Trouble Up The (Dalston) Junction – The Difficulties of Safeguarding


Take one London Assembly member and add a television news channel looking for an example of frivolous government expenditure. Use FOI – the modern day “Open Sesame” and shake thoroughly (but not long enough to think through the implications) and this is the TV piece you get:

Luckily, this heady combination became somewhat toned down by Mayor’s Question Time, but by that time the perception of a cock up was out there:

Dalston Junction – Question No: 1900 / 2010

Was it worth demolition of the Dalston Theatre and other heritage buildings, the construction of 20 storey blocks of flats with no affordable housing and the expenditure of £40 million on a slab of concrete just so that one bus (the 488) can stop at Dalston Junction?

Boris Johnson after complementing Mr Boff for his “media coup” responded in a style worthy of Sir Humphrey:

“TfL do not recognise your figures… We will write to you”.

Or – to those unfamiliar with the language of the Civil Servant – “What on earth are you talking about?”

Boff’s question was (for reasons that will become clear) badly phrased and targeted. This is a pity, because what happened up the Junction is indeed an interesting topic. Interesting that is (or at least I hope) for LR readers.

A Story Emerges

R Makinde, writing for Hackney Hive, had previously reported on Mr Boff’s analysis:

At Mayor’s Question Time on Wednesday 9th June, London Assembly member, Andrew Boff will challenge Mayor Boris Johnson on why a transport project in east London budgeted at £39million will now cost £63m.

The bus interchange, to be built over the top of the new East London Line Dalston Junction station will now cost £24m more than originally planned and instead of operating as an interchange, has been reduced to the status of a stop on the No. 488 route.

Commenting, Mr. Boff, who was a candidate for Hackney mayor in last month’s elections, said: “Sixty three million pounds is a sickening amount of money to provide a stop served by one bus route. Residents of Hackney deserve answers as to why vast amounts of public money will result in such tiny benefit. Allowing a £24million cost overrun is a disgraceful spiralling of cost.”

This story began to roll when LDA papers were released as part of an FOI request.

The LDA was advised that the podium slab works under, through and above the new railways lines at Dalston Junction – undertaken as part of the East London Line extension – were running over the originally anticipated final cost of £39m. This was largely due to engineering conflicts at the north end of the site between the East London Line route and the safeguarded route for Crossrail 2.

The LDA’s cost monitoring information indicated an anticipated final cost for the slab of £62.9m. The LDA’s underwriting commitment towards the cost of the podium slab was capped at £19m, therefore the additional costs (£21.8m) of the slab is likely to fall on TfL.

The project had gained Mayoral approval in 2006 with a gross project budget of £25.17m. The Mayor at the time was Ken Livingstone, Boris Johnson being elected in May 2008. The LDA, with Design for London, TfL and London Borough of Hackney (LBH) had worked together to deliver an integrated high density mixed use housing scheme incorporating; a new public library and archive, community facilities, new retail units, public square, a bus interchange, and new Overground station in the heart of Dalston. The ambitious plan had been to facilitate the regeneration of the town centre site, delivering 580 residential units, regeneration of 2 hectares of brown-field land (otherwise known as the former North London Line cutting), together with a leveraged injection of £130m of public and private sector funding.

Whilst on site, engineering conflicts emerged at the north end of the site where the East London line and the safeguarded Crossrail route cross. In order to safeguard both railways, design changes were issued. The result of this work led to existing work having to halt whilst workaround solutions were found. The planning and compensation implications, for both TfL and the developers, caused significantly increased construction and design costs and delays. The handover of the slab from TfL to the developer was delayed from October 2009 to early 2010.

In order to reduce the weight, the tallest tower standing on the slab (which happened to be at the north end) had to be cut down in height. A small reduction in the floor to ceiling heights of each floor was made to incorporate services which were previously designed to be installed in a trench in the slab.

Again, to spread the load the design of the duplex units was also changed to include concrete buttresses. This process not only delayed work already in progress but also caused further knock-on effects to the developer (for whom time is definitely money) in getting the building built, sold and/or rented.

At first sight Boris was in the clear. So did Mayor Livingstone drop the ball?

Again the answer is no. The problem appears to arise from the civil engineering goal posts being moved as a result of the revised safeguarding proposals for Crossrail 2, hitherto known as the Chelsea Hackney line.

Crossrail 2 – A Line in Waiting

This line has been an aspiration for over thirty years. There are currently no plans for the commencement of construction of the Chelsea-Hackney line, although it appeared in Mayor Livingstone’s and Transport for London’s publication Transport 2025, and subsequently in Mayor Johnson’s Mayor’s Transport Strategy.

Initially the proposal was for a new line linking the District Line at Fulham Broadway and Leytonstone on the Central Line, linking Chelsea, Victoria, Tottenham Court Road, Holborn, Farringdon, Shoreditch, Dalston Junction and Hackney. The route for this line was initially safeguarded in 1991, but there have been numerous changes to the railway network in London since the original safeguarding direction was made, and more infrastructure developments are being planned. The Chelsea – Hackney scheme therefore had to be reviewed in light of these developments to safeguard the most appropriate alignment.

It was never intended by the Department for Transport or TfL to unnecessarily prevent development along the route of the scheme or cause blight. Where land is safeguarded, agreement will be sought with any developer that will maximise the potential of any proposed development, but not unduly prejudice the future option to build the Chelsea – Hackney line.

Over the years London Underground and Transport for London had entered agreements with both developers and local planning authorities to avoid causing unnecessary blight. In doing this they have agreed to allow development within the safeguarding limits, and in some instances developers have amended their plans to allow the Chelsea – Hackney line works to be added to their development at a later date. These agreements were not reflected in the safeguarding for the line and the direction had to be updated updated to reflect them. There have also been a few instances where developments have occurred without comment being made by London Underground or CLRL. In some instances this has resulted in the developments compromising the 1991 safeguarding direction, particularly in the area of Sloane Square..

Widening the Scope

The original 1991 scheme assumed Underground tube operation, with an operating specification similar to the Victoria line. There were been various studies carried out since the safeguarding which indicated that longer and larger trains would be more appropriate, and the safeguarding needed updating to allow the operation of this larger rolling stock. In essence, this means boring larger rather than smaller tunnels. This is not a trivial matter in that a much larger amount of material has to be removed – if you double the tunnel radius – you triple the size of the tunnel. At this point, civil engineers scratch their heads and speak of surface settlement troughs and non linear stresses on buildings.

In short, the bigger the tunnel the bigger the consequences for its stability and its impact on any surrounding roads and buildings.

[Readers with the odd hour to spend might like to immerse themselves in a fascinating lecture given by Professor Robert Mair, of Cambridge University, to the Royal Society on the complexities on tunnelling in soft ground in urban areas. Mair was involved in stopping Big Ben resembling the leaning Tower of Pisa during the building of the Jubilee Line under Portcullis House. – MWB]

The larger loading gauge also affects track curvature and dramatically increases the amount of pre-existing sub surface and surface infrastructure, drains, pipes, cables, foundations and underpinning, all interweaved beneath.

Returning to Dalston Junction

One of the problems with safeguarding, as with many aspects of the development of large-scale infrastructure, such as roads or railways, is that it takes a considerable length of time. The process of refreshing the safeguarding of the Chelsea – Hackney line started in 2005 and took about 2½ years to complete. This involved a number of stages and a vast number of interdependent interfaces, culminating in the Secretary of State at the DfT issuing an enforceable notice in 2008. Only at this stage was the existing 1991 notice revoked and it was the latter that had been taken into account in the original ELL plans for Dalston Junction. The design and build contract for Dalston Junction had been awarded in 2006 – before the safeguarding proposals consultation was completed.

What happened at Dalston Junction, therefore, was the result of the redefined scope catching up with a project commissioned during the redefinition process.

As it turned out, therefore, it was another railway being built that acted as the catalyst for the construction changes and hiatus, but it could have happened with any other development taking place on the old route that was being built on the basis of the old safeguarding criteria.

It is all too easy to see in the context of two complex moving project management situations how this problem arose.

Asking the Right Questions

When all the above is taken into account, some better questions that Mr Boff might wish to put to the Mayor or TfL do begin to emerge.

Firstly, in the light of the overrun in both construction time and costs at Dalston Junction, what improvements to TfL’s risk management process will be put in place to ensure that a similar situation cannot arise elsewhere?

Secondly, in terms of his other concerns about operation of the bus station at the Junction, Mr Boff might also like to browse our archive for October 2008 “The views of the man on the Dalston Omnibus.”

Having done so, he will note that his question was misdirected – the contentious podium slab is not the same as that under the bus station. He will also notice, however, that TfL’s has plans for a major bus rail interchange at Dalston. Since the piece was written, the bendy-bus bays in the new bus station have or will become redundant, so it might be worthwhile asking for a recap of original TfL’s bus plans and what has changed since their original publication. It would also be worthwhile to enquire when the new services will become available for his constituents.

Indeed, such enquiries may result in a more substance-filled media coup – one that we would certainly be interested to hear more about.

Written by Mwmbwls