Tuesday 10 July 2012

Dalston's £63million Olympic Transport Interchange (Not)

OPEN has been informed by Transport for London (TfL) that, despite its earlier claims, no particular use will be made of Dalston's £63m Transport Interchange during the 2012 Olympic Games.

The bus/rail interchange was built on The Slab - a massive, and massively expensive, concrete structure which spans over the Dalston Junction railway cutting. The Slab was purpose built to accommodate the "Transport Interchange" - a bus turnaround and bus stop where passengers could conveniently interchange between buses and trains within a single site

The front page article in this week's Hackney Gazette, and in The Telegraph, explain something of  this convoluted mystery . 

The Slab scheme involved demolition of Dalston's historic buildings and the Secretary of State wrote to OPEN's solicitor, Bill Parry-Davies, on 18.7.06 to explain her refusal to halt the demolitions by stating that “the proposed interchange will be a major transport interchange between the East London line northern extension, the North London line and London buses, an essential part of the transport improvements required for the London Olympics 2012”.

The Secretary of State explanation didn't make sense. The East London line at Dalston Junction does not interchange with the North London line which is at Dalston Kingsland. Neither do the buses from Dalston Junction go to the Olympic site.

Now, following a series of Environmental Information requests made on behalf of OPEN,  we learn from TfL that no increased use will be made of Dalston's Olympic bus stop at all during the 2012 Olympic Games. It seems that the Secretary of State was sadly misinformed by TfL when she was told The Slab was essential for the 2012 Olympics.

The Slab under construction over the Dalston Junction railway cutting. It was built to accommodate the bus/rail Transport Interchange on top of the rail station. The Dalston Square towerblocks, with 90% of the flats for private sale, and shops (still empty) were built to help pay of the scheme.

OPEN objected to the authorities at the time saying that The Slab would be the most expensive bus stand in history. There was widespread community opposition to the expense and vandalism of the scheme.

The demolitions included the 1886 Dalston Theatre, Georgian houses and the oldest circus entrance in the country. All were demolished when  the Council granted itself, and TfL, planning permission to build The Slab scheme ( known as Dalston Square) on the Council's and TfL's neighbouring sites. The Council didn't want to keep the old circus building but now we've been left with a massive, publicly subsidized, white elephant.

The architect's drawing of Dalston's 1886 circus entrance, with the 1898 variety theatre entrance built in front of it, which was at 12 Dalston Lane. These buildings became home to the legendary Four Aces Club and later The Labyrinth. OPEN's independent  engineer said they could be repaired, as did the Council's own Planning Department survey.  But the Council's officers reported to its Planning Committee was that they were beyond repair although their own engineer didn't even inspect these entrance buildings.  They were demolished in 2007.

The sale of the development sites to Barratt, to build retail units and tower block flats (with only 10% for affordable social housing), was insufficient to pay for TfLs estimated costs of building The Slab. So Hackney gave up its site on a peppercorn lease to help cross-subsidise the scheme. The sale was so under market value that Hackney had to get the Secretary of State to approve the deal.

There are 150 buses an hour passing through Dalston at peak times but TfL recently revealed that none of these would be using the bus station after all - because having to drive onto The Slab and off again would just delay passengers. These delays were pointed out to TfL by its own consultants, and OPEN, before The Slab was built. But TfL went ahead and spent the £63m regardless.  Of up to 70 buses an hour capacity that The Slab was built to service there are now only 5 buses an hour at peak times, and only since the 488 extension from Clapton to Dalston was introduced last year .

Dalston's empty Olympic Bus Stop on The Slab. A non-place which is now to be used by only the 488 bus route running 5 buses an hour during peak times and not up to 70 buses an hour capacity that it was designed for.

The cost of The Slab over Dalston Junction rose from an intial estimate of £18million to £26mn to £39mn and, finally, to an estimated £63mn during the course of the project. There was controversy when the escalating cost became public knowledge.

The Mayor of London promised to investigate. However Boris' report didn't explain the massive increase in the Slab's cost at all and even said that only one building was demolished to make way for the scheme. The report was a deluge of drivel.

Still, even if public money has gone down the drain, TfL's contractors, Balfour Beatty and Carillion, have had a good Olympics. In addition to building The Slab for TfL's Dalston Olympic Bus Stop they secured other valuable construction work in Hackney.  Balfour Beatty recently secured a £73million 5-year contract for the Council housing Decent Homes programme. Carrillon built the Media Centre on the 2012 Olympic site ( formerly public Lammas land). But, although Hackney still hopes the Media Centre will provide a lasting legacy for the borough, its demolition is now being considered as an option.

These two companies 2012 profits will dwarf the fines of over £5million each which they had to pay to settle allegations that entities within their companies had been involved in irregular practices in the West Midlands. The payments followed investigations by the government's Office of Fair Trading (OFT) which discovered widespread price fixing and corrupt practices involving numerous construction companies when they tendered for public works projects.

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