Stratford City Project: London’s new Olympic gateway to Europe

Posted: 6 December 2005 | Drew Hillier, Acting Editor | No comments yet

Hailed as the single most exciting regeneration project yet to be undertaken in the UK, the new metropolitan centre in Stratford, East London, represents one of the largest outline planning applications ever submitted in this country. Unquestionably, the key element of the impressively ambitious Stratford City Project is the building of the Channel Tunnel Rail […]

Hailed as the single most exciting regeneration project yet to be undertaken in the UK, the new metropolitan centre in Stratford, East London, represents one of the largest outline planning applications ever submitted in this country. Unquestionably, the key element of the impressively ambitious Stratford City Project is the building of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link and new international station, heralding the dawn of something akin to a public transport renaissance – not only for an area of London traditionally associated with the rail industry, but also the country as a whole.

Formerly an area of derelict ground known as the Stratford Rail Lands, the go-ahead was formally granted in February 2005 to a project that lies at the heart of the main Olympic site – both geographically and ideologically – which without doubt played a hugely significant role in Great Britain’s ultimately successful bid to host the 2012 Games. This, not least, is because of the superb public transport infrastructure which, as well as boasting a direct link from Kings Cross/St Pancras via Stratford and Ebbsfleet to the Continent – Paris in two hours, Brussels in 1 hour 55 minutes – (knocking some 35 minutes off the existing journey times out of Waterloo) will also see extensions to the Docklands Light Railway, including the building of two new stations, local bus routes, plus regional and international coach services. Thanks to the Docklands Light Railway, (which will take over the running of the North London Line to North Woolwich) plus London Underground’s Central Line and Jubilee Line alongside the North London Line, and London City Airport a mere stone’s throw away, Stratford already enjoys a good reputation as a transport hub.

In fact, Stratford’s relationship with the railway industry stretches back to the very beginning of the steam era. In more recent times, with major regeneration during the last decade, its important position in London’s transport infrastructure has, nevertheless, often be compromised as a place to pass through, rather than a destination in its own right. The industrialisation that took take shape throughout the latter half of the 19th century was not entirely to Stratford’s advantage. The 1844 metropolitan Building Act severely limited many toxic and noxious industries from operating in London and Middlesex, so that, as a result, many of these dirty processes were moved across the Essex border to Stratford and West Ham. Industries such as animal carcass rendering for tallow, soap and glue, chemical plants for acids, pharmaceuticals and printing inks gave the area something of a grim, ‘dark satanic mills’ image. The birth of the railways during this era saw the Eastern Counties Railway line operating a route through Stratford that would later become the integral 78-acre Rail Lands area, established under the legendary industrialist George Hudson, the ‘Railway King’. Employing more than 6,000 people, the site built locomotives and carriages, and even printed tickets and assembled goods such as cutlery for passenger catering. Later, from the 1920s onwards, Stratford Rail Lands were used as a depot for the repair and maintenance of rolling stock of all kinds.

Constituting the long-overdue regeneration of one of the most deprived areas of Europe, this part of the East London borough of Newham (with its administrational and commercial centre of Stratford) has continued to suffer a slow decline since the Second World War when – especially due to the sprawling rail lands and their close proximity to London’s Royal Docks – large areas were systematically carpet bombed during the Blitz. The Stratford City Project – a highly co-ordinated partnership between London & Continental Railways,Westfield Group, Multiplex, Chelsfield Group, Aldersgate,Arup and Stanhope plc – totals some 13.5 million square feet, and will include five million square feet of office space, 1.6 million square feet of retail and nearly 5,000 new dwellings, (30 per cent of them designated to be ‘affordable’) the high density, mixed use urban quarter – which is hoped to provide in excess of 35,000 new jobs, (construction work alone is expected to create at least 4,000 jobs over the 15 to 20 years period the development will take to complete) – will breath life back into a 180 brown field site at a project cost estimated at £4 billion. The plans also take account of the social infrastructure requirements and include the building of a new ‘city academy’ school and health centre.

The development partners also recently announced that they had agreed terms with the London Development Agency to release part of Phase One of the house building element of Stratford City, due to commence in 2006, to incorporate the Olympic Village, providing accommodation in 2012 for some 17,000 athletes and support team members.

Speaking on behalf of the Stratford City Development Partnership, Nigel Hugill, Managing Director, Chelsfield, said: “Stratford City will be a place where the story about the regeneration of the Thames Gateway unfolds. The development will capitalise on the Channel Tunnel link, which will be London’s artery to the Continent with a similar regeneration potential to that generated by Heathrow to the West.”

Construction of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) stage has already begun with the new international station, known as the Stratford Box, already visible above ground adjacent to the existing Stratford International Station and CTRL, the first section of which has been successfully completed on time and on budget. The Channel Tunnel Rail Link is, in fact, the first major new railway to be constructed in the UK for over onehundred years.When completed, in 2007, the 108km of track will stretch from Central London to the Channel Tunnel, connecting Britain directly with Europe’s expending highspeed rail network.

This will place Stratford City a mere seven minutes travel time from Kings Cross and the heart of the Capital, which during the Olympic Games will run a shuttle service of socalled Javelin high-speed ‘A’ trains between the two stations, carrying athletes, spectators and the world’s media at the rate of one train every 15 seconds, thereby providing a total capacity of 240,000 passengers per hour. (More than 80 per cent of the spectators are expected to travel to and from the main Olympic Park by rail.) Billed as Japanese-style ‘bullet’ trains, the distinctive Hitachi-built rolling stock will be technologically advanced to operate on both domestic railway tracks and the new high-speed Channel Tunnel Rail Link track where they will achieve speeds of up to 140mph. The £250million order for thirty trains is expected to be complete and ready for introduction into service by the end of 2009.

Essentially, the Stratford City Project, with its three main constituent elements of Olympic site, new city development and, crucially, a joined up local, regional and international public transport infrastructure, will only succeed if the overarching philosophy thus far stated of integration and legacy are fully achieved. In order to avoid a ‘them and us’ situation arising – an oasis of the exciting and new, stranded and set apart from the wider community – not only is it essential that the state-of-the-art and modern build dovetails as seamlessly as possible within the existing framework, integrating public transportation so that it serves everyone equally, affordably and truly joined up, is an absolute priority. The UK and indeed the entire world, and certainly the good folk of East London, will be keeping a very watchful eye. If the Stratford City partnership gets it right, then we could all be glimpsing into the future of a brave new world.