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An urban legacy

Source: Public Sector Executive Jan/Feb 2013

Sam Richards, head of urban integration at Crossrail, describes the huge public realm scheme being planned alongside Europe’s biggest construction project.

City-wide improvements to the railway network can no longer simply consider what goes on in stations and on trains – the quality of the areas surrounding this work have a signifi cant infl uence on public life.

The Crossrail project is a £14.8bn new rail line linking London from east to west, due to open for service in 2018. Literally ground-breaking new construction techniques and a training scheme that will benefit thousands aside, Crossrail is also expected to transform the capital with sustainable, safe and attractive public spaces surrounding its stations. PSE spoke to Crossrail’s head of urban integration, Sam Richards, about recognising the wider impact of rail infrastructure projects.

“The success of the railway won’t just be about a very good service, good architecture and the stations, people are going to judge our success by the passenger experience on arriving and leaving the stations,” he said.

The entire public realm scheme will cost around £90m; £28m has been secured through the Crossrail budget, with a further £30m contribution from TfL – the rest is expected to come from councils and developers contributions. The plans will see station design integrated with new and improved public spaces, to be jointly delivered by local authorities and developers.

Building a legacy

Richards highlighted the need to improve local communities for people living and travelling around Crossrail to enjoy, even if they are not making use of the actual rail services.

“Our legacy is good stations but also a good urban realm. The areas around stations in terms of property prices haven’t performed well in the past and we want to make a change in that. We want to make the areas around the stations nice areas to live in. There’s plenty of opportunity to do that.

“Before Crossrail came along, those were never really nice areas in terms of walking through as a pedestrian, even if you weren’t using the station.

“Walking round Centre Point was always a pretty unpleasant and in some areas quite an unsafe experience. We defi nitely want to change that with a really fundamental scheme.”

Rejuvenation and integration

92,000 square metres of improved public space is to be created outside stations as well as transport interchange improvements, including connections with buses, taxis, cycle parking and walking routes. New trees will be planted and seating areas constructed.

The importance of improving the surrounding environment is “well recognised” within Crossrail and initial urban realm design work has already been completed at a number of stations.

Integration with other forms of transport includes making sure there is adequate space nearby the station for stops and storage, as well as basic things such as how people cross the road, and where pedestrian crossings should be located.

“We have to make sure the right facilities are there to make it easier for pedestrians,” Richards said. “It’s that very functional experience, but also aesthetic experience: it’s a pleasant area to be in.”

Safety is one of Crossrail’s “prime motivations”, he added, which includes work on lighting and clear pedestrian routes to offer a greater sense of security for people walking late at night.

Crossrail is also set to implement a whole range of measures to minimise the environmental impact of a large-scale construction project, and further increase the appearance and atmosphere of the surrounding land.

Richards explained: “At the moment on one of our construction sites we’ve got green walls rather than hoardings and we’ll be looking to try and ‘green’ some of the areas outside the stations as well with tree-planting. Wherever possible we’re looking to make areas greener.”

Planning ahead

The scheme will be delivered ahead of Crossrail services starting in 2018, to allow comprehensive engagement with local authorities and developers. Initial urban realm design work has been completed at 16 stations so far, with plans for another 12 to be completed at the end of 2013. 

Richards said: “We’ve got five years – we’ve done over half of the designs for the urban realm outside the stations and we’ve raised £60m of our £90m target to pay for those schemes. We think we’re well-placed to get a lot of this work done before 2018.”

A property study commissioned last year demonstrates how Crossrail will increase values around the stations.

He explained: “Crossrail would mean that developers would be interested in sites around the stations; we think that’s going to help increase the value Crossrail adds to the local areas. We’d like the local authorities to collect a larger proportion of that for urban rail improvements.”

Raising the bar

Other avenues for funding will largely be through local authorities, with agreements with developers around stations to raise contributions for the remaining £30m. Richards described an agreement, drawn up at the beginning of the project with local authorities. “We drew out very ambitious schemes which will raise the bar on what’s been done in the past – but these schemes couldn’t and wouldn’t just be funded by Crossrail. We’d need other forms of funding and we’ve achieved that with getting £30m from TfL at the end of last year – we hope the rest of it will be found through local authorities and other sources.”

He added that Crossrail intends to sub-contract the public realm scheme work to contractors, which includes agreements to try to maximise local labour wherever possible; meaning that people living in the nearby area would be offered employment.

Considering the impact large transport schemes are going to have on the local community should definitely be an integral part of future projects, Richards said.

“I think it’s the way forward. There’s growing recognition that the areas outside stations in the past haven’t been as good as they can be and in some cases are quite unpleasant. There’s a strong recognition that in the future, rail schemes will have to look at the areas around the station. I’m sure HS2 are also considering that.”


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