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will hs2 reflect the 'new normal' post covid-19?.

As the government discusses plans to ease the lockdown, HS2 may be redesigned to factor in the effects of Covid-19 on the future of travel.

Mark Thurston, chief executive of HS2, has revealed the project's response to the pandemic. A team has been tasked with observing travel habits over the next 18 months to assess the way they change in a post-coronavirus world. 

The initial project design may no longer be fit for purpose when social distancing is factored in and station and train designs may have to be adapted to win over a public emerging from lockdown. Already the existing proposals with their crowded concourses look as if they belong to another world, one that may no longer exist when we emerge into the post-pandemic world.

HS2 post Covid-19

The existing designs for HS2 are based on pre-Covid-19 norms that may have to be adapted over time. As the world moves towards the 'new normal', Thurston acknowledged the need to look at people's travel patterns and habits, for example, the full-scale adoption of masks in public, and assess the impact in terms of density of people on trains and in station buildings.

The team will observe and assess travel habits over the next 6, 12 and 18 months and adjust designs accordingly. HS2 is hoping to innovate along the length of the supply chain and protect skilled jobs in civil engineering.

Early intervention

Thurston also acknowledged the need to be proactive. He said that HS2 needed to start thinking early about the kind of design changes that could be necessary before the industry is forced to adopt new design standards through legislation.

HS2 is not alone in thinking forward to the world post-coronavirus. There's a wider understanding that Covid-19 and its aftermath will affect the way that planners and architects approach the design of infrastructure and the built environment.

The new normal

It's highly likely that massive paradigm shifts towards the new normal will encourage the general public to look at the safety and security of airports, roads and public transport. Lessons will need to be learned in order to make the built environment more resilient in the face of a future crisis. 

Reliable transport is the social and economic lifeblood of our major cities. High Speed North is already exploring ways to connect fast-growing northern labour markets together around mobility hubs. These will have the scope to connect rail, bus, bike hire and electric charging points together to power a reliable commuter network.

But modern infrastructure can also present a huge health hazard. In the face of the transmission threat presented by a virus such as Covid-19, planners are facing a huge challenge. Large scale infrastructure projects including HS2 will need to be designed in such a way as to futureproof public safety and develop trust and confidence while safeguarding jobs in civil engineering.

That means that our future built environment will need to be responsive to social distancing, emergency response, track and trace and public engagement whilst finding solutions to gain additional space.

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