Many of the drivers for densifying London’s stations have been identified before – when either public funding for infrastructure was scarce, land values were rising, or the city was growing but bounded in its outwards expansion. Some of these factors have been in play for a long time, yet the space above and around the capital’s stations has rarely been developed. This section reviews the arrangements that led to both completed projects and missed opportunities.
Private-sector expansion (1850-1930s)
Development over stations or the railway adjoining them has remained an exception rather than the rule. This is because most of London’s rail network was laid out by competing private railway companies: stations and lines were built quickly, with little thought given to the coherence of the network, let alone designing for over-site development. Development of surrounding greenfield land was unregulated, so promoters built outwards rather than upwards.
The few examples of over-site developments in the pre-WWII planning system were funded by railway companies, who developed hotels within their central London termini as they laid down tracks. However, these developments are small relative to the stations’ footprints, suggesting the efficient use of land was not a strong guiding principle. 31
A few 1900s-era tube stations were also built with capacity for over-site development 32, and a couple of “anomaly projects” were carried out later on by London Underground, including the redevelopment of their headquarters above St James’s Park station into 55 Broadway, which became London’s tallest building in 1931. 33
Morden station was also designed to take development on its roof, though it was only thirty years later that a threestorey office building was added to it.
Office-led densification deals (1960s-1980s)
The British Transport Commission (created in 1947 to oversee all modes of UK transport) largely failed to take a comprehensive approach to developing land at existing or new stations, or investing so that it could be done in the future.
The Victoria line (1962-1972), the first underground line built in decades, did not come with a development strategy above stations or on adjacent land: Highbury & Islington station was flattened into a single-storey shed, while Seven Sisters, Tottenham Hale, Blackhorse Road and Walthamstow stations have until recently been surrounded by low-density housing and commercial uses.
A major shift took place in 1962: the government set up a new rail operating body, the British Railways Board (BRB), and introduced a legal duty to make rail operations financially profitable. Given falling ridership on the Underground 34, the property arm of the BRB sought to make most of the boom in London office construction 35 by redeveloping some of their London land holdings into office buildings through ad hoc deals with developers.
Completed developments include Cannon Street (1962), Wembley Central (1966)
36, Euston (1968), Liverpool Street/Broad Street (1986), Charing Cross (1990)
37 and Ludgate (1990).
Each of these developments was unique in scope: Wembley, Euston and Charing Cross were limited to the station footprint. Broadgate was a major development replacing disused Broad Street station, but also including an office building spanning live tracks and some adjacent land. Ludgate was part of the Thameslink project aiming to create a continuous train service on both sides of the River.
The tracks were realigned in a box between Blackfriars and the new City Thameslink stations, allowing several office buildings to be created between the stations, and over-site development on the latter.
The British Rail Property Board entered a variety of deals to reflect these particularities – for instance, receiving developer funding and rental income from office building in Wembley, but selling land to several developers in Ludgate.
The only housing and mixed-use development above railway land was the Barbican Estate, commissioned by the City of London Corporation to repopulate the Square Mile. This was a much less lucrative option than office development – one of the reasons why the City decided to build at high density above the railway grounds. The project suffered delays and large cost overruns.
Investment into inner city regeneration (1980s-2000s)
From the 1980s, successive public investments in rail were designed to spark development opportunities and regeneration in poorly connected parts of inner London, particularly the eastern docklands areas. Increases in connectivity allowed building at higher densities, changes in land use designation, and a surge in land values.
Investment into the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) and the Jubilee Line Extension (JLE) were central to unlocking development on land adjacent to Canary Wharf and Royal Docks stations – though most of the DLR stations were not accompanied by a development strategy, meaning that until recently most of the housing built was at low density. Stations along the JLE (1993-1999) did benefit from a more holistic approach to design and engineering. The government grant included funding for piling able to support mid-rise buildings above Westminster, Southwark, Bermondsey, Canada Water and North Greenwich stations.
However, even where provision was made, JLE stations were delivered independently from the buildings above them – all but Westminster are still awaiting oversite development. 39 And development at Westminster station was secured by the public sector to accommodate new parliamentary offices, at a particularly high cost. 40
Continued commitment to east London regeneration by the then newly elected Mayor of London Ken Livingstone meant that two of the new London Overground stations (Shoreditch High Street and Dalston Junction) were designed to withstand development.
Development above and around Dalston Junction was completed alongside the transport works, in order to cross-fund the new station and the podium above it.
Increasing capacity to accommodate growth (2010s-2020s)
Since the Greater London Authority was set up, most over-site development projects have coincided with the construction of new railways, though the focus has now shifted to TfL’s and Network Rail’s land. Both transport bodies have been setting up joint ventures to build up some of their sites (see Chapter 4) – though interviewees suggest station densification has been less of a priority for Network Rail (apart from a few highprofile central London station densification projects such as London Bridge).
Crossrail 1 is one of the largest transport investments in the capital in decades, but critics argue that its development potential has not been optimised. Crossrail is developing some of the land it acquired to conduct engineering works at 12 of the 40 stations along the route. These are mostly in the West End and the City 41, following an agreement with central London planning authorities that the buildings demolished as part of the transport works would be replaced before completion. These developments generate some capital revenue (£500m, 3.4 per cent of Crossrail’s total funding). Critics suggest the density of these developments could have been greater, and the property development strategy on public land more ambitious.
More development-funded infrastructure projects?
In recent years, the rapid delivery of new homes has become one of the main objectives of rail extensions.
The two new stations of the Northern line extension to Battersea Power Station were designed to structurally withstand over-station development: 42 TfL was granted planning permission to build above both stations as well as on an adjacent site in Nine Elms, with development receipts partly funding the capital investment into the Northern line extension.
The extension of London Overground to Barking Riverside will be partly funded by receipts from the development of 10,000 homes around the station – and the case for the scheme was made on the basis of its capacity to accelerate housing delivery.
As this overview has indicated, more attention has been paid to the potential of integrating development with major rail projects in recent years. The next chapter looks at the commercial case for doing so, and at the barriers such projects face.