Letter to Network Rail

kingscrosstimelineIn response to Ian Fry’s letter: Download ian_fry_letter.pdf, here is our reply:
Ian Fry
Director, King’s Cross Redevelopment Programme
Network Rail
344-354 Grays Inn Road

7 October 2008

Dear Ian,

Many thanks for your letter of 20 August and apologies for my delay in replying. Whilst I very much appreciate your taking the time to write to me, I feel I need to raise some rather important points as a result.

Paragraph 2: I understand we agree that the Arup feasibility study doesn’t address the bridge the community is calling for; namely a bridge crossing the tracks at the north-eastern end of the station. The bridge would replace the road bridge built in 1872 and demolished during World War 1 with a pedestrian and cycle bridge. It would have no access to platforms; carrying station users externally from one side to the other creating a faster, safer and simpler walking and cycle route to the King’s Cross/St Pancras transport hub and the new King’s Cross Central Boulevard. I further understand that is LB Camden’s responsibility and not Network Rail’s that it fails in this. It is however extremely frustrating that in response to queries from politicians and the press about the pedestrian and cycle bridge the community is calling for, Network Rail continues to refer to the Arup study. This gives the impression that the bridge would not be feasible. I attach a recent answer given to a Parliamentary Question as an example. It would be very helpful if Network Rail would correct this impression and cease to refer to the Arup study in relation to the campaign for a bridge.

Paragraph 5: As a regular user of train services from King’s Cross to Yorkshire and Scotland, I understand the importance of Platform Y to our rail system and welcome the foresight being shown in constructing it. However, Network Rail is removing a centuries old east/west route of growing importance to the King’s Cross and Somers Town communities in order to build the revenue generating Platform Y. Network Rail should therefore be obliged to provide us with a replacement. This should be by Network Rail either alone or in a partnership led by Network Rail comprising statutory bodies and property developers. The community is not asking for a new facility in pressing for this bridge; we are calling for an amenity we have enjoyed for a very long time to be maintained.

Paragraph 6: The new square and improvements to York Way are very welcome and are improvements of the type to be expected under S106 resulting from a major development. These improvements are separate from the preservation of east/west access. Again, it is frustrating that Network Rail continues to quote these improvements as alternatives to east/west access and it would be helpful if Network Rail would be more precise when mentioning them rather than giving what could be a misleading impression.

Paragraph 7: I find it very difficult to understand why, when Network Rail states it aims to take into account the needs of the community, it refuses to fund the bridge the community desperately needs – particularly when the cost of the bridge is estimated at less than 2% of station redevelopment cost. I can see why Network Rail might want to create and lead a partnership to fund and deliver the bridge as St Pancras International and Transport for London would also benefit from its construction. But total refusal to positively engage with the project appears perverse. The tours for local residents are great and were suggested by Will Perrin; they are a good example of how Network Rail can work positively with our community. Network Rail’s corporate community investment is also very welcome and we would ask that you work with experts in this field such as the Charities Aid Foundation and National Council for Voluntary Organisations, as well as local experts such as Camden and Islington Councils for Voluntary Service to get the best out of it.

Paragraph 8: Community engagement is a vital element of the change process in major developments such as King’s Cross. The change management and community development professions are generally overlooked by developers. The tendency is to take a minimalist approach, putting a limited amount of information out, undertaking only those consultation processes required by statute and pacifying rather than engaging with differences of opinion. My recent experience seems to point to Network Rail being rather inexperienced in the field of change management in the context of community development. I remain hopeful that past mistakes such as meetings promised and never taking place, minimal information provided and only in the station, engagement being seen as a one-way street with debate being viewed as a negative rather than a potentially highly positive input to station redevelopment will decrease in the coming months. I am also keen to work with Network Rail to ensure the outcomes achieved as a result of the station redevelopment are as far-reaching as possible. It would be a terrible shame if a narrow, solely economically driven agenda were to continue to drive this construction programme. Taking a sustainable development approach in line with the aims of Network Rail’s Corporate Social Responsibility Committee would achieve so much more not only for King’s Cross, but for all of the redevelopment projects Network Rail is now undertaking across the country.

I look forward to your comments on the above points.

Yours sincerely,
Sophie Talbot

Network Rail & community engagement…

King's Cross Station & our bridgeI bumped into Alastair Metcalf of Network Rail yesterday so I grabbed the opportunity to ask some questions. Alastair is responsible for communications with the local community. He told me that Network Rail are currently engaged in a process called ‘Station Change’. It will decide on and roll out closures of shops and amenities in the main Euston Road entrance, making way for a new left luggage area and sign posting people to shops and amenities in St Pancras. They had not informed the community about ‘Station Change’ because they have not made any decisions yet. I asked Alastair to keep us up to date even when decisions have not been made. For example, letting us know that ‘Station Change’ was underway and what it’s scope is could have allayed rumours about what Network Rail is up to. However, Alastair reiterated that as no decisions had been made, the community was not informed. He did say that notices will go up in the Station informing passengers when decisions are made.

It is clear though, that we will be losing all the shops and amenities at Euston Road well before it closes, and long before the Western Concourse opens. St Pancras is seen as the replacement. And how do we get there? By doing a huge u-shaped walk around the entire station site. The bridge that we need crossing King’s Cross at the mid point is more urgent than anyone had anticipated.

It is very difficult for our community to feel that Network Rail are engaging with us, or even informing us, over the station redevelopment. Getting replies to basic questions by email remains almost impossible. We only find out about decisions after they’ve been implemented (Boots KX for example), engagement appears to mean telling us what they’ve decided once they’ve implemented it – this is a new definition of engagement for us.

A big question for folks out there – how can we deal with doublespeak? It feels like we speak different languages – what does engaging the community really mean? What does keeping the community informed mean? For Network Rail and the community these things have completely different definitions and are leading to some very unfortunate miscommunications. Perhaps Network Rail would benefit from talking to some community development specialists… Network Rail are planning a meeting in October to which the community will be invited, shame if we can’t sort out these fundamental communication issues before then. If you have any good strategies or ideas for coping with doublespeak, please let us know!

And don’t forget to sign the petition

King’s Cross the inaccessible station

Original plan for footbridgeSo Network Rail’s feasibility study into replacing the northeastern entrance to the station (by Wharfdale Road) with a footbridge (like the one our community wants, pictured) is complete. What a surprise, their consultants recommend that it is not feasible. Now we all really need to make a big noise… So, get your emails and pens going.

Here’s the letter Network Rail have sent to some residents on York Way Download network_rail_letter.pdf

Please, please email Network Rail and Network Rail’s Major Programme Director. Copy in your MP, local councillors, the chair of TfL’s Transport Committee, as well as the local and regional press and anyone else you can think of that might listen.

Here’s my response:

Dear Alistair,

I have just read the letter from Andy Mitchell, Major Programme Director at Network Rail stating that they will close the northeastern entrance to King’s Cross station never to replace it. I am appalled for several reasons:

1. 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 northeastern 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 it’s 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 as reflected by the letter dated 10 June.

2. 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 by 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 be so for at least another twenty years, by which time I will be in my mid 60s – a lifetime. By closing the northeastern 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.

3. 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 northeastern entrance to or close to the new concourse. Network Rail failed to instruct its consultants, ARUP, to do this.

4. 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. I have not yet seen the report but would be fairly sure even so, that this will have resulted in an incomplete piece of work that any definition of good practice would label poor quality and require correcting.

5. 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 northeastern 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.

6. 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.

7. 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 they would not go out of their 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 they have chosen a path that sets them against the King’s Cross community and this can only do further harm to their reputation.

Sophie Talbot
King’s Cross Community Projects