Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Refurbishment of Vauxhall station and surrounds (KOV meeting write up - Part 1)

Paula Haustead, a representative from Network Rail (first on the agenda) spoke about the improvements due to be made to Vauxhall Station. There were accompanying slides, which I requested on the night, and which should eventually be added to the text below. I felt that Ms Haustead spoke clearly, was informative and handled the Kennington Menace quite well (see below).

Network Rail consider that the main entrance to Vauxhall station, facing the bus station is fairly dark, and are looking to make improvements to the way that the station is perceived in the local area and to make it more accessible. (All good news. I had no idea that any of this was due). The refurbishment of Vauxhall Station falls into four separate Network Rail programme categories.

The National Stations Improvement Programme (NSIP) project is money that the Department of Transport have given to Network Rail nationally for improving small and medium sized stations. Vauxhall has been identified as an appropriate station to receive funding, and the programme will be delivered by Network Rail, but undertaken as a partnership project in conjunction with South East trains. Network Rail are looking at putting in a new station concourse, and they're also looking at realigning the stair access into the London Underground station. The Network Rail commercial property division hope to refurbish the arches adjacent to the station at the same time, and put in a restaurant or a supermarket (that's where the Waitrose rumours enter the picture).

In terms of external work, the arches at the front of the station will be smartened and improved. A new glazed canopy will join up the exit from Vauxhall Underground station and Vauxhall Rail Station, providing a dry route between the two. The station canopies covering all of the platforms are in a pretty poor state of repair, and Network Rail intend to do renewals work to those at the same time as lift work. Improved drainage will also be undertaken. Station power (which there are issues with at the moment) should be improved by the installation of a new sub station.

Internally, the existing stair access from Vauxhall Station to the railway platforms is very steep, and some resurfacing of the steps has taken place recently. However, the plan is to put lifts into Vauxhall Station.  The arch adjacent to the ticket hall contains a brick structure (I've not noticed it), which is an existing lift shaft. Several old lift shafts at Vauxhall are capped at platform level, but will need to be rebuilt as part of the project since they're currently too small. The shafts are now only visible from the top of platforms 7 and 8. The lifts have been out of use since postal access was required at Vauxhall! (Does anybody know when that might have ceased?). Network Rail are also hoping to break through the arches and open two new areas within the station, installing an additional ticket barrier (I think, although hopefully the plans will clear up this matter) so that passengers can circulate through two brand new areas into the station. In terms of their Access for All project, Network Rail are looking to put four new lift shafts up to each of the railway platforms. (There are no plans for a lift down to Vauxhall tube station, but I imagine that that would be a matter for TFL). Network Rail will also put tactile strips on all of the platforms so that people who are blind or visually impaired can more easily identify the platform edge.

The whole project is only in outline design at the moment, and will enter detailed design in January 2011, but Network Rail have already been talking with Lambeth about Planning. Permission is already secured for the lift project, but a full planning application will be submitted so that local people will be able to comment on the National Stations Improvement Programme, the canopy area and the adjacent commercial lets. Some elements of the funding have yet to be secured, but Network Rail are working closely with Lambeth to resolve the matter. Funding is in place for all elements except for the National Stations Improvement Programme. However, work for both Vauxhall and Earlsfield stations is being tendered for at the moment, which should improve efficiences and reduce costs. The two projects together will cost approx. £20 million. (It's a shame they couldn't do Waterloo as well, but no doubt it will take a lot of money to bring those old Eurostar platforms back into use, and that's another political battle). The contract is a "design and build" contract, which means that certain elements will be designed by the contractor once they've come on board. The aim is to complete all of the works by October 2012, although certain elements will be delivered earlier.

Some of the funding for the improvements at Vauxhall will be brought in through Section 106 and European funding. Clive Fraser (beleaguered Lambeth Planning Officer) confirmed that some of the Section 106 money was banked, and the rest should be banked during the lifetime of the project. Practicalities for releasing money are being discussed at present.

Now, on to question time... One audience member asked a sensible question about whether access to Vauxhall Station from the South Lambeth Road (Oval) side would be improved, on account of the entrance tunnel being closed quite frequently. Ms Haustead responded reasonably that Network Rail do not control when the access is open or closed, but that it is the job of the train operating company, and acknowledged that the entrance is sometimes closed on account of it being used less frequently. Fine? Well, not really, but if it's up to the train company to resolve, there's not a great deal that Network Rail can do. Did I mention that the Kennington and Vauxhall Menace were out in full force? Another person felt that it was highly "highly unsatisfactory" to say that improved access from South London Road was not possible when Network Rail are supposed to be improving access. Ms Haustead noted that the entrance from the south side would not be changed at all and confirmed that as it's physically and structurally intact, but that the rest is not up to them. The point about having to walk the long way around was repeated ad nauseum, and Network Rail were told that they /have/ to look at this point (despite it not being their responsibility)!

An anwer to one question revealed that the facade of the building will be cleaned and repairs made. Another question, regarding Access for All, yielded information that (as well as the lifts), a second wide-aisle gate will be installed in a new gate line, which will be added to the station. At the moment, disabled people are unable to access the station, so one person asked whether that part of the work might be delivered first. Unfortunately, there appears to be some kind of issue re. delivery of the refurbishment work because the arch in which the lifts will be installed has to be used as a work site, so to make the project move more quickly, the commercial arches might be started sooner, not for commercial gain, but because they, along with the canopies, can be accessed more easily. Platform extensions will eventually be looked at, but not during this project.

Cllr Jane Edbrooke (Oval Ward, Labour) spoke up to ask about planning and highlight that there's a plan to place a supermarket at the bottom of the Bondway tower (if that ever gets the go-ahead), and asked for joined up thinking on that point. Another audience member asked about whether secure cycle parking would be delivered, but Network Rail say they are unable to expand the parking on account of lack of space.

I think we can conclude that the refurbishment and renewal plans for Vauxhall Station are not momentous, but are somewhat overdue. It had never occurred to me that wheelchair users were unable to use the station at all (a naive ableist oversight), and consequently, I hope that accessibility will be a priority issue. Quite frankly, I welcome any changes that might improve the main body of the station, so commercial units and increased waiting space is a welcome development.  Now we just have to wait for the removal of the Vauxhall interchange :-)

There were numerous items on the agenda at the 2 hour KOV meeting, so expect more posts on Co-Op Council and future of former Lilian Baylis etc.

1 comment:

(Transport) Mark said...

South West Trains often cite the closure of the Oval entrance as being for 'safety' reasons.

They haven't been able to explain to me how a staffed gateline is less safe than a closed entrance, so I can only presume that they can't be bothered to staff the gateline and close the entrance, as it's cheaper for them.

I'm surprised that Vauxhall is considered a 'Small / Medium' size station - it is the 22nd busiest station in the country, ahead of the likes of Cardiff Central, Bristol Temple Meads, Reading...

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