Archive | June, 2018

Waiting for the train

25 Jun

LO Train Length

Picture from Global Rail News

Press release from the the Barking – Gospel Oak Rail User Group on the delayed introduction of new trains on the GOBLIN:

Transport for London (TfL) staged a ‘launch event’ for a new train last week, but no sooner was the event over than the train was sent back to its maker, dashing commuters’ hopes of overcrowding relief.

TfL has ordered a total of 54 new Class 710 trains from Derby train builder, Bombardier. The first of these new trains was supposed to be delivered to TfL back in January, but Bombardier has so far been unable to get the trains approved to operate on Network Rail tracks. With around 30 of the trains completed, Bombardier has had to slow production as it runs out of space to store the new trains.

One of the trains was towed from Derby to London Overground’s Willesden Depot on 13 June for a TfL ‘launch event’ which took place on 20 June. Hopes that passengers would soon benefit from the new trains were dashed when TfL could only announce that the trains would be in service “by November”. The next day, the new train was towed back to Bombardier’s Derby works.

The first Class 710 off the production line was delivered to the Network Rail test centre at Asfordby in Leicestershire last December. It had to pass Network Rail’s acceptance tests before it could be allowed onto the national network. The train is still at Asfordby and has yet to gain Network Rail approval. It is said that there are problems with the software in the train management system.

“This is a major embarrassment for TfL”, said Glenn Wallis, Secretary of the Barking – Gospel Oak Rail User Group (BGORUG). “Up until now the problems with the Class 710 have been masked by the delays to the completion of the Barking – Gospel Oak electrification.”

Network Rail’s electrification of the Barking – Gospel Oak line was finally approved for use by the Rail Regulator (ORR) in early June, a full year later than originally planned.

“BGORUG is fully aware that the existing Barking – Gospel Oak fleet of eight diesel trains has to move to West Midlands Railway by November”, said Glenn Wallis. “It is therefore deeply disappointing that TfL is unable to provide a firm schedule for the introduction of the Class 710 into passenger service. Considering that testing started last December, it is also concerning that Bombardier has yet to obtain Network Rail approval for the Class 710 to operate on the national network.”

The Chair of BGORUG, Graham Larkbey, said, “What was the point of TfL staging the Willesden event when the only new announcement turned out to be the colour of the train’s upholstery?”

Having suffered months and months of closures and replacement bus services while Network Rail installed the electric cabling, passengers are still seeing no benefit. Trains continue to be overcrowded and (to my mind) dangerous during the morning and evening peak. If TfL don’t sort themselves out there will literally be no trains at all by November.

PS: for what it’s worth, the new trains look lovely

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Kuhn Way

15 Jun

FGCS site plan

Proposed site plan for Forest Gate Community School. Present location of Kuhn Way footpath highlighted

As I’ve previously blogged, Forest Gate Community School is expanding. It will add an extra 2 forms of entry (60 extra children) each school year from September 2019. 

In order to accommodate the eventual 300 extra students, new classrooms and other infrastructure needs to be built. The school has applied for planning permission for two alternative schemes. Its preferred option would see the closure of part of Kuhn Way, the footpath that currently separates the main school building from an outdoor sports area.

Kuhn Way provides a pedestrian and cycle route directly between Station Road and Forest Lane. Without it, residents in the ‘Lanes’ area north of the school will have to walk around via either Woodgrange Road or Field Rod to access Forest Gate station or the shops. 

The school claims Kuhn Way is dangerous and home to crime and antisocial behaviour. Writing in support of the application, the Head of School says that having

a public walkway though the school [is] …an unusual and inconvenient arrangement.

An inordinate amount of time and resources are spent by the school on monitoring and policing activity in the walk way

and that:

The school, particularly in recent years, has provided a sanctuary for the pupils from the pressures they face in an increasingly dangerous neighbourhood.

This is not a view of Forest Gate shared by the majority of local residents, many of whom who use the walkway on a regular basis and object strongly to the school’s attempt to take it over. One wrote:

claims that the alley is a crime hotspot are … without substance. The crime statistics for the last twelve months do not show excessive issues and due to the way that the statistics are reported, I believe that those recorded as “Around Kuhn Way” do not cover just the alley but also the sections of Kuhn Way which is a road, including those bits running behind the businesses on Forest Lane. As a member of staff at the school pointed out to me, the notion that gangs are regularly passing drugs or weapons to pupils through the fencing along the alley is laughable and completely ignores the extensive stretches of open fencing along the other perimeters of the school.

And, far from being a little-used and crime-infested alley, Kuhn Way

is still used by hundreds of people through the week and at weekends, not only for work – which lots of people use it for because its opposite the station – but for shopping and just going out generally. The people that use it are abled, disabled, young, old, mums with children and many others. This would leave some residents house bound, as the so-called ‘short cuts’ are not short and in another case long and down a very narrow alley. (Link)

This claim of a high level of use is backed up by the Transport Assessment of the proposal, which counted a total of 3,396 pedestrian journeys between 7 am and 9 pm on a typical day. That works out a roughly one every 15 seconds.

And others agree that the idea that it will take elderly residents just an extra 1-2 minutes to use the alternative routes is “ridiculous.” Also, it will cause “enormous inconvenience” to users of Forest Gate station.

A consultation meeting was held in late March, although this appears to me to have only been advertised via the school newsletter, so most residents without a child on roll were not aware of it. Some who attempted to attend say they were prevented from entering the school.

On 19th April the council sent a letter out to residents asking for comments on the version of the plans that included keeping Kuhn Way open. There was no reference to the closure proposal.

Nonetheless, residents are campaigning against the proposal. 

A local resident has collected over 1500 signatures from surrounding streets opposing the closure but this is not yet reflected on the council website despite it having been submitted to them. Flyers have been distributed locally with an update on the situation and local councillors have been lobbied.

The application was expected to come before the Strategic Development Committee on 19th June but now the agenda has been published it is not there. But, as building works are planned start this summer a dec.sion needs to be taken,

Whatever your view of the expansion of Forest Gate school (at a cost of £11.8m), removing public access to Kuhn Way looks like a bad idea. The school can build additional classrooms without doing this. That is the version of the proposal the council should accept.

You can comment on the proposal here.

Time to close the Red Door?

14 Jun

By Conor McAuley

On 18 July last year Newham Council’s Strategic Development Committee, after a long discussion, approved a major planning application (No 17/00951/FUL) to build 100 flats in buildings ranging from 2 to 23 floors at London Road E13 and a further 82 flats in buildings up to 15 floors at Valetta Grove E13.  These are two sites sitting on Plaistow Road beside and opposite Plaistow Station.

A total of 182 “residential units”, all to be let at “market rents”, intended for Newham Council’s private renting company Red Door Ventures (RDV) at two locations that would appeal to commuters.

There was considerable public interest in this application and a number of objectors addressed the committee. They were listened to but ignored.

Clearly as Newham Council owned both sites, the complete absence of affordable housing within this application, can only have been deliberate and not the product of some dodgy developer’s “viability assessment”.

Instead Red Door Ventures proposed to deliver 45 affordable units in three “linked sites” at Eve Road E15, Baxter Road/Alnwick Rd E16 and Chargeable Lane E13. These sites were covered by three separate planning applications on the same committee agenda.

This was a device to subvert the planning policy requirement to deliver 50% affordable housing that would otherwise be required. Except of course that 45 units when added to the 182 non-affordable units gives us 227. The four linked planning applications (barely) delivered 20% affordable units.

So this left an affordable housing shortfall of 30% or 68.5 units.

A further device was then employed to help bridge the gap so to speak: the “review mechanism”.

Here I quote directly from the committee report; ‘To ensure that the proposal fully complies with the Newham Core Strategy and London Plan target of 50% affordable housing, a review mechanism is proposed that shall capture any uplift in scheme viability.

Once the ‘Break Even Rental Threshold’ (BERT) has been achieved the Planning Authority will receive 50% of the net additional revenue generated, where the profit level is between 15% and 24.99%, and 70% where profit is above a 25% threshold’.

I trust you have followed the logic so far.

The only real link between the four planning applications is that the sites involved are within the same borough. They are only “linked” in this process to enable Red Door Ventures to avoid having to provide affordable housing on the more valuable site adjacent to Plaistow Station. The “review mechanism” then kicks the remaining shortfall of 65.5 units into the even longer grass.

This was a perversion of the Council’s Planning regime and it was a disgrace that the then Committee Chair, Cllr Ken Clark, allowed these applications to be pushed through in this manner. Indeed, it was Cllr Clark who moved acceptance of the recommendations.

The four planning approvals were then to be wrapped up into a series of S106 Planning Agreements. The Strategic Development Committee decreed that these legal agreements should be completed and signed by 18 January 2018.

Subsequently, in November the Committee moved the completion deadlines to 18 May 2018.

It would appear that these legal agreements have not yet been signed because a further report (item 14) has been tabled on the agenda for the Strategic Development Committee meeting (next week) on 19 June seeking a further extension of the deadlines to 9 November 2018.

The report goes further, to say that if the legal agreements have not been completed, the Head of Planning has delegated authority to refuse the planning permissions.

Surely this is the moment when our elected representatives could signal a sea change in Newham’s housing strategy. It’s the time to end the expansion of Red Door Ventures and to start building genuine affordable and social housing again.

This is not a decision to be delegated to a Council officer.