Public and private organisations are working hard to ‘heal’ the scarring and dislocation created by Euston Station over the years to communities, such as Somers Town and Regent’s Park Estate, through a comprehensive redevelopment scheme.
But the Knowledge Quarter as a whole must try harder to build more on elements like the Crick Institute, improve accessibility across its world-leading institutions and create more areas where genuine collaboration can take place.
Those were some of the key views to emerge from a special NLA On Location conference held at the British Library and in anticipation of work on Euston station by Lendlease and others to enable it for HS2 and Crossrail 2 – improving its efficiency and sense of place in the process.
The event was kicked off by Camden Council leader Cllr Georgia Gould, who said Euston was an ‘incredibly important site, not just for the borough but for the whole of London and the country’.
Gould said that given the ‘profound’ change that King’s Cross had experienced, it was time to take forward the station plans whilst simultaneously aiming to improve the huge issues associated with poverty and a lack of opportunity in the area. ‘Our communities face massive barriers and feel, to some extent, under siege by development’, she said, regeneration becoming synonymous with ‘a lack of trust, and displacement.’ The Euston redevelopment was an opportunity to use good design to tackle some issues around social cohesion and wellbeing, said Gould, which it hopes will be aided by the council setting up a Citizens’ Assembly. ‘The priority is to show that regeneration can happen in a way that works with people’, Gould added.
Camden’sacting director supporting communitiesDavid Joyce continued the theme, describing the ‘proactive’ approach the authority is taking, working with the community on their needs. The station plan will include creating 1,900 homes and 13,600 jobs, as well as 10,000 sqm of shops and 30% commercial space for knowledge, science and other innovative or creative uses, with ideas sketched by Studio Egret West. But it is really about ‘connecting surrounding communities’, he said, and bringing life to places like Eversholt Street, currently a ‘blank wall’. ‘We’re on a huge journey’, he said. ‘A seventeen year journey, but this is an unparalleled opportunity’.
It was, indeed, a once in a lifetime opportunity to transform the city and land around the HS2 line, said its commercial development director Tom Venner. The 54-acre Euston site was ‘the front door to a lot of the country and is incredibly important that we get it right’. The Euston project is the largest development site in the capital and the largest government-owned real estate development ‘play’ in the UK. The line will ‘fundamentally change the geography’ of the UK, but redevelopment of Euston needed to have a holistic approach, albeit with the need to make money from such a ‘massive government asset’. Ultimately, Venner believed, Euston will ‘take St Pancras to the next level’, be the best connected place in the UK but ultimately be a success only if it is a destination that people visit and dwell in rather than pass through. ‘Can we pass the first date test?’ he asked.
The Network Rail station requires ‘major surgery’, said its HS2 integration director Neil Kirkwood, but similarly should be a place people enjoy staying in. ‘It’s a great irony that Euston connects tens of thousands of people a day but also separates streets and communities’, he said. The organisation has developed a strategic concept for the station, with an ‘outstanding’ business case, and funding in place for the next stage of development over 12-18 months hence.
It must also be a new piece of city, said Lendlease’s project director Rob Heasman of a station he branded a ‘superconnector’ but also one which needs to connect the wealth of assets in the area connected to the knowledge economy. ‘We want this to be a destination; a place’. This new place will include a new ‘civic space’ at Euston Square Gardens in front of the remodelled station, a new ‘gateway and frontage to Euston Station retaining heritage’, with ‘opportunity for new commercial, retail, cultural uses and open space’. The plan also envisages Euston Road as a new ‘urban boulevard’, and Hampstead Road as ‘a new high street’.
Other speakers included Camden Giving director Natasha Friend, stressing the need for HS2 to create jobs that feel accessible to local people; community organiser John Myers on how the job was to ‘heal and enhance a piece of city that was scarred in the 1960s’; Bengali Workers Association youth and communities manager Mariam Hassan, who revealed how local road closures were causing big problems, particularly with the young; Cllr Danny Beales on the need for genuine collaboration against a backdrop of safety fears; and Georgia Stewart, head of community engagement at Lendlease on creating a sense of belonging.
The final session included UCL director of estates Francesca Fryer on the £1.25bn of investment being made into the estate over 10 years and being a great partner for Euston; British Land’s head of campus Juliette Morgan, who revealed that it is considering designing into contracts a pledge for community work; and Jodie Eastwood, chief executive of the Knowledge Quarter, urging that people ‘change the narrative’ to talk more of its strength.
But it was Stuart Robinson, chairman of HS2’s commercial development panel, who said that the area was full of institutions, but that they were ‘inward-looking’ ones. There had been ‘a disappointing lack of momentum’ in the almost 15 years since the Crick decision that certainly would not have happened in the US, he added. ‘It’s taken a long time to get this unified church of opinion but we still need to up the game’, said Robinson. ‘The rate of construction of new commercial laboratories in this area is painfully slow’, he said, pointing to his view that the buildings do not lend themselves to collaborative working. ‘We need to create diversity and develop dialogues and cafes where people can interact’, he said. ‘No-one ever had a good idea over email’.
Editor, New London Quarterly