HS2 - Maximising the Benefits Through Housing
If we are to truly optimise the economic benefits of HS2, we must plan for bold new housing and commercial developments, argues SYSTRA Director Toby Cuthbertson.
When plans for HS2 were first unveiled, the public and media focus was very much on ‘high speed’: 49 minutes from London to Birmingham. This news was exciting to some and infuriating to others.
Since then, there has been a lot of time and effort spent communicating the fact that the speed of the trains is not the most important story. Now – we hope – it is more widely understood that it is a catalyst for growth through the improvements in connectivity between the regions of the UK and the additional capacity for both passenger and freight transport that is created on existing lines.
If HS2 is to live up to its ‘engine for growth’ slogan, we must integrate transport and land use around its stations and key locations along the West Coast Mainline where capacity is freed up. Transit-orientated developments surrounding new and existing station locations, with good local transport links, could significantly boost the economic benefits that HS2 will bring.
One of the most pressing challenges facing us is a shortage of housing. Housing demand in England requires 250,000 additional homes per year, according to the Institute for Public Policy Research. By 2025 that means 2.5 million new homes a year before the first phase of HS2 is built.
The current housing shortage is most acute in the South-East of England. London’s current 8.6 million population is expected to reach 11 million by 2050. There are already plans for high-density mixed-use developments and regeneration schemes around HS2’s Old Oak Common and Euston stations.
HS2 could be a catalyst for new mixed-use hubs in the Midlands. Significantly HS2 could be a catalyst for new towns.
HS2’s northern extensions offer fantastic opportunities for mixed-use developments incorporating housing, retail and commercial development. With good transport links to the rest of the UK and overseas, development at Birmingham and Manchester airports, will attract not only national but international attention.
Coordinated master-plans for new towns, with HS2 at their core, will ensure that the economic benefits are maximised in a way that creates sustainable communities. These opportunities are not restricted to the new high speed lines, the capacity release on the exiting lines will allow new communities and rail freight related development to be better planned.
Transit-orientated development is guilty of raising house prices and pushing parts of the existing community away from economic development. It is vital that we assemble practical development plans, similar to those in place under the Old Oak Common and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC).
In Hong Kong, we are working with the Government and the rail corporation on plans for major
mixed use developments along key domestic rail corridors, both existing and planned. In Singapore, and Beijing, we are advising operators on how to best lay out their stations to better interface with neighbouring developments.
Quantifying the economic benefits of HS2, looking at the impacts of different station locations and transport strategies is complex. Our work for HS2 has involved sophisticated modelling to examine the many different scenarios, looking at the impact of station locations on the use of the service and how that feeds into the resulting local and wider economic benefits.
Driving economic growth is just one of the many factors that local and national government must take into consideration when planning new developments. Our role is to help inform those planning decisions and to ensure that all ideas – however bold – have been laid on the table.