Crossrail at Ilford – strategic visioning group NLA Think Tank co-hosted by Crossrail

Monday 26 May 2014

Local authorities must capitalise on the transformative effects that Crossrail could bring to places like Ilford by using powers such as compulsory purchase.

That way, suggested members of a special strategic visioning group on the area, comprehensive development might help to regenerate the station’s immediate surroundings and the town itself, transforming it from an ailing retail zone in the shadow of Westfield Stratford to a place to visit in its own right.

Head of Urban Integration at Crossrail Sam Richards began by putting Ilford and Crossrail in context, stressing that the new line is not only about the stations and the journey but also the experience of passengers outside the stations. The case for Crossrail 2 is being made on the basis of how it stimulates new investment and housing, he added, and there is a body of work documenting the effect of Crossrail 1, suggesting some £5.5bn of increased value and 57,000 new homes. But in outer London the investment from the railway to the urban realm designs of the station environs is not as great as it is in the centre.

Head of Inward Investment & Enterprise at LB Redbridge Mark Lucas said that his team’s approach has been about active forward planning, building on the adoption in 2006 of an Ilford area action plan which anticipated Crossrail’s arrival and promotes new mixed use and residential in the town centre. But, fresh from a visit to Athens, Lucas said there was a lesson to take from that city’s own stunning metro system, where a degraded public realm greets the visitor emerging from the white polished marble sub-surface levels below. BDP’s urban integration study attempts to stitch the station into the wider public realm but it was just as essential to ensure there is funding to deliver it, said Lucas, hence there is £2 million of S106 and CIL receipts to incentivise TfL and others to add to the pot.

But developer Jonathan Joseph said that, having been advised three years ago to look at Ilford by Stewart Murray, now at the GLA, he put together a comprehensive regeneration scheme to the south of the station designed by Allies and Morrison that included investment in the station and a secondary entrance to its rear. ‘Basically I think we’ve stalled’, said Joseph, alluding to what he considered to be a lack of political backing behind Lucas and the problem of a lot of multiple land ownerships at Ilford, meaning that unless CPO is used it would be impossible to ‘corral’ all the people you need to support such a scheme.

Nick Edwards, Urbanism Director at BDP explained that the practice’s study for the station aims to bring more people into the town, winning space for pedestrians and looking for development to improve buildings, lessening the segregation between areas to the north and south of the station. This urban realm, said Head of Borough Engagement at TfL Colin Mann, must be created in a logical, phased approach and provide for the volume of interchange without the transport provision unduly detracting from the town centre.

But Telford Homes’ Land Buying Chairman, Andrew Wiseman said there was a ‘totally different vibe in Stratford where his firm was developing, and where the success of the Olympic Park had made Ilford very much second fiddle, especially on land values, with the ‘lack of a positive vision to make it a much better place to be.’

Ilford needs to ask itself ‘what type of place’ it will become, said Weston Williamson senior partner Christian Bocci. Is it one of high density smaller dwellings close to the town centre or a larger city-wide area of family focused developments?  This in turn will affect the Crossrail station’s immediate urban setting, Bocci added, either to prioritise a legible urban realm suitable for walking and cycling or as an interchange feeding onward travel to the surrounding suburban developments.    

For GLA Strategic Planning Manager Martin Scholar, who grew up in the area, there was certainly currently something missing in Ilford. ‘It feels run down and Westfield has had a massive impact’, he said. ‘It has to readjust’. NLSA and London Stansted Corridor Consortium Director John McGill suggested that Redbridge’s place as a borough needs support from the GLA and neighbouring boroughs or risks feeling like ‘edge of town, where something will happen eventually’, although as Stratford gets more ‘overheated’, there will clearly be overspill into Ilford. He added that it needs to be thought of within the Thames Gateway and the general thrust eastward, capitalising on its good connections to Cambridge and the Royals.

Lucas said he felt there was a strong vision for the area, coupled to a benign planning process and a ‘not particularly onerous’ CIL tariff, formulated after research to ensure it would be fair and not act as a deterrent, but will bring in sufficient income to invest in the public realm. But external factors such as permitted development rights had had an effect, with developers who own significant parts of buildings around Ilford Station having taken advantage. Lucas added that legal advice his department had received is that it would not be able to turn down individual developments unless it had a planning brief that promotes comprehensive development, with compulsory purchase perhaps being the ‘ultimate tool we have to use’. The population is also changing, with some indigenous white communities alongside BME businesses, so it was important not to impose a vision on the community and Asian groups in the area. As to the comparison with Stratford, this was a little wide of the mark since Ilford could not compete on the retail side but the council is working hard at ‘reinvention’ and at creating an evening and night time economy which does not attract the same opprobrium as other towns where they have ‘lost control’.

What has been missing in Ilford has been the role of a body like the LDA which traditionally would have come in and acquired buildings, assembled land and been able to work on the area as a single landowner. For URBED Founding Director Nicholas Falk, the main thing to focus on is the quality of the experience at the station itself, which could learn from places like Uxbridge where a new café quarter has made it a more attractive proposition. Or from many of the examples in Europe – ‘if Ilford can make that a quality experience, people may think about doing something more imaginative around’, he said. HawkinsBrown Partner Roger Hawkins, meanwhile, said that in China there are 20 projects of the size of Crossrail, and in Chengdu’s line three extension there has been a strategic masterplan prepared which demonstrates the opportunities for mixed use development. By contrast, if Ilford’s project was limited to ‘trees and paving’ then it was lacking a significant dimension, he said. ‘It needs more ambition’.

LSE London Director Tony Travers said that the British model of creating developments around railway systems in a fragmented way afterwards was exactly opposite that of the Hong Kong model. This left the ‘slightly weird position’ of having major railway lines but a desperate need for housing. It was inevitable, he added, that there would be more talk about the possibility of compulsory purchase, and perhaps places like Ilford could come to the aid of London’s wider housing crisis with a dense centre, catalysed by a development corporation with the powers to implement change. ‘Otherwise’, he said, ‘it will all be terribly incremental.’

Ultimately though, said Travers, one thing is for sure: ‘Over time, as the city’s population grows, it is inevitable that there will have to be more top down intervention and decision-making’, he said. ‘ It’s inevitable because there is so much resistance to development. If Crossrail 2 is going to be built it will not be built like this, so it will have to include plans to develop along the line to pay for it.’

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

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