Unbelievable: New Private Community Block closes off key safe cycling route

20140712_193110The new built estate, Bloomsbury Gardens, has this week closed off, what has become over the last few years, a key safe passage cycling route of Kings Cross.

The access way to the estate and for deliveries of Westminster Kingsway College, situated between Sidmouth Street and Heatcroft Street, allowed cyclists to bypass the busy Grays Inn Road on much more quiet and safe roads.  This passage was part of a cycling axis connecting Doughty Street – Mecklenburgh Square – Seaford Street – Argyle Square.   In fact the route was so well known and accepted, that Camden has even put up a blue sign at the exit on Sidmouth Street showing cyclists the way to Kings Cross.  Is it possible that everybody knew except the developers, or was this done on purpose?

Up until this week there was only a barrier that disallowed cars to enter without the barrier opening, but cyclists were able to move through unhindered, although about a good year ago the passage was slightly tightened already through fencing.

Now new metal fences have been put up that close off and prevent any through access, even pedestrians can only pass through by bending underneath the barrier.

20140712_193209Crest Nicholson developed Bloomsbury Gardens on land that Westminster Kingsway College had sold during its own redevelopment.   The planning applications concerning this land were initially opposed by locals and delayed for years as it was to become yet another private student home.  In the end a private estate was agreed to, but it seems there is no intend to blend in with the local community now that the estate has been finished and the first residents have moved in.  Instead it appears to become the latest example of a gated community without a clue of local conditions.  Presumably they fear Kings Cross residents are undesirables and cyclists dangerous surpassers, or so one has to conclude about this strange step.

But it is not to late.  Hopefully Camden Council will immediately start to negotiate the reopening of this crucial route in direct talks with Westminster Kingsway and Crest Nicholson, which not only helps commuters but also children on their way to and from school and nursery on roads without much traffic and pollution.

This is a part of London that actively seeks to promote cycling and reduce car traffic and we had our Kings Cross road victims too, so a closure of such an essential safe passage is simply not acceptable.

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Posted in Community stuff, Current Affairs, Local issues, Transport | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Towpath heroes and villains

Following my recent article about the London Wildlife Trust taking over maintenance of Regent’s Canal towpath from Camley Street to the Islington tunnel, I was reminded that up until 2012, much of that maintenance was done by the voluntary organisation Thornhill Bridge Community Gardeners, then the Islington Council contract was given to London Wildlife Trust who are paid to maintain these green spaces and welcome local volunteers.

Cally Arts works with a network of King's Cross area artists to commission community-led art in the public realm.

Cally Arts works with a network of King’s Cross area artists to commission community-led art in the public realm.

Also in April this year the wonderful Cally Arts organised 55 volunteers from a city company who came to Thornhill Bridge Community Garden and contributed a great deal in terms of gardening, metalwork painting and temporary artwork. This was described as ‘the equivalent of seven months work in one day’.  The community garden is a shining example of gardening for urban wildlife.

The towpath is highly prized locally as a green wildlife friendly space, one of all too few in King’s Cross. If you have any outside space, no matter how small, I highly recommend the rewarding hobby of gardening to encourage urban wildlife.

For ideas about how to do this the national Wildlife Gardening Forum is an amazing source of information. This year they presented early findings from a joint research project with RHS Wisley and I was lucky to attend. Early results clearly showed that native and near-native plants (ie plants from the northern hemisphere that have evolved in similar climates to ours) out perform exotic plants (those that evolved in the southern hemisphere) hands down – exotic plants tend to discourage local wildlife. More results will be available soon; I have the detailed early findings and would be happy to share these with anyone interested, just drop me an email or comment to this post.

Gardening for wildlife is rather different to more traditional forms of gardening. Plants are chosen to attract various species of insects, birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals rather than for show alone. It can be an interesting  journey where the beauty of a plant becomes more than just its brightly coloured flower or striking foliage, it becomes about how that plant fits into local ecology, what it brings to the party. Maintenance is different too, wildlife gardeners tend to use organic practices shunning commonly available chemicals known to harm the ecology system and further, shunning chemicals not yet known to do such harm. Pruning is often a great deal lighter and care is taken about where and when to prune so as not to destroy important habitat. Garden waste, rather than being immediately cleared, is gathered and left to become additional habitat. A wildlife garden is often a tapestry of planting, each carefully chosen for the vital job it does. I’m passionate about this precisely because I live in King’s Cross where I feel gardening for wildlife is a daily struggle for survival as we have so little habitat and much of that is constantly under threat from unsympathetic property development, traditional – often over zealous – gardening methods and criminal damage.

Although I referred to criminal damage to trees at Thornhill Bridge Community Garden in my earlier post about towpath maintenance, I forgot to include the more recent criminal damage to a tree immediately behind Copenhagen School on the towpath. Just a couple of months ago the root system of the tree was undermined and the tree was killed.

It’s worth all towpath users remaining vigilant to possible criminal damage by reporting early signs (removal of tree bark, artificial holes under root systems and so on) to the Canals and Rivers Trust, email or call 0303 040 4040 and they’ll put you through to the local office.


Posted in Anti Social Behaviour, Crime etc, Green spaces, Local issues, New, Wildlife and Nature | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Taking care of the canal towpath

Renet's Canal towpath at King's Cross being maintained by London Wildlife Trust volunteers

Martin’s volunteers at Thornhill Bridge Community Garden last week

The Regent’s Canal towpath is a vital green corridor providing wildlife habitat and rare green open space in King’s Cross. Since the demise of British Waterways, the new Canals and Rivers Trust is responsible for the canal. Now the London Wildlife Trust in the form of Martin and his band of volunteers working out of Camley Street Natural Park has responsibility for maintaining the majority of green space along the towpath from Camley Street bridge to Islington Tunnel.

Fallen tree blocks Islington Tunnel on Regent's Canal

Heavy leaf canopy results in fallen tree blocking Islington Tunnel

It’s no easy task, recently a tree fell blocking entry to Islington Tunnel – it fell because its leaf canopy was too heavy for its angled trunk, hazardous discarded needles and drug paraphernalia are hidden in undergrowth.

It’s a huge relief that the towpath is in the hands of an organisation that knows about and cares for urban wildlife and how planting can either encourage or discourage it. Some sections of the towpath are under private management and here care for wildlife is perhaps less of a priority. Recent trouble spots also include Thornhill Bridge Community Gardens and the southern end of Battlebridge Basin where residents’ desires for canal views have resulted in criminal destruction of trees and harsh pruning respectively.

Protecting the scarce green space we have in King’s Cross is more important than ever with long standing areas of green including trees and mature ivy being removed by property developers and replaced by hard landscaping.

So Martin has a heck of a job on his hands and needs all the local support he can get. If you’d like to help by volunteering to maintain the green space on the towpath Martin provides training sessions and supervises the maintenance days. Contact him at Camley Street, click here. And if you’d like to be involved in promoting and protecting the Regent’s Canal, take a look at Friends of Regent’s Canal’s Facebook page.

Posted in Anti Social Behaviour, Crime etc, Community stuff, Green spaces, New, Noticeboard, Things to do, Wildlife and Nature | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Pancras Square Leisure Centre freebie blunder

Camden Council LogoThe new Pancras Square Leisure Centre opens on 19 July and the run up is being advertised locally with flyers being delivered to nearby Camden and Islington homes. The flyer offers a free swim which can be booked online and the opportunity to win a three month membership, also online. Great, good stuff!

But read carefully Islington residents (yes, you who live just a few hundred yards from the new leisure centre), the small print for the prize draw which can only be read online states:

“Prize draw is open to London Borough of Camden Residents only”

Does this set the tone for the future we wonder? Islington residents who have suffered the worst inconvenience during years of construction at King’s Cross Central miss out on the benefits because they live on the wrong side of the tracks…

(Islington residents live on the wrong side of tracks that run underground and have never been a physical barrier… Camden residents live on the wrong side of tracks that run overground and have always been a physical barrier. Well done all involved in creating a new divide between communities.)

Posted in Big developments, Kings Cross N1C, railwayslands, Sports | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

Putting streets on the general election agenda

This year the Living Streets Supporters Conference will be held right here and will gear the campaign up to get living streets on the political agenda for the 2015 general election. Living Streets is the national campaign for safe, attractive and enjoyable streets, much needed in King’s Cross! 

Saturday 21 June (apologies for the lack of notice)
10am to 4.30pm
National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), N1 9RL (All Saint’s Street just round the corner from the Canal 125 bar)

Places are free but you must book in advance.

living-streets-conf-2014And lots more, click here for details.

Posted in Community stuff, Local issues, New, Noticeboard, Road Safety in Kings Cross, Things to do | Tagged | Leave a comment

Mapping Us!

We are the people of Kings Cross,

in brick shabby builds for the working class,

and those windows that never worked.


We are the survivors,

of gyratory politics

and car fumes

of latent politics.



stood beside the five Pound hure,

the crack addicts

day in and day out.


We are the living of Kings Cross,

sons and daughters of further shores,

out of blood trenched wars

seeking refuge in faith.


We are the sons and daughters of the

working class, the under class,

to be disregarded.

too many still

wild ticket of no chance.


We are the people of Kings Cross,

who stuck it out,

not enough to relocate

to greener lands.


We are the residents of Kings Cross,

before a Kings Place

or a bird’s cage swing,


We lived here, when out of derelicts

came nightly sounds of acid house

We saw the rats that colonized

your fancy coffee bars.


Moment of reckoning,

us, who always stood here and bared it all,

the flying Scotsman ladies,

the Central Station club nights,

the too many off licence

and fry up infested streets

from Addis to Bengal

Welsh Centre to Old Cally.


There is a new dandy here,

round water fountains and

millionaire’s courts,

that erased in one sweep

the stench and filth of yesteryear,

the disgraced pushed behind

up North somewhere.


But we are still here,

a left out mass

too peripheral to see,

as cars still roar through our roads,

boy speeders, diesel cabs and Royal Mail vans alike,


The mayor’s promises of years

to calm those roads,

a laughing stock against their speed

and the new high rise builds.


We who live here,

showing tourists the way on maps.


For you we are peripheral,

best we don’t exist at all!


So you raise the rents and price us out,

here’s a Waitrose to an Iceland,

a three Pounds coffee shop,

to a local pub.

Improvement, better, gentrified!



The court, the post, the nurses home,

the new talent music place all gone.


But we are still Kings Cross!

From the Calthorpe down to Cally Road,

Grimaldi Park and Argyle Blocks

and Sandwich Street,

Pancras Gardens coroners

and Camley Park.


Kings Cross we are,

It is but you who has to prove

your worthiness of being here.

Not by your acquired right,

but by recognizing us,

as those who lived and worked,

campaigned, and fought,

through rough and bitter years

and sweeter days alike.


We are Kings Cross.

Posted in New | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Authoring King’s Cross – not

The lovely Pan playing in her beloved fountains

The lovely Pan playing in Granary Square fountains

Update on the event reported yesterday – Authoring King’s Cross. Just got an email from Rebecca Ross at Central St Martin’s to say the Wikipedia editing event will concentrate on King’s Cross Central, not King’s Cross. Click here for more.

(Here comes the blog bit – all views my own…)

It got me thinking though, Roger Madelin (of Argent, the King’s Cross Central development company) might rightly ask – Sophie, what the hell should we call King’s Cross Central? And why do you think it’s important? On a trip arranged by Government Office for London to the then derelict site in about 2001 Roger had said King’s Cross was a run down area much in need of redevelopment. I naively piped up, ‘But I love living in King’s Cross’ and Roger replied, ‘but you are a bohemian’.

Now I am a mix of many, many things – English, Irish, African, Dutch, Danish, Indonesian (probably) and German (possibly). Adding Czech to the mix adds a lovely new spice making Good King Wenceslas all the more personal. The mix that I am has given me an abiding interest in the politics of identity, yes I am a Stuart Hall fan and no, not that Stuart Hall. Unsurprising then that I have developed an equally abiding interest in the politics of place. It’s all about belonging for me  – what does it mean, why do we need it, how do we shape it and how is it shaped by others?

King's Cross - the area within a half mile of the station contains large pockets of communities that have identified as King's Cross since the 1830s, before that it was known as Battlebridge

King’s Cross – the area within a half mile of the station contains large pockets of communities that have identified as King’s Cross since the late 1830s, before that the area was known as Battlebridge

This seemingly theoretical interest has hard real implications in King’s Cross and has had for many years. If I’d had the gumption I’d have started a longitudinal study back in the late 80s looking at how large scale property developments impact the lives and identities of those that live here. Drat.

Local activists who have fought hard for notable changes to local developments have felt shut out. Despite Camden Council setting up a community development forum to focus engagement before and during King’s Cross Central’s coming into being (they then pulled the plug on the forum’s funding), the overwhelming sense has been of the developers taking negative views of community input. This reached such a peak that a veritable chasm of conflict opened up.

We are now at a point where the very identity of where we live is being challenged. Unsurprisingly. I’ve often wondered how the management of Argent would feel if a development the size of a small town happened within 300 yards of their front doors. If they had been positively engaged with, their concerns properly given respect and real weight they may well have welcomed it. If they had been effectively shut out with a massive outline planning application stopping real discussion of detailed plans perhaps they would feel miffed. If that happened after long drawn out master planning exercises where promises looked like they were being made but were then reneged upon perhaps they’d feel peeved.

It all feels a bit underhand I suppose. Fancy naming your company ‘King’s Cross’, kitting out your private security in the King’s Cross logo, cherry picking the history boards you place along the development to exclude a proud history of community activism even making your Crimbo decs out of the letters K I N G S C R O S S? If it were you property development guys, if it were a leafy Surrey village, say Midsomer Parvey, this was happening to, wouldn’t those residents feel a tad put out, wouldn’t Sykes have a bark up?

It needed… No… it needs a gentle hand. Still. It STILL needs that. Even with the fabulous fountains and safer towpath. You see, back in the 80s everyone thought benefits from the wealth creating Docklands would trickle down to the neighbouring estates. Wrong, doh. Those neighbouring estates still number some of the most poverty stricken, disadvantaged places in the whole country. It’s arguable that the Docklands development made things worse, much worse in many cases.You see, a sense of place is much more than a theoretical thing. It has very practical effects.

Not actively engaging – and I mean REALLY engaging – shuts people out. In turn place design suffers. Those people that know in their bones how a new development could positively be introduced to existing communities are ostensibly ignored.

The fear is that King’s Cross the company is becoming King’s Cross the place. The name printed on the ordnance survey map will shift a little to the west, just like the entrance to the station has and with it will go all the benefits of ‘regeneration’.

For a previous article making some similar points see here.


Posted in Big developments, Kings Cross N1C, railwayslands, Local issues, New, Planning, Licensing and Regulation | 1 Comment

King’s Cross – Gentrification/Regeneration

rtaImageAs part of the Expanded Boundaries/Restless Futures series, Central St Martin’s hosts a panel discussion about King’s Cross this Saturday evening.

The event runs from 5 to 7pm at The Crossing, Granary Building, 1 Granary Square and places need to be booked in advance.

The conflation of King’s Cross the area with King’s Cross the company responsible for King’s Cross Central/N1C makes for a problematic boundary around the discussion itself. However, the thorny issue of the impact KXC/N1C has and continues to have on the area King’s Cross (about a half mile all around the perimeter of the station but particularly King’s Cross and the south end of The Cally in Islington and in Camden the area around King’s Cross Road and Somers Town) would seem eminently pertinent here.

The panel for the discussion are:

Jeremy Till, CSM
Jeremy Till is an architect, writer, and not least, the Head of school at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design (CSM) since 2012, as well as pro-vice chancellor of the University of the Arts London. His extensive and highly opinionated written and research work includes the influential publications Spatial Agency (with Nishat Awan and Tatjana Schneider, 2011) and Architecture Depends (2009), both of which received RIBA President’s Award for Outstanding Research. 

Teddy Cruz, Estudio Teddy Cruz
Teddy Cruz works at the crossroads between architecture, urbanism, policy and art. Recognised internationally for his research on the Tijuana-San Diego border, his investigation of this conflicted geography has inspired a practice and pedagogy that emerges from the particularities of immigrant and border neighbourhoods. Cruz and his team also explore new visions for affordable housing. 

Anna Minton, Journalist
Anna Minton is a freelance journalist and author of several report and books, including Ground Control (2009) on the increasingly privatised nature of contemporary urban space. Having worked at the Financial Times, she went on author a report for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on distrust and fear; she was also involved with CABE and has advised a number of public and private sector clients. 

Roger Madelin, Argent
Roger Madelin is a partner at Argent LLP, where for the first ten years after joining, he delivered all of the company’s developments. For 12 years, Roger ran the redevelopment for the Kings Cross area. Currently he focuses on projcet delivery for the Aga Khan Devlopment Network. He was awarded a CBE for ‘services to sustainable development.

Dr Rebecca Ross & Chi Nguyen, CSM
Rebecca Ross is a Senior Lecturer in Digital Media & Interaction for the Graphic Design Communication programme, and also holds a fellowship within CSM’s Spatial Practices department. Her work sits at the intersection between visual culture, urban studies and interaction. Chi Nguyen is an artist based in Brooklyn who uses painting, performance and writing to ask questions about engagement and identity.

Posted in Architecture, Big developments, Kings Cross N1C, railwayslands, Local issues, New, Noticeboard, Things to do | Tagged , | 2 Comments