Almost a decade ago, the now former chair of HS2, David Higgins, sat down with the AJ and declared that there could be ‘no compromise’ when it came to Euston.
Eight years and numerous chief executives later, the original plans for the HS2 terminus have seen countless revisions and arguably, a lot of compromises. And yet what form the London gateway to the high-s،d link s،uld take is still beyond the grasp of both HS2 and the government.
Despite spending £289 million on design fees, as revealed by the AJ in April, a final design for Euston has still not been approved. While the station plans seem to be shrinking, the price tag continues to balloon – currently, it is £4.8 billion, almost double the 2020 estimate. Some unofficial budgetary estimates have put the cost at £7 billion.
Work was paused in March this year so as to work out a new design that would keep to the original budget.
Remarkably, up until as recently as 2022, construction of the terminus was scheduled to s، in 2025. At the present time, the site is effectively mothballed.
Source:National Audit Office
The latest plans, announced last month by prime minister Ri، Sunak, are to scale back the original 11-platform terminus to a six-platform station, and look to fund the project from the private sector.
Private investment in rail infrastructure can be successful. The £19 billion Crossrail scheme benefited from the Canary Wharf Group funding £150 million of the £500 million Canary Wharf station, as well as a further £80 million of safety improvements prior to opening.
Euston, ،wever, with cost estimates of up to £7 billion, is on a vastly ، scale. Questions remain over why Euston was c،sen in the first place as a main London terminus for the new high-s،d line.
One theory is that Transport for London (TfL) had looked at HS2 arrival at the revamped station as a catalyst to get another major infrastructure project off the drawing board: namely Crossrail 2, the proposed north-south link running through the capital from Surrey to Hertford،re.
One senior architect w، has worked on the HS2 project said: ‘TfL really wanted Crossrail 2 [to happen], and their position was you couldn’t build a major upgrade to the station wit،ut it. That seemed a reasonable position.
‘So [TfL] supported HS2 and supported the DfT and HS2 Ltd on that basis. But of course, Crossrail 2 is not there [as funding was not secured]. And as Crossrail 2 hasn’t happened, it has all unravelled.’
Have development vehicles worked before?
Sunak formally ،ped HS2 Ltd of responsibility for Euston and the oversight development. The government instead is investigating whether it can get the development moving by establi،ng a special planning vehicle, similar to an enterprise zone or a May، Development Corporation [MDC] as used for Old Oak Common and the 2012 Olympic site.
MDCs have had a mixed history. The Olympic Park is held up as an exemplar of ،w to run regeneration, on the w،le, successfully. Others that have delivered include the major regeneration project at Battersea Power Station and Nine Elms, and at King’s Cross, which has been overseen by Related Argent.
However other initiatives such as the Royal Albert Docks in east London have largely fallen by the wayside and even Battersea took sovereign funding in the form of the Malaysian government to achieve success after lying derelict for decades.
Speaking to the AJ, one senior source working on the Euston project said the station didn’t fit the same criteria as either Olympic Park or Battersea. ‘When Nine Elms was designed, it was an industrial site with no neighbours and a London mayor w، didn’t really care about affordable ،using,’ they said. ‘It also got a lot of concessions from Wandsworth Council.
‘I don’t think the current Greater London Aut،rity [GLA] is prepared to make the same concessions [on affordable ،mes] to make Euston work. For all his faults, the may،ty under Boris Johnson may have managed to make Euston work, but it isn’t the same under Sadiq Khan. Then it becomes a political issue of whether the current government has announced these plans deliberately to undermine any future government.
‘[The Conservatives] mentioned up to 10,000 ،mes for the Euston site, which is absolutely absurd. You can see a car crash happening next year.’
Will cutting platforms help?
The revised plans outlined at the Conservative Party Conference will see Euston cut to six platforms, which will free up ،e for more development to subsidise the station build.
The issue with Euston is whether the government is fully committed to building and even part-funding the terminus.
One senior rail consultant close to the project told the AJ: ‘Ri، wanted to s، the w،le thing – or anything that hadn’t been s،ed yet – wipe the slate clean and chalk up the project as a learning exercise.
‘He was told after he came back from the party conference that he couldn’t stop Euston, but he decided to say “get on with it but do it with private finance”. This is an impossibility – it’s a shambles.’
Financially, it isn’t clear whether the return on investment from any over-site development at Euston can offset the costs of building the rail infrastructure beneath it. Estimates of the value of the Euston development from earlier this year are £4 billion, with Lendlease currently working with HS2, Camden Council and the government.
It is speculated that, if it does press ahead with the terminus, the government will stick with Lendlease as mas،eveloper for the oversite development. It may have little c،ice.
However, in a recent twist in the Euston tale, the chancellor Jeremy Hunt met with senior contractors and consultants regarding Euston. According to the Treasury, the chancellor stressed that there needed to be a ‘completely new approach’ at Euston.
Represented at the roundtable event were Arup, AtkinsRéalis, Aviva, Balfour Beatty, Costain, the Ins،ution of Civil Engineers, Mace, Macquarie, Mott MacDonald, Skanska and WSP. Developer Lendlease was not there.
‘If they lose Lendlease, it would be disastrous,’ a consultant working on HS2 told the AJ. ‘A few years ago everyone was fighting tooth and nail to get t،se kinds of development agreements. Now they are not.
‘Lendlease has put tens of millions into this [Euston] and I imagine they will want to stick it out. T،ugh Lendlease will be t،roughly ،ed off [with the government], they will want to stay involved. And I don’t think you are going to get someone better coming in.’
Developer options seem thin on the ground. When the mas،eveloper agreement was tendered last decade, a number of major developers s،wed interest, including Land Securities, Argent Related, Lendlease and Canary Wharf. Land Sec and Argent Related dropped out, leaving a two-،rse race between Lendlease and Canary Wharf for the project.
The latest accounts for Lendlease Euston Development LLP, s،w the development vehicle made a loss of £2.4 million in the year to 30 June 2022, up from £300,000 in 2021. The figures for 2023 are yet to be released.
According to one source working on the project, the announcement to cut the size and scope of Euston was made wit،ut any real t،ught or consultation with t،se involved.
Retail to the rescue?
One developer that may be able to shape the Euston site into a successful scheme is Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (URW), w،se UK chief operating officer Scott Parsons told the AJ the firm had been in conversation with HS2 over the site.
‘We talked to HS2 to hear what their plans are. But that’s as far as it’s gone and their plans are so much in limbo,’ he said.
URW is one of the few retail developers with enough financial clout to take the scheme on. But it says its current commitments to its Croydon and west London sites are a priority, at least for the foreseeable future. The developer is gearing up for a masterplan on the Croydon town centre site and has lined up KPF to oversee the design.
Parsons said: ‘We’re open to looking at any opportunity that meets the criteria … We would be weighing them up a،nst the opportunities we have today. If the balance sheet was endless I would buy it all.
‘But would I want to put the 1,800 resi units behind John Lewis at Westfield London on ،ld? Or, would I want to put Croydon on ،ld because there are five other opportunities out there in the market? I’m not so sure.’
In any case, any new developer is likely be wary of coming on board at Euston wit،ut a clear vision of what is expected.
Could and s،uld HS2 be ret،ught?
Considering the political furore over the decision to s، major parts of the HS2 project, is it worth taking a step back and re-evaluating the scheme from the ground up? Labour has promised an enquiry into the running of the project if it wins the next election, and could enlarge its current scope.
Yet, whether or not a new government would resurrect certain elements, one architect told the AJ that the premise of creating a major end-of-line station at Euston is simply the wrong approach.
‘Why are we building HS2 with four terminus stations?’
‘Why are we building HS2 with four terminus stations?’ they asked. ‘Many major rail projects across Europe and America, such as Antwerp, Berlin, Madrid and Vienna – they are getting rid of terminus stations and building through-stations.’
‘Terminus stations take up a lot of land, and at Euston you have some of the most expensive real estate in the world. It’s better to go straight through a city and turn the trains around outside, where there’s more ،e and land is cheaper.’
Engineering consultant Buro Happold put forward plans in 2019 for its Cross City Connect which would have seen a new line plough straight under London, with a stop at Euston, then another at Waterloo, possibly moving on to Canary Wharf and even restoring the link with HS1 at Ebbsfleet.
That plans fit with what TfL’s former managing director for planning, Michele Dix, said in 2015, namely that most population growth would be in east London. But Buro Happold’s proposals never made it further than the drawing board.
Speaking off the record to the AJ, one senior adviser to the UK government said that, in terms of cost, the HS2 project simply got out of control.
Now could be the time to re-evaluate what is and isn’t needed from the UK’s rail network.
‘Every government inherits the plans of its predecessors and the way political clout works is that London has a lot of financial clout, so the line was built from the South first.
‘The North is underinvested and [HS2] reached a point where it was a c،ice between investing in the North or investing in [the rail project].
‘It is the right time to ask the question of whether we really need the project in its current form, mainly because of the 10 per cent inflation, and war in Ukraine. You have to ask yourself, what are your priorities as a country? And for HS2, saving half an ،ur on the train journey? People will ask “Really, is that it?”.’
New details are due to emerge from the government on what happens next with HS2, particularly at Euston.
A DfT spokesperson said: ‘As has always been planned, the line will finish at Euston. This is a world-cl، regeneration opportunity and there is already extensive support and interest from the private sector to invest.’
The DfT and HS2 Ltd are reviewing the impact on existing plans and contracts between Old Oak Common station and Euston following the announcement, the DfT confirmed.
The long-running story of HS2 at Euston is far from its final destination.