Old Street: Plans for 'giant steps' and removal of Tube entrance panned by Hackney and Islington councils
PUBLISHED: 09:30 26 April 2019 | UPDATED: 12:07 21 May 2019
TfL's plan to build a giant staircase for people who want to sit in the middle of Old Street roundabout has been panned by Islington and Hackney councils.
It's part of a new entrance to the Tube station, which is itself one aspect of a wider project to pedestrianise a quarter of the heavily polluted and dangerous roundabout.
Unfortunately for TfL, which has been working on the roundabout plan for years, the designs have been torn to pieces by Hackney's planning officers ahead of a town hall meeting next week.
They said the design for the public space was a "missed opportunity" and councillors are now expected to reject the plans, which have already been informally knocked back by Islington Council, the chief planning authority on the project.
The staircase structure could attract anti-social behaviour and crime, the report states, and TfL has failed to provide a plan to manage the area, such as staffing it.
The pedestrianisation of the north-western arm of the roundabout, where the Shoreditch Grind coffee kiosk stands, will see the road widened from four lanes to six on the Hackney side. To do that, the only existing subway entrance to the station in Hackney would be removed.
Hackney's planners argue that would leave anyone wanting to head into Hoxton or Shoreditch having to cross six lanes of traffic first.
The report states: "TfL say the proposals will greatly reduce the significant level of community severance that results from the existing roundabout configuration.
"This is true for part of the existing roundabout, but for the Hackney the existing subway entrance is removed and the road is increased from four to six lanes with an additional cycle lane.
"This may have a detrimental economic impact on the parts of Tech City located in Hackney by increasing journey times and decreasing convenience for commuters."
Hackney's planners argue that, while the public square would be an improvement on the existing one, it could be better. They have also questioned the appropriateness and utility of a public seating area in the middle of a roundabout with poor air quality - even though the scheme is designed to tackle that problem.
"Landscaping proposed is considered to be a missed opportunity to achieve much greater improvements in the public realm," they wrote. "Also the provision of seating above the new station entrance raises anti-social behaviour concerns as there is no indication of how it would be managed.
"This busy junction has poor air quality and so it is questionable whether the provision of a large public seating area is appropriate. It would be preferable to have a flat green roof, or something similar. This would also have the advantage of [improving] the visual prominence from Hackney of the main station entrance."
Discussions about the new public space on the roundabout have been taking place for three years. The Gazette understands that, while there was a broad agreement between TfL and the councils on the layout, including the new entrance and staircase, a lack of detail in the final proposals has left them with no choice but to reject them.
Islington has also raised issues about the lift, which is expected to be used for goods delivery to the shops below as well as step-free access.
Islington's transport chief Cllr Claudia Webbe said she had sympathy with the designs and the urgency to get started on the work, but that the submitted plans did "not match up to the vision".
"It's quite right we question whether goods deliveries should be using the same lift as people," she said. "And the stairs as a concept are visionary, but at the same time need to be managed so anti-social behaviour and crime is minimised."
Nigel Hardy, TfL's head of programme sponsorship, said: "Our work at Old Street will remove the outdated, traffic-dominated roundabout and transform the area to make it safer and much more welcoming to people walking, cycling and using public transport. We're working closely with Islington Council to secure planning permission for the main station entrance and lift as soon as possible."
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Aside from the plans for the entrance and lift, Islington Council is still working on the final design for its "iconic gateway" at Old Street. Last year it ran a competition asking for people's ideas.
The southeastern arm of the roundabout - opposite the one that will eventually be pedestrianised - will close temporarily next month while another new entrance is installed in Cowper Street.
A step in the right direction, or a flight of fancy? What you think of the plans...
The Gazette went out and about on Friday morning to gauge public opinion about the giant stairs.
"It's not convenient," said Christine Daneva, manager of Exclusive Car Service, a minicab firm in Paul Street.
"On Friday and Saturday nights it's always crazy partying here and those steps will encourage drinking and drugs. It will also be a blow to my business because people are less likely to cross the road if they have to get through so many busy traffic lanes."
Shehzad Mushtaq of Smart Dry Cleaners took a more conciliatory tone - he was the only person we spoke to who conceded he would "maybe" sit on the steps "for a few minutes".
But he added: "Some people don't like loud noises and for them I don't think they would find the steps relaxing at all.
"To be very honest we are not happy because our customers might not want to travel over here any more."
Student Dat Lam, 19, told us: "Steps wouldn't be that nice, if I'm honest. I'm pretty sure that would cause a lot of inconvenience. If they lead nowhere, what are they for? There's not much of a view. I definitely wouldn't sit there."
Ludwig Brouet, 32, manages the Craft Beer Company in Old Street.
"I wouldn't sit on the steps because there's not much of a view," he said. "It'll have a bad impact on the activity on this side of the road.
"I come from Euston so I use the Northern line every day and it'll be a huge pain if they shut down the entrance to the station."
Healthcare professional Anna Koutelieri, 52, said: "I change bus at Old Street on my commute every day. It's very busy and any changes should be about ease of movement and increased safety for cyclists and pedestrians.
"I wouldn't dream of sitting on the steps - it's too polluted by vehicle fumes."
George Kirkham, 24, a researcher who commutes from Old Street and works in Euston, told us: "The stair design looks a bit strange.
"I can't imagine it would be pleasant to sit in the centre of the roundabout due to the poor air quality and noise from the heavy traffic in that area.
"I'm also concerned about accessibility of the proposed seating area - will individuals with reduced mobility see the benefit of a giant set of steps?"
Architect John, who asked us not to print his surname, said the new design would be "much better, because Old Street is a funny and awkward Underground".
He added: "Obviously it needs to be finalised but it's nicer to change it. In principle, to improve the station would be a good enhancement, but it depends whether they can carry it off."