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HS2: We Demand Beauty

This petition had 56 supporters

HS2 is happening. However, the current proposal is too short-sighted and relies on a “one size fits all” kit of parts that indiscriminately uses generic, over-engineered modules irrespective of local needs. It misses the big picture benefits that well-designed infrastructure can bring. 

We demand a more integrated approach to HS2’s design, construction and management, and think that good architecture can play a key role in making the difference in achieving high quality infrastructure for the 21st century. 

HS2, as it stands, looks pre-emptively value-engineered. We cannot let this happen. An absence of design leadership and short-sightedness in the process could fail this project of national and regional significance. Too often design is neglected in long-term national planning strategies with disastrous consequences. Design can’t just be for the ‘best’ parts of the route as a kind of add-on decoration, it has to be at the heart of the project’s modus operandi, from the way it is made to the way it is run. Each place along the route should be accorded the same serious scrutiny as its neighbour. Rather than the current process, which could mean "Buy cheap, pay twice”, the mantra has to be: "If you do it, do it right”.

Britain has a rich history of rail infrastructure and innovation, but what was once thought of as the “spirit of progress” is now viewed by the public with cynicism. This can and must change. We demand that the design of infrastructure be de-politicised and instead focuses on acknowledging the total environment both natural and man-made; thus creating beautiful infrastructure to compliment Britain’s already beautiful landscapes. Should we love HS2?

We demand an improvement to the procurement methodology and a shift in mindset of long-term infrastructure planning at a national level, recognising that more responsive solutions are necessary at the local level, in tandem with sophisticated strategic design testing. Taking an active stand against the “Tescofication” of the construction industry, and the knee-jerk mentality towards standardisation that large projects seem to follow, we should learn from the past, with an eye on the future. 

Setting the standard are examples such as Brunel’s Great Western Railway, which married practical landscape with the new railway to sublime effect, or London 2012 Olympics where both experienced large scale and smaller "bright spark" design practices were given the opportunity to embed a design vision from the outset with credible ambitions for a long-term legacy. Design must not be seen as a luxury; rather a process that enables a vision to take hold, where potential waste can be transformed into opportunity, and where first-hand human experience on the ground underscores all decisions.

Change at an infrastructural scale can be challenging as well as upsetting for individuals and communities.  The methods of compensation and the protracted decision-making process seem to make this even more agonizing. The imposition of new infrastructure, and its social and cultural implications, are specific to each place, and address local concerns. Tangible benefits must always be given back to any communities affected by HS2, as part of a meaningful, on-going exchange; from planning and construction, through to consequences and potential future masterplans. The chance to reimagine Euston Station as an integrated part of the city is too good to miss. Creating a Line-Side Development Agency to help disrupted businesses and homes make the most of the changes, and to sow the seeds of renewal for the future in the leftover sites between London and Birmingham, sum total of which equal the size of The City of London. Design-thinking can make sure money is well spent to the best effect over time. 

The case for HS2 has been poorly explained from the start - it is not about speed, and never has been. Many argue that HS2 will only benefit those rail travellers using the route, but it will in fact remove traffic from other local routes to improve capacity as well as providing a new service to the north. The UK rail network is at breaking point; rail traffic, in particular freight, has increased year on year and in ten years the network will be at peak capacity. Even Coca-Cola and major supermarkets run their own trains to keep CO2 emissions down. In order to keep up with demand, we can either build more motorways, more runways, or more railways. So if it is HS2: We Demand Beauty.

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