Category Archives: COMMENT

Infrastructure: catalyst for development?

Infrastructure has always been the oxygen of development. It’s no coincidence that most of the world’s cities straddle rivers, once the sites of early settlements. More recently, infrastructure has been playing catch up, forever increasing capacity to service the sustained influx of 21st century city dwellers.

However a groundbreaking development in Vauxhall, London, sees infrastructure taking the lead and triggering one of the largest redevelopments in Europe.

A developer’s agenda is not the same as a city leader’s but their world’s are inextricably linked. A new tower for example will inevitably increase loading on the existing infrastructure but on the other hand, when completed and full of tax paying residents, will generate significant revenue for the city coffers.

The Nine Elms scheme is rare example of what can be done when the visions come together.

But is Nine Elms really that different? To get a true perspective, we need to examine some other areas of London.

London Bridge viaduct

London Bridge viaduct

London Bridge Tower (The Shard) South of the Thames is currently in the limelight, providing an excellent example as a fully integrated development. I am reluctant to use the hackneyed term joined up thinking, but until someone comes up with a better one, this project is the epitome of this notion. It has been hailed as a vertical city and in this respect, it works, being forged in the sky above an existing major hub. The tower’s hinterland, including the already vibrant Borough Market is set for a total transformation of its community.

Kings Cross concourse

Kings Cross concourse

Further north in the city, the current largest development in Europe, Kings Cross covering  67 acres, whilst not being vertical is strategically centered on the St Pancras International/Kings Cross transport hub which connects London to the UK’s North and Midlands and to mainland Europe via Eurostar and the Channel Tunnel.

Cross Rail's new station at Whitechapel

Cross Rail’s new station at Whitechapel

Crossrail, London’s East/West metro line currently under construction is now stimulating property values across the capital. The long awaited project has been on the cards for decades, but now that the four giant boring machines are creating 100m/day of tunnel each, so property bubbles are emerging around each station on the line. Whitechapel, the seedy district best known for its notorious Jack the Ripper connection is now cited as being the next Notting Hill, one of London’s most sought after areas.

Crossrail comes to Canary Wharf

Crossrail comes to Canary Wharf

Further East, the ambitious dockland development at Canary Wharf had stalled in the 1980s due partly to a recession but also the lack of transport connections, being serviced only by a limited capacity, Dockland’s Light Railway.  The rolling out of the city’s main underground network in the guise of the Jubilee line in 1999 transformed the development into a highly successful business district. London had its own La Defence. The additional connection via Crossrail (now under construction) will secure the ongoing prosperity of the district.

9ELMS 700 map

However, the big daddy of infrastructure-generated developments is the Nine Elms project. Covering some 200 acres, the previously blighted borough of Vauxhall is being hailed as the city’s greatest transformational story. The development stretches along the South bank of the Thames with the hulk of the disused Battersea power station at the West end, and the sparkling new Vauxhall tower at the East.

9ELMS 700 battersea

The sad and ingnomious trail of false starts that Battersea has suffered over the recent decades could only have been reversed by something close to divine intervention. The bolt didn’t come out of the sky, but from underground, in the form of an extension to London’s Northern Line underground.

It was a brave move, spending £1bn GBP on a transport infrastructure network to an area that no one wanted to go to, but suddenly everything added up.

Cllr Ravi Govindia, leader of Wandsworth Council and chair of the Nine Elms Vauxhall Partnership: “Bringing the Tube to Battersea has long been the ambition of this council and we are now within touching distance. This project is the key to unlocking Nine Elms on the South Bank’s full potential and delivering 25,000 new jobs and 16,000 new homes.”

An independent study by leading economic consultancy Volterra has concluded that the wider economic benefits of extending the Northern line would pay for the scheme between three and nine times over.

The study concluded that the new Tube link would:

Expand the Central London Activity Zone – one of the most productive commercial districts in the world.

Generate up to £7.9bn in wider economic benefits and up to £4.5 billion in additional tax revenue for the Exchequer.

Repay the money spent delivering the NLE between three and nine times over through increased economic outputs and increased foreign investment in the UK.

More than treble the number new of jobs created in the area – up to 25,000

provide capacity for 16,000 new homes in the area.

It’s an impressive list. Could Nine Elms be the forerunner of a new generation of infrastructure powered developments? Let us know of other examples and we will feature them on World Infrastructure News.

Michael Hammond

The car is dead. Long live the car.

connected-cars WIRED

Just when we thought the car was dead, just when we thought the age of the train was finally here, (again) so the great wheel of history/technology/advance/ cycle of transport could actually be oscillating back towards a new era of the car. Impossible? Maybe, but some very influential people and organisations are predicting just that.

The shift started as an amusing, eccentric experiment by Google. A driverless car. What fun. How silly.  You may even have read about it while relaxing on a high speed train, flying over endless snarled up highways.

To add some perspective to the idea, 100 years ago, today’s commercial flights would have been dismissed as mere science fiction, the jump to driverless cars using the latest technology, GPS, sensors, algorithms, big data, is much less significant, more a bringing together of what we already have.

So what’s the big deal about driverless cars? In short, self-drive cars could increase capacity on highways by up to 500%. The investment needed to get this level of upgrade would be a mere fraction of conventional methods. Studies by the University of Texas suggest that smart intersections could perform 200-300 times better than existing traffic signals. Other organisations like PWC and leading US Think Tanks are already exploring the wider impact of this transformation, from self-parking, increased mobility for the elderly and infirm, car sharing, freeing up of urban parking spaces; the list is endless.

Could it really happen? Google has already clocked up some 400,000 incident free miles with their experimental car, and Abu Dhabi’s futuristic city, Masdar already has driverless cars known as Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) vehicles. But already, even that that strategy has changed as the technology has advanced so quickly in electric vehicles. It’s a bit like hitting a moving target. And if you miss, it can be an expensive mistake, but still the technology, albeit in its infancy is already here.

Should this reversal in direction happen, the landscape of our cities could be redrawn, the widely acclaimed attributes of densification would be diluted, the creep of the urban sprawl could return…

Michael Hammond