THE TRANSPORT FOR LONDON EXHIBITION REDEVELOPMENT PLANS HELD ON SEPTEMBER 29 OCTOBER 3 2015 AT 65 GREEN LANE, NORTHWOOD
1. Departure from Vision 2: The Design
Six per cent of Northwood residents approved Vision 2 on the strength of the idea of an attractive public piazza in the centre of Northwood. The piazza in the current scheme has been halved in size as compared to the proposal in the original Vision 2.
The underground car park lift building splits the public space into two parts, one enclosed by shops (pedestrianised station approach) and the other between three residential blocks. It is now measuring approximately 16 meters wide and 32 meters long (ca 500 square metres). This front part of piazza will serve a multitude of purposes; people will criss-cross it for access to the station, shopping, parking and their homes. Far from being a relaxing place it will be a busy hub. It will also be used for retail delivery services and collection of rubbish from those units, out of hours, which means it will be heavily used all of the time with associated noise pollution.
The piazza will have 4 storey buildings on its east, west and south facing sides (original Vision 2 showed 3-storey buildings on the West side) cutting out sunlight and creating shaded areas, possibly a wind tunnel and will have a bus stop on its only open side!
This is a substantial departure from Vision 2. Far from being a relaxing place the open area in front of the station will be a busy hub. Vision 2 showed a mix of three and four storey buildings and varying roofscapes. Now, all new blocks are four stories high, and taller than any other structures in the centre of Northwood. This new development should enhance the conservation area in which it will be located and not be a towering presence over Northwood that currently retains a much loved village-like character.
Transport consultant Buro Happold, appointed by TfL, claim their simulation shows that introduction of coordinated traffic lights coupled with shorter crossing times for pedestrians will improve congestion and improve traffic flow at the crossings by 3% in spite of the fact that vehicular traffic will increase at the same junctions. How have they achieved this?
a. By reducing the time for crossing at junctions.
Shorter crossing times at lights will make it more unsafe for children and elderly trying to cross and risks will inevitably be taken. Further, coordinated lights mean vehicles will travel at greater speeds to clear the junctions.
b. Coordinated lights at junctions mean green lights for cars but also means red lights for pedestrians at the same junctions. In the absence of hard evidence, we only have to think of Oxford Circus where similar arrangement is in place, and people cross the roads diagonally. In TFL ‘s modelling they have not accounted for this possibility. So pedestrian safety is at a greater risk with the shorter crossing times.
The traffic studies do not extend to the impact on the roundabout opposite Waitrose. The study concentrates on vehicle movements to and from the new Central Way but not on the impact on vehicles turning right towards Watford Road. We are told that the off carriageway bus stop for 3 bus routes in front of the piazza will reduce congestion westbound. Will it in reality, when up to 3 buses are pulling out to join the junction?
3. Traffic Issues on the new Central Way
The carriage way of Central Way is narrower than the current Station Approach, but will take an additional 500 new residents, buses, bus stop, cars, service vehicles for shops and homes, council rubbish collection, minicar service and drop off and pick up points. We are being told that this will still somehow be less congested than the current situation. What about the access for the Emergency services?
When consenting to Vision 2, people specifically asked for drop off and pick up spaces. In the current scheme there are shown 5 ‘dedicated’ drop off and pick up spaces. In fact these spaces are to be shared by the minicab service, by vehicles bringing deliveries to shops and rubbish collection.
Central Way is single lane either way but with a bus stop on the route for exiting the site. We are told that the carriage way is wide enough so cars can pass by the side of the bus but it does not appear to be so on the drawings, so you would have to be in the path of oncoming traffic to clear the bus or wait behind, adding to waiting time especially at pm peak times.
The underground car park will accommodate 180 cars. However Central Way can accommodate a maximum of 10-15 cars between the car park exit and the junction with Green Lane. When most of the commuters are attempting to exit to go home at the pm peak time, only a few cars will be able to exit the junction and that too if there are no delays due to bus/ drop offs/ delivery vans pulling in at the same time. This will not ease congestion as promised.
The above indicate the desire for TfL to be able to demonstrate their 3% improvement in traffic management but shows little regard for pedestrians or for practicality. Besides benefitting TfL’s agenda of ticking a box to achieve planning permission and gain maximum profit from this development who else does it benefit?
The above shows that there will be increased traffic congestion particularly at peak times, which will result in increased pollution. However, no information has been forthcoming from Northwood Futures on this issue, but that remains a grave concern to local residents. TfL refused us access at the exhibition to their figures on monitoring of the air quality in Northwood town centre at 3 locations over the last 3 months.
5. Parking Provisions
Vision 2 showed 189 commuter & retail parking spaces and 23 residential parking spaces.
The current scheme has 180 combined parking spaces in the underground parking of which 130 are for combined commuter and retail; and further 50 for the flats. Therefore commuter/ retail parking provision has reduced substantially from original Vision 2 which promised to retain the existing 189 commuter/ retail car parking spaces.
With the retail provision doubled and parking drastically reduced, this overspill will inevitably spread to nearby residential streets.
6. New Housing
New proposed residential development is not catering for the shortage of family homes. Rather, the proposed scheme will add to the market of buy to let homes for commuters investing in season passes for their work in Central London. 93 flats are being created, each will have 3 bed spaces only and 50 car spaces shared between them. Where is the evidence showing that the need in this area is for intermediate homes?
Further, affordable housing provision is not clarified but it was indicated that this will be placed in most disadvantaged spot on top of the building next to Waitrose and over the old Blockbuster building, these homes will suffer from light, noise and environmental pollution. Is this fair?
7. Existing businesses and the mix of retail offer
Vision 2 showed small retail units as per residents wishes. People have shown concern for the existing businesses and their livelihoods and asked for these to be preserved and in the past TfL have promised to do this. At the summer exhibition we were asked for the mix of shops we would like to see and this was summarised in the comments following the exhibition.
Inspite of this consultation, the scheme that will be submitted for planning has no space earmarked for the shops residents said they would like to retain, and many of you did ask for small independent shops. Retail units will be let as per TfL’s choice, at competitive market price and not respecting your views. This is a departure from the narrative set out in Vision 2 and consultation thereafter.
Existing businesses will have to compete with bids from all other chains and will most likely be priced out and suffer a loss to their livelihoods. TfL have not provided them with any concrete assurances of rehousing and the current plans are representative of this.
8. Impact on Commuters
With the total of 127 new homes being created, there will be a new population of around 500 plus, most are likely to be commuters to central London. On a conservative estimate say 100-150 commuters (likely to be more to include children commuting to schools) will take the train during the morning peak times. How will the Metropolitan line cope with this influx when the trains are already full at these times. This will disadvantage other towns down the line like Pinner, Northwood Hills and Harrow. Further, as the new station at Watford is completed (likely to coincide with this development – according to their website in 2018), the trains will already be full when they reach Northwood. What provisions is TfL making to mitigate this congestion? Will they provide more fast trains at peak times to mitigate this problem?
9. Objection and Petition
Why should we agree to a development that offers very little to Northwood residents but will blight our town by its towering presence and increased traffic congestion and pollution? It will change the character of Northwood forever. The positive aspects of the scheme are the provision of step free access to the station and provision of additional housing.
10. An Alternative Approach which enhances existing heritage and raises funding for the station improvement works
The buildings on Station Approach/ Green Lane are heritage assets, in good condition, an integral part of the Green Lane Conservation Area and represent the development of Northwood due to the railway over time. They should be retained and enhanced as per the Council’s policy on conservation areas.
They could act as a gateway to a pedestrian piazza behind them (currently Coach works which could be relocated) with shops and flats over, there could be more shops/ retail along the tracks & entry to the new station which could be moved further down to provide level access. The current Station Approach could be pedestrianised. Central Way could become the new approach to the site and its new facilities.
Housing/ flats over underground commuter parking, townhouses to the rear of the site or indeed taller blocks with flats at the rear of the site are all acceptable options for raising funds necessary to provide improved station facilities. These would represent a reasonable solution and generate reasonable profits to TfL as well, while maintaining the character of Northwood. This would be acceptable to the residents.