HS2 delays: hundreds of Londoners are stuck in homes they can’t sell amid stalled construction
A mile-long crater now sits alongside Euston station — a daily reminder of the havoc wreaked by HS2.
In this corner of Camden, construction of the high-speed rail link has seen homes and businesses in its path demolished and left homeowners trapped in unsellable properties.
Now there are fears that these sacrifices might have been in vain. The Government has confirmed that the final 7.2km leg between Old Oak Common into Euston is on hold.
Trains are now not scheduled to come into Euston until the 2040s, and hopes that the infrastructure project will ever deliver on promises to regenerate the area are crumbling.
The decision to “rephase” the project came after costs of the redesigned station in Euston ballooned from £2.6 billion to £4.8 billion.
An HS2 spokesperson said while “most work on the station site will stop, some critical preparatory work will continue”.
As workers down tools, the local community has been left to count the losses. While hundreds of residents, a school and a local pub have been displaced, those who stayed have been forced to contend with the din of piledrivers, dust and road closures.
The disruption has severely dented property prices, with hundreds of homeowners trapped in homes that they cannot sell.
Hearing the project had been put on hold “felt like a punch in the gut”, says filmmaker Jane Gull, who watched her home on the Regent’s Park Estate bulldozed to make way for the now mothballed project. “The entire vanity project has been a shambles from the start,” she adds.
While social housing tenants were eventually moved, Gull was a leaseholder and her flat was bought by HS2. The compensation payment was not enough to buy somewhere locally, so Gull moved out to Essex.
More than 200 homes on the estate were demolished for HS2, and Camden council later had to move more residents after construction work rendered their buildings “virtually uninhabitable”.
“The community left behind have been living on top of a building site for years,” says Gull. “All the trees surrounding Euston station have been ripped out and now, with the delays announced, it’s truly devastating.”
‘People’s lives are on hold’
While many were forced out of their homes, others are trapped in unsellable properties. Hamish Gilfeather, director of Primrose Hill estate agent John D Wood & Co, says properties aren’t selling in the pockets of residential streets around the main Euston site, such as around the bottom of Parkway where HS2 emerges from the ground.
“We’ve had about five or six houses or big apartments over the past couple of years and we’ve struggled with all of them.
“There are cranes, dust, noise, so from a buyer’s perspective why would you spend £3 million on a terrace there when they could spend around the same on an adjoining road?
“There are people who want to move because they’re ill or they’ve got some family issue, and they are really struggling. You’ve got hundreds and hundreds, probably thousands, of people whose lives are just on hold.”
According to Gilfeather, areas further north such as Primrose Hill have been less impacted as the tunnels there will be buried deep underground. However, some homeowners in blocks such as Darwin Court, a Seventies development on Gloucester Avenue, sit above a shallower section of tunnel.
Flats in Darwin Court used to go for £1.1 million but now fetch around £850,000 to £950,000, says Gilfeather. According to actress Annabel Leventon, who lives in the block, values slumped by around £200,000 when HS2 was announced and have not gone back up.
“As far back as 2014 people weren’t coming to view flats because estate agents knew about HS2 and thought it was too dodgy, because we don’t know what subsidence will do to the block,” Leventon says.
One of her neighbours, who had to sell after going through a divorce, was forced to accept a “horribly reduced” price, Leventon says. There is anger, too, that HS2 wants to requisition the block’s communal garden, and that the road has been closed for sewer work.
“It’s just an ongoing mess. It’s not nearly as bad as those in Euston, where people’s lives have been ruined, but it’s not good,” says Leventon.
‘HS2 has rendered life unbearable’
Robert Latham, who lives in a modernist block on Park Village East overlooking the HS2 train line, estimates the local disruption has knocked 20 per cent off house prices in the area.
Some residents in his block have resorted to HS2’s Need to Sell scheme, but this is far from straightforward.
Homeowners have to provide a “compelling reason” why they must move house, such as financial difficulty or ill health. This has to be supported with evidence, and HS2 also requires proof that owners tried and failed to sell their home because of HS2.
Latham says around four of the area’s grand John Nash-designed terraces, originally worth around £5 million, have been acquired under HS2’s Need to Sell scheme.
According to Latham, valuers agreed that the terraces’ “unblighted value should be reduced by 50 per cent because of the impact of the construction works”.
He adds: “For the past seven years, HS2 has rendered life unbearable for 5,000 residents in Euston living adjacent to the construction site and 400 families have lost their homes.”
Since the project’s inception, HS2 bosses have struggled to find an affordable design for the new station at Euston. The original terminus design was scrapped and in 2020 new plans with fewer platforms were drawn up by Arup, WSP and Grimshaw Architects.
However, costs for the proposed station have almost doubled to £4.8 billion, according to the National Audit Office, and in line with direction from the Department for Transport, HS2 is now “looking again” at the station design.
“Bringing HS2 into a high-value and densely populated area is extremely expensive, and they’ve never come up with a viable scheme,” says Latham. “We’ve got the worst of all possible worlds. And it seems to be a government that can’t make decisions.”
What could be done?
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who is also the local MP, is calling for “urgent clarity” on what measures will be put in place to minimise the impact of the stalled project.
“Euston should be at the centre of the largest infrastructure project in Europe, but after 13 years of this dysfunctional Government it risks being turned into a partially abandoned building site,” he says. “This would be a disaster for residents who have already had to endure years of demolitions, noise and dust.”
Meanwhile, Camden council has called on HS2 bosses to get on and complete the “wholesale redevelopment” of Euston station that would bring high-speed and Network Rail trains into the new integrated station.
“It will save public money in the long term and deliver huge benefits to Camden and London through the accompanying development of new homes, open space and jobs for local people,” says Camden’s cabinet member for housing, Danny Beales.
He has urged HS2 to open up the fenced-off construction sites where it is safe to do so and allow some areas to be brought back into temporary use. Some local residents want to see the site greened to make up for the trees and park spaces lost to the project.
An HS2 spokesperson says that in line with direction from the Government, it is “delaying construction of Euston as we develop the scheme further” and that it is working with contractors to manage the impact of these changes.
“The requirement to deliver the works at Euston hasn’t gone away — the Government remains committed to delivering HS2 from Euston to Manchester.”
The Department for Transport says: “We remain committed to delivering HS2 from Euston to Manchester and we will work closely with the local community to deliver transformational benefits for the Euston area.”
Yet among Camden residents there is deep scepticism that HS2 Euston will ever materialise. “The uncertainty is unacceptable. Residents need to be able to get on with their lives,” says Latham.