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HS2 comes off the rails, but the damage is already done

29 August, 2019

IT has been a bad week for HS2.

First the announcement of a review with a decision due, perhaps significantly, in early October. Then the revelations that the Serious Fraud Office is investigating compensation payouts to home and business owners.

And yesterday (Wednesday) a major leak to the BBC that MPs were misled about the true cost of the project before a critical vote.

Anyone would think there was an election on. It feels like we have been here before.

So what would actually happen if PM Boris Johnson was to “shut down” the HS2 works in Camden? There would be a sigh of relief from all who have campaigned against it. But how long would this last?

If the works were delayed, say for seven years until the next “phase” of the project, the area would still remain blighted. Roads would remain boarded-up. The former St James’ Gardens and National Temperance Hospital would still be levelled like a barren wasteland. The forlorn temporary children’s play area in Hampstead Road would take on a permanent feel.

In many ways, the lasting damage has already been done. Homes have been bulldozed, businesses forced to close. On top of that a lasting and overwhelming distrust and despair of the democratic process has stuck.

Hundreds of people from Camden gave evidence to the House of Commons and Lords select committees. Not one single objection was acted on.

There have been dozens, perhaps hundreds, of public meetings over the past 10 years. Nothing has changed.

We have consistently argued that HS2 have underestimated the cost and practical difficulties of tunnelling HS2 into Euston. The sensible argument to save billions of pounds, time and stress by terminating the line at Old Oak Common in west London has been repeatedly made.

Camden Council has always campaigned publicly against HS2, while at the same time cooperating. There have been some big rewards – including a new secondary school, and new modern-build housing for tenants who for many years had been living in cramped and overcrowded conditions. But at what cost?

Council leader Georgia Gould opens a window into a perhaps not-to-distant future when she says that with a “black hole forming around Euston, the government cannot just walk away and leave us to pick up the pieces”.

She says the council has “clear and ambitious plans for Camden’s future – and we cannot allow these to be put at risk”, adding: “We want our land back.”

Any loss of control over the huge site within the HS2 footprint would have deva­stating ramifications. If HS2 does not come to Euston, the government will be anxious to use the land that they have acquired as a cash cow to set off against their costs.

Lendlease will be the ultimate beneficiaries.

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