This section reviews the organisational hurdles that have hampered station development – including the governance of transport bodies’ assets, the powers that transport bodies have to facilitate development at stations, and transport bodies’ relationship with planning authorities.
4.1 Institutional barriers
Governance of rail assets
The companies that set up London’s rail network in the late-19th and early-20th centuries undertook real estate projects alongside transport investment and train operations.
Several state-backed transport organisations combine these powers today – such as Hong Kong’s MTR or Eastern Japan’s railway company. But until recently, Transport for London and Network Rail have been focused on their core transport functions. Their duty has revolved around safety of operations and safeguarding assets for future capacity increases – essential to running a large and busy rail network.
“Doing” development as well as transport
Calls for transport bodies to use their assets to accelerate housing delivery and raise revenue from property are not new, but have nonetheless intensified in recent years.
Although the 1999 GLA Act allowed TfL to acquire, assemble and develop land, its property development unit only had five members of staff until 2015. The team has now grown to 30+ people in mid-2017 after recruiting personnel from the development industry 47, and capacity continues to develop. It is also taking time to integrate transport bodies’ growing development capabilities with their original transport function – sometimes out of fears that development aims (viability) could be favoured over operational aims (safety of operations, service closures, and preserving future capacity).
Indeed, the collapse of a private sector-led decking scheme over the railway near Gerrard’s Cross station in June 2005, which led to the closure of the railway for six weeks, still resonates within the profession.
TfL is acutely aware of these tensions: Transport Commissioner Mike Brown has pledged to ensure that development functions will unlock rather than compromise opportunities on London transport. 48
Brown has also signalled that commercial activity is one of TfL’s three “operational businesses” (alongside Surface Transport and London Underground) by allowing the Director of Commercial Development to sit on TfL’s Executive Committee. 49
The growth of Network Rail’s real estate capability and expertise began in the organisation’s previous incarnation of Railtrack. As a result, Network Rail has had development capacity for around two decades.
In 2008, Network Rail formed Solum, a multi-site joint venture with Kier, which has seen development take place at a number of sites in London and the South East, and proposed or planned at others. Network Rail set up a separate property company in 2016, with a specific executive board. 50
From a governance point of view, the Mayor’s oversight of Transport for London is likely to have helped integrate the Mayor’s housing agenda with TfL’s transport priorities, and collaboration between the relevant teams. 49 Knowledge sharing – in terms of land assets held and strategic priorities – is therefore more established as common practice. 52
Network Rail have also been working closely with the GLA/TfL to identify sites for development and to maximise the use of adjacent sites.
To boost development capacity at their sites further, Transport for London, Network Rail and the Greater London Authority have also established a growing number of joint ventures with developers which are focused on stations – the largest at Earl’s Court (TfL with Capco), with additional ventures at Barking Riverside (GLA with Bellway Homes and now L&Q) and Clapham Junction (Network Rail with Kier and now Capco).
TfL’s 2017/18 budget forecast also mentions entering joint ventures at Landmark Court, Blackhorse Road and South Kensington.
Uncertainty around commercial potential
While progress has been made by TfL and Network Rail in collecting and sharing data on land holdings, the task of identifying land ownership across London is an ongoing one. As a TfL representative told a recent London Assembly meeting:
“We have identified the first 300 [acres] and we will continue to keep trawling our land to bring through any element of land that is redundant or can be used better for housing.” 53
In some cases, it is not clear who owns what, given changes in ownership and waves of land acquisition and disposal.
The 2015 London Land Commission sought to address this challenge of poor quality or siloed data on public land holdings, including land owned by transport
bodies. The results of this audit of all public-sector owned land in the capital are presented in an online tool, last updated in 2016. This version does not include any data on Network Rail holdings, as the data that Network Rail provided to the Mayor in 2015 was not in a publicly available form. 54
However, the LLC does not indicate ownership boundaries, making it difficult to work out adjacencies with boroughs’ or other estates (see following page).
The GLA is currently working with TfL to improve quality of data on publicly-owned land in London, meeting regularly with some London boroughs, Network Rail, government departments and other large public estates to identify public land ownership. 55
Powers to facilitate development at stations
Building stations with extra capacity – and with a structure allowing for over-site development – has become more common. However, there has been a longstanding reluctance in central government to allow the public sector to think comprehensively about integrating transport and development – fearing a “land grab”. Upon privatisation of British Rail, all nonoperational land was placed in a separate government body, the British Railways Board Residuary. Hence, all of Network Rail’s land is deemed to be operational, both from a regulatory and a planning legislation perspective.
Any land release by Network Rail requires extensive consultation within the organisation and with external stakeholders.
Snapshot from London Land Commission’s publicly available data
Source: Mayor of London (2017). London Land Commission Register. Retrieved from https://maps.
london.gov.uk/webmaps/LLC/ [accessed on 23.08.2017]
The preference has been for the public sector to sell assets or bring infrastructure to “unlock” development and increase capacity – relying on the private sector to build out and up, while shaping station areas through planning control. This is even the case for infrastructure projects “of national importance”: the Department for Transport (DfT) confirmed in January 2017 that High Speed Two Ltd would be stripped of powers to purchase land for development purposes. 56
Generally, strict and complex conditions are attached to transport bodies purchasing land – making the use of these powers costly. As a consequence, TfL and Network Rail have been reluctant or unable to use compulsory purchase for development purposes. They have sought agreements with landowners instead, although this means transport bodies have paid higher land acquisition costs, and are vulnerable to ransom strip pricing. However, 2017’s neighbourhood planning bill does open the way for TfL to share the GLA’s compulsory purchase powers, which can be used for regeneration or housing aims.
The Mayor of London also has the ability to establish Mayoral Development Corporations (MDCs) with powers to buy and sell land (including using CPOs); build transport and other infrastructure; give business rate discounts and other financial incentives; take planning decisions; and set planning policy for their area.
This concentration of powers, though controversial, includes the ability to act one step removed from local authority politics, and to signal to private investors that a project is of significant strategic importance. Though they are themselves complex to establish, where planning and land assembly is a significant challenge, MDCs or other specific delivery vehicles could be explored as a means of bringing forward development above and around new or remodelled stations.
Dispersed responsibility for planning
Local authority support – even when tacit – can help reduce risk for station densification projects. Some London boroughs have actively partnered on such projects: examples include the London Borough of Hackney, who leased some of its land to Barratt Homes to improve the viability of development above Dalston Junction station; or the London Borough of Lambeth, who agreed to bring forward the TfL redevelopment of their community centre on the Fenwick Estate, a site adjacent to Clapham North station 57
However, while Transport for London has described its good relationship with several London boroughs 58, the dispersed governance of planning in the capital – essentially divided into 36 authorities (32 boroughs, the City of London Corporation, two Mayoral Development Corporations and the Mayor of London) as well as the Secretary of State – has led to wide disparities in the willingness to endorse station densification projects. 59
In addition, local authorities have limited financial incentives to grow their housing or office stock: as Chapter 3 showed, most of the long-term tax revenue from development flows to central government, while planning control happens at local level.
Case study: Hong Kong Metropolitan Transit Railway
Hong Kong’s Metropolitan Transit Railway (MTR) uses property development
(typically high rise apartments and malls) near and above stations in order to fund
the construction of new lines.
The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government owns all land in
Hong Kong, with all private leases lasting a maximum of 50 years, along with full
development rights. The government gives the MTR development rights at new
railway stations, for which MTR pays the government a “before rail” price. (MTR
itself is 76% owned by the government.) The MTR has a share in future profits from these developments, and the government then receives land premiums throughout the 50-year lease period, profiting from its 76% stake in MTR without the risk of investing in each project.
The different pattern of land ownership and development in Hong Kong
means that replicating this model of development in London is difficult, as land can rarely be acquired at “before rail” prices. MTR also has a major advantage in that development is planned and underway before railways are operational, removing many of the constraints and costs often associated with building above and around stations. The opportunities to do this in London are few and far between, given the density of the capital’s existing infrastructure. Finally, the level of density that is both achievable and acceptable in Hong Kong means that the value captured is likely to be higher than can be achieved in London. Peak residential densities in Hong Kong reach up to 111,000 people per square km, four times London’s peak density per square km. 60
Case study: Old Oak Common
Current discussions about over-station development at Old Oak Common in west
London highlight some of the difficulties in securing the funding and flexibility
required to future-proof station development.
The development is managed by a Mayoral Development Corporation – Old
Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC). Initially, designs for a
new HS2 station made no provision for over-station development at a later date.
HS2 agreed to consider changes to its plans, but has highlighted design, funding
and timetabling issues; no agreement has yet been reached on how any enabling
work should be funded or financed. This matter is further complicated by the
location of a Crossrail depot adjacent to the proposed HS2 site – again, without any enabling works.
At the heart of this discussion is the question of who should fund or finance such provision, and what then happens with the value created by this investment.
An in-principle agreement between the Department for Transport and OPDC was
signed in 2016, agreeing to transfer all Department for Transport/Network Rail
land and Air Rights to the OPDC on commercial terms.
It is not considered likely that OPDC will receive a substantial government grant for enabling costs. This leaves OPDC with the question of how to raise the
large upfront capital required for these works. A review by Mayor Sadiq Khan into the OPDC plans warned that this lack of funding could jeopardise the provision of affordable housing at Old Oak Common, suggesting that funding the high cost of infrastructure may require a quantum and scale of development that is unacceptable in height, scale, density or mass.
4.2 Operational and engineering risks
While institutional collaboration is key to identifying and delivering station development projects, a number of projects are also likely to require significant coordination in terms of managing the operational and engineering risks that come with building above and around stations. With recent advances in construction
techniques, the engineering itself is not a problem – rather, the difficulties lie in finding the money, time, and flexibility to implement solutions.
The busier the network, the more difficult and more expensive over-station development is likely to be.
As London’s Underground and mainline networks get busier, the acceptability of suspending train services for construction purposes diminishes. Procedures which may once have been carried out in operational stations may now require the temporary closure of platforms and even stations. These closures mean incurring large additional costs for possession, and further large costs should works overrun. While it is possible to reduce track closures by temporarily re-routing trains on disused tracks or by “piggybacking” on other planned closures and upgrades, the existing high levels of demand on London’s rail infrastructure means such opportunities are limited.
As discussed in the last section, the challenge of maintaining operations throughout development often reflects the tension between the operational side of rail companies and those managing property developments. Given the formal role of Network Rail and TfL as transport authorities, actions that may be seen to jeopardise the ability of transport companies to run services are no doubt perceived negatively by passengers, even in instances where development over operational railways is required to secure investment for continued operations.
Predicting the operational costs involved in overstation projects is not straightforward. Major projects require timeline contingency to allow for the unexpected challenges that come with developing in an inner-city location. These challenges range from finds such as WWII bombs and archaeological remains to more everyday challenges, including relocation of utilities and signals. London is an old city with a legacy of multiple infrastructure investments over centuries, adding to the complexity and uncertainty of its subterranean sites.
More extensive decking may also result in additional requirements in terms of ventilation and air quality, such as the construction of ventilation shafts or the introduction of more strenuous sub-surface regulations.
The costs of station development vary significantly based on a number of elements. Major factors include whether the development is above a newly built or existing station, the amount of retrofitting required, the availability of land adjacent to the station, and the type of development planned. For buildings above new stations, the depth of buried rail infrastructure is particularly important, as it impacts the amount of piling required.
In existing stations, engineering requirements will be affected by the condition and strength of existing piling. In all instances, the exact alignment of decking above the station – as well as the load-bearing capacity and eventual use of the deck – will have an impact on engineering solutions.
While the increased use of London’s infrastructure network can add cost and time to developments, innovations in engineering and construction can also derisk and speed up projects. The more that can be done off-site, or even “alongside-site”, the less the disruption to operations. For example, the large footbridge recently put in place at East Croydon station was constructed alongside the site and then lifted into place. New methods of more lightweight construction, such as the use of cross-laminated timber, allow a greater number of units to be built on a load bearing platform within the same weight restriction.
There are other means of reducing the load-bearing requirements (and hence cost) of over-station decks. The first option is to reduce the size of the load placed on the deck by using the newly created space as a park or other public realm. Building can then be concentrated around the deck, or even on existing park space that is replaced by the new space created above the deck. The Earl’s Court development has adopted this “linear park” model, minimising the amount of construction taking place above the deck. A second option is to develop engineering solutions that maximise opportunities for load transfer. This can be done by building bridges rather than decking across tracks, as was achieved at Broadgate.
Leaving space between decks and new buildings can minimise the transmission of vibrations into buildings.
Generally, commercial development requires less suppression than residential development, so costs can be reduced by placing commercial rather than residential development nearest the train tracks. The installation of rubber structural bearings or elastomeric bearings can reduce vibrations – as was used for the residential development above St James’s Park station. 61
Separation of station and development can also help ensure the longevity of both – allowing access to the station for improvements or expansion of the rail network.
Disruption to operations can best be minimised by putting enabling works in place before stations are operational. This includes constructing stations with piling or podiums that could take development at a later date; or using station boxes to protect tracks from construction that may take place on land adjacent to the station. Given the impact of operational risk on project budgets, there is a case for building in enabling works for over-site development even if there are not yet specific plans for such development. This means that should a time come where development above the station is considered, the resultant disruption is significantly reduced. This approach featured prominently in the construction of the Jubilee Line Extension (JLE) platforms. For example, the original podium built into Bermondsey station in 1999 was planned to support a 6-storey building – and one interviewee suggested that with strengthening, it could support up to 15 storeys. However, the fact that it has taken nearly two decades for Bermondsey or Southwark station to be put forward for such a project shows that designing for over-site development does not necessarily guarantee the delivery of the scheme.
Case study: Dalston Lane
While not specifically an over-station development project, Dalston Lane saw
the construction of 121 residential units above a safeguarded route for Crossrail
2 and the HS1 tracks. It faced constraints similar to an over-station development project, including maximising units within load-bearing constraints and building a
deck without compromising the integrity and operations of the tunnel. The project
adopted two solutions to address these particular challenges.
First, rather than use conventional piling methods, an internally reinforced
raft slab was constructed, meaning the depth of foundations required was not as
great. Second, using cross-laminated timber rather than concrete for the residential units 25 per cent more units could be built without breaching maximum weight restrictions. The use of cross-laminated timber was also significantly quicker than conventional building methods, meaning less disruption.
As these indicative drawings, prepared by Arup, show, retrofitting over station
development usually requires significant piling works to bear the additional
load. Where piling and other engineering works can be integrated into station
construction from the outset, costs and disruption can be reduced.
4.3 Financial barriers
As preceding sections have shown, over-station development is expensive and complex, involving significant construction risk, early capital outlay, and deferred receipts. And as Arup’s modelling demonstrates, public intervention may be required to unlock the potential for over-station development to deliver transport enhancements as well as homes and workspaces.
The modelling undertaken for this report assumes a joint venture with private partners, which offers the advantages of allowing a single team to co-ordinate works to the station itself, the enabling works for overstation development, and the construction, sale and letting of the development. This may be the best means
of delivery – though direct contracting by public bodies should not be ruled out – but it may not be the best means of financing such a scheme, given the higher costs of capital paid by most private developers.
In some cases, developers may have access to significant capital reserves: examples are the investment of the BT pension fund around King’s Cross and of the Qatari sovereign wealth fund at London Bridge. In other cases, public sector loans or loans backed by public sector guarantees may be the most cost-effective way of securing funding: Transport for London is already a significant borrower, with nearly £10 billion of debt, and has excellent credit ratings. Using public borrowing or guarantees does expose the public sector to risk, but in reality, the residual risk of major transport infrastructure projects always reverts to public bodies.
Even if upfront capital investment by public bodies is not possible, fiscal flows can contribute to the business case. New development at a station does not just yield rents and capital receipts: it also yields local tax revenues – Council Tax and business rates – as well as one-off payments such as Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL). Tax increment financing (TIF) schemes use additional tax revenues to repay loans taken out to pay for new infrastructure. A TIF approach was adopted to fund the £1 billion cost of the Northern line extension to Battersea, with business rates, CIL and other planning obligations being ring-fenced to repay the state loan, backed by an HM Treasury guarantee.
A more elusive goal has been the capture of land value rises created by new or enhanced infrastructure. These have been noted in relation to major transport
projects in the past. A 2005 study estimated that the £3.3 billion Jubilee Line Extension was responsible for £2.1 billion in property value increases around Canary Wharf Station and £78 million at Southwark58, and research undertaken for Transport for London estimates that future transport projects expected to cost £36 billion could return land value uplifts of £87 billion. 63
The immediate beneficiary of land value rises is the landowner; while Transport for London and Network Rail will benefit from rises in the value of their own property, their ability to use compulsory purchase to secure a stake in wider property value increases is limited. As the London Finance Commission has argued, devolution of property taxes – in particular Stamp Duty Land Tax and Capital Gains
Tax on property – would enable some participation in property value rises. However, such tax receipts are unpredictable and would in any case be expected to fund general services once devolved to London. Ring-fencing them (or Council Tax and business rates) within a particular area to fund transport infrastructure would therefore – in part – represent a diversion of funding from other services.
Research undertaken by Transport for London for the London Finance Commission recommends two new approaches to land value capture: the “development rights auction model” and a “transport premium charge”. 49
Under the first approach, landowners around a new transport scheme would be offered the opportunity to pool their land and offer it for development according to an agreed masterplan. Assuming a successful auction of these rights, the increase in land value resulting from the transport scheme would be shared between the private landowners and the transport authority.
Those landowners who did not participate would be taxed punitively on any development through CIL. The government agreed in the March 2017 budget to work with the Greater London Authority to pilot this approach.
The “transport premium charge” approach, likely to be more controversial, would impact on existing property, whereby people moving into an area as owner-occupiers or tenants would pay an additional charge reflecting the value of enhanced transport access. In theory, this would ensure that landlords or owner occupiers shared the windfall, in terms of rent or property value, resulting from transport improvements.
Our modelling has illustrated the challenges in making over-station development commercially viable on its own, especially if it is expected to fund infrastructure enhancements – even though repeated studies have shown that these unlock significant land value increases. In these cases, a more comprehensive approach, as discussed in the next chapter and supported by development rights auctions, can help ensure viability – as would full devolution of property taxes.
Case study: Hudson Yards, New York City
Hudson Yards in West Manhattan is the largest private real estate development in
the history of New York, and shows the potential of linking transport infrastructure with major new development. It is governed by a set of agreements relating to planning, financing and construction between the City of New York, the State of New York, and the Metropolitan Transport Authority (MTA), alongside two dedicated corporations – the Hudson Yards Development Corporation (HYDC) and the Hudson Yards Infrastructure Corporation (HYIC).
Critical to the initial plans set out in 2005 is the extension of the #7 subway line,
which was intended to be publicly funded – split between the MTA (80%), New
York City government and New York State government with the aim of spurring
private investment in the site. However, the extension of the #7 line was not seen as a capital priority by the MTA, so the City decided to fully fund it itself, budgeting $2.1bn. The planning and development of the area is under the control of HYIC, and takes a phased approach: the Eastern Yard (Phase 1) is the main high-rise area, while the Western Yard (Phase 2) is based around open community space.
A number of financial mechanisms were used to capture the investment made
by the City into Hudson Yards, including:
• Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT): HYIC issued 40-year bonds backed
by payments in lieu of real estate taxes (PILOTs): any tax levied on new
or refurbished properties in the area is ring-fenced for repaying debt and
interest. The actual revenues from the PILOTs have so far fallen short of
expectations, meaning HYIC has had to pay more interest than anticipated.
Critics have also highlighted that the combination of PILOTs with tax breaks/
credits risks undermining the real estate tax base.
• Air Development Rights: The MTA and HYDC sold air development
rights over the rail yards. An IBO report found sale of rights and related fees
totalled nearly $500m to May 2016, below an estimate of $641.5m.
• Bonuses: Other revenues for the City come from bonuses paid by
developers to build at extremely high densities, allowing additional floor area
ratio allowance of 8 FAR for particular sites (above currently zoned FARs of
10-33); this was at a cost at the time of $100 per square foot per annum, which
is indexed and rises annually with CPI.
Evaluating the success of Hudson Yards is challenging given the long project
timelines and complex financial mechanisms used. The first major development on
the site was operating at 100% occupancy in 2016, alongside the announcement of
further relocations, including BlackRock and Boston Consulting Group.
4.4 Planning policy and politics
In combining housing and transport infrastructure, development at stations is subject to a number of policy priorities from national, regional, and local government. These policies cover a range of aims, including maintaining and improving the quality of the built environment, mitigating the costs of development, and achieving desired mixes of use types and tenures
in specific settings.
However, planning policies and their enforcement also carry a political dimension, which enables residents to influence development in their local area. London’s stations are used by millions every day: development above them is highly visible and must balance a range of potentially competing demands and priorities.
As such, station developments are prone to meeting local opposition.
This section reviews whether the current planning context reflects the complexity of building at stations, and how local democracy can improve the quality of development, rather than prevent it altogether.
Where affordable housebuilding was once dominated by local authorities and housing associations, a decline in public sector activity has meant that planning gain from private sector development has become more and more important in delivering units below market rates. A series of incremental policy measures, and specifically Section 106 of the 1990 Town and Country Planning Act, extended the statutory obligation of developers to mitigate the negative impacts of projects, and prioritised contributions to affordable housing – subject to the economic viability of the development.
As a result of the increasing reliance on developers’ planning obligations for the provision of affordable housing, large developments are now often scrutinised in terms of how much (and what type) of affordable housing is being provided.
Mayor Sadiq Khan has pledged to boost the delivery of affordable housing since he came to power: he has set a “strategic aim” for 50 per cent of all new homes in London to be affordable, a target that is also held by 19 London boroughs. Sadiq Khan has also pledged that development on land owned by Transport for London would include a minimum of 50 per cent affordable housing.
Previous chapters have demonstrated the very high cost of engineering land above stations, as well as the trade-offs between funding upgrades to the station and levels of affordable housing. National planning policy requires affordable housing targets to be applied flexibly – they are subject to financial viability testing — in order to unlock difficult sites for development. In the case of land owned by Transport for London, the current understanding is that affordable housing targets will be monitored across the transport body’s development portfolio – meaning TfL projects must deliver 50 per cent affordable housing in aggregate. 65
Some local authorities have taken a similar approach, creating bespoke affordable housing agreements with developers, as part of which affordable housing is built off-site using financial contributions from the developer. This approach has, however, been criticised for compromising the creation of mixed-tenure neighbourhoods around stations.
Off-site provision and cross-borough collaboration on affordable housing allocation therefore requires striking a balance between making the most of lower land values – which enable more affordable homes to be built with the same amount of money – and preserving and enhancing social mix. 66
Given the impact on viability of both long timeframes and the risks associated with station development, one means of optimising affordable housing is to introduce contingent affordable housing contributions or review mechanisms. While the terms of such mechanisms are often project-specific, the general principle is that viability is reappraised once the project has neared completion, either in terms of delivery or unit sales. This allows planning authorities to capture any unexpected increase in value above what was anticipated when an initial S106 contribution was agreed. The Mayor’s Supplementary Planning Guidance for affordable housing suggests that this would be done by assessing changes to gross development values and build costs. 67
It should be noted that any reduction in affordable housing due to a drop in revenue should result in new planning permission being required. If we are to make the most of the development potential of London’s stations, and use their redevelopment to catalyse the creation of mixeduse, mixed-tenure urban transit hubs, then there is a compelling case for national, regional, and local government to allocate additional resources to such projects. Creating such hubs, as opposed to mono-tenure dormitory-style accommodation, requires bold political decision-making.
If these types of development have a value that goes beyond a simple quantum of floorspace, how can policy support them? Where it is hard to achieve station remodelling as well as other planning commitments, can policy show flexibility? If affordable housing at stations is to be prioritised (and station locations will not work for all those in need of affordable housing), should enhanced rates of subsidy be used to support this (for example, in the form of central government grants)?
Or should density standards be revised to enable and require much higher densities, thereby supporting higher land values and/or the cost of building new infrastructure for development?
Case study: Fisher Street Development
The eight-storey residential development at Fisher Street in Holborn is built over a new Crossrail ventilation shaft and headhouse rather than a station.
Nevertheless, the project exemplifies potential ways of mitigating engineering and planning risk.
First, development architects HOK were engaged in the design work of the
shaft early on, and had good knowledge of the requirements and constraints of the
site. Second, the developers agreed an alternative approach to affordable housing
requirements. They negotiated a contribution to affordable housing elsewhere in
the borough of Camden, rather than on-site, and agreed that a further viability
assessment would be carried out either on full completion of the development, or
once half the properties had been sold. This flexibility on viability helped minimise
the risks associated with the complexity of the project, while ensuring that a
proportion of any eventual additional value would be directed to further affordable housing units.
One way of increasing development value, and therefore potential affordable housing contributions, is to allow more height and density above and around the station.
Building densities in London are guided by the Sustainable Residential Quality (SRQ) matrix. These guidelines, reflected in London Plan policy, set ranges for densities based primarily on Public Transport Access Levels (PTAL) and residential settings (determined as central, urban, and suburban). While the application of these guidelines is flexible – 57 per cent of developments of 15 units and above were above the optimal range set out in the SRQ in 2014/15 68 – these guidelines can be used both by boroughs and local opposition groups to challenge projects with high densities, sometimes on the basis of impact on local services (see below).
While height is not identical with density, it is another major trigger for controversy, affecting many scuppered and even successful over-station development projects.
Opposition can be based on a number of factors – the impact of tall buildings on the surrounding environment, rights to light, perceived changes to the character of the locality, or encroachment on protected viewing corridors.
Case study: 21 Moorfields
21 Moorfields shows the challenges of co-ordinating and planning dense
development with the delivery of a major infrastructure project. Developers Land Securities purchased a site at 21 Moorfields in 2015. A planned over-station development will sit above the existing Moorgate Underground station in Central London, and a future Crossrail ticket hall.
As architects Wilkinson Eyre observe, the project faces a “number of
constraints above and below ground, including proximity to listed buildings and
conservation areas with restrictive view corridors.”
One specific complication arose when proposals for two towers of 16 storeys were met with a number of unresolvable right-to-light claims, holding up initial piling and enabling works which were due to commence in 2016. This risked missing the window for enabling works ahead of the arrival of Crossrail. Land Securities sought to resolve the situation by asking the City of London Corporation to use Section 227 powers – under which the City would effectively take temporary ownership of the development, meaning that objectors would have to accept compensation for loss of light rather than seeking an injunction. The City of London approved the use of these powers in March 2016.
No overarching framework for station densification
In addition to being covered by a range of London-wide policies and supplementary guidance, a large number of stations lie within or close to places with planning designations as opportunity areas or housing zones – large sites or areas that have been designated for development and intensification of both housing and employment, often in combination with infrastructure investment.
These designations intend to encourage local planning authorities (usually boroughs or development corporations) to take a more bespoke approach to planning decisions, including optimising densities and setting expectations in terms of both building heights and densities. 69
But a third of London’s stations are not covered by any policy designation, 70 and there is currently no existing designation specifically covering stations.
In reflecting London’s strategic priorities, a designation can help provide grounds for a mayoral intervention in planning decisions. Early on in his Mayoral term, Sadiq Khan called in developments in the Harrow Housing Zone and Tottenham Hale Opportunity Area which had been rejected by their respective boroughs. The plans were approved by the Mayor with some amendments, on the basis that “both schemes are close to transport links and this is one of the key factors in determining where major housing developments should be built.
However, other planning designations can make anysort of development around stations more challenging.
One in four London Underground stations has some form of listed status, meaning that listed building consent is required from local authorities if changes are to be made. Similarly, a number of stations owned by Network Rail are either listed, or have elements with heritage status, such as Victory Arch at Waterloo.
Additionally, 20 per cent of London’s stations fall within conservation areas, meaning demolition or substantial alterations are likely to require permission from local authorities. 72
Changes to these stations are also likely to attract a larger number of objections – not just from station users, but also from those seeking to protect London’s heritage and conversation sites.
Proposed development can also lead to calls for further planning restrictions. In 2010, Richmond Borough Council introduced a recommended maximum height of 4-5 storeys into its Supplementary Planning Document, following residents’ objections to a proposed 7-storey development over Twickenham station. 73
Impact on services and disruption
People tend to associate high-density development with large numbers of new people. There is a concern that this creates additional demand on transport infrastructure, as well as on public services including schools and GPs. If an individual’s experience of a station is that they can barely get on a train at 7am, they are unlikely to welcome an additional 200 people within the immediate vicinity of the station, especially in the absence of station improvements. Residents and commuters are also put off by disruption – whether this is a change in access to the station, or the noise and congestion that comes with major construction work. 74
Engagement and communication is therefore vital to building trust between the numerous stakeholders involved in station development. This includes being up-front and transparent about potential disruption, making provision for local businesses who may need to be relocated, and setting out a vision for an improved station and public realm, with potential for better station access and social amenities.
Local politicians can of course play an important role in either promoting, scrutinising, or potentially blocking new schemes, meaning that relationships between bodies such as TfL, Network Rail, the GLA and developers are hugely important in ensuring a smooth development process. The importance of this is increasingly recognised by TfL, with Lester Hampson, Property Development, saying to the London Assembly:
“All of our developments will be bought through a special purpose vehicle with our developers and JV will be responsible for the consultation. I can absolutely assure you that we will be reinforcing good quality consultation in everything that we do, not just necessarily on the large sites but on the small sites, too.” 55