Following parliamentary approval of the relevant legislation in February, the debate has shifted from whether HS2 should be built to how to build it right.
In the areas that will be home to HS2 stations, this debate is particularly important.
Major railway stations become the centre of gravity in their surrounding areas. They can be the catalysts for urban regeneration, but all too often they can clash with the character of their surroundings or make the area unaffordable for existing businesses to remain.
Getting it right requires genuine conversation between the local business community and the delivery bodies, where both sides can listen to each other and share ideas. Real engagement also includes not taking assets away from the community before the developers actually need them. Nothing demoralises a community more than realising it has lost something long before it needed to.
Demolishing buildings before the property is needed results in vacant lots serving no benefit to either the community or developers, and it sends the message that local input is being disregarded.
In London, where Euston station is going to be redeveloped for HS2, local businesses have set up a programme of business forums with the HS2 officials responsible for Euston.
The forums, organised and moderated by the local Business Improvement Districts for the Euston and Camden areas, are designed to establish a dialogue between HS2 Ltd and the companies that operate around the station site. The goal is to identify short-term opportunities for local businesses during construction, agree on priorities for the long term, and find solutions to mitigate disruption to business caused by demolition and construction works.
In the West Midlands, the Birmingham & Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership has been playing a leading role in regenerating the area that will be home to Birmingham’s HS2 terminus. This includes producing a Midlands HS2 Growth Strategy and, in partnership with the local authorities for the area, driving a 30-year investment plan that aims to harness the station development to create 36,000 jobs and 4,000 homes around Curzon Street.
Time will tell whether these approaches deliver successful outcomes, but other cities will be watching the process closely.
Bringing high-speed rail into the heart of a dense urban environment is no easy feat, and integrating new and old infrastructure is even more challenging. It is impossible not to cause some level of disruption to local business activity. Understandably, this generates hostility, making it tempting to circumvent direct engagement.
But engagement with local businesses should not be seen as a box-ticking exercise that can be avoided, or merely a way of managing the PR for the project. Local businesses know from practice what works well in their area and what does not.
Local business communities where HS2 stations will be built should set the right standard for this, engaging with HS2 so developments are guided by local knowledge backed by complementary infrastructure to make the most of the project.
This article was originally posted by Construction News.