Open letter to Network Rail’s Corporate Social Responsibility Committee

The following letter was sent by first class post today to all twelve members of the Committee:

To all Social Responsibility Committee members
Network Rail
40 Melton Street
London
NW1 2EE

24 June 2008

Dear <membername>,

I represent a local charity, King’s Cross Community Projects, working to promote urban regeneration for public benefit including the maintenance, improvement or provision of public amenities.  Our organisation, along with our local community is increasingly concerned at the lack of community spirit being shown by Network Rail during the design and planning application stages and now construction phase of the redevelopment of King’s Cross Station.  I understand part of the remit of Network Rail’s Social Responsibility Committee is

“… to confer much wider benefits on society and the environment. An effective national rail network can provide the backbone for an integrated, socially inclusive and sustainable transport system.

Our operations interact not just with railway users, but with non-users as well. For example, road users benefit from lower traffic congestion thanks to the alternative the railway provides. And every UK taxpayer has an indirect stake in the efficiency of our operations. Whilst the environmental impact of the railway is lower than that of the roads, the railway does still affect our lineside neighbours.

We must therefore ensure that, in developing our plans to improve the network, we work with our broad constituency of stakeholders to understand how the railway affects their lives and their communities.” Corporate Responsibility Report 2006 (latest available on networkrail.co.uk)

It is disappointing then, that Network Rail continues to fail in engaging the community of thousands of residents and hundreds of business that are lineside neighbours all along the north-eastern side of the Station and the tracks.

Ignoring the local community

Network Rail committed to engaging with the King’s Cross community during redevelopment works by keeping us informed and by holding quarterly meetings with station stakeholders. They have reneged on both commitments. A letter giving the news that there is to be no replacement for the original north-eastern entrance to the station was sent to a very limited number of local residents, not to the community as a whole. I was only sent a copy of the letter because I have previously written to Network Rail about this issue. No further meetings have taken place with the community since an initial meeting on 21 November 2007. Meetings with the community should have been scheduled by Network Rail in February and May of this year, Network Rail has failed to do this. Network Rail stated they would engage with LB Islington and its residents as, in most cases, we will be more directly affected by the redevelopment than will LB Camden residents. Again, Network Rail has failed to do this and continues in this failure.

Excluding the community

The King’s Cross community is generally proud of its local stations. Not only are we regular station users, but the rich history of King’s Cross and St Pancras is part of our history. We often appear to be a unusual community to others, for example our nearest big shops are in the stations – it is in the station where I pick up by prescriptions, buy a birthday card and so on. The local community has always borne the brunt of station development and redevelopment. For myself, I have lived here for twenty years during which time the stations and immediate areas have always been undergoing redevelopment whether in planning or construction stages. This will be so for at least another twenty years, by which time I will be in my mid 60s – a lifetime. By closing the north-eastern entrance to King’s Cross a brick curtain cutting through our community will be completely sealed. Pedestrians will have to walk three times as far as they currently do to reach the entrances of either station. We will be effectively excluded from being an integral part of our community and will become peripheral to it.

Limiting the options

At the LB Camden Planning Committee meeting that gave approval to the current plan for redevelopment despite very strong community protest, Network Rail stated that one option to be considered in the feasibility study would be a footbridge from the existing north-eastern entrance to or close to the new concourse. All present agreed that other options – such as a bridge giving access to all or any platforms would not be feasible. We understand from Network Rail that in drawing up the Section 106 agreement with LB Camden Planning Officers which would form the specification for the feasibility study it was decided not to include the only feasible option for a footbridge and instead assess the feasibility of options that had already been publicly acknowledged as not being feasible. Unsurprising then that the result of the study is that a footbridge is not feasible. It is scandalous that public money has been misused and elected members of LC Camden misled by LB Camden Planning Officers in conjunction with Network Rail.

A deficient feasibility study

The feasibility study carried out by ARUP has failed to consult with the King’s Cross community. This is a glaring omission on either Network Rail’s part in specifying the parameters for the study, or by ARUP in carrying out a limited study. It is in direct contravention of the agreement made by Network Rail to consult the community during the feasibility study at the LB Camden Development Control Committee meeting that gave final planning consent.

The expected outcome

Throughout the planning application process, and during Network Rail’s very limited contact with the King’s Cross community, Network Rail has stated that there will be no north-eastern entrance and that the community should be satisfied with £1 million to be spent by them and LB Camden on improvements to York Way. The King’s Cross community has continually stated that improvements to York Way will absolutely not make up for the loss of access from the northeastern end of the station. It is of no surprise to King’s Cross residents that the outcome of the inadequate feasibility study is exactly what Network Rail wanted in the first place. The additional £1/4 million does not solve the problem. That no study has taken place independent of Network Rail results in this report being highly questionable. No consultancy of whatever size could be expected to produce a report for an organisation the size of Network Rail that would fly in the face of their client’s wishes – it just does not happen.

A derisory alternative

No LB Camden residents live in the area of York Way that falls within the King’s cross community. LB Camden has never adequately managed this section of the road, understandably as they have no voters to cater for here. Even now there are at least seven potentially dangerous pedestrian crossings on this section of York Way; at least two desire lines from the immediate station area to the eastern side of York Way urgently requiring pedestrian crossings that have not been provided; pavements that are of inadequate width for anyone, let alone wheelchair users and those with pushchairs and children; further desire lines just to the north for pedestrian travel to schools, housing estates, parks, shops and a range of other amenities that need crossings; and last but not least, a major bus depot sited on the roadside of York Way that cannot be moved. Additional complications arise for LB Camden in managing York Way for the benefit of the LB Islington residents that use it: the King’s Cross gyratory system is overseen by Transport for London (TfL). TfL have to approve alterations to road layout and this has proven to be a lengthy process. Having lived here for twenty years I am tired by the number of feasibility studies, traffic counts, reports and so on that we have seen, the latest being a ‘walkability’ review carried out by Living Streets for TfL on the seven major rail stations in London, including King’s Cross/St Pancras. To date, TfL have not released the report and the King’s cross community is left none the wiser as to its recommendations or whether any of them will see the light of day. Again, unsurprising that the King’s Cross community is left high and dry because a major road is managed by two large organisations who apparently find communication problematic. To now add Network Rail into the mix will only exacerbate the situation. Leaving LB Islington out of the mix, even though this would further complicate matters for planners and developers, results in the community having no voice in the layout of York Way despite being the very people who use it.

A PR disaster

Network Rail has a PR problem, we all know that and see it regularly in the media. It is therefore almost unbelievable that it would not go out of its way to ensure a good PR job on a major flagship project that will impact on a community of residents as well as other domestic and international station users. Yet this is what Network Rail has done. Throughout this process it has chosen a path that sets it against the King’s Cross community and this can only do further harm to its reputation.

Request from a community organisation

As a member of Network Rail’s Corporate Social Responsibility Committee it is in your gift to request a review of community relations and to demand a swift improvement to the current sad situation. Further, it is in your gift to request that Network Rail look seriously into providing a desperately needed pedestrian and cycle link from the east to the west of the station starting at the junction of Wharfdale Road and York Way and ending near the new concourse of King’s Cross and the new entrance to St Pancras on Pancras Way. This could easily be achieved, could be jointly  funded by Network Rail, Eurostar, Transport for London , Argent St George and others, and could be a stunning addition to the redeveloped station.  We ask that you take action on this issues urgently – the redevelopment plows ahead and our community needs voices to speak on our behalf within Network Rail.

Finally, we are planning to hold a public meeting on 16 July 2008 at a community venue close to the station. We would like to invite you to attend. If you would like to recommend a speaker from Network Rail to address our meeting this would be much appreciated.

Yours sincerely,

Sophie Talbot

Trustee of King’s Cross Community Projects

For further information do visit our community blog at www.kingscrossenvironment.com

We are currently setting up a blog for the campaign to Open Up King’s Cross Station

Let us through!

Our bridgeOpen up King’s Cross Station is the community-led campaign to keep east/west access to our local station. The King’s Cross community is deeply saddened that redevelopment starting in 2008 will result in a closed Station. All current entrances will be removed and replaced by one new concourse opposite the main entrance to St Pancras International in Pancras Road. To compensate us for our loss of access we are asking Network Rail to do all In its power to provide us with a footbridge from the current Wharfdale Road/York Way entrance to the west wide Of the Station. This will replace an original road bridge taking exactly this route, demolished in the 1950s. Bridge designers out there – what an opportunity to create what will be a much loved bridge. This is your chance to create the most beautiful footbridge in London.

Open Up King’s Cross Station: Letters to Network Rail

Bridge in 1894It turns out that the Arup feasibility report referred to in the letter sent out by Network Rail (Download network_rail_letter.pdf) did not assess the feasibility of the Wharfdale Road/Battlebridge Road footbridge that we as a community have been calling for. At the LB Camden Development Control Committee meeting that gave final planning permission to the redevelopment of King’s Cross Station, it was agreed that via a Section 106 agreement Network Rail would carry out a feasibility study into the bridge the community wanted.
Network Rail did not assess the bridge we want because they were directed to omit that bridge as an option by LB Camden Planning Officers.
So the Arup report does not fulfil the commitment made by Network Rail and agreed by LB Camden’s elected respresentatives sitting on the Development Control Committee.
It might be helpful if each of us write, as individuals or where appropriate as representatives of our organisations, to Andrew Mitchell, Major Programme Director at Network Rail informing him that the Arup report fails to meet the commitment made with the Development Control Committee and asking him when we can expect Network Rail to actually meet that commitment. I understand his email address is: andrew.h.mitchell@networkrail.co.uk. Letters should ideally be copied to members of LB Camden’s Development Control Committee – these can be copied from below and pasted into the cc section your emails. If any of these Councillors represent the ward you vote in, please include that information in your letter. Oh and, please copy me in too!