Minor victory this week.
Like me, you may have wondered at times over the last few years, what exactly TfL was doing behind the blue hording on the traffic island at the junction of Newgate Street and King Edward Street. It’s not exactly the prettiest corner of our ward, but it’s been made even less attractive, and less accessible having been enclosed by TfL for quite a few years now, while they’ve been working on the Central Line. Indeed, quite some while ago, I posted this story – The Coolest Corner of the Ward – Newgate Hub Venting St.Paul’s Station – about the great use of existing infrastructure, to cool the Central Line and as a way to get materials to and from the track using the old shaft.
Anyway, over a year on, and I happened to notice that there is no license displayed for the hording, and I started to wonder exactly what the plan was for TfL to leave this site. I was starting to think that this was going to be a permanent fixture, which might been necessary, but was hoping that the City was being reasonably compensated for the impact, just as any other building site or developer would be required to do.
So I wrote to the Department of the Built Environment at the City to ask what the plan was. I was told that the works ‘to the shaft are very complex and [TfL] were experiencing problems’, and that at present TfL couldn’t commit to any date to leave the site, but City officers expected this to be sometime in 2017. In addition, I was told that TfL had only being paying the normal hording license for the use of this space, which up to the end of this year would be £12,450. This situation – whereby TfL get a centrally located site for minimal cost with no planned end-date – made me just a little suspicious of their intentions, and the true nature of the requirement, so I dug a little deeper.
I was also more than a little worried about the state of our trees at the site, as they have been boxed in for quite sometime, and are growing up against the stacked containers – which I believe are Portacabin-type accommodation – so I also copied in our Superintendent of City Gardens, to see if he had any more information or concerns.
I heard back from the Superintendent with the good news that they had inspected the trees a while back and were in good condition, but while investigating, another member of the City Gardens team relayed the fact that when they had seen inside the area, they found that the site was apparently being using the site to store Santander Cyles.
The DBE were given this information and visited the site on the 14th October. At this visit, they found that the “original message being told to us from TfL was indeed incorrect and the area is being used to store the welfare facilities for the Central Line works” along with the cycles. In addition, the welfare facilities were very rarely being used. So rather than providing an essential facility to enable something to be fixed on the Central Line, TfL seem to be using this space as a convenient, cheap and central location for storage and accommodation.
Now I’m more than supportive and accommodating of TfL in keeping our City moving – especially the Central Line which I use every day – but I can’t help feeling that officers have been taken slightly advantage of here, in trusting that TfL would clear off-site and return our street to the City as soon as possible, or at the least, ensuring that the City was properly informed and compensated for the use of the space for non-essential works and storage, just as any other commercial operator should be required to do.
I’m now informed that their license will expire in early December, and they will then be leaving the location, and removing the hording. So for the first time in many years, we will be able to properly see the trees on the island, and through to the gardens at Christchurch Greyfriars. It’s also great to see that the Newgate Street Clock, a gift to the City from the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers’ on their 375th Anniversary, is also in the process of being returned to the tower on the site.