The redevelopment of Stratford in East London, sparked by the High Speed 1 rail line, is a great example of what a creative, independent approach to projects can do for a major city.
It also highlights the vital role transport plays in such revitalisation.
The story started 20 years ago when I led an Arup team championing an alternative alignment for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, now known as High Speed 1. Challenging the orthodox, engineering-centric solution that British Rail had put on the table, we proposed a route that approached London from the east, via Stratford, rather than from the south. This route offered a better return for the UK because of the opportunity for regeneration along its route, its improved environmental impact and its connection with the existing rail network.
We realised that by building stations along the route at Stratford and Ebbsfleet, the line could be used for domestic high-speed trains as well as international services. As a result, when High Speed 1 was built along the Arup alignment, Stratford became a transport hub; the focus of further regeneration for East London. It was transformed from a neglected corner of the city into a suitable location for an Olympic Games, all part of the strategy to move London eastwards.
With spoil from the Channel rail tunnel deposited on low-lying Stratford, raising it out of the Thames floodplain, the area offered even better value to developers like those behind the Westfield Stratford City shopping centre – the largest urban shopping centre in the European Union in terms of size. As a result of the importance we placed on having a station at Stratford, the focus of London is shifting to the east.
I firmly believe that Arup’s creativity, independence and technical ability were vital in making High Speed 1 a success and enabling the revitalisation of Stratford. It’s something Arup should be proud of – and something the UK will need more of if we’re to unlock the full potential of major city sites.
Stratford was particularly suitable for redevelopment because it is so close to the centre of London and offered an opportunity to create vital transport infrastructure. For me the sad thing is that things could have been even better – if only the government had had a clearer vision for the integration of domestic and European rail travel.
Currently, with High Speed 1 terminating on the buffers at St Pancras, it doesn’t make sense for the giant Eurostar trains to stop at Stratford just seven minutes away. In the future, I hope Stratford will be connected directly with Europe – giving the area a further boost.