diamond geezer

 Tuesday, May 10, 2011

One of the defining themes of Boris's first year as Mayor was the cancellation of transport projects. Let's not take the DLR to Dagenham, let's not build a bridge to Thamesmead, let's not drive a tram through Camden, there's no money. Now suddenly, as the last year of his mayoral term begins, quite the opposite. Last week a massive splurge of potential DLR extensions seeped out, merely aspirational at this stage, not much likelihood of happening soon (including the resuscitation of that link to Dagenham). And yesterday came the official Taking-Seriously of a possible Northern line extension to Battersea. I wish I were more excited.

A public consultation is now underway to investigate a private-sector funded 3km extension of the Northern line from Kennington to Battersea Power Station. Here it is on my modified tube map. The City branch of the Northern line would be unaffected, with trains continuing to run all the way down to Morden. But trains on the Charing Cross branch would enter fresh tunnels via the reversing loop at Kennington before swinging out west into northern Wandsworth. In effect this would mean the splitting of the Northern line into two separate services, something that's long been on the cards for efficiency reasons, a bit like the old Bakerloo line got split into the new Bakerloo line and the Jubilee.

The first stop on the new Northern line extension would be Nine Elms. This would serve the existing community, saving them a half-mile walk to Stockwell or Vauxhall, as well as serving the new US Embassy and a host of housing developments planned nearby. And the second (and final) stop would be Battersea. Not the heart of Battersea where most people currently live, but the outskirts close to the famous derelict power station. Again the reason is regeneration, with plans afoot to turn Sir Giles Gilbert Scott's electric cathedral into a massive complex of shops, offices, homes, hotels and "public realm". It'll be both fantastic and ghastly, rescuing classic architecture by utterly commercialising it. And, of course, the whole thing's only feasible if there's a tube station next door.

Never mind that there are already two stations close by to the site of the proposed new Battersea tube. Never mind that Battersea Park already has up to ten departures an hour to Victoria, and Queenstown Road has eight to Waterloo. They won't do because getting to them involves a five minute walk, and you don't attract shoppers and penthouse-dwellers with a five minute walk. And they won't do because they're National Rail stations, and you don't attract office workers and major investment with boring old overground. According to the developers' website, "the only credible solution is to extend an existing system – and this means the Underground!" Hence their willingness to offer millions of pounds to lure the Northern line out west.

These days, it seems, no new London transport development is possible without private money. We get hire bikes because Barclays want their name on them. We get a new station at Wood Lane because Westfield demands it. We get Crossrail stopping in Woolwich only because a housing company stumped up the cash. And we get this new extension to Battersea solely to boost a commercial proposition and an American embassy. Why else do you think there's that massive right-angled turn in the railway at Kennington? In any socially-motivated world the Northern line extension would continue straight on into poor old Camberwell, which is the biggest railway black hole in central London. Instead the power station project acts like a giant financial magnet, tugging the tunnels away to where business requires it, not where communities might best be regenerated.

Notice how the proposed Northern line extension doesn't link up with anything. It zips straight across the Victoria line without any interchange being constructed (because a stop at Vauxhall would apparently overwhelm the existing station). It stops really close to Battersea Park and Queenstown Road stations, but makes no attempt to join up with either (because connectivity to shops trumps connectivity to railways). And it terminates well short of Clapham Junction, which would be an obvious next stop (because that's where the money runs out). In the 1960s the Victoria line was deliberately built to link up with everything it passed. In the 2010s we dare not link to anything in case passenger numbers create too much congestion. This is a cut-price stand-alone extension, built for one purpose only - private profit.

Mustn't grumble - any tube extension's better than no tube extension. And there's still no guarantee that sufficient funding will be found to pay for these two extra stations (London Reconnections has more on that). Battersea Power Station is already on its second regeneration proposal in the last five years, so who's to say that this one will ultimately come to fruition. If you've got an interest, one way or the other, best pop along to one of the public exhibitions over the next few weeks. And maybe by 2017, just maybe, This is a Northern line train to Battersea, via Charing Cross.

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