then an argument in favour might be supportable to connect large distances at speed but as we’re not then this can only be yet another misguided ‘grand projet’ only really supported by those who have the most to gain in terms of kudos and financial benefit

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  • Alistair Shepherd is right, the project should be expanded to do so much more for the midlands and north, but you’re not going to be able to do that if you waste £100billion on the current HS2?!

    It should go ahead on the route of the now defunct Central Railway, from Leicester to London, closed by Beeching, but still there. No land acquisition costs or CPO delays. It is still in evidence as a Heritage Steam railway around Loughborough! If you want to increase capacity why not double deck the trains like the SNCF do when required? As well as wasting money money on the TGV! Heavily subsidised by the proud French taxpayers.

    Why haven’t all these highly qualified “advisors” thought of this? And the CBI’s reaction is laughable. And thank God that moron Adonis never got his hands on our infrastructure?!

    And this new HS2 should have a connection to Stansted Airport, then then on to Paris via HS1 and the Channel Tunnel.

    If any of these “experts” would like to call me and my company Green🐲Dragon PM Co on 0775 398 5489 I will give them the benefit of my 48 years experience, working on the Channel Tunnel, Bangkok MTC elevated railway and T5, amongst other things.

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  • Industry Professional

    The closure of the Great Central Line was indeed a bad mistake in at least hindsight. I understand that it was the only British Line built to a larger continental loading gauge.
    Unfortunately, the UK suffers from being a pioneer of railways in that most tunnels do not have a large enough bore to cater for double-decker trains such as those on the continent.
    Personally I think HS2 should have a different emphasis.

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  • MacKenzie Architects

    Sounds like some Architects DONT speak out in support of the current project ...................

    The 'Northern Powerhouse' will not benefit from money spent on London to Birmingham Phase I, and that isn't even ready til 2026 or beyond.
    It will not benefit from HS2 Phase II -which only goes to Crewe.
    Eventually, it finally ends with some mash-up that reaches some northern cities ...
    It is a poorly thought out, no doubt compromised scheme, with conflicting ambitions.

    There is a major problem in that Birmingham and Manchester are both terminus stations, and don't work as links in a chain.

    But, first of all, sack all QS's who have priced government projects in the past. They either don't demand a fixed brief, are too scared to give the honest answer, or cant do sums.

    HS2 Phase I should link all the northern cities east-west, and also get to the North Sea ports -surely Trade is a big driver for this (of course not).
    Phase II should double track all inter-city routes and get 200mph trains finally in this country -could even be a monorail if they employed someone with talent to work it out

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  • We need improvements in capacity (and some speed) of public transport infrastructure (not only trains) and land use planning to cope with future needs in a climate stressed world.
    A well planned rail alternative NETWORK has been proposed by

    High Speed UK highspeeduk.co.uk

    - cheaper - £30bn less than HS2 & HS3 plans

    - better - connected with average journey time reductions of 45% to city centre stations, linking to Heathrow & Manchester Airports

    - smarter - improves regional rail & integrates with existing rail infrastructure, with a blend of new high speed lines, upgraded existing routes and restored routes

    - cleaner - operates at 360 km/h (225 MPH) max, with no over designed and unneeded allowance of HS2 for a future maximum speed of 400 km/h (250 MPH)

    We have in Britain quite a number of trains capable of 140mph but cannot run at this speed because they lack in cab signalling (which is required at 125mph High Speed Rail). So a signalling upgrade should be a high priority along with track improvements at minimum.

    A thorough improvement of city transport with trams (lower cost Ultra Light Trams) on main routes has been shown to revitalise city centres, shift car drivers to public transport (~ 30% modal shift), improve air quality (less brake, tyre and road dust PM10, 2,5s...),...
    see bathtrams.uk

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  • How many of the architects speaking out have a vested interest in HS2 going ahead?

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