In an example of how public infrastructure planning functions and a demonstration of the legal negotiation skills of the transport and council authorities, a £22million public works project could be demolished before it is ever completed. Transport correspondent JEREMY CLACKSON reports
East Croydon Station’s infamous Bridge To Nowhere (© Inside Croydon 2012) may never be finished.
That’s the astonishing conclusion of rail experts following the recent Network Rail consultation intended to test public opinion over elaborate and costly plans to expand East Croydon Station and uncork the “Croydon Bottleneck”, the spaghetti junction of rail lines which all seem to meet in one almighty jumble close at what is more usually called the Selhurst Triangle.
Network Rail’s consultation ended this month, when they shared with the public their plans to fix what they regard as the worst bottleneck in all of Britain’s railways.
Increasing the number of platforms at East Croydon from six to eight, adding two extra tracks and replacing five junctions with flyovers and dive-unders are part of a grand plan to reduce delays on Southern, Thameslink and Gatwick Express services between Victoria, London Bridge, Kings Cross and the south coast.
Work on the elaborate and complex engineering scheme is unlikely to begin much before 2022 when, as ever, one important part of the equation will be how the rail networks pay for the project. With land values in south London spiralling for the past two decades, one option being seriously considered has been to deck over East Croydon Station, creating a vast acreage for potentially lucrative development.
Specialist rail transport website London Reconnections, after a careful study of the Network Rail consultation documents, reckons that, “This was obviously attractive to the planners as the financial case for the scheme would improve. This also fits in with Croydon Council’s desire to maximise land use close to (or air use above) the station.”
But inevitably, there is a “but”.
London Reconnections say that, “If East Croydon is partially over-decked it is almost certain that the current foot overbridge will be replaced.”
That “foot overbridge” referred to is what most people now know as the Bridge To Nowhere.
It is so named because when Network Rail, Transport for London and Croydon Council cobbled together the £22million to build the secondary access point over the rail lines, someone in the authorities’ legal departments failed to get a binding agreement from Redrow Menta, the developers who own the building sites on the Cherry Orchard Road side of the railway tracks, to allow the bridge-builders access to the land.
So since the bridge was opened in 2013, access to the station and its current six platforms has only been possible from Dingwall Road, while the bridge has dangled in the air on its eastern side, expectant that, some day, it might actually be completed.
Bridge access was included in the planning permission for the Menta Tower scheme which was passed by planning originally in 2011.
Redrow Menta have in the meantime reduced their sky-high plans for a 54-storey tower, which would have been the tallest residential tower block in the country, and instead, in April 2017, returned to the council with a revised scheme, for a 16-storey hotel and two 25-storey blocks on the same site.
The council’s planning officials laid down the law to the developers. After four years of the developers blocking the completion of the bridge, the council’s planning report stated that some form of quid pro quo would be expected if Redrow Menta were to get their revised scheme approved.
The 2017 council planning department report stated: “One of the fundamental objectives for any development of this site is making a connection to the East Croydon station bridge (via steps and a lift) in accordance with the adopted East Croydon Masterplan. There is an absolute requirement that the scheme delivers a physical link (steps and lift) (component EC9 of the masterplan) to connect to the eastern end of the East Croydon Railway Station bridge, to open the 24-hour footbridge and a new gate line to the station.” Thems is our italics: “absolute requirement” seems unequivocal.
Nevertheless, such plans might not be completed until 2024, and Network Rail’s hopes to break the Croydon Bottleneck could mean that all bets are off.
London Reconnections suggests that a complete over-decking of East Croydon Station might not be an option, because of the onerous fire regulations for what would become an “underground” station.
“A station is classified as underground for fire regulation purposes if more than 50 per cent of the space above the station is enclosed,” they write. “Having to abide by ‘Section 12’ rules (it is still colloquially know as that even though the original rules have been replaced by different legislation) imposes considerable constraints – not least with the evacuation procedures.
“The current plan involves ensuring that the station is not subject to more onerous fire regulations. It is still planned that there will be five exits from the station so it is not as if evacuation will be unduly constrained.”
A partially covered-over East Croydon Station, though, would still most likely necessitate the demolition of a £22million infrastucture scheme, to which Croydon Council contributed £6million, even before its 10th anniversary.
But at least we can rely on the powers-that-be to ensure that there’s a more convenient entrance-exit to the station from the Addiscombe side at Cherry Orchard Road.
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