UK: Higgins Report – What Next For HS2?

Last Updated: 27 March 2014
Article by Richard Flenley

Following hot on the heels of the closure of the consultation on the Phase One Environmental Statement, HS2 Ltd's Chairman, Sir David Higgins, released his report in Manchester on Monday and with it brought the dawn of "HS2 Plus".

The questions that arise, however, are whether it really delivers as an improvement, or whether the problems that beset this latest foray into high-speed rail will remain with us going forwards.

In reality, the new proposals seem to be something of a damp squib and do little to overcome the persistent concerns of the economic justification for HS2, the route of the line, the environmental, social, heritage and economic damage that it will cause and the manner in which affected parties will be adequately compensated for their losses.

What has been proposed though can best be described as a logistically complex combination of:

  • reduced time-frames;
  • a diverse transport hub at Crewe;
  • a "more ambitious" redevelopment of Euston; and
  • the abandonment of the current proposals for the HS1 – HS2 link at Camden.

Strikingly, however, there is no clear commitment to reduce costs within Phase One of the scheme.

Time-frames and Line Extensions

Sir David has challenged the Government to clarify the Parliamentary timetable and accelerate Phase Two by proposing the completion of an extension of 43 miles to a new interchange hub at Crewe by 2027 – a reduction of six years (presumably in some form of Phase One and a Half), followed by a shortened timetable for the delivery of Phase Two itself subject to the speed with which consensus across the North can be reached.

His vision is to bring the project to an earlier conclusion with the primary objective of reducing the financial disparity between the North and South.

However the hailing of the line as the end of the North's financial woes has been heavily criticised. HS2 Action Alliance released a statement from Lord Mandelson describing HS2 as a "cruel joke on the North" making it easier to not use the overnight facilities of the Northern regions by facilitating people's swift return to London. It is argued that HS2 is unlikely to resolve the disparity in wealth, instead causing a clustering of businesses and home-ownership around the links.

A further question is that, whilst Sir David suggests the need for an integration of the current network system to ensure improvements are felt further afield than those directly affected by the line, details of how such proposals will be achieved are yet to be put forward. To only suggest this now, when HS2 has been on the negotiating table for such a long time is surprising to say the least.

Ambitious redevelopment - doing Euston properly and more

The current plans for Euston station have been deemed in the report as unambitious and fail to meet Sir David's forward-thinking vision for the future of the station/area.

The report proposes an alternative; combining the redevelopment of the station with a considerable development of housing, retail and commercial premises in the area. However such a project would be reliant on funding from the private sector, placing its success or failure in the hands of several parties, not all of whom are accountable to the tax-payer.

It is also fundamentally unclear what the practical implications will be for a further redeveloped Euston Station. Would additional land need to be acquired by compulsory purchase? Are revised safeguarding plans needed? How is this project to be funded given that Sir David contends that it can be delivered at no further cost to the tax payer? These are just some of the questions unanswered by HS2 Plus.

It is also clear that, whether intended or otherwise, numerous new construction projects will follow as a side effect of HS2.

In respect of HS1, we have seen over the past few days the announcement that there will be the creation of a "garden city" located close to the Ebbsfleet International HS1 railway station, with a cost to the public purse of approximately £200million to deliver up to 15,000 new homes.

We consider that, given the Government's commitment to providing new housing to stem the housing pressures (particularly felt in the South East) this Ebbsfleet proposal is surely likely to be replicated along the HS2 line in due course, with special focus on the sites of the new stations.

Old Oak Common

One example (and we expect there to be many others – at Crewe for example) is the construction of the transport hub at Old Oak Common along with a new regeneration scheme for the surrounding area.

The plans for Old Oak in particular are significant both in respect of the loss of existing commercial and industrial capacity, as well as the scale of the proposed redevelopment. According to the proposals, delivery of this scheme will cost something in the region of £6billion, be delivered in phases over the next 30 years on a total site of 192 acres leading to the creation of up to 24,000 new homes and, according to the Greater London Authority's figures, create more than 55,000 jobs across the mixed use scheme.

The speed with which this proposal is being advanced is dramatic – even though the Hybrid HS2 Bill has still to reach its Second Reading in Parliament. The Vision document was published last July with a consultation that ended in September 2013 and the Mayor of London's office has indicated within the last week that it is entering into talks with Hammersmith & Fulham, Brent and Ealing Councils to create a Mayoral development corporation. This will be a major step in bringing forward the proposals.

Although these schemes are significant in their own right, perhaps more fundamentally, it leads to the question as to, if HS2 goes ahead, what the knock-on implications will be and will it lead to a new generation of regeneration projects with the associated costs to landowners, residents and workers alike?

HS1-HS2 link

Sir David's report criticises the current plans for HS1-HS2 link through Camden as "suboptimal" and Transport Secretary, the Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin MP, was prompt to confirm he would be taking steps to remove the link from the Hybrid HS2 Bill for Phase One.

This comes as great news to Camden residents and businesses, who were particularly vocal as to the impact that the HS1-HS2 link as was proposed would have on the heritage, infrastructure and viability of, for example, Camden's markets.

However, it does leave two fundamental questions:

  • First, given that one of the major "selling points" for HS2 in the first place was the connectivity between the UK (particularly outside of London) and the Continent, removing the very connection to HS1 brings into question the case for HS2 and the economic benefits that it may still bring. The prospect of no immediate onward connectivity to the remainder of the high speed rail network does seem a major blight on the scheme as a whole.
  • Second, all that Sir David's report does (and indeed all that has been confirmed by the Government) as regards the HS1-HS2 link is to discontinue the current proposals. It does nothing to suggest that there will not be such a link in the future, and, indeed, the Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin MP in his written statement to Parliament delivered on Monday confirmed that, as well as discontinuing the current link he would "commission a study into ways to improve connections to the continent that could be implemented once the initial stages of HS2 are complete". This could feasibly include an alternative style of link to that which had been proposed.

Akin to much of the HS2 proposals, however, these issues are shrouded in uncertainty and it is very difficult to predict the way in which the Government will decide to proceed (and whether or not those decisions will be made before the next General Election).

Other factors

Finally, the Report acknowledges the financial, physical and emotional strain the project has had, and continues to have, on the country, communities and individuals, and confirmed that planned mitigation measures will remain in place. Good news we cry, but the potential compensation packages over and above those already available are yet to be finalised, the environmental impacts of HS2 in particular are severe and the mitigation strategies, in many cases, appear ill thought out.

Whilst the results of the consultation on the Environmental Statement for Phase One are as yet unknown, it is conceivable that the route may yet change (at least in part) and the proposals for property compensation will need to be properly woven into the overarching strategy.

So, what next?

What remains unclear is how all of this will be taken forward and whether a replacement HS1-HS2 link will be put forward (we anticipate it will) and in what form. Further, the results of both the compensation consultation and the responses to the Environmental Statement remain unknown (it is now 3 months since the former closed).

In the short term, we await news of how the Government intends to take forward the HS2 Plus proposals, particularly given the current legislative timetable. Assuming the Government do not decide to re-issue the current Hybrid HS2 Bill and re-start the process afresh, it will be key for all interested parties to engage with HS2 Ltd now and take an active petitioning role after the Second Reading of the Bill in Parliament.

On the question of the legislative timetable, as one of my colleagues, Malcolm Dowden, has recently commented, "It is unlikely that the current legislation could be extended without fatally slowing its progress and with only limited Parliamentary time before the next election it is far from clear that the Government will treat an extra HS2 Bill as a priority. The economic case is likely to come a poor second to the constraints of the legislative process".

What is clear, however, is that the Government is unlikely to want to see further delay in an initiative already beset by delays. Given what I have already said, it is difficult to see how HS2 Plus can be properly brought about without the delays that all those who hold HS2 dear fear.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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