There is widespread concern about the likely harm from the Crossrail proposals, which plan to use the densely populated area of historic Spitalfields for two major worksites even though many buildings could be susceptible to subsidence or worse. Crossrail has failed to produce full environmental impact information or show any systematic comparisons of alternatives to Spitalfields despite negative impacts across the East End of London.
Crossrail are seeking wide compulsory purchase powers for land and property along the central section of the route with construction powers for demolition and construction for intervention and tunnel shafts as well as stations at Liverpool Street, Whitechapel, Farringdon, Tottenham Court Road, Bond Street and Paddington with links to Heathrow and Romford.
The Government is using a hybrid bill process to push the publicly funded Crossrail Bill through Parliament. MPs were asked to vote for the second reading of the Crossrail Bill without even being presented any information about financing Crossrail and the implications for taxpayers in London and across England. The scheme was presented as costing £10bn during the second reading in July 2005. Crossrail has subsequently revised this figure to £17bn after three months.
Local MP for Bethnal Green & Bow George Galloway highlighted concerns about the likely harm from the scheme during the second reading of the Crossrail Bill in July of this year. Mr Galloway said: “There will be three major tunnelling sites and a two-metre wide conveyor belt will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for six years to carry spoil from the digging of those sites. It will go past people's houses, inches from their windows in some cases, and feet away in others. Ten-tonne lorries will come and go through this small, densely populated, poor, disadvantaged and multiply deprived area at the rate of one every five minutes, with consequent dangers for children at local schools and the health of local people—and male life expectancy in that part of London is already six per cent, less than that throughout London as a whole. Higher than average incidences of asthma, diabetes, blood pressure and other health problems are already present in this multiply deprived community.”
Crossrail have described the Spitalfields area as derelict. But local communities say it is far from derelict. Spitalfields is home to small businesses, creative industries and large numbers of council and social housing. It also has an important historical significance. It is the first portal for every immigrant community in the UK.
In November 2003, Crossrail began a so-called public awareness campaign and consultations but excluded Spitalfields even though it was the only densely populated area in London to have two major worksites. Local groups demanded a public meeting after becoming aware that the proposals would impact on the area. But Crossrail refused to hold a public meeting for all Spitalfields groups despite requests. This resulted in groups being given piecemeal information by Crossrail, some of which was often contradictory. This included claims that intermediate shaft was necessary as end-to-end tunnelling was not possible. Crossrail continued to misleadingly describe one Spitalfields worksite “the Hanbury Street Shaft” as an Emergency Intervention Point (EIP) when it was in fact a harmful tunnelling site. Crossrail also failed to mention the existence of a spoil site in Pedley Street, Spitalfields.
Local groups headed by the Spitalfields Small Business Association (SSBA) took it upon themselves to hold a public meeting to inform people about the Crossrail proposals on July 27, 2004. Hundreds of people attended the meeting along with the BBC TV and ITV news.
Local people say the public consultation carried out by Crossrail was a sham as The Labour-led Tower Hamlets Council and Crossrail made an arbitrary decision to locate harmful worksites and Whitechapel Station in Tower Hamlets. Crossrail did not even produce information about the proposals in the predominant local languages, Bangladeshi and Somali in Spitalfields. A Tower Hamlets Council officer apparently “forgot” to give the contact names of local groups to Crossrail for two years. The Council and the officer have been in negotiations with Crossrail since 2001. Crossrail has never published the findings of an internal enquiry into consultation and continues to refuse requests for a public meeting in the Spitalfields area.
Local people fear that the siting of Crossrail is part of a wider plan to build office blocks and turn Spitalfields and so-called other “Opportunity Areas” into an extension of the City. Parallels are drawn between the Government’s Housing Renewal Pathfinder schemes involving the demolition of 400,000 homes across the North of England to build more expensive homes, which results in displacing one community for another usually by exploitation. Both the Mayor’s London Plan and Tower Hamlets Council confirm plans for high-density development in Spitalfields. The Council is promoting Local Development Frameworks (new planning policy development plans) with high-density office blocks running alongside so-called transport nodes such as Crossrail. The development plans have bigger footprints than Canary Wharf. By law, public interest schemes must show that interference with property rights such as compulsory purchase is necessary but not in addition to the execution of a successful scheme. This prevents promoters and developers acquiring land unnecessarily. However, Crossrail is using the Crossrail Bill to seek compulsory purchase powers without producing such evidence. Local people have not received any evidence that acquisition or interference with property interests is necessary for the successful completion of Crossrail despite persistent requests.
The core strategy of the Mayor’s London Plan allows large-scale negative development in order to safeguard London’s role as a key International Business location. But the London Plan does not give equal recognition to the economic need and success of small businesses, street markets and creative industries, which thrive outside of City-based interests. The London Plan imposes negative development pressures without considering or evaluating the harm to London’s communities, market traders and small businesses.
Local people have expressed concern about the Mayor of London Ken Livingstone’s support for Crossrail and his lack of accountability to London’s communities. In the case of Crossrail, the Mayor previously justified Crossrail on misleading grounds. Mr Livingstone, similarly to Crossrail, claimed the siting of the Hanbury Street shaft in Spitalfields was a legal requirement. But this was misleading as this legal requirement only applied to Emergency Intervention Points (EIP) not harmful tunnelling sites as proposed in Spitalfields. In a meeting with local groups this year, Mr Livingstone refused to discuss the negative health impacts from spoil and tunnelling sites in Spitalfields and even claimed people were overreacting. Mr Livingstone then claimed he was building Crossrail to help the poor but did not give any information or evidence of how the poor would be helped by the Crossrail scheme. Mr Livingstone also claimed that Crossrail were adopting the highest environmental standards but was unwilling to discuss the devastating environmental, social and financial impacts of the proposals.
Local people are angry that Tower Hamlets Council only began to express concerns about Crossrail’s lack of information about impacts after public pressure. The Council is spending £500,000 to petition against the Crossrail Bill. But local people believe the basis for the petition is weak. The Council support for a Crossrail scheme is dependent on the existence of a Whitechapel Station, for which, there is no public support. In turn, Crossrail claim the location of harmful worksites in the densely populated Spitalfields and the route alignment is directly linked to the siting of nearby Whitechapel Station.
The present leader of the Tower Hamlets Council Michael Keith, who was previously head of regeneration, participated in negotiations over Crossrail despite a conflict of interest. Mr Keith publicly admitted to negotiating the damaging Crossrail scheme in Spitalfields in return for a Whitechapel station even though he cannot show public support for the proposal. In 2003, a report a report in Newstartmag stated the Thames Gateway Partnerships, for whom Mr Keith is a chair, threatened to withdraw backing to a communities plan if the Government rejected Crossrail due to the lack of private investment.
Chief executive of Tower Hamlets Council Christine Gilbert is married to Tony McNulty, who prior to the reshuffle was the minister in charge of Crossrail. Since, Derek Twigg has replaced Mr McNulty. Ms Gilbert wrote to local residents group the Woodeer Hanbury Residents Association in response to a complaint about the council’s handling of Crossrail. Ms Gilbert says: “We cannot provide specific ‘evidence’ of the likely regeneration benefits at Whitechapel, but clearly the proposed redevelopment of the Royal London Hospital and the emergence of a, still embryonic but nevertheless growing health campus in Whitechapel will stimulate the regeneration of the area.” Mr Keith also claimed Crossrail would bring regeneration benefits to the area even though there was no evidence to support this assertion.
Local people say past development so-called regeneration schemes show the Crossrail will harm rather than benefit the borough of Tower Hamlets. During the second reading, MP George Galloway said: “A vast number of people commute into the Tower Hamlets to work and then commute out again. There are huge areas adjacent to Tower Hamlets where local people cannot get a job. There are great citadels of wealth in Canary Wharf and the City of London, with hardly a local person working in them. In the City of London, where tens of thousands of people work, there are only 88 Bangladeshis working in white-collar jobs. Less than 10-per cent of the people who work in Canary Wharf [London business district] come from Tower Hamlets, and no one is able to give us a demographic breakdown of that 10 per cent. We already have a problem with local people not being able to get jobs in the area, and a Crossrail station at Whitechapel will merely make that problem worse.”
Experts are also concerned about the likely harm from Crossrail. Leading engineer Mark Whitby of engineering firm Whitby Bird in Building Magazine, says: “the project [Crossrail] is a solution to a problem that has not been properly understood, which will turn the centre of London into a ghetto for the poor.”
Experts at alternative London rail scheme promoter are also concerned about the impacts from the present Crossrail scheme. Superlink state: “The surrounding area [Whitechapel] is a stable inner city area. A Crossrail station would put pressure for change, displacing low-income residents and small businesses. There would also be substantial disruption to local streets during construction.”
Superlink add: “A Whitechapel station would hurt rather than help local residents. The area already has excellent transport links with the District, Hammersmith & City and East London Lines and a nearby DLR station…Apparently the £400m Whitechapel station was suggested as “compensation” for the use of Stepney Green as a worksite...however the costs and local disruption will be substantial while the benefits are likely to be very small.”
Tower Hamlets Council is not prepared to consider Superlink because it claims the scheme would also lead to disruption and it will not offer Whitechapel Station. The council has not produced any evidence to corroborate such claims.