If you've ever used the Overground station at Shoreditch High Street, you may have wondered why it's a concrete box in the sky. The stations at Hoxton and Haggerston have a view of the skyline, whereas Shoreditch High Street seals you in allowing sight of precisely nothing, the same as if you were underground. And there is a reason, which is that TfL were planning ahead when they built it, and the whole thing will one day be encased within office development.
The development site is enormous, for central London, and covers the site of the Bishopsgate Goods Yard. Originally this was Bishopsgate station, the terminus for trains arriving into London from East Anglia. Its days were numbered when Liverpool Street station opened in 1874, at which point Bishopsgate closed to passenger traffic and was given over to freight. This was a three-level monster, with as many as ten tracks on the upper deck used for the unloading of wagons full of fish, fruit and vegetables. It served London well until 1964 when it was substantially consumed by fire, and then lay derelict until 2003 when it was substantially demolished.
Two sections remain, both of them Grade II listed. The first is the frontage to the goods yard's general offices, which is the brick façade you can see facing onto Shoreditch High Street. And the second is the Braithwaite Viaduct, begun in 1839, originally two tracks wide and supporting a succession of arches on Gothic cross-vaulted piers. 260 metres of the viaduct survives, that's the section from Shoreditch High Street to Brick Lane, making this one of the oldest surviving bits of railway structure anywhere in the world. A major legalbattle kicked off when the Overground extension was proposed, because it looked like the new Shoreditch station would require the viaduct's demolition. But a solution was found where the line swung round to the north, leaving the Victorian structure intact, and the new Shoreditch High Street station running parallel alongside.
And now the developers are moving in. This was always the plan, indeed it's amazing it's taken this long. But a lengthy public consultation for The Goodsyard is now underway, with the masterplan almost complete, and then the area will then start changing utterly. The site's unusual in that it spans two London boroughs, that's Hackney to the west (with the station) and Tower Hamlets to the east. They've been working with developers Hammerson and Ballymore to agree plans for a multi-modal office/retail/residential development, and those plans have been evolving over a couple of iterations as stakeholders explore and interact.
The latest round of consultations is currently underway, with a small marquee set up opposite the entrance to Shoreditch High Street station. It was open on Friday and Saturday, although went almost entirely ignored by the bright young things emerging to shop at Boxpark, and the streetsmart heading to play football with the Powerleague. And then it's open again tomorrow from 2pm to 8pm, if you're interested and want to tell the consultants what you think. You needn't bother, but then don't complain later when some whopping great skyscraper forest emerges and you hate it.
What number comes next?
9, 15, 17, 24, 29, 33, 42, ?
It's 46, obviously. These are the number of storeys in the Goodsyard's planned sequence of residential buildings running east to west. At the Brick Lane end the first block will be 9 storeys high, increasing gradually to a 33 storey giant on Braithwaite Street. The station itself will be swallowed up by two office blocks a mere dozen floors tall. But the next residential building alongside will have 42 storeys, and the final block overlooking Shoreditch High Street will have 46. It'll be the same height as the Broadgate Tower, a little way to the southwest, because what's happening here is the creation of a Shoreditch skyscraper cluster, and the Goodsyard development will be substantially to blame.
The masterplan has had to squeeze in buildings where it can because two-thirds of the site is unsuitable for deep foundations. The 1839 viaduct and the 2008 viaduct are mostly to blame, but the third cuplrit is the Central line which scores a direct hit on Shoreditch High Street station without stopping. Approximately 1400 new homes will be built, an as-yet undetermined number of them to be 'affordable', although I doubt Tower Hamlets will be moving too many families off its waiting list as a result. And then there'll be half a million square feet of office space, as Hackney council rakes in some much needed business rates, and 180,000 square feet of retail space, which'll more than make up for the termination of Boxpark.
But what the developers hope you'll be most excited about are their plans for the Braithwaite Viaduct. They plan to stick a park on top, a full 2.5 acres in size because there's a lot of space up there, complete with trees and grass and a variety of vegetation. It won't be London's answer to New York's High Line, I was told, it's too wide for that, and also too short. But it will be open to the public, not locked away for residents only, and there should be some excellent views up there looking south across the Liverpool Street cutting.
Meanwhile down below, the unique Gothic arches are to be given a different kind of makeover. The future is to be retail, with a variety of boutiques and chains moved in, and a new thoroughfare opened up along the southern edge of the site to link up with Brick Lane. The old basement store rooms are ideally configured for such use, although it will be a bit sad if the only way to admire the Victorian brickwork is to buy a coffee, have a meal or go browsing for designer clothes.
A park on some shops, a lot of offices and some very tall flats - that's the proposed future for the Bishopsgate Goodsyard. Or it is unless the latest round of consultation suggests otherwise, and the developers choose to act. It does sometimes work. Two-thirds of those consulted last time either disliked or really disliked the proposed heights of the buildings, and so the tallest blocks have had eight or twelve storeys lopped off the top in the latest version. They'll still be massive, but not as wilfully oversized as they would have been had not the public spoken up. You can speak up tomorrow. Or you can just wait and go shopping and maybe laze in the park in ten years time.