Streatham Hill: Another Depot in Trouble with the Neighbours


We have been following with interest the arguments concerning the development of the new depot being built by Network Rail for Thameslink at Hornsey (see here and here).

After objections by the local council to the project being built using Network Rail’s permitted development rights, the project has now been called in by the DCLG for review. South of the river, a similar dispute has arisen at Streatham Hill and – thanks to the well laid out Lambeth Council website – we are able to gain a valuable insight into the issues affecting both the rail operators and the local residents

Matt Watts writing in the Streatham Guardian reports the latest state of play:

Residents locked in a legal battle with a train company over a “hideous” rail depot built behind their homes have celebrated a major breakthrough in the fight to get it removed.

Southern Railway has agreed at the 11th hour with Lambeth Council to adjourn a planning inquiry into whether the depot near Streatham Hill station was lawfully built.

The decision has been considered an admission by Southern it could lose the dispute.
A loss would set a precedent of national significance affecting similar disputes with rail providers up and down the country, as well as future rail expansion.
Southern will now negotiate with the council that has a £1m war chest to fight the residents ‘cause, as to whether or not it can take down parts of the enormous structure used to clean and house trains.

Gill Wright, who has fronted the battle against the structure for the hundreds of affected residents in Sternhold Avenue, said she was delighted with the development.
She said it was an admission the depot – built without planning permission – was not a permitted development of benefit to the national railway.
She said: “We have felt it has been proved throughout this inquiry the way this structure was built was not legal. Now lets hope we get the result we want around the negotiation table.”

A string of demands by Lambeth Council, including reducing noise and taking down the depot’s lights – described by residents as “floodlit strength” – were mostly rejected by Southern during the inquiry.

If a deal is struck, Southern would make a revised planning application for a changed depot.

Both parties are due in front of planning Inspector Anthony Fussey on May 27 to report on their progress.

If no compromise were made, the inquiry would resume in September.

Director of legal and democratic services, Mark Hynes, said: “Although we are attempting to resolve this outside of the inquiry, we are still standing shoulder to shoulder with the residents.

“We will take the necessary measures to enable locals to once again, enjoy a decent quality of life.”

Manic Street Preacher’s picture taken from the platform end at Streatham Hill shows a 377 unit stabled for servicing. Each set has a toilet in its two centre carriages requiring emptying every three days. This, together with a reduction in the number of depots capable of servicing the 377, has lead to unintended consequences at Streatham. This image is courtesy of, and with copyright acknowledgements to Manic Street Preacher.

The redevelopment of the Streatham servicing site stems from the final scrapping of Mark 1 slam door stock and its replacement by Bombardier class 377 units on outer suburban services. In addition to power controlled doors, the new trains featured air conditioning, one man operating capability and retention toilets. Their introduction also occasioned a need to upgrade depot facilities to allow for an upgrade of existing requirements such as refilling sand boxes and also new facilities for emptying the toilets’ retention tanks. Certain of Southern’s depots (such as Hove) were deemed unsuitable for upgrading and so, relying on the constant rotation of stock throughout their network, plans were put in place to upgrade the rest of Southern’s depots whilst reducing Hove to a stabling point. Thus the situation developed whereby Streatham was not only required to do deeper service than hitherto, but also more of it – largely within the post rush hour periods.

For large parts of the year, the bulk of activity would take place during the hours of darkness. This in turn, together with the inherent risks of ground level third rail electrification, has health and safety implications – meaning that good lighting was integral to the depot’s operation. What is good for the railway, however, has not necessarily proved to be good for the neighbours.

Rail servicing depots are, by definition, more functional than decorative and whilst the neighbouring residents may have got used to the busy railway over their back garden walls in the last few years, the impact of an expanded and more intensive depot operation at Streatham soon began to impact on their lives. Noise and light pollution became points of particular concern – one man’s “fit for purpose” light levels becoming another’s “flood-light strength” pollution. Political pressure then grew to challenge whether the Permitted Development rights granted to Network Rail had been exceeded.

There followed a long period of discussion between Lambeth Council and Southern This is detailed on the Lambeth Government website.

The process by which it is decided whether or not planning permission is required by the railway is shown here.

The key point to note is that plant and machinery necessary for the safe running of the railway are specifically included in the permitted development rights. This means the screening of equipment such as canopies and health and safety systems such as lighting and weather protection of staff clearly fall into the area of permitted development.

Southern took the issues raised seriously and issued a detailed response to the local concerns.

An independent consultant was also appointed, who provided a detailed explanation of the servicing requirements of the Southern rolling stock and an objective view of the consequent systems engineering implications for the depot’s support infrastructure (see here).

Local residents felt the report to be lenient, a conclusion with which we are inclined to disagree. We leave it to the readership, however, to form their view.

Fortunately, both sides have now agreed to talk over what steps can be taken to mitigate the position for local residents without prejudicing the safe and effective operation of the railway. As I have noted before, when it comes to railways the house reporting style of many local papers tends to be somewhat shrill with a tendency to overhype and oversimplify. Matt Watt’s piece in my opinion falls into these traps. This is not, as suggested by Ms. Wright and accepted uncritically by Matt White, a victory for the objectors – but sitting down to develop appropriate mitigation strategies is however a triumph for common sense. “Jaw Jaw” being infinitely better than “Law Law.”

Written by Mwmbwls