Editor’s comment: Giant staircase is not a hill worth dying on

TfL's plans for the new-look Old Street station entrance. Islington Council is still choosing a desi

TfL's plans for the new-look Old Street station entrance. Islington Council is still choosing a design for the public space. Picture: TfL, ISLINGTON COUNCIL, HACKNEY COUNCIL - Credit: Archant

When the first picture of a giant staircase in the middle of Old Street roundabout arrived in our inbox last year, we were a little confused because, y’know, there was already a design competition running to determine what would be built on the new public space.

Islington has been careful not to commit to actually building any of the designs that were submitted since whatever goes there will need to actually fulfil at least some of the council’s objectives for the space, as well as clearing London’s various planning hurdles – obstacles that might have tripped up, say, the 60-storey vertical forest (and no one wants to see one of those fall over).

Nonetheless, we were assured the “giant steps” picture bore no relation to the actual plans for the public square and was simply a holding image to illustrate the pedestrianisation of the Shoreditch Grind arm of the roundabout.

Reader, imagine our surprise when the feted giant stairs reappeared in a planning application that had been put before Hackney Council.

Both Hackney and Islington’s objections seem pretty reasonable: removing Hackney’s only access to Old Street Tube that doesn’t involve crossing six lanes of traffic is kind of a backwards step, and the massive seating area in the middle of a polluted roundabout is an interesting concept, especially considering it faces into the road rather than into the new pedestrianised area.

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What makes even less sense to me is that this plan could have got as far as being formally submitted to a planning committee without these disagreements being ironed out. Surely TfL consulted Hackney and Islington before it considered applying to them for permission to build the new public space?

Well... while discussions seem to have been going on for years, it doesn’t appear anyone bothered drawing a line under them before taking the decision to move the row into the open.

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Only a few months ago TfL was rebuked by a High Court judge for getting itself taken to judicial review by a council (Westminster) whose concerns it hadn’t properly satisfied before trying to deliver a large, controversial project (CS11).

The ordeal, which cost the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of pounds, doesn’t seem to have taught it much.

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