London is growing rapidly by UK standards. In the last five years, the city has accommodated an additional 600,000 residents and 700,000 jobs, at a growth rate
twice that of the country as a whole. 1
At the same time, London’s successive mayors have committed the capital to managing this growth within its borders, without infringing on the green belt. This has been viable so far – in part thanks to London’s heritage as an industrial power, which has gifted the city large areas of former industrial ‘brownfield’ land that many European capitals envy. But these spaces have been much depleted in recent years: many of those remaining are either complex to develop or remain in commercial or industrial use. Consequently, finding space for new housing and workplaces means intensifying existing land uses, and doing so in the right places.
London is not a very dense city by international standards 2: there is scope for encouraging denser uses of land and property, particularly around stations, where high connectivity is not always reflected in local density.
Currently, 80 of London’s circa 550 “station neighbourhoods” are less dense than the London average – and the remainder have densities that are typical for the borough in which they are located. Transport for London and Network Rail have significant land holdings near stations, and land can also be “engineered” by building decks over infrastructure – particularly on railway land near or above stations, which further harnesses their connectivity. The potential of station land in London’s prime property market has aroused enthusiasm. Railway land makes up a small portion of Greater London’s area, but Transport for London and Network Rail are among the capital’s biggest landowners.
International examples – and buildings above Charing Cross, Liverpool Street and seven Crossrail stations – show what can be achieved. But the low number of projects completed (and their modest scale) in a period of dramatic land value growth suggests that there are significant barriers to densifying stations in the capital.
The drive to make better use of stations for development is growing, and there are rising expectations around their potential. Historically, rail operators have been nervous about allowing construction over an increasingly saturated transport network – but Transport for London and Network Rail are now actively seeking development opportunities over their land to meet their funding needs. Like most public bodies, they have been formally mandated by the Mayor or central government to make land available to meet housing targets. In particular, the Mayor’s team is expecting Transport for London’s land to enable well-connected, well-designed and affordable homes and offices.
Despite these expectations, the funding and policy environment has not changed to support the delivery of quality station densification projects. Decking above “live” infrastructure is complex and costly (especially above railways): yet if there is one city in the UK where such projects could be viable, it is the capital, where land values are the greatest.
This report investigates the irregular take-up of station densification projects in London, and suggests how we can make more of the potential for developing above and around the capital’s stations:
• Chapter 1 makes the case for densifying London’s stations.
• Chapter 2 draws lessons from existing station densification projects in the capital, as well as missed opportunities.
• Chapter 3 assesses the commercial and economic potential of over-site development in different parts of the city.
• Chapter 4 asks whether the delivery, policy, funding and financing environment reflects the complexity of building at stations.
• Chapter 5 suggests how the potential for station densification in London can be unlocked.
This report is based on desk research; interviews with engineers, architects, planners and development personnel at Transport for London and Network Rail; and estimates of costs and revenues from a theoretical over-station development, produced by Arup, a building, engineering and consulting firm.
The report considers how we can achieve greater interaction between transport investment and development. Given that station development projects often extend beyond over-site development, this report examines the potential for developing both above and around stations.