Saturday, 13 July 2013

KENSAL CROSSRAIL: fast track to political oblivion


This is the site of Kensal Gasworks in North Kensington, at the top of Ladbroke Grove. The round structures are the gasholders, soon to be decommissioned we are told . Then there's a scruffy bit in the middle which Ballymore spent far too much cash on in the light of the Crossrail 'aspiration'. The square one-story building to the east is Sainsbury's best-earning store in London, apparently. To the south is the Paddington mainline; to the north a rather unloved bit of canal, and the gorgeous Kensal Cemetery.

It's in my ward. What's not to love?

Kensington and Chelsea Council had for many years aspired to have a Crossrail station there, to take loads of City Bankers and other w.. workers into the City to earn a squillion and then spend it on the poor and neglected residents of North Kensington. OK they didn't actually say that. They wanted to develop it under the pretence that it would 'regenerate' the joint poorest ward in London. 

This was their aspiration despite all kinds of pretty much insurmountable problems, such as the contamination of the site, the weak road links, the post-Buncefield Commission stating you could not put homes on much of the site, the advent of an incredibly ugly sub-station (above) etc etc. Ballymore unsurprisingly seemed keen to ignore or circumvent the problems; they had spent a shed-load of money and wished to recoup, and then some.

Innumerable new developments in the area - not least of all the ghastly Wornington Green development - boasted about the 'planned Kensal Crossrail station' to boost their prices. Politicians of all kinds mantra-ed it constantly as if it were actually viable, which we weren't at all sure it was. Not without building entirely private housing, in any case.

A truly shocking sum of money - some say well over £1m - was spent on reports, plans and consultations, and planning officers were seconded to work on it. Press officers in particular were tasked with promoting the idea with a series of ridiculous stunts and allegedly fake forums.

We have mentioned it countless times in Kensington Labour Motions to Council, comments to Council, press releases, responses to consultation and blogs (see partial list below). We were determined that anything of that scale would first of all have to benefit local residents who are overcrowded, and have poor access to health facilities and sports; we even suggested they put a secondary school there.

Then we were informed in May 2010 by people inside Crossrail, and various organisations working with them, that the Kensal bid was defunct. However the Council in its wisdom continued to spend vast sums on yet more reports and consultants. Three years and an awful lot of Council taxpayers money later the Council has finally admitted the bid has failed.

So at what point, dear reader, did the Council decide to continue promoting this fantasy station, and for what reason? Oh dear, dare we imagine it might be for entirely venal reasons? And what has happened now that the curtain has been drawn back and revealed - not the almighty Wizard but - a mere mortal, a little man with glasses and huge political ambitions? It's our former K&C Leader!

Beware of unfettered political ambitions, they will get you nowhere and at some point your deception will be discovered. 

Then there could be hell to pay. 

How interesting that in K&C and other bits of London, otherwise disinterested Tory politicians fought to maintain the fantasy (I was even shouted at in the street by one who really should know better), while in the shires Tories are fighting to stop it. Many don't really care; they are simply chasing votes. 

Remember our friend Pericles: 

It is time for Ballymore, and for the Council to understand the nature of the Kensal Gasworks site.

It is NOT a prime piece of real estate. It is not a jewel box waiting to be 'unlocked'. It is not a development opportunity of any kind that will reap huge financial rewards. It is 'other'.

It is a compromised site, poorly located, contaminated, accessed by a single road, on a strip with two defunct gasholders and a five-storey height electricity sub-station, set between Paddington Mainline and a contaminated canal, currently with no plan to connect to the putative HS2 station to the west at Old Oak Common, which we are now told by HS2 CEO Alison Munro may never happen anyway. 

Think about it. The Council set aside £30m for the mythical station, and was thinking about spending £50m on land in fabulous Peterborough to transport our 'ambitious young people' out of the rich man's exclusive playground of RBKC. That's £80m to spend on a real and lasting legacy for the people of North Kensington. 

Buy the land at its realistic price, clean it up, add some open spaces on unbuildable land, and build homes, lots and lots of beautiful and sensibly designed homes (we'll tell you which architects to avoid), for the future of our overcrowded families, our 'ambitious young people', and their grannies, and their children, right here. Pericles understood; regeneration is not about paving schemes or magnolia trees for 'plebs' or Prime Ministers, or art on walls, neither is it about providing investment property for overseas buyers; regeneration is about improving people's lives, prospects and well-being.

Be bold. Do it. We'll even let you think it's your idea. Promise.







Golborne Labour Councillors

March 2011


Extract from Cab Mem report to Public Realm, 9.7.13

6.1 On 15 April, the former Leader of the Council, Sir Merrick Cockell, together with Sir Malcolm Rifkind and senior officers attended a meeting with the Stephen Hammond MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, to discuss the prospect of a station at Kensal Portobello. This meeting was followed by a letter from Stephen Hammond confirming that no further work on a Crossrail station at Portobello would be undertaken by the Crossrail Joint Sponsor Team.

6.2 This letter stated that High Speed 2s proposals for a station in Old Oak Common had fundamentally weakened the Royal Boroughs
case for Crossrail because it would add substantially to the cost of the HS2 project.

6.3 The Minister continued to state that improving connectivity between Kensal and Old Oak Common was still important and he recognised that transport improvements should come forward within a similar timescale to Crossrail and offered to work with the Council on finding these alternatives.

6.4 On receipt of the Ministers letter, the following action has been taken:
 Sir Merrick Cockell wrote a letter to the Prime Minister (a subsequent response was received from Stephen Hammond)
On 22 April, the former Leader wrote to the Prime Minister asking him to reconsider the Ministers decision as it would seemed to have been made without due consideration of the Governments pro-growth agenda.
A response was received from Stephen Hammond MP on June 17. This letter reiterated his previous position but also noted that if an improved business case can be presented, he would entertain further discussions with the Royal Borough.
 Transport for London have agreed to work with the Royal Borough on alternative transport options
TfL have committed to undertake an assessment of alternative transport options to link Kensal to the wider area. The Council has already undertaken some preliminary research on such alternatives but at present, no option will deliver the same scale of economic growth as Crossrail and cannot come forward prior to 2026 (at the earliest) when HS2 opens.
 The Council has withdrawn from the Opportunity Area Planning Framework process

As the Ministers letter stated that no further work on Crossrail would take place, the Joint Sponsor Team requested that all references the Royal Boroughs aspirations for a station be removed from the draft Old Oak Common Opportunity Area Planning Framework. As the sole reason for joining the OAPF team was to further our case for Crossrail, the Council has withdrawn from the OAPF planning process. 7
Officers will continue to work closely with colleagues from neighbouring authorities to ensure that both the Kensal Opportunity Area and Old Oak Common come forward in support of one another, especially with regard to transport issues.
 The Council is challenging the basis of the Minister’s decision
Officers and elected members of the Royal Borough have spoken to the Crossrail Joint Sponsors to seek information as to how this decision was reached. At present, this has not been forthcoming and there is no reassurance that the Ministers decision has been made on the basis of sound evidence.

I have asked officers to continue their ongoing dialogue with the Crossrail Joint Sponsors in order to find a suitable resolution in the belief that the decision that has been made fails to address rationally the Royal Boroughs case.

Councillor Timothy Coleridge,
Cabinet Member for Planning Policy, Transport and Arts