How Will HS2 Affect London?

Rachel Holdsworth
By Rachel Holdsworth Last edited 32 months ago
How Will HS2 Affect London?
Photo by Ciarán O'Sullivan from the Londonist Flickr pool.

HS2, a high speed rail line between London and the north, doesn't sound like it'll affect us much — after all, why would we want to leave the greatest city in the world, never mind to visit Birmingham (sorry Birmingham)? But the line, plans for the first stage of which are currently going through parliament, will terminate at Euston, have an interchange at Old Oak Common and cause disruption in Camden.


We spoke to Christian Wolmar a little while ago, during his campaign to become Labour's candidate for Mayor of London. He has much to say on the subject of HS2 and very little of it is good. "I’d like a project I could support, but HS2 really is an ill thought out scheme," says the transport journalist. "It’s the wrong line in the wrong place going at the wrong speed, built in the wrong way. I’m not against the concept of a high speed line. In Germany they have a high speed line that’s very integrated with the existing network so it’s much more connected. And HS2’s got a terminus that they haven’t decided what they’re going to do with. How do you start a bill through parliament and they haven’t actually decided what they’re going to do at the southern end?"

The current plan for Euston is to build six new platforms to the west of the existing station (and give the rest of it a much needed makeover). That's going to involve the demolition of three blocks of council homes in the Regents Park Estate, though all tenants will be rehoused locally in new homes, built by Camden and funded by HS2.

Cyclists will be happy to hear of plans for up to 5,000 bicycle parking spaces by 2033. Camden Council is concerned about the loss of open space — but if London's going to encourage cycling, those bikes have to be left somewhere.

Another argument against Euston is that it doesn't properly link up with HS1 — i.e., the fast line through Kent and onto Europe. Wouldn't it be a better idea, some critics say, to run into St Pancras, so passengers for Eurostar don't have to wheel their suitcases down Euston Road? HS2 responds that the tube hop to King's Cross is no worse than changing terminals at Heathrow, but we think there's a different mindset when travelling by air and train.

Campaigners say Euston would need to be closed for 19 weekends during the works; to which people affected by Thameslink work around London Bridge may be tempted to say 'diddums'.

There's also a chance that the Euston Arch could be rebuilt, but we're not terribly fussed about that anyway.

Stones from the Euston Arch. Photo by Matt Brown.


Camden Council isn't happy with the current plans for HS2, mainly because of the disruption to people living and working in the borough.

As well as the tunneling (much of HS2 in London will be underground) and ventilation shafts which will require demolition of existing buildings, utilities will have to be shifted where they interfere with construction and there'll be significant amounts of noise and extra lorries on the roads. There are particular concerns about the effect on Drummond Street's restaurants and other businesses, as well as an increase in air pollution.

The council opposes the plans as they currently stand, though is pragmatically working for a series of mitigation measures should the project go ahead (or rather, when it does).

Old Oak Common

There's going to be huge transformation at Old Oak Common, brought partly by the joint HS2 and Crossrail hub that's due to open by 2026. 24,000 homes are slated for development, with the first 9,000 already on the drawing board. (Not that anything much is going to happen before 2021.) We can also look forward to this section of the Grand Union Canal being spruced up and made more pleasant for lingering.

Photo by Matt Brown.

The north-south divide

There's also an issue of how HS2 will affect London's relationship with the rest of the country. When we interviewed her before the general election, Natalie Bennett reiterated the Green Party's opposition to the line. "It’s in London’s interest to have a whole range of strong regional economies in England and beyond, [to be] more balanced with London than they are now," she explained. "HS2 will focus people, money, resources even more on London than it is now." Which would put even more pressure on housing, local transport and services.

This seems counterintuitive; surely HS2 will enable people to leave London just as easily as it allows them to travel down? Christian Wolmar was able to elaborate. "What they’ve done is build a lot of ‘parkway’ stations," he says. "What do you do with parkway stations? If I’m travelling to Leeds, I want to go into the centre of Leeds. But if you live in Leeds, it’s very handy to drive to a parkway station and then take the train in. But you wouldn’t do that the other way round. So it’s an ill conceived railway."

Leeds is a bad example here, because the proposed Leeds station for phase two is only a five minute walk from the existing station. But the proposed station for the 'East Midlands' is at Toton, halfway between Nottingham and Derby; while the Sheffield station actually calls at Meadowhall, the shopping mall that's very close to the M1 but takes another train journey of around 10 minutes to get to Sheffield itself. But the point about parkway stations is this: if you want to travel from north to south, they're handy. If you want to travel from south to north, you may well wind up in the middle of nowhere (sorry, Toton) — assuming, of course, that plans for phase two don't change.

We wanted to know what people outside of London think about this, so we asked Centre for Cities. Ben Harrison, Director of Partnerships, said

"HS2 has the potential to have major economic and social benefits for the places it connects, but only if places are able to make the most of it. That means ensuring that the new line is effectively integrated into existing, local transport networks, and exploring how the new infrastructure could drive wider economic and physical regeneration.

“Currently, the risk is that too many of the planned HS2 stations are not located within city centres. This won’t just cause inconvenience for people hoping to use the new train line in those cities, but will also undermine some of the big advantages that HS2 could offer to city-centre businesses, which will only benefit from the new line if they can easily access it."

However, the issue of parkway stations aside, HS2 chairman David Higgins insists the network will be good for the whole country. "The existing pressure on housing, commercial property prices and transport in London and the south east has become a vicious circle which is counter-productive for both the economy in general and for individuals and their families," he says.

HS2 will take long distance trains off the existing Euston-Birmingham line, freeing up space for commuter rail to the north of London. The team at HS2 also points out that the final plan actually puts Birmingham at the heart of the network, not London. Higgins says that "by creating extra capacity for commuter trains in the South, and making it easier for businesses to establish themselves in the Midlands and North, HS2 can both reduce pressures, and spread prosperity, and jobs, more evenly across the country."

Last Updated 07 September 2015


I once heard a beautiful phrase on the news: "forget NIMBYism - Britain is all about BANANA - build absolutely nothing anywhere near anybody". And I think its brilliant because it captures perfectly well why we lag behind many of our follow European countries on major infrastructure. Everyone keeps fighting to protect their own tiny little bubble but what we end up with is a freak of a project filled with loopholes and workarounds.

HS2, for instance, is according to this piece and published plans "going to be mostly underground" - Why? the British countryside is beautiful and one of the greatest joys we should all have a chance to enjoy. Instead, so someone wouldn't hear the train (that's almost certainly going to be quite low in noise anyways) in the FAR distance, HS2 ends up being buried underneath all the beauty. One of the major brownie points for the TGV is that it passes through some of France's most scenic places. Why take that away from us?

Then Euston? Again, really? Euston? The only way this would work is if you put SO much cash into making Euston another St Pancras OR you put tons of cash creating free shuttles for people between Euston and St Pancras. Even then it is still ludicrous. We should be connecting the rest of the UK with Europe to help them grow their economy and spread the wealth better. Either way, what happened to all this concept of centralizing one station that connects London to the outside world? It cost lots of money, why limit its scope and growth there?

The you have the Heathrow connection, again a very dodgy one there. And this could go either way, Heathrow itself is not a certainty anymore. But even in the worst case it will still be our airport well into the 2030s, so we might as well link to it now while we can. No matter what happens to it, a good transport link is a good transport link, and once Heathrow goes, the entire area will be re-purposed into something interesting.

So much doesn't happen in the UK because of constant bickering. Where are we with the THIRD runway? They're building 10+ runway airports in Istanbul! The world is moving on, London is losing. This is not fair just so a few old folks can continue to enjoy their fox hunting and their quiet lives away from the "dirt" of the city.


Isn't Old Oak Common on the western (FGW/Paddington) lines? I see it's quite close to the Euston lines, but does this mean the two will actually integrate, and that services could cross over? Sexy! (I know - never happen)

And there's that unique British reasoning again "...HS2 responds that the tube hop to King's Cross is no worse than changing terminals at Heathrow". See? It's not as crap or any more crap than the crap we already deal with. That's our way. That's why the "world class" Heathrow T5 shopping mall is world class only if you mean "No worse than some other places". Why can't we try to be better?

I've always wondered why the connection from the H&C/Circle/Met lines (from Euston Sq) was so poor at Euston - you see them trudging along in the rain with their luggage like refugees. World-class.


I'd be very surprised if the HS2-HS1 link weren't reexamined in the future. In fact, I'm pretty sure it wasn't technically scrapped in principle, it's just being "reexamined" or something. The former proposal, however, was definitely scrapped, and it was a bit rubbish. It used a single track of the north london line, and meant messing with the Camden market also. They should spend the extra money and connect it properly via a tunnel.

Also, Natalie Bennett is quite wrong to oppose HS2, given her alleged "green" credentials. As an outgoing HS2 exec explained, we have reached a point in the cycle of infrastructure where we need a major new transport scheme (for a country that will house 80million by the middle of the century). So either we build more rail capacity or we built a new motorway network. And motorways aren't very green (or space efficient).


A decent direct link from HS2 (or any line from the North) to HS1 would be a massive timesaver for direct train travel from the North to Europe. I don't know why this idea has been so mishandled.


It seems like an extraordinary amount of investment to deliver something that is not joined up (parkway stations, Euston, etc). It seems more like a sop to the Tory commuter belt than a transport vision.

Greg Tingey

Well, having a picture of the departing tracks from VICTORIA Station is really not a good start to this article, is it?
Couldn't you find something more appropriate?
HS2 is a good idea with (at the moment) terrible execution.
It needs re-jigging.
But we do need it, as can be evidenced if you have ever used TGV /Thalys / ICE or Eurostar trains.
Very bad detailing & local planning though.


Connectivity seems to my mind the greatest strength of the continental model of high speed rail. The ability to get on a train at St Pancras and travel to a number of destinations without having to transfer between stations outside of the high speed network is wonderful. Paris is to my mind the obvious exception, and something that with HS2 we have the chance to avoid to some extent.

I would propose HS2 terminating at the East Midlands platforms of St Pancras. This would give London a unified gateway into Europe, and make it simple to connect the rest of the country with HS1 even if this meant changing trains. Cities on the route north should have city centre stations, even if this meant tunneling under each one on the way. What delays this would cause in construction would be balanced by the benefit of access to those without cars and faster links for both leisure and business.

I'd suggest that connections with Crossrail and Heathrow aren't the primary concern for convenience, as you are already committing yourself to a slow and awkward journey in comparison to Inter City connections. The extra trip down the Northern Line to Moorgate doesn't add much in the way of inconvenience.


Looking at the map, HS2's speed-first route would bring central Birmingham to within an hour's travel of Euston and risk making it an extension of London's huge commuter catchment. If it did, the London-wards tilt in the UK economy would increase.

So if George Osborne wants his northern powerhouse concept to become a reality, he needs to park HS2 and build at least part of the east-west HS3 line first and extend it south. It would open a second main line to London from Manchester and Leeds and give him a more useful HS2 for our money.

My own version of that would be an east-west link between Manchester Victoria and Leeds, connecting south in stages to the domestic platforms at St Pancras IPS, with some trains going on to interchange with Crossrail at Farringdon and join the Gatwick lines at London Bridge.

See http://www.infrastructure-inte...


I cannot begin to understand why the terminus would be anywhere that didn't enable a rapid & smooth transfer to HS1. Euston > St.Pancras is not that, unless someone's planning to shift the cable car upstream for a spot of repurposing.

"... people affected by Thameslink work around London Bridge may be tempted to say 'diddums'" - that's a bit more polite than I had in mind.


The easiest way to create spare capacity on the lines going north from London (or south from the Midlands, if you prefer) would be LS1 - Low Speed 1, a line dedicated to freight. That line could remove slower freight trains from ALL the lines - the ones through Banbury, Bletchley, Bedford, Huntingdon, etc. which could create spare capacity on 4 lines for the price of line. If it linked up with the lines to Felixstowe, that would greatly reduce freight traffic on the Willesden - Barking stretch of the Overground as well.
And since freight rarely cares for speed, or the occasional stop, LS1 could be built at far less cost; if the line faces a hill, go round it; if there's a bit of old trackbed that can be re-used, re-use it.
Trouble is, there's no fancy opening : few seats for politicians on a container train.