George Osborne’s announcement last week that Euston should be demolished is a very welcome surprise
It’s not often that chancellors get to deliver good news and as chancellors go, George Osborne has had to deliver more bad news than most. But his announcement on Friday that Euston should be demolished and rebuilt is a very welcome surprise.
One imagines that that surprise might be most keenly felt by HS2 planners who last year announced that the current station – earmarked as HS2’s main London terminus – should be saved and expanded. The move incensed Camden council, staunchly opposed to HS2 but begrudgingly coerced into neutrality by the promise that Euston would at least be thoroughly exorcised and rebuilt.
The abandonment of this pledge produced a litany of impassioned invective rare in the normally vapid parlance of local government; one can only imagine that Camden council, no natural allies of the Tories either, must be a state of advanced municipal delirium at Osborne’s announcement.
HS2 perhaps less so. The official reasons they gave last year for changing their minds about rebuilding Euston were their wish to avoid excavating new platforms and a (sudden) realisation that a new station couldn’t be rebuilt in time for HS2’s operational commencement deadline of 2026.
Even by the most generous re-evaluations of sixties architectural fatalism, Euston is abysmal
None of this was fooling anybody, least of all Camden who claimed the U-turn was prompted by one reason and one reason alone: money. By redeveloping rather than rebuilding Euston, HS2 saved themselves almost half a billion pounds.
If Osborne is serious then this will mean a fundamental reworking of HS2 proposals, as well as a no doubt animated chat with Cabinet colleague and transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin, assuming one hasn’t taken place already. Last November, McLoughlin deposited the HS2 hybrid bill, essentially HS2 phase 1, with parliament. It unequivocally states the Euston will be redeveloped rather than replaced.
So much does in fact rest on whether Osborne actually means what he says. He comments came at the end of a visit to Kowloon’s under construction high-speed terminus in Hong Kong. While the chancellor isn’t exactly known for jocularity, there is a chance that once immersed in all that sensuous privately-financed infrastructure he was gripped by some kind of fiscal trance which compelled him to abandon austerity and briefly morph into Gordon Brown circa 2005.
It wouldn’t exactly be the first time a politician has been swept up by the heat of the moment either, witness former agriculture secretary John Gummer feeding his bewildered progeny a burger in full glare of national media at the height of the BSE crisis in 1990.
But assuming Osborne sticks to his guns then this is good news for all. Even by the most generous re-evaluations of sixties architectural fatalism, Euston is abysmal. And it is all the more so for the splendour it replaced. Its demolition would have as much to do with humanitarianism as transport or regeneration and while we’re at it we should bring back that arch too.
Now if only Osborne, in his improbable new guise as architectural avenger, could be convinced to say that …
Ike Ijeh is Building’s architectural correspondent