In Depth

Are HS2’s London tunnelling plans safe?

High Court hears that Euston tunnels could cause ‘massive structural collapse’

The HS2 rail project faces further delays after a judge questioned plans to tunnel through London after claims it risks “catastrophic” damage to homes.

The High Court has ordered HS2 bosses to show evidence that the current proposals for the route into London Euston are safe.

What is the risk with tunnelling?

London home owner Hero Granger-Taylor brought a High Court claim against the government-owned company leading the £106bn project, HS2 Ltd.

She is concerned that the proposed three new tunnels into Euston could cause a “massive structural collapse” to a 120-year-old, 33ft retaining wall outside the London station, reports The Times.

The court is being asked to rule the plans unlawful because of the risk of damage to the £3m grade II-listed homes just metres away from the wall on Park Village East, Camden.

“The tunnel is designed to run as little as five feet below the retaining wall at the side of the West Coast mainline and it is feared that it could collapse,” says The Times.

Colin Elliff, a specialist railway engineer and advocate for alternatives to HS2, published a report last month into the risks, which is now being used to support the court case against HS2.

His report says that HS2 has “offered no credible evidence to show how the tunnel can be safely constructed immediately below the retaining wall”, which weighs 130 tonnes per metre.

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What do HS2 bosses have to do?

HS2 Ltd has been given a week to give reassurances to Granger-Taylor before a full court hearing on 13 and 14 May.

Justice Lang said that HS2 needed to more comprehensively explain the structure and support systems it would put in place to keep the tunnels safe and standing.

This includes results of analysis of the retaining wall showing how it would be protected from tunnelling below. It must also include an environmental impact assessment report.

The statement should set out “the up-to-date position on whether the ‘three tunnels’ design will proceed”, the court said.

Lawyers acting for Granger-Taylor said it was “highly feasible” that the plan could be thrown out by the court. One of them, Jayesh Kunwardia, said: “If, for whatever reason, HS2 Ltd is unable to deliver the required documentation, or clarify its position on the ‘three tunnels’ design more than five days before the hearing, it’s highly feasible that the HS2 scheme will be deemed by the court to pose a serious risk of causing great damage to properties in the area.”

HS2 Ltd released a statement denying its plans posed any risk to the wall or nearby homes.

“We strongly dispute any suggestion that the current designs pose any threat to the structural integrity of the retaining wall at Park Village East and have provided robust evidence to the court to that effect. We are currently considering the recent court order,” it said.

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