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HS2 boss calls for rail link threatening Camden markets to be axed

Chairman of HS2 Ltd Sir David Higgins. Picture: David Parry Chairman of HS2 Ltd Sir David Higgins. Picture: David Parry

Monday, March 17, 2014
6:00 AM

The new head of the High Speed Rail 2 project has urged parliament to axe a controversial link set to run through Camden Town and instead focus on a major redevelopment of Euston station.

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Sir David Higgins, the former chief executive of National Rail who joined HS2 Ltd in January, branded proposals for the much maligned HS1-HS2 link as “sub-standard” and insisted the government not miss out on a “unique opportunity [to] transform and regenerate Euston”.

He has also warned MPs against spending too much time debating the HS2 Bill currently making its way through parliament, and insisted he was aware of the “financial, physical and emotional” price of HS2 for communities and individuals.

The HS1-HS2 link Sir David wants axed was set to run over Camden Town and connect the proposed HS2 rail link with the Eurostar service at St Pancras.

Several iconic bridges would have been demolished and 10 years of major construction involving hundreds of HGVs would likely cause a significant rise in noise and air pollution.

Many businesses also feared its construction would plunge large areas of Camden Town into a “decade of disruption”– with trading groups warning that 9,000 jobs would be lost and that the world-famous Camden markets could see stall-owners closing or leaving.

The £700million section of the route is now deemed by Sir David as non-essential, with the boss even admitting its construction would disrupt and compromise existing rail services.

He said: “The HS2 platforms at Euston will be a short distance from those at HS1, and one stop on the Underground.

“That is the equivalent of transferring from one terminal to another at Heathrow.

“I believe the Government should, therefore, consider whether the cost – at around £700 million – is good value or whether it would be better to consider an alternative, which would deliver the benefits of a link without compromising existing services.”

The recommendations – made known in an 18 page report authored by Sir David and published from Manchester today – represent only a partial victory for the tens of thousands who rallied against proposals set to affect Camden.

Even if Sir David’s calls are supported by MPs, hundreds of homes and businesses in Camden will still face demolition and many areas of the borough will feel the effect of 10 years of construction.

This includes road closures, the construction of ventilation shafts in Adelaide Road and South Hampstead, and the impact of hundreds of HGVs travelling throughout the borough.

Campaigners will also be dismayed to see that calls for HS2 trains to stop further north at Old Oak Common have received no mention in the report, nor have calls to prevent the demolition of hundreds of homes by redeveloping Euston station within its existing footprint.

Plans prior to Sir David’s report would have seen the proposed London terminal for HS2 only partially rebuilt and widened to the west.

Said to be inspired by the major redevelopments of King’s Cross and St Pancras, the HS2 boss is instead backing a bigger development of Euston station using a “level-deck” design with “considerable over-site development [combining] housing, retail and commercial development”.

It comes after Chancellor Osborne made similar calls last month – himself inspired by stations he saw while on a visit to Hong Kong.

Sir David said: “At Euston, the proposed solution is, again, technically feasible.

“However, as the Chancellor has observed, the real question is whether it is ambitious enough.

“Does it meet the principles of standing the test of time and acting as a catalyst for change in helping to regenerate the local area? Does it deliver the best value to both the local area and the national economy?

“The developments at St Pancras, and now King’s Cross, have demonstrated how a strategic approach can not only deliver an integrated transport hub and better facilities, but also transform and regenerate the local area.

“We believe there is a unique opportunity to do the same at Euston.”

The urge to keep costs down and invite private investment into Euston is leading both the council and campaigners to ask to be invited into the process deciding the future of the station.

They fear a private “land-grab” would leave Camden residents suffering the construction process but not profiting from jobs or housing.

“We don’t think they’ve properly approached plans for Euston,” said leader of Camden Council Sarah Hayward.

“We want them to properly consider plans that use the station’s existing footprint.

“We also need to make sure Camden is getting the best deal out of this – that includes jobs for locals.

“Sir David’s report is potentially good news for Camden Town but still devastating for the rest of the borough.

“It’s important to point out, however, that what Higgins suggests isn’t a done deal – he doesn’t make the final decision, parliament does.”

While insiders within HS2 Ltd are confident they will receive the backing of all three parties for the HS2 Bill - and for Sir David’s recommendations - there is sign of some discontent among both backbenchers and senior politicians.

Senior Labour figures have been particularly concerned about the £50bn budget for the transport project, afraid it might get out of control.

Aware of the high levels of opposition felt among communities lying along the proposed HS2 route, Sir David said he would not be cutting back on “mitigation measures” nor compensation.

“I am conscious of the price – financial, physical and emotional – that HS2 will demand from the country, from communities and from individuals.

“That is why I have rejected any thought that the project should cut back on planned mitigation measures, whether noise or environmental.

“Those will continue. It is also why I support the Government’s proposed approach to property compensation.

“We need to be clear about the impact of the project, as well as its benefits, and address the consequences of that impact, as we are.”

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