George Street’s wind tunnel is causing dangerous problems

CROYDON COMMENTARY: There could be a towering reason for the second closure in a year of the area in front of East Croydon Station because of damage to the building’s glass canopy, according to DAN MAERTENS

Windy city: the new 44- and 38-storey towers have blown up problems for East Croydon Station

In some ways, the closure of parts of the tram network last weekend while repair works were carried out at East Croydon Station is a metaphor for the state of planning in the borough over the last few years.

Apart from an early failure of a couple of the glass roof panels in the station concourse area early in its life, East Croydon Station is a building that has withstood all the slings and arrows that weather can throw at it for the best part of 30 years since it was opened in 1992.

Now it is suffering from the misfortune of being situated downwind of the new 44- and 38-storey residential towers of Tide Construction’s development on the former site of Essex House on George Street.

The glazed canopy of East Croydon Station covers the eastbound tram platform and was always meant to flex in high winds as an inherent part of its design, being cantilevered out and supported from above on cable-tensioned brackets.

This is all part of the clever design solution to the challenge of constructing a relatively lightweight building over the road bridge spanning the railway tracks into the Station.

But since the towers’ construction, there has been a growing problem.

Many Croydon residents will have experienced the vastly increased wind shear that occurs from the station frontage and down George Street past the new development when there is a strong westerly blowing.

Last year was the first time (to my knowledge) that the canopy started to flutter violently during high winds, exacerbated by the funnelling effect of the tall towers and Mondial House, and destructive enough to cause the glass canopy panels either side of its central apex to shatter under the stress.

It happened on a Sunday morning, I heard the glass cascade on to the tram platform and across the tracks below as I was picking up the newspapers from the Sainsburys convenience store opposite the station. It took a number of months for the panels to be replaced.

You would think that there might have been some sort of inquiry or investigation.

Perhaps there has been, but I can’t find any record in the public domain, so who knows? Less than 12 months on, and there’s been a repeat with the same glass panels shattering under another strong westerly. A coincidence? Maybe, but I don’t think so. The solution – take down all of the glazing to the cantilevered platform canopy, hence the temporary suspension of the tram service at the weekend.

Locally listed East Croydon Station has been damaged, both physically and visually

Why my concern? Well, the station building – love it or hate it – is locally listed, but now damaged both physically and visually.

Also, wind modelling in the urban landscape was the subject of my Geography degree dissertation back in the day when I still had hair.

So being the nosy parker that I am, I thought I’d check what had been agreed in the planning submission documents to check the extent of the potential impact of these new tall buildings on the surrounding streetscape and buildings.

As I expected, there was a standard “microclimate assessment”, “microclimate study” and two “microclimate reports” submitted, with supporting plans showing the ground level “mitigations – judiciously spaced and placed trees and plantings – to increase “surface roughness” and reduce the impact of wind at ground level.

All very good. But now that the towers are up, has there been any measurement of the actual wind speeds at ground level in the area previously modelled in the microclimate studies, and do the figures match what was predicted?

And what of the station canopy? The impact on the station building from the change in the local microclimate caused by the towers wasn’t really assessed in detail, apart from whether or not there will be any change in the comfort level of anyone sitting on the platform seating waiting for a tram. I know what it will be like now, with no roof overhead. Wet!

So what’s the conclusion?

The developer has maximised what he can get on the former Essex House site. Good for them, because it’s what I expect any good business person to do. But the bigger the building, the greater the impact.

Of course, it’s been signed off by Croydon planning following careful scrutiny, yet there is a suspicion that given all that, the people on the ground may have been slightly overlooked (no pun intended).

Walking west down the from the station, across Dingwall Road and along the north side of George Street past AMP House and Nando’s can now be a considerable challenge even in moderate winds. Using the opposite side of the road and along the frontage of the new buildings, a route used by a lot of Croydon College students, could become potentially hazardous. I hope I’m wrong.

But the real losers?

Network Rail – for emergency remedial work and repair costs for the station canopy, after they can find a suitable redesign that restores the integrity of the building.

Tramlink – for disruption and interruption to their services.

Us, the Croydon public and tram passengers. I suppose we’ll just have to get used to it, like so much of what goes on in Croydon.

Dan Maertens, pictured right, lives in Addiscombe. He works as an advisor to corporate clients, following a 30-year career in construction and civil engineering, including environmental and health and safety audit and compliance roles

Read his previous articles for Inside Croydon here: Something still stinks over Viridor’s Beddington Lane fire
And here: Now is not time to play politics with London’s public transport

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9 Responses to George Street’s wind tunnel is causing dangerous problems

  1. Brian Matthews says:

    The new issue of wind shear and damage at East Croydon reminds me of the effects on the local area around the Nestle building when that was first built. At times it was difficult to stand up against the gales at street level. The Planners do not seem to learn from past experience!

  2. Lewis White says:

    Dan Maerten’s article is convincing.

    Anyone walking around the tall blocks designed and built in the 1950’s and 60’s around the Dingwall and Wellesley Road area, and around the former Nestle tower, the tall block in South End, and the more modern blocks such as Saffron Central, will know of the wind-tunnel effect experienced around the foot of such blocks, and for some distance downwind.

    The blocks Dan has highlighted are much taller than anything from these earlier eras of urban architecture, so, it would not be surprising if they have a wider impact on wind veocity and eddying. Does having twin towers have greater impacts–perhaps unpredictable in storm force winds– than just a single monolith block?

    It makes me think that huge structures like this–which are essentially, very simple square columns, and their effects on the adjacent buildings and streets could and should be tested using scale models, in a real wind tunnel in a Physical testing Laboratory. I am sure that they could and should.

    Even so, I am not sure that anything can really predict and replicate the destructive effects of wind eddies and swirls that could potentially occur at tghis site, with the close proximity of towers, glass canopy station, and a big railway cutting which might have an impact.

    It just takes one such storm event for glass panels to be suddenly shattered, and whole roofs to be pulled off buildings and dumped in the streets and on buildings– and people are easily killed and injured.

    The financial damage in this current case is actually being suffered by the tax-paying public, whose tax money goes to pay for a large part of the running costs of Network Rail, plus in this case the very costly repairs to replace giant sheets of special glass– not exactly replacing a few missing tiles on a house roof, which costs enough anyway.

    Does NR even bother to insure such structures?. The premium on just one such building would be enormous.

    I do hope that N rail considers this when designing the new station building and platform shelters.
    Maybe a wind tunnel test of all these is in order.

    More very tall blocks will soon be crowding round the station, on the old Post Office / Sorting office site, and on the as yet undeveloped areas of the adjacent sites by the Porter and Sorter pub.,

    Is it really possible to predict and ensure a safe overall result ?

    How do wind speeds in Croydon compare with thise in New York. I wonder.

    • Peter Payne says:

      This is nothing new. The Arundal Centre, built in the 60’s had similar problems with the tower block deflecting cold wind down to the shopping precinct area. The solution suggested was to miss out a floor at low level, creating a through draft cutting off the higher level wind. Not aware of it being tested anywhere. Obviously the ongoing cost is rent from the omitted floor.

  3. Terry McCarthy says:

    What very good and knowledgeable contribution. Given Croydon Council’s incompetence in most other areas of their operation, I doubt if the proper microclimate evaluations were given due scrutiny by the Planning department in their anxiety to build as many high rise and ugly buildings as possible.
    If Dan is concerned now, what will be the situation when the other sites round the station are developed? Will they be allowed to build high rise blocks? Will a proper and competent assessment be done?

  4. Dan Kelly says:

    Approaching Southern House from George Street in late 1990s and up to 2007 when I retired there were times when I had to lean hard. into the wind to stay upright.

  5. Ed says:

    Walking from the station past Nando’s in moderate to strong winds can be really challenge even as a relatively fit person. I’ve seen older people finding it much harder. I’ve not been working in Croydon for a bit (for obvious reasons) but I used to go to Pret A Manger for lunch and on windy days I didn’t bother as it was too hard work!

  6. George R Taylor says:

    Whatever happened to the proposed Dingwall Road Tramlink ‘loop’?

  7. James D says:

    Replace the glass with Plexiglass, and maybe add a dampening device to resist the fluttering.

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