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Kensal Crossrail: fast track to political oblivion

By Emma Dent Coad
A compromised site with a failed plan.
This is the site of Kensal Gasworks in North Kensington, at the top of Ladbroke Grove. The round structures are the gasholders, soon to be decommissioned we are told . Then there's a scruffy bit in the middle which Ballymore spent far too much cash on in the light of the Crossrail 'aspiration'. The square one-story building to the east is Sainsbury's best-earning store in London, apparently. To the south is the Paddington mainline; to the north a rather unloved bit of canal, and the gorgeous Kensal Cemetery.

It's in my ward. What's not to love?
Kensington and Chelsea Council had for many years aspired to have a Crossrail station there, to take loads of City Bankers and other w.. workers into the City to earn a squillion and then spend it on the poor and neglected residents of North Kensington. OK they didn't actually say that. They wanted to develop it under the pretence that it would 'regenerate' the joint poorest ward in London. 
This was their aspiration despite all kinds of pretty much insurmountable problems, such as the contamination of the site, the weak road links, the post-Buncefield Commission stating you could not put homes on much of the site, the advent of an incredibly ugly sub-station (above) etc etc. Ballymore unsurprisingly seemed keen to ignore or circumvent the problems; they had spent a shed-load of money and wished to recoup, and then some.
Innumerable new developments in the area - not least of all the ghastly Wornington Green development - boasted about the 'planned Kensal Crossrail station' to boost their prices. Politicians of all kinds mantra-ed it constantly as if it were actually viable, which we weren't at all sure it was. Not without building entirely private housing, in any case.
A truly shocking sum of money - some say well over £1m - was spent on reports, plans and consultations, and planning officers were seconded to work on it. Press officers in particular were tasked with promoting the idea with a series of ridiculous stunts and allegedly fake forums.
We have mentioned it countless times in Kensington Labour Motions to Council, comments to Council, press releases, responses to consultation and blogs (see partial list below). We were determined that anything of that scale would first of all have to benefit local residents who are overcrowded, and have poor access to health facilities and sports; we even suggested they put a secondary school there.
Then we were informed in May 2010 by people inside Crossrail, and various organisations working with them, that the Kensal bid was defunct. However the Council in its wisdom continued to spend vast sums on yet more reports and consultants. Three years and an awful lot of Council taxpayers money later the Council has finally admitted the bid has failed.
So at what point, dear reader, did the Council decide to continue promoting this fantasy station, and for what reason? Oh dear, dare we imagine it might be for entirely venal reasons? And what has happened now that the curtain has been drawn back and revealed - not the almighty Wizard but - a mere mortal, a little man with glasses and huge political ambitions? It's our former K&C Leader!
Beware of unfettered political ambitions, they will get you nowhere and at some point your deception will be discovered. Then there could be hell to pay. 
How interesting that in K&C and other bits of London, otherwise disinterested Tory politicians fought to maintain the fantasy (I was even shouted at in the street by one who really should know better), while in the shires Tories are fighting to stop it. Many don't really care; they are simply chasing votes. 

Remember our friend Pericles: 

It is time for Ballymore, and for the Council to understand the nature of the Kensal Gasworks site.
It is NOT a prime piece of real estate. It is not a jewel box waiting to be 'unlocked'. It is not a development opportunity of any kind that will reap huge financial rewards. It is 'other'.
It is a compromised site, poorly located, contaminated, accessed by a single road, on a strip with two defunct gasholders and a five-storey height electricity sub-station, set between Paddington Mainline and a contaminated canal, currently with no plan to connect to the putative HS2 station to the west at Old Oak Common, which we are now told by HS2 CEO Alison Munro may never happen anyway. 
Think about it. The Council set aside £30m for the mythical station, and was thinking about spending £50m on land in fabulous Peterborough to transport our 'ambitious young people' out of the rich man's exclusive playground of RBKC. That's £80m to spend on a real and lasting legacy for the people of North Kensington. 
Buy the land at its realistic price, clean it up, add some open spaces on unbuildable land, and build homes, lots and lots of beautiful and sensibly designed homes (we'll tell you which architects to avoid), for the future of our overcrowded families, our 'ambitious young people', and their grannies, and their children, right here. Pericles understood; regeneration is not about paving schemes or magnolia trees for 'plebs' or Prime Ministers, or art on walls, neither is it about providing investment property for overseas buyers; regeneration is about improving people's lives, prospects and well-being.
Be bold. Do it. We'll even let you think it's your idea. Promise.


Golborne Labour Councillors
March 2011
 Emma Dent Coad is a  Labour Councillor for the Golborne Ward. She has her own blog at http://emmadentcoad.blogspot.com    

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