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"High Speed One in its tenth year" by Lester Hillman: Edinburgh meeting of 8 November 2016

Lester Hillman.d

Lester Hillman

© John Yellowlees 2016

For more than four decades as a planner Lester Hillman has been involved in regulatory, infrastructure development and community stakeholder issues and in a lavishly illustrated presentation he will share highlights and surprises, out turns and rum turns. He has supported Central London and Heathrow Group CILT initiatives and contributed to Logistics and Transport Focus. The recipient of several international and professional awards he was a Visiting Professor 2008 - 2010 at London Metropolitan University where CILT has had strong links. He continues to hold a number of academic and professional appointments.

Lester Hillman began his presentation by pointing out that ten years ago this month the HS1 brand was launched along with the countdown to the opening of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) into St Pancras. It came just ahead of the giant planning approval for the King's Cross Central development which is now set to welcome a one million sq ft Google HQ. Next year marks 50 years since St Pancras was listed, the culmination of a campaign by Sir John Betjeman to save it from demolition and his statue surveys the gleaming international station delivered in November 2007.

The story of the CTRL and its associated developments has been a roller coaster, developers like Speyhawk and the London Regeneration Consortium left the platform early whilst developments like the University of the Arts and the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel arguably exceed original expectations. It was Malcolm Rifkind who as transport secretary announced that the CTRL would be routed via the Thames Gateway and Stratford, scrapping a southern route that would have brought trains under Tate Modern and the "wobbly bridge" into a through station under King's Cross. Suggested stations at Rainham, a Disney option and Nashenden fell away. In 1994 King's Cross was abandoned for a terminus at St Pancras with four platforms for Midland Main Line diesels outside the main shed.

In 1998 the project went into meltdown, A revised scheme delivering the infrastructure in two parts emerged with major credit for holding it together going to John Prescott. North Pole Depot gave way to Temple Mills, delivered niftily at Stratford as the 2012 Olympics muscled in. Stratford proved its worth both in helping secure the Games and in wider regeneration.

Reuse of Nicholas Grimshaw's Eurostar space at Waterloo has taken much longer than expected, and development at Ashford has been slower to materialise. Ebbsfleet has coped with distractions such as "Boris island" (an alternative to Heathrow in the Thames Estuary). An HS2 link by way of the North London Line has now been squeezed out.

The environs of St Pancras have experienced unexpected challenges. There have been centuries of sharp commentators from comedians including Joseph Grimaldi and Kenneth Williams. The German Gymnasium next door was bombed by German Gothas in the Great War. Recently it opened as a giant German-themed restaurant. Edinburgh authors are responsible for some surprising passenger handling challenges. Queues for Harry Potter photographs regularly seem to outnumber passengers on the King's Cross concourse!

Successes of St Pancras International include a clutch of awards, the absence of pigeons, a roof that doesn't leak and signage that help keep commuters and international travellers on the right track. Through trains to Amsterdam and German InterCity Expresses to Koln are taking a long time to happen, and with terrorist attacks and Brexit now impacting on passenger numbers Eurostar is consolidating by reducing services and scrapping its first-generation fleet. However in overcoming setbacks that included a tunnel fire and the "wrong kind of snow" rail has achieved an incredible 90% share of the rail/air market to and from Paris and Brussels.

Report and photograph by John Yellowlees.

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