Good design of HS2 needs more than convenient window-dressing

At long last, some of Britain’s top designers are coming together today to create a set of design principles for HS2.

Filled with grand and laudable aspirations, the HS2 Ltd press release publicising the event and subsequent report talks of:

  • “A gold-standard high speed railway,”
  • “Making the country proud,”
  • and, “The benchmark to which others refer”

The National Trust, as a member of HS2 Ltd’s NGO Forum, as well as a landowner affected by HS2, is fully behind the ask for an independent Design Panel for this major infrastructure scheme.

Exemplary standards of design must be at the heart of HS2, raising sights from mitigating the impacts on people, places and the environment, to delivering benefits, a railway line to be proud of.

Our previous recommendations included:

  • The Design Panel should be embedded in the ‘process’ of HS2 at as early a stage as possible, in order to steer and facilitate delivery of exemplary standards indicated by hybrid Bill
  • Need for clarity on where Design Panel fits in legal/legislative process, what its mandate is, who it reports to – ie it needs to have teeth in order to have any value
  • The panel should engage effectively and constructively with Local Authorities, so the communities they represent can add relevance – and even feel some ownership – of features they will live with
  • Up-front understanding of financial constraints – are we going for ‘exemplary’ or ‘the best we can afford’?

This last bullet point is key to understanding the remit of the design panel.

In the opening address to the HS2 Select Committee on Tuesday, Timothy Mould QC, Lead Counsel for HS2 Ltd, said:

“Now, High Speed 2 is an ambitious project and the Committee will be well aware that the cost is of considerable public interest. The promoter, for its part, is keenly aware of the pressure to reduce the cost, but without compromising the objectives of creating an efficient high speed rail network. Your Committee will hear throughout its proceedings of areas where extra investment could – petitioners will say – improve things along the line of the route. At this stage we would simply say this. The cost of the railway must be proportionate. If the effects on those along the line of route are satisfactorily addressed by what is already proposed under the Bill, then there is no case to spend further money to make things more than satisfactory.”

This begs the question, what is “satisfactory”? Good design, as articulated by the Design Vision report later this year, needs to re-define HS2 Ltd’s current view of what is “satisfactory” in meeting the requirements of the railway.

At the moment it feels that the Design Vision may provide convenient window-dressing for the high-profile stations and pieces of non-linear infrastructure, but less direction for the more mundane majority of the line where those with no direct benefit from HS2 reside.

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One thought on “Good design of HS2 needs more than convenient window-dressing

  1. If it were a “gold-standard high speed railway it wouldn’t be going through an AONB, which is supposed to have protection similar to a National Park, and it wouldn’t be destroying an enormous number of Ancient Woodlands, which are already in short supply in this country. Anything else is just “green-wash”.

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