• by Kevin Murphy

London: Over Station Development

New property developments for living in a city centre especially for London has its challenges with one in particular being the available space to build much needed housing. One alternative receiving attention for improving how land is used is 'over station development'. Transport for London (TfL) has 5,700 acres of land in London and plans on on developing up to 50 sites that have the potential of generating £3.4 billion in non-fare revenue to be reinvested into rail travel infrastructure. CBRE in its analysis reports that this new alternative for development has been successful for transforming Archway Gyratory, Broadgate at Liverpool Street and Kings Cross stations in London. This trend in development is expected to remain until 2040.

Maurice Gidwani, Technical Director, Buildings and Infratructure for Mott Macdonald says :

"In crowded and ever-growing cities, sites for development are increasingly sought after. But with swathes of land occupied by rail stations – and thousands of people travelling through them each day – it makes sense to develop over-station projects to deliver new facilities to local communities."

Bill Price, Director of WSP Architects said in 2018:

"Compared to building major new infrastructure projects, rail overbuilds could be a quicker and less costly way to unlock large housing schemes. No new land is required for such developments – they can be undertaken where planning controls allow building over the rail environment."

CBRE reports that consultants WSP finds that these new developments could create 239,500 much needed homes for London or 64,935 new properties or three and a half years of housing at 64,953 new homes each year mainly for the travel Zones 3 through 6.

Since 2001 90% of the homes built in London are within one kilometer of a rail station.

With the complexity of developing these new projects and abiding by the operational guidelines of National Rail the challenges loom large and require plans to adopt higher densities to make the projects viable.

Mr. Price of WSP:

“London needs 50,000 new homes to be constructed every year until 2025, just to keep up with projected housing demand. Yet between April 2016 and March 2017, only 6,423 homes were completed.”

The population of London has increased by 95,000 every year on average since 2000 and since 2008 and 2009 the increase has climbed to 100,000 on average per year. Because of this and the shortage of housing London city workers must live further thus making their venture into the city a long and stressful one along with the strains being put on the transport system throughout the rail network. Living in close proximity to work would also make automobile ownership less necessary therefore less congestion on the city streets and more walking and better lifestyle.

Mr. Price:

"As well as contributing to greater public transport use, car-free zones and more walking and cycling, rail overbuilds can provide a pleasant environment that supports new homes and jobs, especially as the development unlocks growth in the immediate vicinity. Such a strategy could provide some of the housing and healthier environments that London urgently requires."

"Rail stations are known for their large use of land for tracks and yards so an over station build has the potential for large scale property developments.

The issue of air rights by owners of railway land with local planning permission can essentially produce land 'out of thin air' which Mr. Price says : "...which can increase the availability of residential accommodation and help alleviate the current housing shortage."

"Local authorities may also welcome such developments as a way to both reduce housing shortages and regenerate inner-city areas. There are also financial benefits that can accrue to a local authority in the form of community and business taxes, land value capture, Development Rights Auction Models (DRAMs), community infrastructure levies and public-realm benefits."

Earlier projects can be found at London's Liverpool Street and Charing Cross stations that were completed in the 1980's and 1990's and significantly helped to increase the value of rail hubs and regenerate the surrounding areas.

Previous projects for developments of rail overbuilds include:

Earls Court, London

The 32-hectare Earl's Court Regeneration Plan that was designed to create four urban villages with over 6,700 new homes to be completed by 2026. An array of amenities include retail, work space, offices, hotels, health, and leisure, and a forecasted 10,000 new jobs when completed. WSP says the development will have:

"Decking over the rail lines facilitates the potential to create a highly walkable and cyclable environment, and to include off-site pedestrian improvements as part of a comprehensive public-realm strategy for the surrounding area."

Principal Place, Shoreditch, London

Another large development is in Shoreditch, London, is the Principal Place. This mixed use project has 60,000 square meter office space and a 50-storey residential tower with a public piazza. The construction is described:

"This complex project involved placing foundations or supports in the very limited space between the rail tracks, while a column of the 15-story commercial building is supported on steelwork cantilevered over the tracks."

The Royal Mint Gardens, Tower Hill, London

The Royal Mint Gardens, Tower Hill, London designed tofeature a three- and nine-storey for 254 luxury residences with community spaces, public spaces, courtyards and roof terraces. The location is the Zone 1 Tower Gateway Station that is linked to Canary Wharf, London City airport and Stratford. The Underground runs on the District Line into the City and to the West End.

Mr. Price:

"Rail overbuild is a potential way to start addressing challenging urban issues. It can increase the supply of housing, offices, retail, other social infrastructure, as well as connecting previously divided communities. Existing projects show that the engineering is possible, which means rail overbuilds can be delivered now."

Whilst the need is mainly in London with the city having 330 heavy railway stations other cities with also in need of new housing stock are Birmingham with 34 stations, Liverpool with 22 and Manchester with 15 stations. Historic stations such as Newcastle's Victorian with its canopy design makes an over station development difficult. As a result new technologies will be required to make over station developments more common.

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