The Government wants to remove the protection to help London and Continental Railways (LCR) raise the money it needs to develop the station as the terminus for the Channel Tunnel rail link. But Lord Cavendish, a Commissioner of English Heritage, will try to amend the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill to ensure that the Secretary of State for the Environment retains power to call in any plans for St Pancras.
Ministers are at loggerheads with their own advisers, English Heritage, and quietly rearranged the timetable of business in the Lords to try to avoid a damaging confrontation.
Sir Jocelyn Stevens, chairman of EH, regards the "carte-blanche" exemption as "fundamentally unacceptable". In a strongly worded letter, he told LCR and his Cabinet minister bosses that St Pancras was a "national treasure" and warned of a parliamentary challenge.
The Rail Link Bill comes up for Third Reading after two years in the legislative mill. When parliamentary business was announced last Thursday, the Bill was not scheduled for debate. Conservationists campaigning for St Pancras believe it has been brought forward to thwart their efforts to rally support. Earlier this year LCR was engaged to build the pounds 3bn link under the private finance initiative (PFI). The surrender of statutory powers to allay LCR's fear of any delay because of planning inquiries will "drive a coach and horses through historic building protection" and set a dangerous precedent for PFI projects, the Victorian Society says.
The Society's concern, and that of EH which it prodded into the fight, is over the effect of the new terminus on the St Pancras "train shed" - the vast hanger over the platforms behind the imposing Midland Grand Hotel. When built in 1852 by the engineer William Barlow it was the largest single-span structure in the world.
English Heritage would have some control over shops on the concourse but none about the overall dimensions of an extension to the train shed, which could be of similar vast dimensions to the Eurostar station at Waterloo. The Government will ask peers to rely on guidelines agreed with LCR.
Both the Society and EH are encouraged by what LCR have said about conservation and what the architects, headed by Sir Norman Foster, have shown of their plans. "There is every hope that the new St Pancras will be a bold and brilliant combination of the new and the old," said William Filmer-Sankey, director of the Society.
But if LCR are unable to raise as much money as they had hoped for the project, economies may have to be made. There are doubts in the City on whether LCR will raise the pounds 900m it wants from a planned stock market flotation next year. And Monday's Channel Tunnel fire has put a question mark over revenues from its subsidiary, Eurostar, on which everything depends.
"The ghost of Sir Alastair Morton in financial straits will haunt all Channel Tunnel projects," said Mr Filmer-Sankey.Reuse content