Report of the Head of Strategic Transport Planning & Public Realm
5.1 Councillor Angela Harvey had presented a residents petition objecting to a proposed pedestrian and cycle bridge between Nine Elms in Wandsworth and Pimlico at the Council meeting on 11 November 2015. In direct response to the petition submitted to the Council and to growing public concerns in the borough about the proposed bridge, the Leader of the Council, Councillor Philippa Roe, announced in November that this matter would be scrutinised at a meeting of this Committee as part of an ongoing inquiry. Organisations and individuals had been able to send in written evidence in the form of a ‘register of concerns and interests’ prior to the 18 January meeting. The Chairman thanked everyone who had submitted written representations and added that all of these received prior to the meeting had been made available to Members of the Committee. Further written representations could be submitted following the meeting as part of the ongoing inquiry.
5.2 The meeting itself was exceptionally well attended by approximately 100 members of the public. The report for the item was introduced by Graham King, Westminster City Council’s Head of Strategic Transport Planning & Public Realm. He stated that the proposal for a pedestrian and cycle bridge between Nine Elms in Wandsworth and Pimlico was in parallel with the development of Nine Elms, an opportunity area designated by the Mayor of London in the London Plan. To date no formal consultation on a bridge had taken place and no planning application had been submitted. The proposed bridge was being promoted through the Nine Elms Vauxhall Partnership by Wandsworth Council in particular. Their work involved a number of studies into the potential for the opportunity area, including a feasibility study for a bridge carried out by Transport for London (TfL). The feasibility study had outlined possible landing sites for a bridge. Mr King advised that Wandsworth Council had run an international design competition to find a team of architects and engineers capable of producing a viable design for a bridge. A winning design team had been selected by Wandsworth Council in November 2015. He referred to the fact that as this process had been taken forward it had become clear that there was strong and growing opposition to the proposal for such a bridge in Westminster. A number of concerns had been raised by Westminster Council officers regarding a potential bridge. They had not accepted either the need for a bridge, the design approach or possible landing sites. He added that the Council’s Planning Policy Framework was set out as an appendix to the report so that Members of the Committee would have access to the policy context a bridge would be considered against in the event a planning application was submitted. Underpinning all of the policies as set out in the City Plan was that such schemes should not cause harm to residential amenity and such schemes should add to the attractiveness and accessibility of the City. Whilst a nominal proposal to increase public transport accessibility may be considered a good thing under Council policies, it was not at any cost to residential amenity or public open space, including at Pimlico Gardens. Mr King provided an update that the statue of William Huskisson in Pimlico Gardens had recently been listed. It was for the promoters of the scheme to address the serious issues that had been raised and how they intend to proceed.
5.3 The Committee heard evidence from Councillor Angela Harvey, the representative for Tachbrook Ward; Councillor Murad Gassanly, the representative for Churchill Ward; Keith Trotter, Nine Elms Programme Coordinator; Nick Smales, Economic Development Officer at Wandsworth Council; Alex Williams, Director of Borough Planning at TfL; Edward Reeve on behalf of the Federation of Pimlico Residents Associations and Alicia Eykyn on behalf of Churchill Gardens Residents Association. Councillor Harvey emphasised the diverse nature of Pimlico village. 90% of those surveyed in Pimlico were against a bridge. If the bridge was to be built, wherever the landing point was such as Pimlico Gardens or Dolphin Square, users would not be coming to visit Pimlico but to get to somewhere else. The jobs that would be created by any development would not benefit Pimlico residents. There were other ways in which any money spent on a bridge could be used instead and there were other ways for pedestrians or cyclists to make their way across the river whether by underground tube or via the Cycling Superhighway. The bridge would not significantly reduce the time it would take to cross the river but would convert residential byways into commuter highways. Councillor Gassanly had replaced Councillor Williams as the Churchill Ward representative as Councillor Williams could not be in attendance. He wished to echo the point made by Councillor Harvey that there was the potential for Pimlico Gardens to be adversely affected which was the only open space which the local community had available next to the River Thames. The three Churchill Ward councillors objected to all of the landing sites set out in TfL’s feasibility study, not seeing any benefit or need for a bridge. Residents of Churchill Gardens and other residents located within Churchill Ward had also made it clear they objected to a bridge at all the potential landing sites, having attended the public meeting held [by the community] on 9 December 2015 and that they had signed a petition against the proposed bridge. The Churchill Gardens ward councillors had written to the Leader of Wandsworth Council, Councillor Govindia setting out their concerns and requesting that the proposal for a bridge was not taken forward. This letter had not received an acknowledgement. Councillor Gassanly added that there had not been genuine attempts by Wandsworth representatives to engage Pimlico residents.
5.4 Mr Trotter addressed the Committee on the development of Nine Elms and how the bridge was linked to this. He referred to the area being designated as part of the Central Activity Zone within the London Plan and an opportunity area involving an intensification of growth for housing and employment. The Opportunity Area Planning Framework had been adopted in 2012 and the bridge concept had been put forward within this planning framework. Nine Elms would be one of the largest regeneration areas in Europe being developed over the next ten to fifteen years. A new residential and commercial district was being created with a target of 25,000 jobs and 20,000 homes (17,000 had planning permission). Development sites included Battersea Power Station (which would become a new town centre and a major business district), the new US Embassy and a redeveloped New Covent Garden market. Mr Trotter also stated that there would be significant public realm improvements throughout the area, including providing a landscaped, car-free pathway from Battersea Power Station to Vauxhall. A new stretch of the Thames River Path would run the full length of the regeneration area. It was intended that the opening of the Northern Line extension would coincide with the completed regeneration of the Battersea Power Station in 2020. Mr Trotter explained that a bridge would provide access to a Northern Line station within nine minutes’ walk from north of the river and would be part of the overall transport package to be able to deliver the residential and commercial Nine Elms district. This, he added, would be available to the whole of London.
5.5 Mr Smales set out the chronology leading to the pedestrian / cycle bridge proposal. He commented that the first concept for a bridge in this location came from a study carried out by the Cross River Partnership for the Vauxhall Battersea Development Framework in 2003. It then became clear there was a significant development opportunity in the Nine Elms area. Transport feasibility had been examined in the Opportunity Area Planning Framework in 2009. Between November 2009 and March 2010, there was consultation by the Greater London Authority on the draft Framework prior to it being adopted in 2012. Mr Smales stated this was now supplementary planning guidance to the London Plan and set out that there was strong support for the bridge and that it would bring public realm improvements and encourage more cycling and walking. Mr Smales made the point that at this stage it had been identified that more work needed to be done which led to TfL’s feasibility study, published in December 2013. This he stated had found that there was high potential demand for the crossing. On behalf of the Nine Elms Vauxhall Partnership, Wandsworth had launched the design competition in December 2014 to find a team capable of taking forward work that had been undertaken during the previous decade. A preferred bidder, Bystrup was announced in November 2015. Negotiations were still taking place. As part of the terms of the process the bidders were advised that the submitted design would not necessarily be built or that the location used would necessarily be chosen. The purpose of the competition was to develop the bridge concept.
5.6 Mr Williams summarised the key findings of TfL’s feasibility study published in December 2013 and revised in November 2014. The Mayor’s manifesto in 2012 had included a commitment to carry out a technical study of a potential new crossing. He wished to emphasise that the project itself was not in TfL’s business plan and TfL had not been involved in any work relating to a crossing since the feasibility study. Any further work would be at the request of the Mayor. Mr Williams stated that there had been five components to the feasibility study dealing with landing options, potential demand, planning, engineering and cost. In terms of landing options, the report had looked at eight locations from Grosvenor Bridge to Vauxhall Bridge. In terms of the potential demand it had been found that when the area was fully developed, there could be up to 9,000 pedestrians and 9,000 cyclists using a crossing. It would therefore be well used. Mr Williams informed those present that there were two effective planning routes to gain consent for the scheme. One was to get planning consent from the local authorities on both the north and south side of the river as was the case with the Garden Bridge or secondly, to secure a Transport and Works Act Order. Mr Williams expressed the view that in the event that the second planning route was taken the comments of the local authorities would still be fundamental in determining whether the scheme would proceed or not. As part of the engineering component, TfL had taken advice from the Port of London Authority who had stringent guidance on clearances in relation to a bridge crossing. There was likely to be a need for lifts or stairs at both ends of the crossing which would make it more expensive to deliver and ramps would require more land take. The estimated cost was circa £40m. This money would need to be raised from those benefiting from the Nine Elms development.
5.7 The Committee next heard from Mr Reeve who advised those present that FREDA represents 18 individual residents’ associations, comprising over 1200 members. He had personally lived in Pimlico for over 53 years. FREDA had received a presentation from TfL on the feasibility study and they were of the opinion that the study was fundamentally flawed. The reasons for this included that it did not take account of the route for Cycle Superhighway 5 going across Vauxhall Bridge which connected with Cycle Superhighway 8. He stated that it was deplorable that there had not been any consultation with Pimlico residents. FREDA members were almost unanimously opposed to the proposed bridge. At a recent public meeting [organised by the community] over 200 people were present and only 2 were in favour. Mr Reeve raised the point that Nine Elms was very different in nature from Pimlico. It would be very busy and whilst creating its own green space in Nine Elms, it was proposed that Pimlico’s own green space would be impacted upon. The Pimlico area, whilst in the centre of London, contrasts with neighbouring areas in that it is quiet and residential with a village atmosphere and lovely garden squares. Mr Reeve expressed the view that the area’s unique character would be severely prejudiced by the proposed bridge if it was constructed. There was a lack of connectivity for either pedestrians or cyclists on the northern bank of the river. Cyclists would come to a virtual dead end, such as for preferred options 1 or 2, they would reach either the bottom of St George’s Square or opposite Dolphin Square. It was likely they would seek to go up the roads in Dolphin Square. In addition to the Cycle Superhighway across Vauxhall Bridge, there was adequate cycling provision across Chelsea Bridge. For pedestrians there was no northern destination once they crossed a proposed bridge. The case had been made that Pimlico station would be used but there would be two new stations available as a result of the extension to the Northern Line on the south of the river. The projection was that there would be 18,000 combined movements per day across a proposed bridge and all would end up in a strip of land between the river and Grosvenor Road. The vast majority of these movements would be prior to 9am and after 5pm and at these peak times the users of the bridge would have to cross an already congested Grosvenor Road with the problem being exacerbated by the installation of a toucan crossing, adding to traffic jams and pollution in Pimlico. Mr Reeve was of the view that the cost of the bridge would be significantly in excess of the £40m that had been quoted and that this money would be better spent elsewhere. He added that if the preferred route was taken forward at Pimlico Gardens the only green space next to the river would be ruined. If option 2 was taken forward at Dolphin Square, it would destroy sports space. The boating base would be prejudiced by the bridge supports. All the proposals would be detrimental to Pimlico. There had been no proposals to enhance Pimlico in any way.
5.8 Ms Eykyn addressed the Committee. She was in agreement with all the objections made so far against the proposed bridge to St Georges' Square or Dolphin Square at Options 1 or 2 of the TFL's feasibility study summary report. She also believed that it was absurd that users could cross into Grosvenor Road, at any point between St Georges Square and Grosvenor Railway Bridge. TfL's report had indicated that options 3, 3A and 4 had been dismissed as 'unviable'. Ms Eykyn commented that option 4A would be 50 metres east of Grosvenor Railway Bridge starting at the furthest end of the Battersea Opportunity Area and would finish so close to Chelsea Bridge it would make the idea of the proposed bridge an even more pointless proposition. She also referred to the fact that Churchill Gardens is a unique Council Estate in Pimlico, is enormously important to the post war history of London and is a Conservation Area. It has a diverse and vibrant community of around 5000 people. It was therefore necessary to protect it in every way possible. Crossing Grosvenor Road into Lupus St, Churchill Gardens would inevitably be used as a comparatively traffic free cut through to other destinations. Ms Eykyn had concerns regarding how cyclists would ride through Churchill Gardens. She also made the point that the 1940's design of Churchill Gardens, with its beautiful trees, paths and gardens, intertwined between the blocks of flats and open to Grosvenor Road on the South side makes it a cherished Open Space. Unfortunately she felt it could also make it an easy target for petty crime and difficult to police, therefore vulnerable to anti-social behaviour by those, who, rather than passing through, decide it might be a good place to hang about. This would hardly be a fair imposition on the Churchill Gardens' residents and could even lead to it becoming a gated community for security, thus closing off yet another, only too rare open space in this part of London. She added that the Mayor of London promoted cycling above all other forms of transport. Presumably, partly, to protect organic ecology, surely not to destroy it, which, by the destruction of any more of the environs of the river banks of Pimlico, building this bridge, undoubtedly, would help to do. This potential scheme was a bridge too near for residents.
5.9 The Chairman advised those present that the Committee was not a decision making body but Members would influence thinking within the Council and that was why he had been asked by the Leader of the Council to chair a meeting which scrutinised this topic. He recommended that the Committee seek further evidence on points that required further clarification rather than rehearsing concerns that had already been clearly stated by the ward councillors and residents’ groups. The following additional points were made in response to questions from the Committee:
· There had been concerns expressed in residents’ written representations that the bridge was definitely likely to proceed. Mr King in response stated that there was no ‘done deal’ in relation to a bridge crossing. The promoters would firstly need to consider how they would proceed with the scheme and under what legislation. There appeared to be four landing sites options available. All of them would require a great deal of work, including undertaking an environmental assessment. It would then need to be taken to an examination in public. A planning application would require the approval of Westminster and Wandsworth unless a future Mayor decided to call it in on strategic grounds. The latter would be likely to lead to a public inquiry. Westminster’s view would be likely to be given plenty of weight.
· Councillor Harvey informed Members in response to a question that having canvassed the views of Pimlico residents, it had been clear that they did not want any of the potential landing options for a bridge, including in the event it was used either purely by pedestrians or purely by cyclists. Residents did not want the disruption to Pimlico.
· Mr King advised that the landing options examined by TfL in its feasibility study had been brought to the Committee’s attention at its meeting in June 2014. It was agreed that a map setting out the landing options would be forwarded to Members following this meeting. Mr Reeve stated that option 1 was from the US Embassy to Pimlico Gardens, option 2 was from the US Embassy to the tennis courts at Dolphin Square, option 3 was further along towards the west of the South Bank to the end of Claverton Street, option 3a went to Churchill Gardens and option 4 was adjoining Grosvenor Railway Bridge.
· Mr Smales stated that he fully appreciated the strength of feeling at the meeting from local residents in Pimlico. However, the London Plan policy had suggested that the feasibility of a bridge crossing should be investigated and that was what the Nine Elms Vauxhall Partnership was doing. He believed that the studies which had been undertaken to date had concluded that there was a case for a bridge. It was important to take into account the jobs and housing opportunities that were being created in the Nine Elms area and the transport connectivity for what was essentially a new district in Central London. He believed that there was the opportunity to improve the public realm on both sides of the River Thames, including the boating base depending on feasibility and design. Planning agreements could potentially give access to Nine Elms jobs for people from Westminster.
· Mr Williams was asked if he thought a bridge would link appropriately with a road network on the north side of the river. He replied that the feasibility study had looked at 8 locations for a crossing. It had not gone into detail about the potential specific treatments towards Grosvenor Road. It would be the case that if the bridge was constructed a new protected crossing would be needed for pedestrians and cyclists to cross the road. It had not been within the scope of the feasibility study to design a crossing or examine the connecting routes that people would use on either side of the Thames.
· The point was made that Westminster had experience of being involved with bridges being built across the Thames and in the case of the Hungerford Jubilee Bridge there had been a significant increase in the overall cost because unexploded bombs had been found in the river. It was queried who would pay in the event the costs significantly increased for a Nine Elms bridge. There had been cost increases on all the recent bridges that had been constructed across the Thames. Mr Williams responded that the feasibility study had not examined this aspect. It was expected that a bridge would be fully funded by the Nine Elms development. The contingency risk would not be TfL’s. Mr King made the point that contingency costs for construction of bridges tended to escalate with 50% more money being required than the capital cost of works. Since the events of 9/11 it had become more difficult to obtain re-insurance on these structures. Any extra costs would be funded by those who had signed up to do so. Only if Westminster entered into such an agreement would it share the financial risk. Westminster’s Planning Committee when considering the Garden Bridge had made it clear to the promoter and the Mayor of London that it would not accept any transference of future costs in terms of maintenance or management to fall on the City Council. The funders of a potential Nine Elms bridge would have to cover the contingency risk required by the Port of London Authority and the Environment Agency.
· Mr Smales and Mr Trotter were asked why there had not been engagement with residents in Pimlico. Mr Smales responded that it was too early to be consulting residents on proposals for a bridge. There was no formal design and all that had taken place was the procurement of a design team. He stated there had been consultation with Westminster through the TfL feasibility study and on a technical level. There had also been a residents’ review panel established (Mr Reeve had commented that residents had not been permitted to remain on the panel because they would not agree not to share the proposals with other residents). Mr Trotter added that they were working through the contract with the design team and the reason for bringing in the best available architects and designers was to work out how to address issues and mitigate concerns.
· Councillor Harvey stated that the Council had been asked in a minor way to be part of the consultation process. She informed Members that the competition consultants had asked for the names of appropriate people for the residents’ review panel. When Councillor Harvey had proposed Barbara Richards, Secretary of St George’s Square Residents’ Association, the response had been that she was not acceptable as she would be against the scheme. Councillor Harvey thanked the Committee for scrutinising the item and for the public attending the meeting in large numbers. She appreciated that this was the first step of the inquiry. When and if an updated technical and feasibility study or a future planning application was submitted by the sponsors of the Bridge she understood the Committee would again examine this issue. She hoped that Wandsworth Council and the Nine Elms Vauxhall Partnership would take into account the views of the people of Pimlico who had worked hard to create their community over the years.
· Officers were asked what the implications would be of listing Pimlico Gardens and St. George’s Square Gardens as Assets of Community Value.
· Post meeting note in response to Councillor Karen Scarborough’s request for an update in relation to paragraph 3.10 of the committee report’s substantive Item Number 5 Nine Elms to Pimlico Pedestrian/Cycle Bridge Proposal: In November 2015 Westminster City Council received nominations from the Pimlico Toy Library to list St. George’s Square Gardens and Pimlico Gardens, London SW1 as Assets of Community Value, recognising the importance of these spaces to the local community.
· The applications were validated by the Council on 13th January and a decision on whether or not to list them will be taken within 8 weeks of that date – on or before 9th March. The Toy Library and Westminster Boating Base as occupiers/leaseholders have been informed and the freehold owners (in this case Westminster City Council itself) will be notified.
· Listing as an Asset of Community Value would provide additional protection for the open spaces and would be considered as a material consideration when determining any planning application which would impact upon these sites.
5.10 The Chairman gave a public commitment on behalf of the Committee to scrutinise further proposals or more detailed feasibility studies of a Nine Elms Bridge as and when they become available. He asked officers to keep Members fully briefed on any such proposals or studies. He requested that the Nine Elms Vauxhall Partnership who are promoting the scheme and in particular representatives of Wandsworth who are the lead authority in taking the scheme forward, take into account the concerns of Ward Members and residents in the Pimlico area regarding the need for public engagement on the north side of the River Thames. The high turnout was an indicator of the degree of concern and opposition regarding a Nine Elms Bridge.
5.11 ACTION: The following action arose:
· That a map setting out the landing options in the TfL feasibility study would be forwarded to Members following this meeting (Graham King, Head of Strategic Transport Planning & Public Realm and Hilary Skinner, Principal Planning Officer).
1. That the Committee be committed to scrutinise further proposals or more detailed feasibility studies of a Nine Elms Bridge as and when they become available.
2. That officers keep the Committee fully briefed on any developments relating to further proposals or more detailed feasibility studies of a Nine Elms Bridge.
3. The Committee recommended that:
1) the Nine Elms Vauxhall Partnership who are promoting the scheme and in particular representatives of Wandsworth who are the lead authority in taking the scheme forward, take into account the concerns of Ward Members and residents in the Pimlico area regarding the need for public engagement on the north side of the River Thames.