I have had the pleasure over the last few weeks of seeing in person how the railway infrastructure's can bring about vibrancy in communities. The railway's alignment can often scar the connectivity of a place. Railway stations can become dated and out of kilter to their community's needs. The transitory passengers needs can leave a negative echo on neighbours. However, such tales need not be the end of the story.
At one end of the scale, I saw in New York City the regeneration at Hudson Yards and its connection to the rejuvenating Highline. The 28 acre real estate development on in midtown Manhattan includes oversite development, its path to success was enabled by hard endeavours like rezoning the planning rules of the local district, the blending of public and private finance and interests and the commitment to a multi-year strategy. There was little sign of scarring of the railway alignment here but much of of regeneration and new real estate providing the promise of homes, jobs and recreation.
At the other end of the spectrum I witnessed the appeal of businesses at stations for local residents - try a visit to the delightful cafe at at Cottingham (near Hull). Here the former station lamp room is now a thriving cafe which has become a destination in its own right. Next to it, occupying further station space, is a local charity helping people with mental health issues into jobs. Here the station's initial success is leading to potential for the re-use of the remaining station building that's currently empty.
Why do I describe these stories now?
Two stories caught my eye and brought back some of the challenges we have not always been able to master with confidence here in the UK.
In Italy there has been a green-light for an €800m urban regeneration DBFM project for a major station in central Milan. If it reaches maturity it will be the first PPP of this type in Italy. The project will cover a section of the railway near Milan Cadorna station with a 60,000m2 platform that will host a park, residential and commercial buildings. It has been reported as one of the most important urban regeneration projects in Europe, and the first to be undertaken under a PPP structure.
Meanwhile news of Sellar/MTR/Network Rail's proposed redevelopment of Liverpool Street, initially announced in November, was in the railway press again recently. This bold reimagining of Liverpool Street repeats a narrative proposed at other stations which haven't yet come to pass. The introduction of mezzaines and two separate concourses have been floated at Victoria and at Euston plus I am sure many others. The delivery of major decks for oversight development have been expensive and disruptive and I am not sure we have seen previous work on a template design for such things provide the solution to the cost and delivery challenge they represent.
However, the story at Liverpool Street is already causing some ructions with some interested groups. It appears that it will not have an easy path to implementation through the planning and consent processes given their concerns as to the scale and impact of the proposals on the existing station.
If the stories of Hudson Yards and Cottingham are to be repeated the industry and its stakeholders are going to have to:
- Devise and communicate compelling real estate stories that meet community and commercial needs and aspirations
- Continue to harness the best of public and private sector partnering and risk sharing
- Deploy ever more impressive techniques that sustain community vitality, sustainability and commercial realities through the construction of these major programmes
- Secure the resilience of train services and amenity for passengers including their journeys to/from the station
- Accept that the realisation of some opportunities to create and secure value may mean change to the existing fabric, network or service. We may also need to prioritise our scarce resources to best effect across the network.
Across Britain's railway network there remains both opportunity and need at it stations, over its tracks and potentially at depots. However, we haven't yet resolved some known challenges such as Victoria's constrained concourses, the affordability of Euston's HS2 station and the 2009 Better Station Report's call for the urgent regeneration of Clapham Junction.
We cannot, however, give up and there the stories in this piece, and many more across the network, highlight that success can be achieved.