My response to a Crossrail 2 petition discussed at Council Meeting, Wednesday 29 June

Petition:

We, the undersigned strongly object to and oppose the proposal to build a Crossrail 2 station at the Kings Road Station site. We already have excellent tube services and bus services serving Chelsea. The building of a main line train station and large retail development would destroy the special character of Chelsea.

Routing the line to avoid the diversion to Chelsea would save both over £1bn and longer journey times on Crossrail 2.  Full petition

Can I start by thanking Chris Lennon for his presentation and thank Councillors for their contributions.

Let me start by saying that I know proposals for a new station are controversial and I recognise the strength of feeling about it in Chelsea. Many residents have told me directly that they oppose a station and feel that it will damage the neighbourhood.

However, some of the information surrounding this project, especially in its early days was deeply misleading. Even the prayer of the petition before us tonight conveys inaccurate information. Let me quote:

We already have excellent tube services and bus services serving Chelsea. The building of a main line train station and large retail development would destroy the special character of Chelsea. But the fact is that large swathes of Chelsea do not have access to “excellent tube services and bus services”. If you live in west Chelsea there are no Tube stations – excellent or otherwise – and bus services in the rush hour are tortuous and slow. Indeed the National Infrastructure Commission, chaired by Lord Adonis, specifically pointed out the poor quality public transport and congestion in this part of inner London.

The prayer then talks about building a “large retail development”. Such a proposal – guaranteed to frighten – is not and has not been on anyone’s plans and if it was, I would be signing the petition myself.

A “main line train station” is an odd term to describe two platforms 20m under the ground with a small entrance block at street level. Using this terminology, residents could be forgiven for thinking that Victoria station itself was about to be recreated in Chelsea.

The “special character” of Chelsea is deeply cherished by all who know it. But the reality is that, over the centuries, it has evolved and changed in a way which has ensured that it has remained a hugely desirable part of London.

So some of the heated opposition has been to proposals which have never in reality existed and whilst the sound and fury of opponents has been much in evidence, little attention has been paid to major changes to Transport for London’s initial plans which have been brought about at the behest of this Council.

Let me remind the Council of some of the history of opposition to the scheme.

Initially it focused on the fact that a site at the Fire Station would involve the desecration of Dovehouse Green. This will not happen. The location of the station has been moved to Sydney St and the Green and its graves will be protected.

Then we heard that a station would result in 70,000 people alighting or boarding the trains at every rush hour. It will not. The actual forecast figure is 5,000 passengers an hour in the morning rush hour – not dissimilar to Sloane Square.

Then we were told that, to fund the scheme, as we have heard a large shopping complex would have to be developed. It will not. The proposed station entrance is between two existing Victorian buildings.

We were told that the King’s Road would be closed. It will not.

We were told that we should investigate a site further west. We did. TfL do not favour a station at Imperial Wharf, but if they had it would still have resulted in a tunnel and ventilation shafts under Chelsea – but no convenient access to or from the King’s Road.

We were told that Councillors were not listening. As you can hear from the contributions from the floor tonight – we are.

But nobody opposing the scheme has been prepared to take a hard and dispassionate look at the real long-term interests of Chelsea. The reality is that the western half of Chelsea is very badly served by public transport. It can take half an hour in the rush hour to get to Sloane Square or South Kensington. Both of those stations are hugely overcrowded as anyone trying to get on to a rush hour train will know. Planned improvements will bring some short-term relief but London’s forecast population growth from 8.5m now to 10m by 2030 will soon undermine these. With a new Crossrail station, 5,000 homes would for the first time be within a ten-minute walk from it. That would significantly reduce car commuting and air pollution.

Central Chelsea is the location of two world class hospitals. Their staff, patients and visitors currently rely on cars, Tubes and buses and I can tell you as a west Chelsea resident that these are often horribly over-crowded just when you need them most.

Chelsea and Westminster Hospital and Chelsea Academy are both in need of improved transport links as they grow and thrive.

Businesses in the King’s Road also depend on good footfall and transport links. To the west of the Old Town Hall, businesses struggle to attract a fraction of the footfall enjoyed by the eastern end.

The residential desirability of Chelsea is not fixed forever. Parts of Chelsea are highly desirable now, but this will not necessarily remain the case if other parts of London are better connected to the rest of the City. We do not want to be like Kingston in the 19th Century or south-east London in the 20th where poor public transport made areas less residentially desirable. Chelsea has always been prepared to adapt to changes around us. Be it the new Albert Bridge in the 1870s improving links across the river, a modernist department store at Peter Jones which must have seemed very jarring in the 1920s, to the rebuilding of St Stephen’s hospital into the Chelsea and Westminster in the 1990s and future proposals which will ensure that the Royal Brompton and the Royal Marsden remain pre-eminent world-class hospitals. Chelsea has never shirked development. It is estimated that up to half an hour will be cut from the journey time to Tottenham Court Road and its onward connections to other parts of the national and international rail network.

I therefore believe that this Council should support TfL’s proposals for a station at King’s Road. There are still many hurdles for the scheme to jump over, but I do not believe that the Council would properly serve the long-term interests of all of Chelsea if we turned our back on this scheme.

What is proposed is an underground line fit for the 21st century, designed to the highest specification. I know that constructing it will be an inconvenience. But building projects do come to an end and the petitioners have not explained why huge swathes of Chelsea should remain permanently excluded from good and efficient public transport and the additional prosperity that a new station could bring for thousands of residents.

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