Down, But Not Out! The Saga of Our Footbridge Over the Tracks Continues.

6a00d8345162e169e2011278fa111f28a4-500wi For some time there has been an ongoing campaign led by local resident Sophie Talbot to stop Network Rail's closure of the rear entrance to King's Cross station without providing alternative, easy access to the new station entrance that will be moved.  While there has been cross party support for local resident's desires to see the alternative route in the form of a new foot/cycle bridge over the tracks at the end of the station, most of the energy of the campaign has been due to Sophie.

Whilethe rear exitt has now been closed, the battle for alternate, easy access is still not over!  For those of you following the campaign butwho haven't seen Sophie's latest "assault" on the "powers that be" at Network Rail that was published in this past issue of the Islington Tribune, I have re-printed it below.

Please read it as it explains in a nutshell what this campaign is all about and is another testament to a hard working local resident – fighting for something that will really benefit the local area.  We all owe her our support…

Dear Islington Tribune and Camden New Journal,

I read with interest the article in the Islington Tribune this week about our campaign approaching Prince Charles for his support. I’d like to explain in a little more detail why it has come to this and why it’s the last hope for the Camden and Islington communities that make up the King’s Cross/Somers Town area.

Our community is calling for a bridge across the rear of the station giving access to the new western concourse for those commuting from Islington, linking King’s Cross to the east and Somers Town to the west and putting the final piece in the jigsaw for an Angel to Marylebone cycling and walking route. King’s Cross Central developers, Argent, are under a duty to site the western end of this bridge only if work starts on it by 2012. If we miss that deadline, we lose the bridge – possibly forever.

Last year Network Rail undertook a feasibility study carried out by the Arup company. This said a bridge was not feasible. We pointed out that the Arup study did not look at the bridge we were calling for but at different bridge altogether – one that everyone had previously agreed wouldn’t be feasible. We said the Arup study was therefore a waste of money.

To throw good money after bad, LB Camden employed another company, Colin Buchanan, to assess the validity of the Arup study. Buchanan’s ignored the point that Network Rail and Arup had looked at the wrong bridge and told LB Camden that the bridge was not feasible. This let Network Rail and LB Camden planners off the hook as, no matter what the community said they could always quote both the Arup study and the Buchanan report. Follow so far? It gets worse!

Next chapter in this tale of chucking public money at consultants producing shoddy work is the King’s Cross Movement and Open Space consultation – one of far too many studies taking place here (King’s Cross is all reports and no action). Who should LB Islington employ to do this? Colin Buchanan. At a community consultation feedback event Buchanan’s work was trashed by those attending. Their work was short-sighted, unimaginative and once again ignored comments made by the community.

Chapter Four: Buchanan’s prove their lack of worth. In which planning officers at LB Islington once again employ Buchanan’s to develop the business case for what is being called the Wharfdale Road Bridge – our bridge. By this time, who knows how much Buchanan’s have pocketed in public funds; whatever the amount the additional £30k they were paid for this piece of work goes to show that money for old rope is a good business to go into, especially if you have a ‘good working relationship’ with council officers who are going to keep chucking council tax payers money at you. Why? Here goes:

  1. Conflict of interest. Buchanan’s had a vested interest in its conclusions coming out against a bridge. If it did anything other than that, their approval of the flawed Arup report for Network Rail and LB Camden would be untenable. Buchanan’s should never have been appointed for this project.

  2. Validity and reliability. Buchanan’s state in the business case study that the data they present has not been verified; because of this it can only fail to meet basic reliability or validity measures. As Buchanan’s say in the report: "It should be noted and is expressly stated that no independent verification of any of the documents or information supplied to Colin Buchanan and Partners Limited has been made." The report is littered with subjective judgements none of which are referenced by any research material, other reports, interviews, surveys or other appropriate data.

  3. Poor quality research methodology. At the outset the report states "Colin Buchanan has been commissioned by Islington Council to produce a business case for the ‘Wharfdale Road Bridge’. Anyone who has ever prepared a business case to do anything knows the idea is to provide evidence backing up the case. It isn’t a feasibility study; it isn’t an open piece of research. It seems neither Buchanan’s nor our council officers understand basic research principles.

  4. Incomplete context. No mention is made of the local historical or current context, instead the report focuses on King’s Cross Central and changes to the transport system. The bridge was part of our community until the 1920s. No-one has been able to say why it was destroyed; the community wants it back.

  5. Highly questionable assumptions. The researchers base their conclusions on their own subjective assumptions throughout without backing them up with any source material other than their own. Not so much an attempt at objectivity; more a stitch up.

  6. Wrong catchment area. The immediate catchment area for the Wharfdale Road bridge stretches as far as north as the Maiden Lane Estate, as far west as Somers Town and as far east as Penton Road. The catchment area used by Buchanan’s bears no resemblance to this; it concentrates on a tiny area and then narrows that down to a minuscule area south of the Regent’s Canal immediately surrounding Battlebridge Basin. It maybe that the consultants are aware that the person most publicly linked with the campaign lives in those few streets and are cynically manipulating this fact to belittle the campaign; it certainly seems odd that the report reads like they’ve written it just for me and my immediate neighbours – bless!

  7. No mention of bus commuters. A great many Londoners mix bus, tube and rail journeys when travelling. In King’s Cross there is a very large number of people travelling to and fro the station by bus and then transferring to the tube or train. The King’s Cross gyratory system results in those people travelling from the north east of the station being a high proportion of potential bridge users, some of whom are active in this campaign. Strange that Buchanan’s – supposedly experts in transport – seem blissfully unaware of this.

  8. Incorrect assumptions about cyclists. The report limits itself to a very small number of cyclists that may use the bridge. No mention is made of cyclists wanting a throughway in order to avoid the A501. No mention is made of the campaign for an Angel to Marylebone cycle route. Access through the middle of St Pancras Station is played down; assuming cyclists would not want to dismount at this point. An entirely negative subjective view has been taken of any benefit to cyclists.

  9. Economic measures. The body of the report uses only economic measures and even those are incorrect. No business case can be developed without the inclusion of a range of social and environmental measures as well as economic ones.

  10. Assumed cost. The cost used in the report for the bridge is totally unreliable. No report of any kind should base conclusions on a stab in the dark.

  11. Cost benefit ratio. A table showing the cost benefit of the bridge contains invalid and unreliable data. No statements based on it should be taken seriously; yet it is this table that is used by Buchanan’s to draw its conclusions.

  12. Quick appraisal. Again, a table giving a quickie appraisal is littered with unsubstantiated subjective judgements. For example, the environmental impact of the bridge on air quality is given as neutral. Yet the A501 is one of the most dangerous high emission zones in the country. Part of the aims for the bridge is to enable cyclists and pedestrians to avoid having to use the A501. Odd that Buchanan’s haven’t noticed this.

The conclusions drawn by the Buchanan business case study are badly misinformed. Were I the commissioning officer I would return the report to the consultants because of its poor quality.

I keep being embarrassed that folk working in a field so closely related to mine (as an organisation development consultant) can produce such shoddy work and get paid for it from the public purse.

Given the performance of Network Rail, LB Camden and LB Islington officers and the consultants they keep employing we asked the Mayor’s transport adviser and head of Transport for London, Kulveer Ranger for help. After all, King’s Cross St Pancras is a strategic issue of regional importance. He said TfL would do ‘all in their power’ to make the bridge happen. Unfortunately, that stops short of fully funding it.

So we asked central Government to intervene. After all, the design of what is Europe’s fastest growing transport hub must be of national importance. Lord Adonis, minister responsible for rail said it is a local issue for LB Camden to deal with and not one for the Government.

What can we do now? We have the backing of local and regional politicians from all four major parties. Even that can’t cut through the morass of regulation, complicated relationships between developers and consultants and closed pots of money guarded by planners. Given the complete failure of local democracy to hold sway, in compete desperation we are writing to Prince Charles. It’s not a publicity stunt; we just don’t know what else to do.

Yours,

Sophie Talbot
King’s Cross resident and commuter

I hope this letter stimulates some "comment" from our local politicians on what action we, the electorate, can now take to continue putting pressure on Network Rail.  Am I labouring under some misunderstanding – when the government took over Railtrack private investors didn't that mean that it was going to be run for the benefit of the public?  And, are they not US!

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One Response to Down, But Not Out! The Saga of Our Footbridge Over the Tracks Continues.

  1. Ian says:

    Really excellent letter. It dissects comprehensively all the cosy little networks between developers, consultants and the councils, while also summing up the complete lack of interest these people have in genuine consultation. In my experience these so-called professionals get very protective of what they think of as ‘their’ schemes and resent it enormously when members of the public intervene and point out the obvious flaws and poverty of their ideas. Public consultation is a charade. Argent and others have fought tooth and nail to exclude any genuine input from the people who will be most affected by their desire to make as much money as possible. I applaud Sophie’s efforts – her arguments and knowledge are far superior to the miserable efforts of the so-called consultants who have pocketed a nice little pile of cash for doing exactly nothing, except coming to the ‘conclusion’ which had been already decided. These ‘professionals’ think that a large prestige project is one which will make them lots of cash, and will also look good on their websites – their bias is always to push through their client’s interests, which is usually the developer, the architects, the corporate interests etc. They therefore think of local people as merely troublemakers, interfering in their grandiose plans, who have only local and therefore insignificant and irritating issues. Thus they are to be tolerated only in so far as they can be outmanouvered and ignored, given that they have no resources on the scale of their clients.
    The beauty of Sophie’s letter is that she irrefutably demonstrates that the opposite is true – local people have actually a wider and deeper grasp of the issues than the superficial and inept incoherencies of Colin Buchanan and his ilk. Far from being merely a local issue, she points out quite rightly that the bridge is part of a strategic transport plan for a North London cycle route. Supposedly the Mayor of London is very keen on implementing new safe cycle routes, I wonder why he doesn’t get involved – he is an Islington resident. Or is he disinclined to take on the large corporate interests he seems to be cowed by?
    If we had anything approaching a genuine democracy in planning, then people like Sophie, who have no financial interest in the project (unlike just about everybody else), and have far more knowledge than the corporate yes-men, would be at the heart of the decision-making, not relegated to the outside and sniffed at and patronised by big business, who have no interest in public participation or wider transport strategies. The council should be supporting people like her to the hilt, instead they seem to be on the side, as always, of the developers.

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