Is it really worth running HS2 via Old Oak Common? This guy thinks he has a better plan

London Euston, proposed terminus for High Speed 2. Image: Getty.

Independent rail campaigner Michael Bell on his alternative plan for HS2.

High Speed 2 Ltd says it is having difficulty designing a station and route for HS2 through London. That may be because it is still uncertain whether the project is going ahead at all, but there are planning difficulties too.

The proposed HS2 route starts from the west side of Euston, and stops after only three miles at Old Oak Common, where it meets the Elizabeth line from Heathrow. That’s because, when the route was designed, it was seen as important for the “National Airport” to make connection with HS2, the country’s main railway.

This is muddled thinking. A passenger from Heathrow need only stay on the Elizabeth Line for eight minutes and then change, to get to Euston in a total of under 20 minutes. Not a big deal to those who have flown the Atlantic, but a considerable deal to those who have 12 minutes added to their everyday north-south journey.

That delay consists not only of stopping time at Old Oak Common but also of the 20 extra miles run westward before HS2 can turn north. What’s more, building that route will be very expensive and very disruptive. Muck, noise and heavy lorries for 10 years.

Old Oak Common has caught the eye of developers, and it may well be that both public good and profit can be made by redeveloping Old Oak Common – but that does not depend on HS2. It is hard to imagine that many will come from the north just to visit Old Oak Common.

An alternative

I suggest instead the Thorn Shaped Route. It gets its name from the letter þ, called “thorn”, used in Old English to write the sounds which we now write “th”. It would run from Glasgow to Edinburgh, Newcastle, Middlesbrough, York to Leeds, where it would split. The eastern half of the loop would then run via Sheffield, Nottingham, and Leicester; the western half via loop Manchester, Stoke, Birmingham and Coventry; before the two recombine at Rugby and continue London. In such a way, it would link up all the centres of this country east of the Severn.

Ringby would, a sort of Midlands Engine/Northern Powerhouse+. 

Within London, the route would start from the east side of Euston, and run in tunnel to West Hampstead, from where it would join a viaduct over the M1. The length of overhead to be covered is 10 kms, Let us say the spans are 100 M Considering the amounts of earth to be moved and concrete to be poured, this must be much cheaper than HS2’s route – and avoiding Old Oak Common would mean the trains can get up to full speed straight away.

As to its appearance, the new viaduct would look like the Byker viaduct of the Tyne-Wear Metro: a very ordinary bit of urban architecture, of the sort we could all drive along or live near. Noise from the motorway will overwhelm the noise of trains on the route, while passengers will get a good view of London.

The Byker viaduct, Newcastle. Image: author provided.

The route would then serve a road/rail interchange at “Waterdale”, the intersection of the M1 and M25. This will be far more useful than Old Oak Common: a rail route runs from Rickmansworth in the west to very near Waterdale, and could be extended east to St Albans and Hatfield. 

From there, the route runs north as the 5th and 6th track of the West Coast Main Line. Through Linslade, in southern Bedfordshire, the WCML takes a curve which is too sharp for these speeds – so my route instead takes a straight  line through a cutting on the west side of Linslade, taking with it the 4th and 3rd tracks of the WCML. This removes the only speed restriction between London and Milton Keynes, enabling that town to be served by services like the Javelin services which serves Kent.


If the route were to be run at up to 18 trains per hour, as HS2 propose for its own trunk route, there can be no station at Milton Keynes. That’s because at that intensity you cannot stop selected trains and not others: all trains must stop, and Milton Keynes cannot warrant so many trains.

So the route instead follows the original Birmingham-London route though Wolverton, which, amazingly, is still there. The route forks at Rugby, one arm running north to Leicester and beyond, the other heading west to Coventry and beyond.

You can read more about the Thorn Shaped Route on its website.

 
 
 
 

Here’s how Henry Ford and IKEA could provide the key to solving the housing crisis

A flatpack house designed by architectural firm Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners, on display at the Royal Academy, London, in 2013. Image: Getty.

For many people, the housing market is not a welcoming place. The rungs of the property ladder seem to get further and further out of reach. There are loud calls to build hundreds of thousands of new homes (and equally loud demands that they’re not built in anyone’s back yard).

If there was ever a time to introduce mass-produced affordable housing, surely that time is now.

The benefits of mass production have been well known since Henry Ford’s car factories made the Model T back in 1908. It was only made in one colour, black, for economic reasons. Not because it was the cheapest colour of paint, but because it was the colour that dried the quickest.

This allowed the production line to operate at faster, more cost effective, speeds. And ultimately, it meant the product could be sold at a more attractive cost to the customer.

This approach, where processes are tested to achieve increasingly efficient production costs, is yet to filter properly into the construction of houses. This makes sense in a way, as not everybody wants exactly the same type of house.

Historically, affordable mass-produced housing removed a large amount of customisations, to ensure final costs were controlled. But there is another way. Builders and architects have the ability to create housing that allows a level of flexibility and customisation, yet also achieves the goal of affordability.


Back in 2006, the “BoKlok” approach to affordable housing was launched to great acclaim in the UK. Literally translated from Swedish, the term means “live smart”. Originally created from a collaboration between flat-pack favourite IKEA and Swedish construction giant Skanska, the BoKlok housing approach was to allow for selected customisation to maximise individuality and choice for the customers. But at the same time, it ensured that larger house building components were duplicated or mass-produced, to bring down the overall costs.

Standard elements – wall panels, doors, windows – were made in large numbers to bring the elemental costs down. This approach ensured the costs were controlled from the initial sketch ideas through to the final design choices offered to the customers. The kitchens and bathrooms were designed to be flexible in terms of adding additional units. Draw and cupboard fronts interchangeable. Small options that provided flexibility, but did not impact on overall affordability.

It’s a simple approach that has worked very well. More than 10,000 BoKlok houses have now been built, mainly in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, with a small number in the UK.

But it is only part of the architectural equation. The affordable housing market is vital, but the cost of making these homes more adaptable is rarely considered.

Flexibility is key. The needs of a house’s inhabitants change. Families can grow (and shrink) and require more room, so the costs of moving house reappear. One clever response to this, in BoKlok homes, has been to allow “built in” flexibility.

Loft living

This flexibility could include a loft space that already has flooring and a built in cupboard on a lower floor which can be simply dismantled and replaced with a “flat-pack style” staircase that can be purchased and installed with minimal disruption to the existing fabric.

Weeks of builders removing walls, plastering and upheaval are replaced by a trip to the IKEA store to purchase the staircase and the booking of a subcontractor to fit it. The original design accounted for this “future option” and is built into the core of the house.

The best approach to new affordable housing should consider combinations of factors that look at design, materials and processes that have yet to be widely used in the affordable housing market.

And the construction sector needs to look over its shoulder at other market places – especially the one that Henry Ford dominated over a century ago. Today’s car manufacturers offer customised options in everything from colour to wheel size, interior gadgets to different kinds of headlamp. These options have all been accounted for in the construction and costing of each model.

The ConversationThey share a similar design “platform”, and by doing so, considerably reduce the overall cost of the base model. The benefit is quicker production with the added benefit of a cost model that allows for customisation to be included. It is a method the construction sector should adopt to produce housing where quality and affordability live happily together.

David Morton, Associate Professor in Architecture and Built Environment, Northumbria University, Newcastle.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.