Lessons from abroad: Optimising development around London’s transport hubs - NLA Think Tank

Friday 15 May 2015

What makes a successful mixed-use transport hub? That was the question wrestled with by a select group of professionals involved in the creation of transport hubs, surrounding development and facilities at a special NLA think tank session co-hosted by RTKL.

RTKL director Mahmood Faruqi opened the session with a series of lessons from projects abroad and their implications for a London he believes can address its housing supply issues by developing at higher densities near transportation hubs. In Beijing in China, RTKL is designing a project which matches the capacity of a new metro line and correlates that to the density of the scheme, taking into account buses, walking and cycling. We need to do this kind of density mapping according to the capacity of the network, and in recognisable urban forms, said Faruqi – streets, squares and buildings that are more about people than they are about development. In Dallas, Texas, RTKL is designing around a new DART station another mixed use neighbourhood with a high density for the area, while in Shanghai a new town centre for the outer fringe caters for a range of housing typologies. ‘It’s about creating places which can be active day and night and become community hubs’, he said. ‘This is delivering not for numbers, but quality and sense of place’. London must look to design for place, not just numbers; density does not necessarily mean tall buildings; mixed use must be embraced to deliver high value for the transportation network and communities, and the focus should shift beyond zone three to address density around tube stations.


Crossrail is one of the projects which sees itself as both a catalyst for development as well as a developer in its own right, said Ian Lindsay, Land and Property Director, Crossrail. Places like Abbey Wood and Thamesmead are already seeing development coming forward off the back of the new transport capacity Crossrail will have, and the urban realm being provided will act as the facilitator for more.


And yet, said Head of Inward Investment & Enterprise at LB Redbridge Mark Lucas, although Crossrail will generate increased land and property values in areas where values have been a disincentive for development, that uplift may not be enough. Which is why Redbridge has put in a bid to become a Housing Zone, and especially since potential national and international investors want to see a more edifying real experience on the ground than they do now. ‘They want to know how each area will change demonstrably and tangibly before their own investment goes in’.


Nevertheless, we must lift our ambition, Lucas added, with too many ‘clone stations’ and not enough suburban stations looking to become, say, collection points or introducing elements like exhibition space or art. Certainly, said CEO, London and Continental Railways David Joy, stations have not changed even as much as petrol filling stations have over the last 20 years. This is as much to do with how they are owned and operated, but stations are ‘definitely on the agenda’ in terms of how they can be ‘reinvigorated’ within station development zones and capturing value, he added. Another Housing Zone, this time already designated, is at Renewal’s New Bermondsey, which has enabled the 2,500 home mixed development to unlock, said Mark Taylor, the scheme’s director of development. New infrastructure such as the DLR and Jubilee Line Extension has helped revitalise south London’s historic lack of connectivity and Taylor hoped that the Bakerloo line extension, for which Renewal is lobbying, does not get ‘derailed’ by Crossrail 2.


Many design issues come into play when discussing density, said Levitt Bernstein partner Jo McCafferty, and all depends on what is appropriate. PTAL often seems a very crude method of establishing what is appropriate in density terms, she said, especially when it comes to residential, but it was important to add value quickly and early, as Argent has achieved at King’s Cross in its creative curation of public spaces. Gareth Fairweather, Principal Consents Advisor at Transport for London said that TfL is looking at different ways of measuring accessibility integrating other elements such as walking and cycling routes in a new connectivity assessment method called WebCAT. An interesting design question nobody has quite figured out yet, though, added McAfferty, is how public realm is made to work for families next to transport infrastructure, while with an ageing population there are also ‘enormous opportunities’ to integrate healthcare into central transport hubs.


Perhaps, said Executive Director Regeneration and Housing, LB Ealing Pat Hayes, stations could look to develop more over their large surface car parks, and the public sector must get better at thinking about where densification can be achieved. London is dotted with small, slightly substandard secondary town centres, Hayes added, which could be good candidates for such treatment, and even sites for tall buildings. But developing over railway lines, many felt, was complicated and expensive, with risks for developers on liabilities. Crossrail will open up lots of places – as it has already begun to psychologically put Ealing more on the map in terms of its new ‘Zone 1’ travel time – ‘but we should focus more on the prosaic stuff’, said Hayes.


One of the dangers is that Crossrails 1 and 2 are seen just as creating value for housing, raising problems of over-excessive speculation on housing, as well as issues of affordability and diversity. Other areas such as employment should not be forgotten, said Assistant Director of Planning at LB Haringey Stephen Kelly. There is also an opportunity to look at the CPO process with Crossrail 2, said Lindsay, which militated against sensible masterplanning and placemaking discussion on Crossrail 1. If it gets funded ‘in an age of austerity’, Crossrail 2 will have more of an opportunity to look at a more ambitious scale of development around transport hubs, partially because of the nature of the areas it goes through, added Lindsay.


One fear, though, is that we will waste the ‘most amazing period of transport investment in London’, said Keith Brooks, head of property at EC Harris, with the planning system not changing enough to respond to it and not being bold or prescriptive enough to drive development around stations.  There seems also to be an overwhelming obsession with housing, said British Land’s Residential Development Director Emma Cariaga – ‘I’m much more interested in the idea of what stations can do for a place and a borough’. British Land’s new town centre scheme is anchored by Canada Water tube station, and there is a role for stations to be much more than housing ‘dumps’, she said. In fact, this only highlights the fact that land assembly is the problem, said Stephen McDonald, Director of Place, LB Barnet, and is perhaps the real reason behind why projects like Canada Water have taken so long. In Barnet, moreover, McDonald has been successful in convincing Treasury to part with £200 million to build a new station, but most of that money is on land assembly. ‘It’s not about planning’, said McDonald. ‘It’s about being able to put sites together around existing or potential transport nodes that you can then do something interesting’.

David Taylor, Editor, NLQ 

Co-hosted by Toggle

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