The Budget by George Osborne last year saw specific encouragement for the Flyunder project with the offer of funding. Zac Goldsmith made clear his strong support. Sadiq Khan claimed to back the proposal as well – as did the Labour leadership of Hammersmith and Fulham Council. But what are they doing about it?
Making it a reality will be a huge challenge. There needs to be determination. It won’t just happen of its own accord. The impression I get is that the Council and the Mayor are not even trying.
Recently I asked the Council:
“Please provide a list of all meetings in the past year undertaken by H&F councillors and council officers regarding the flyunder proposal – with dates, details of those attending an any minutes that were taken.
Please include any meetings with the Mayor of London and his predecessor and their staff and TFL officials.
Please include any meetings of the Joint Programme Board and the Joint Delivery Group.”
They wouldn’t answer me so I put it in as an FOI request. They are still prevaricating. But I fear their obfuscation may be paradoxically illuminating. I suspect they have done diddly squat. If they were making a serious effort why not say so?
Overwhelmingly the residents I represent welcome the idea of replacing the Hammersmith Flyover – and a stretch of the A4 extending to the Hogarth Roundabout – with a tunnel, a “Flyunder.” Three years ago under a Conservative administration this was a priority for Hammersmith and Fulham Council. Initial viability work by the Council
We estimated the construction time would take between two and three years – the disruption to the A4 involving line closure would be 12 to 18 months.
The cost of a Flyunder, if it had North End Road as the “eastern portal” was estimated at £1.12bn. However our report also found that “rent estimates indicate that redevelopment could achieve in the order of £1billion some of which could form part of the flyunder financing package.” Also that redevelopment could provide opportunities for new and improved open space as well as “better, more pedestrian and cycle-friendly connections between Hammersmith and the River Thames” and “opportunities to unravel the Hammersmith Gyratory through the
provision of a relief road on the current alignment of the A4. ”
The then council leader Nick Botterill said the Hammersmith Flyover is an “elevated concrete monster that has divided our town centre for decades – magnifying traffic noise and polluting our air in the process.”
Potentially the prize would not merely be removing this eyesore but also putting a stretch of the A4 underground. That would mean restoring the old street patterns. Furnivall Gardens could be restored to its full size going right up to the Town Hall. Streets such as Rivercourt Road, Weltje Road, Black Lion Lane, Verbena Gardens and Eyot Gardens that were ripped apart in 1955 could be restored.
It is important that one type of ugliness is not replaced with another. The acres of land released should be used to restore the beautiful style housing that was there before.
They are hard at work replacing a viaduct with a tunnel in Seattle at the moment. It’s happened in Madrid, Seoul, San Francisco and Milwaukee. The New York Times reports:
“All around the world, highways are being torn down and waterfronts reclaimed; decades of
thinking about cars and cities reversed; new public spaces created.”
Technological change offers the chance to restore the beauty of the past. That way the kind Hammersmith that are parents knew could be the Hammersmith that our children will have the chance to see.
President Kennedy said:
“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things. Not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
Building the Flyunder would be hard – even with the offer from central Government of helping with the funding. But it can be done. It would mean the chance for more housing, better transport, cleaner air and a more beautiful borough. Mayor Khan and the Labour council leaders in H&F just don’t show the determination needed.
It won’t happen. Val Shawcross, Deputy Mayor for Transport has said the plans are “bonkers”.
The thing that the supporters of the tunnel were never able to answer was – what happens to all the traffic that WON’T use the tunnel? And the longer the tunnel is, the less traffic will use it.
Just over 40% of the traffic west of the gyratory isn’t actually going to or from where the eastern tunnel portal was proposed – it was coming on or off at the gyratory and going to Fulham, Shepherds Bush or destinations around Hammersmith therefore the tunnel would be no use as this traffic would remain on the surface. At current levels, this traffic would require 4 lanes on the surface therefore all the tunnel would do is reduce the A4 from 6 lanes to 4 lanes and provide none of the claimed “reconnection with the river”.
Really the whole scheme smacked of a rehashed urban motorway scheme from the 1970s or 1980s. It tried to pretend the traffic didn’t exist by sweeping it underground but only addressed about half of the traffic with no idea about what happens to the other half.
If they wanted to do something really innovative, then they should have started with the objective of REDUCING the overall traffic coming through Hammersmith.
.. additionally, the costs of the tunnel were optimistic to say the least. They didn’t include the costs to remove the existing flyover or a plan to deal with the existing storm drain system that the tunnel would sever.
In the Labour manifesto for the last council elections Stephen Cowan explicitly says: “We will deliver the flyunder”. Simple as that. A promise.
It’s no good saying the plans are “bonkers”. The flyunder is a fantastic idea and we must make it work. I’m not interested in grinchs and nay-sayers and pessimists – it is doable.
Any other half-decent and ambitious city in the world would be cracking on with removing this disastrous blight on the town-centre. But in London, oh yes, it is a lot more complicated…
Saying “we must make it work” doesn’t mean it actually will work. You can stick your head in the sand and keep on repeating “we must make it work, we must make it work…” but that doesn’t actually address the real engineering issues.
As I said, over 40% of traffic currently on the A4 west of the gyratory WILL NOT USE THE TUNNEL as it was invisaged. This is because the tunnel doesn’t go where these vehicles are going or coming from.
So how do you propose to handle this traffic? There are a couple of options.
1. It stays on the surface. That means there is still a dual carriageway where the A4 is at the moment so no reconnection to the riverside
2. You build a massive underground gyratory…. but traffic needs to come to the surface somewhere so that would mean large tunnel portals in places like, say, Fulham Palace Road or Shepherds Bush Rd. Ever seen a tunnel portal? They ain’t pretty and by definition they disconnect land at either side so all this is really doing is moving disconnection from one place to another place at a cost of billions and billions.
The tunnel scheme is a complete failure of the imagination as it is just looking to replicate failed urban motorway schemes of the past. So there is a tunnel rather than a bridge. Big deal. The scheme still unquestioningly accepts a large volume of motor vehicle traffic firehosing its way through Hammersmith. And this is at a time when car use and ownership in London is falling and less than half of the households in the borough even own a car.
The blog post misses the point that a number of the places referenced (like Seoul) are traffic REMOVAL schemes, not road replacement schemes. In Seoul they replaced an urban motorway with a park. They didn’t replace an urban motorway with another urban motorway which is what the Hammersmith scheme does.
As I mentioned, if the scheme wanted to be really innovative, it would start with the premise that the you can have a nice town centre or you can have over 100,000 vehicles per day but you can’t have both. So how do we reduce the volume of traffic going through Hammersmith to, say, 10,000 vehicles per day which is the volume of a typical high street? The tunnel scheme certainly won’t do this. That really does need innovative thinking rather than a 1970s rehash like the tunnel scheme..
In theory, the idea of a flyunder has merits. The decision will fall to TFL, though. They have their own agenda, and consideration for those who need to use their cars is very low in their priorities. For years they have been known as Transport For Livingstone.
TFL see the flyover not so much as an essential transport artery, but as something that could be knocked down as part of a wider engineering out gyratories, one of the conclusions of a Mayor’s Task Force. The underlying reason would be to allow developers to build more high priced high rise developments.
Although the Cameron/coalition government held that motorists should not be charged to use existing road capacity, they did not rule out charging for new capacity. However, it would be sneaky to demolish current capacity (flyover) but then toll its replacement as ‘new’ capacity.
But that is the position that has stealthily evolved in high places. Utter contempt for those who already pay through the nose for an essential journey. Also utter disregard for local people who would suffer when motorists divert onto local roads to avoid being ripped off by tolls.
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