Derelict rail route could become London’s leafy answer to New York High Line
Supporters of a civil engineering plan that involves repurposing defunct London rail track say it could provide better value for money than the floundering Garden Bridge scheme.
This unloved-looking bridge (pictured above) forms part of a derelict rail route that could be brought back into use as a flower-filled walkway under plans backed by an influential coalition of London businesses, E&T can reveal for the first time.
If it becomes a reality the scheme would rival New York’s phenomenally successful High Line – the linear park built on a disused Manhattan railway spur (pictured above) that has become an unlikely tourist attraction and spawned copycat projects the world over.
The imaginative civil engineering venture would entail repurposing defunct track parallel with the North London Line in the Camden area of the UK's capital.
Lobby group Camden Town Unlimited has been quietly directing thousands of pounds towards what is described as a “scoping exercise” and commissioned a detailed architectural blueprint of the traffic-free scheme. It is understood these sketches have now been finalised and will be officially unveiled next month.
This is a significant step towards putting proposals under the noses of planning chiefs - though the fact that the land on which the proposed new greenway would sit is owned by transport body Network Rail means the proposal is not without its hurdles.
The vision is of a new elevated parkland walkway which would be opened in phases and would eventually link Camden Town with the railway hub of King’s Cross.
It would allow pedestrians to bypass busy inner-city roads and would knit together areas currently spliced apart by active rail lines and likely to be wrenched further asunder by the HS2 high speed link.
Supporters say the scheme would provide significantly better value for money than the floundering plans for a Garden Bridge (shown in the artist's impression above), which became stymied by political wrangling because of spiralling costs, £60million of which have already been met by taxpayers
That project – which would involve building a brand new, tree-filled cross-river pedestrian bridge linking Temple with the South Bank - could cost more than £200million to realise, according to recent estimates.
It, too, has been compared with the High Line. However, in stark contrast to the Garden Bridge, the so-called Camden Line would be relatively affordable to accomplish as it involves merely repurposing and beautifying already existing industrial infrastructure.
Several City Hall insiders have intimated that the Camden Line idea could fit in well with London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s “strategic priorities” of encouraging walking and increasing tree cover in the capital.
Following former Public Accounts Committee head Dame Margaret Hodge's critical report about the Garden Bridge scheme, Khan is understood to be weighing up whether to try and scrap it.
The cross-river project was championed by his predecessor Boris Johnson but drew damning criticism from some Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians who said it was in the wrong place and would benefit too few Londoners.
Tom Copley, a Labour London Assembly member, told E&T: “I thought the comparisons made by Boris Johnson between the Garden Bridge and the New York High Line were just wrong.
“The High Line was about redoing an existing piece of infrastructure. The Garden Bridge is about plonking a new bridge in an area where we don’t need another river crossing.”
On being told about the Camden scheme, Copley added: “The idea of bringing the derelict line into use for walking is a very good one, as long as Network Rail don’t think they require the land for increased capacity in future.
“If they don’t, it seems a complete shame for it to stay sat there, derelict, when it could be brought into use for the public’s benefit for a fraction of the cost of Johnson’s vanity project.”
Oliver O’Brien, a researcher and software developer at UCL who has written about the abandoned railway lines that could provide London’s answer to the High Line, said the attraction of the idea lay in “having a walkway which avoids the traffic but which also feels safe and secure”.
He added: “Pedestrian underpasses have always felt like not particularly safe places, whereas if you’re above the traffic, you can see more than be seen.
“They’re nice ways to view nature as well. You see people in it looking at the trees and the flowerbeds that have been put in there. In the concrete forest, people appreciate that.
“With this sort of high level walkway, it’s the best of both worlds – it’s a nice, safe, secure place, but it’s still a place where you see the nature and all that. It’s that combination that I think makes them so appealing.”
He added there were potential barriers to the Camden scheme, however.
“As well as the challenges with Network Rail, which is wary of giving away assets even for a long term loan, there are overlooking issues where locals who live beside the line would potentially not be very happy at having people up there,” he said. “It is a funny mix in Camden.
“The route goes from a central area. It then does pass through various housing blocks and things - so a very different set of challenges from the Garden Bridge. It would be very interesting to see what the public reaction will be to this one.”
Camden Town Unlimited, which is funded via a precept levied on a businesses that are members of the organisation, has significant political clout. Its championing of the Camden Line project means this now appears to have pulled ahead of other, similar proposals - such as crowdfunded plans for an urban park on disused railway sidings called the Peckham Coal Line.
Simon Pitkeathley, the chief executive of Camden Town Unlimited, said: “We’re really excited about this project and the potential it can realise for Camden and Kings Cross. The benefits of reusing this piece of infrastructure outweigh the benefits and costs of leaving it vacant. We’re at the initial feasibility stage, but will have more to share in the future.”