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The meeting point of Old Street and City Road should be an inviting gateway linking two of inner London's most lively boroughs with the bustling periphery of the City of London. Since 1967, though, it has been blighted by a huge roundabout which destroyed the original frontages to create a hostile environment for walking and cycling, and a generally unattractive place to be in and pass through.
Fortunately there is momentum for change here, driven partly by the desire for better conditions for walking and cycling, and partly by the area becoming a hub for Internet-based innovation.
The changes currently being contemplated by the relevant authorities (Transport for London, which controls the tube station, the eastern section of Old Street and the northern section of City Road; and the London Boroughs of Islington and Hackney, which are the planning authorities) are based on the 'peninsularisation' of the roundabout.
Peninsularisation would mean stopping up one corner of the roundabout, and making the remaining carriageway two-way. This would be an improvement on the current roundabout from the point of view of walking and cycling, but it would still result in a complex, confusing layout and a sub-optimal use of space, both for movement and development.
We think that a crossroads layout would provide the best opportunities for active frontages, coherent connections, and human-scale streets. After all, it's what was there before, and it's how most junctions are configured in cities everywhere.
We have heard various objections to the crossroads idea over the years, initially centred on capacity for motor traffic, and latterly on the location of sewers and potential new station entrances.
These worries can and should be overcome, given enough ambition. First, design the sort of place that people will want to come to and be in. Then let the engineers do their magic to make it work.
On the right you can see a very preliminary visualisation of how a restored crossroads might look. We hope this will be the start of a fresh discussion of the future of this crucial location.
As well as being endorsed by our LCC colleagues in Islington Cyclists Action Group, the aim of recreating a crossroads at the Old Street / City Road junction is also supported by the local groups of Living Streets (the pedestrian lobby) in both Hackney and Islington, as well as by both boroughs' leading amenity groups, namely the Hackney Society and the Islington Society.
We hope for your support too.
The London Cycling Campaign says that the plans don't deliver for walking and cycling.
Quite possibly because the information had leaked into the public domain, TfL have finally admitted that they intend to place a tower block in the middle of the junction. The admission occurs in their consultation material for their scheme: "The new space provided by the peninsula gives us the long term opportunity to consider the possibilities of a new development at Old Street, built over the refurbished station." While claiming that they have no specific plans, we say that even a general plan makes it almost inevitable.
TfL's consultation closes on the 11th January, 2015.
A long-standing confusion is finally resolved. The reference to the 2008 Old Street Roundabout Development Strategy in the Finsbury Local Plan was in error, and the 2006 draft of the Strategy (or a version of it) was never formally adopted by Islington Council. It still took two months to resolve our FOI request. This means that all the specific planning guidance relevant to the Old Street/City Road junction is contained in the Finsbury Local Plan, with the 2006 Old Street Roundabout Development Strategy merely supporting evidence. The guidance in the Finsbury Local Plan is drawn up much less specifically than the draft Strategy, which is good news.
TfL have responded to our request with things we already knew and didn't consider 'evidence'. Their narrative response confirms that they haven't done any evaluation of the possibility of a crossroads at all. They haven't even included any diagrams, and by contrast we know that they commissioned a very detailed feasibility study into the possibility of over-station development.
The first of today's two information requests is a simple one to Islington Council, asking it to publish the 'Old Street Roundabout Draft Development Strategy' which it adopted in 2008. We link to a 2006 draft above, but, despite several requests to officers, the adopted strategy has not (as far as we can find) been published. We would like to see whether there were any significant changes that may have allowed TfL to pursue its property development ambitions.
The second request is to Transport for London, asking it to release any reports containing evidence upon which its decision not to progress the crossroads option at the junction of Old Street and City Road was based. The public explanation given by TfL so far amounts to a few sentences about junction capacity and the location of sewers and lift shafts. Let's see whether they actually have anything more substantial.
The freedom of information request we made on 2nd July has been refused by TfL. The grounds? It has such a huge amount of information on the subject of property development above Old Street Station that it would cost too much to retrieve and release it all! TfL says, for example, that an email search has brought up over 3000 emails mentioning Old Street over-station development, and that there are plentiful meeting minutes with various designers and contractors on the subject. It would be great to have the detail, but at least we now know that TfL is working as hard as it can to make sure that its proposed new peninsula is used not for public space, as Islington Council's draft 'Old Street Roundabout Draft Development Strategy' suggested it should be, but for money-spinning property development. We still don't know how long TfL has been looking at over-station development, but we suspect even more strongly than we did before that the lure of big bucks has influenced its decision to reject the crossroads option.
Is TfL planning to exploit property development opportunities above Old Street station, and could this be a factor in its refusal to make a full evaluation of the option of returning the Old Street and City Road junction to a crossroads? We have today sent TfL a freedom of information request asking for information from all reports, correspondence or communications relating to such potential development.
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