Abandoned HS2 Land In London Could Be Handed Back To The Public While Delays Continue
The perimeter of the HS2 site in Euston (Alamy)
A vast plot of prime central London land outside Euston station has been left unused after the latest leg of the long-anticipated high-speed rail network, HS2, was halted. Now local politicians and developers connected to the project are working with the community to establish if any land reserved for its construction can be handed back to the public until work is resumed.
The government’s ambitious high speed rail project has been in the works for the best part of two decades, with HS1, a line between the end of Europe’s high-speed lines at the Channel tunnel and London St Pancras, completed in 2007. In 2010 the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition government proposed plans for a Y shaped HS2 line running from London to Birmingham, with branches to Leeds and Manchester. It was ten years after the completion of HS1 before work began on HS2, and it remains incomplete.
Earlier this year, the government said that it would be “prioritising” HS2 services between Birmingham and Old Oak Common, around 5 miles outside central London in Ealing. In a written ministerial statement in March, Transport Secretary Mark Harper said that ministers “remain committed to delivering HS2 services to Euston” but that they would “take the time to ensure we have an affordable and deliverable station”.
Worksites in and around Euston station, which would have been the London terminus of the line, will now be wound down, along with the tunnel that would have connected the central London hub to Old Oak Common station. Following years of wrangling over compulsory land purchases and the closure of some local businesses to make way for the project, the land in Labour leader Keir Starmer’s constituency is currently without use while investigations into how it can be reopened to the public continue.
The huge flattened construction sites are sandwiched between a number of bustling areas near the heart of the capital. To the south is the busy thoroughfare of Euston Road, often the first taste of London for those arriving on cross country services from cities in the northwest and Scotland. To the west of the is the royal Regent’s Park, home to London Zoo.
Danny Beales, Labour councillor and HS2 lead in the borough of Camden, where the site is situated, has pleaded that the area cannot be turned into a “desert” in the heart of the city. In recent years people living near the site have complained of excessive dust, noise, and vibration from preparation works for the now stalled project.
PoliticsHome understands that community green spaces and workspaces are among the preferred proposed uses for the site among local businesses and residents, with hopes that the interim use of some spaces could commence as early as this summer. Which plots could be opened and for what uses depends on a number of factors, including health and safety requirements and access to commodities such as power sources.
Beales, who also plans to stand as Labour’s candidate against Boris Johnson in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, told PoliticsHome of his “concerns” about the delay, and said he wants the spaces to be “activated” and reopened where possible as parks or other publicly accessible spaces until works are resumed.
He is pushing for the area to be reopened for the benefit of those who have suffered the downsides of living near to a huge building site for years.
“We can't create a bit of a desert in the middle of Camden,” he explained. “They need to open up the sites, maybe have temporary green spaces, temporary open spaces on certain parts of the site. Maybe we can have affordable workspace or community sites or markets, all these sorts of things.”
HS2 is a member of the Euston Partnership, which also includes Camden council. The group has commenced discussions about how the space could possibly be used, including through community meetings. Local residents will also be invited to offer their own suggestions for use through consultations, however there is still “work to be done" before the new uses could be open and available to the public.
“We're pushing quite a lot for meanwhile uses for two years that activate the area," Beales continued. "They've got big open spaces that will be empty. Can they green them? Can they open them up for the community to use?”
In his capacity as local MP for the area, Starmer agreed that any plans relating to how the land could be used while the construction is paused must bring as much benefit for the community “as soon as possible”.
“Euston should be at the centre of the largest infrastructure project in Europe, but after 13 years of this dysfunctional government it risks being turned into a partially abandoned building site,” Starmer told PoliticsHome.
“Residents have had to endure years of disruption, so it is important that any meanwhile use strategy maximises benefits for the community as soon as possible.”
A spokesperson for HS2 Ltd said they would endeavour to work quickly to identify community uses for the site during the pause in the construction programme “in line with direction from the government”.
"We are committed to working with the local community and providing available space to meet their needs,” they said.
But the government remains under significant pressure to get on with recommencing work on the site and providing a high speed connection between London and the north. Earlier this year, Conservative MP for Elmet and Rothwell Alec Shelbrooke told the Commons that his constituents had lost hope of it ever reaching Leeds. “Mrs Miggins in the Dog and Duck knows it’s not going to happen,” he said.
HS2 minister Huw Merriman recently told The House that financial pressures on government, including managing debt, had shifted priorities, and urged people to consider what impact the “day to day spend” is having. But he remained upbeat about the "project of the day" being delivered to Leeds. "It's coming," he insisted.
Until then, land in central London sits abandoned, and questions remain over whether those in the community can use it, and for how long. Five prime ministers over more than a decade have failed to deliver the project. Trains are not due to run any time soon, so with a general election due next year, it will likely now fall to another one.
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