I have been trying to experiment recently with a bit more tweeting ‘in real time’ about Council work. So when on my way to a meeting, I pulled out my phone, and tweeted, ‘Off to a briefing on the consultation for upgrading #forestgate as part of Crossrail. Will take notes and tweet / blog info!‘ Various retweets and favourites quickly showed me that this is an issue that Forest Gaters are as keen on as I am, so I am keeping my promise of a quick blog post, and following up with some more information.
The meeting was at the Gate library (quick aside – have you been in and sampled the CoffeE7 pop-up there?) and was a Community Neighbourhood meeting to which all the Forest Gate North and South councillors were invited. Murray Woodburn from the Council was there, taking us through the plans for Forest Gate station, with a very thorough presentation.
I immediately homed in on some interesting but possibly ultimately irrelevant details, including a picture of the upholstery fabric that will be used on the Crossrail trains.
Me, “Is this public? Can I tweet this?”
Other people, with understandable incredulity, “You want to tweet a picture of fabric?”
Me, “Yup.” (Good people of twitter. You did not let me down. You did, as I had predicted, love it. Thank you for being just as into your transport geekery as I am.)
I also pricked my ears up at a discussion about the coaches that currently use Forest Lane, and contribute to making the road busy and sometimes unpleasant for pedestrians and other road users. All I have for the moment is that discussions are ongoing about rerouting the coaches, but I have my fingers firmly crossed that we can find a solution here. It’s something that bothers local cyclists, and others. And I have a selfish interest here, too – when I walk along Forest Lane on my way to Magpie Park with my youngest on her scooter, it doesn’t feel safe to me.
But back to the Crossrail plans. Ellie wrote a great introductory post, which you can read here. Our meeting was to give us some more information on how the project was developing.
Firstly we learnt about what will happen almost immediately (next week!) as the Abellio contract comes to an end, and the service is taken over by TfL. This is music to the ears of frustrated residents who have had a pretty raw deal over the last few years, and especially the last few months as the contract has been coming to an end. Lyn Brown and Ellie have been putting some serious pressure on Greater Anglia (read more here) but the levels of service have been lamentably bad. To summarise what I took away from the meeting last week: our train station will be better, the service will almost certainly be better, and the fares will be cheaper. The station will be maintained to TfL standards, which means it will be staffed (from next week), and the ticket hall will be refurbished in July this year. This is all such great news that it’s almost hard not to feel suspicious of it.
There will be some disruption, too. The fitting of the new lift will be straightforwardly brilliant for people with mobility restrictions, not to mention people with buggies, but when that takes place, in around a year’s time, it will be over a weekend and may require the closure of some roads.
(edited to add, I have had a question on twitter about whether this can be right, since lift installation normally takes much longer. I made a note in the meeting myself about the ‘over a weekend’ bit, so any error here is mine and no one else’s. It’s possible that the officer said it will be done at the weekends, meaning over many weekends, making the point that weekday services aren’t anticipated to be interrupted, or weekday road closures part of the plan. Either way. I wanted to highlight this as it’s quite possibly not correct. If I find out more I will put it here. My apologies. – RT)
Murray talked us through some of the existing issues around Forest Gate station, which include architectural features being lost in the general ‘clutter’, difficulty of pedestrian access, no drop-off facilities for vehicles, a pretty hostile environment on some of the key access ways to the station, the need to improve cycle access to the station, and more.
Moving on to some of the opportunities, we discussed the main aims of the scheme: to improve the interchange between different forms of transport and the station, to improve road safety, to improve people’s sense of personal safety, and an overall aim to improve what is termed the ‘public realm’, or the look and feel.
As Ellie mentioned in her post, there will be a consultation where local organisations and people are invited to contribute. This is planned as a two-stage process, an ‘informal’ consultation followed by a formal one. What this means in practical terms is that some local residents and organisations can have some input at an early stage, so that the leaflets and proposals that are consulted on have already benefitted from some local ideas and feedback. The formal consultation is then a chance for anyone at all who has an interest in the area to contribute. There is definitely a genuine desire to hear from people, too: although there will be proposals suggested, these will be drawn up by an external consultant as one possible way of using the funds available, and will be entirely open to amendments to ensure that we get the best scheme we can.
We discussed as well how we might use this scheme and the TfL money as a catalyst for the area, and off the back of it we could apply for additional funding from other places to make some other improvements to areas that aren’t immediately close to Forest Gate station. Murray mentioned the Mayor of London’s high street fund, which was responsible for the improvements in Waltham Forest which I think many of us in Forest Gate are quite jealous of. Some potential here for future work, I hope.
So what next? The consultation process will take place over the summer, with the aim of agreeing the scheme at the end of the year. We will blog about this when it starts and will be encouraging everyone to participate who is interested. There will be plenty more to come on this, I am sure. But in the spirit of my live-tweeting, I wanted to get a quick blog post out reasonably quickly to update anyone who is interested.
Forest Gate is one of three stations being improved as part of this project, the others being Manor Park and Maryland. (Either Ellie, Seyi or I will be back with more information about the Maryland project as and when we get it.)
My final thought to share is that in a time of austerity, where almost everything is being cut to the bone due to lack of funds from central government, it’s sadly now extremely rare to be in a situation of deciding the best way to spend money rather than the least worst way it can be cut. It is really exciting and invigorating to see something so positive being done, and to think of Forest Gate residents being part of improving our environment in such a direct way. I left the meeting really impressed by Murray and his team, both for successfully bidding for the funding from Transport for London, and also for the plan they have put together, and as I walked home I felt quite buoyed up by the opportunity this gives us all to make some tangible, and appreciable changes to an area we all use and love.
As ever, if you have questions or comments then do contact us. Either via our ‘contact us’ page, or using the comments below.