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Make rail projects play the regeneration game

Will Hurst
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Broadening who pays for rail infrastructure projects could transform their design quality

How do major rail projects better capitalise on their enormous potential as tools for local regeneration? Given the various multi-billion pound projects on the horizon - including HS2, Crossrail 2 and the rail links envisaged as part of George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse proposal - it’s a pertinent question.

In the case of London’s £15 billion Crossrail link, proper attention was paid to the regeneration opportunities (and thus the design standard) of the sub-surface prime central London stations - designed by the likes of John McAslan and Wilkinson Eyre - and their elaborate and highly valuable ‘over-site’ developments.

But when it came to the two dozen or so outer-London surface stations, issues such as design quality and how the stations linked up with the high street were badly neglected. It was only after a backlash from local councils and Richard Rogers’ warning that such stations would fail to live up to Britain’s ‘great railway heritage’ that Crossrail raised its game.

It’s an issue that Paul Finch addresses this week.Picking up on the government-sponsored Farrell Review’s focus on ‘place’, he asks what HS2 stations will do for their areas: ‘Are the stations one-off transport buildings, with a requirement merely to deliver functionality in the most efficient way? Or are they engines for local transformation?’

Central government’s electoral priority is to deliver projects on time and on budget

Most of us - including Osborne who naturally wants to maximise the economic return on public infrastructure investment - would hope for the latter. But how this will be achieved?

Transport infrastructure in this country is heavily funded by central government, whose electoral priority is to deliver projects on time and on budget. But what if other bodies with other priorities were also paying for it? This idea was raised this week by Network Rail’s chief executive Mark Carne in The Times. Carne said beneficiaries of major railway upgrades, such as train operators, local businesses and local authorities, should help pay for them.

Pointing to a new £320 million Oxford-to-London railway, part-funded by Chiltern Railways, Carne said other future beneficiaries should follow suit and put their hands in their pockets. ‘It is completely wrong for the entire country to fund individual railway investment when that is creating specific local opportunity,’ he said.

It’s an intriguing idea and one that could transform the quality of our stations and the spaces around them should it ever come to pass.

The housing crisis is too important to ignore

The MIPIM property conference has probably never tackled the housing crisis, but last week its British incarnation did just that. As the AJ’s Flora Neville recounts, the conference featured no fewer than three debates on the subject, including a poorly attended session on ‘The housing shortage and rising inequality’.

Once again, this year’s MIPIM UK was hit by noisy protests, this time involving the Architects for Social Housing (ASH) campaign group, which may have helped put these debates on to its agenda.

But the bigger picture is that such issues are now simply too important to ignore. That’s why the AJ relaunched its More Homes Better Homes campaign at the start of this year and introduced the Architecture on Trial theme in June.

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