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All Change At Kings Cross

By the time visitors arrive for the London 2012 Olympics, London will have an entire new quarter right at its heart, says Nick Ryan.


Prostitutes, drugs and crime – all too often, that is the view of London’s King’s Cross. Yet when they were built at the height of Empire, St Pancras and King’s Cross stations were marvels of the then-modern world.

They have been featured in novels and films (most recently platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross, the magical exit for trains to Harry Potter’s Hogwarts school) and millions of us have passed through – but notably, not stayed for long – at each termini. Sadly, popular culture still equates the entire area with a seediness that has long-blighted what might otherwise be a thriving urban centre.

That unsavoury mix is set to change. Massive expansion is planned across the King’s Cross area (which will be renamed King’s Cross Central), incorporating scores of acres of brownfield site as well as separate developments at both King’s Cross and St Pancras stations themselves.

Property developer Argent Group has been working up plans for the 67-acre site to the north of King's Cross station since it was hired in 2000 by landowners London & Continental Railways (LCR) and Excel. It won final permission in May last year to begin work on the site.

The first public sign of this change is the relocation of the Eurostar terminal from Waterloo to the newly-branded and extended St Pancras International last November. But there is much, much more to come.

King’s Cross Central

The regeneration of King’s Cross is one of the largest urban regeneration projects in Europe – when complete it will create a brand new quarter of central London. Developers, architects and everyone associated with the project are promising massive benefits as a result: from ‘destination stations’, to new streets, squares, hotels and leisure facilities. The initial delivery phases of the project are designed to come online with the arrival of the 2012 London Olympics.

In the mind’s eye, King’s Cross Central is bordered by Euston Road and the two main line stations of St Pancras and King's Cross to the south, the North London Line to the north, York Way to the east and the main lines from St Pancras to the west.

The Regent's Canal runs east-west through the middle of the area. The majority of the area lies within the borough of Camden (to the north east there is a related development site in Islington). This is generally referred to as the 'Triangle'. The site contains many buildings of architectural or historic interest and other features like the Camley Street Natural Park.

It is the second-most densely populated borough in the city, and when complete will include 10 new spaces, 20 new streets, ‘home zones’, three new bridges and more than 400 trees, representing “a real step change in the quality of the public realm at King’s Cross with high quality and genuinely public new streets and open spaces,” according to the local authority, Camden.

The development is designed to promote pedestrian movement, establish new connections and integrate with the surrounding city. Access to Regent’s Canal will be enhanced with terraced steps up to Granary Square; a world-class space, claims the developer Argent Group, with stunning pavilion buildings, dramatic fountains and the flexibility to hold activities and events. When finished, the whole £2bn scheme will compromise approximately 8m sq ft of offices, shops and leisure facilities and about 2,000 flats.

“This project is going to take a big chunk of central London to a very different level,” says James Thomas, head of residential property at Jones Lang LaSalle. “With the existing transport links, the new links and its centrality, you can see that there is every reason why people will back the concept.”

Redevelopment plans were first mooted in the late 1980s. But the initial scheme was quickly torpedoed by the financial collapse of Stanhope, the group run by developer Sir Stuart Lipton. In 2000 the landowners – London & Continental Railways and Excel – appointed Argent to start again. Chief Executive Roger Madelin thinks the company won the brief over bigger developers because it came to the table with no concrete plans and a willingness to listen to community opinion. It submitted an application for its scheme in 2004. But approval didn’t come until last year.

“We are refurbishing and bringing back into use some 20 historic buildings and structures and surfaces,” says Steve Alderson, marketing and design manager for Argent. “These include the Grade II Listed Great Northern Hotel, the Granary Complex, the Eastern Coal Drops and (four) Gas Holder guide frames. Other significant refurbishments include the Fish and Coal Buildings along Regent’s Canal, The German Gymnasium and Coal Drops Yard.”

Why? "One word. Opportunity ... to help to make the surrounding areas economically, environmentally – including safety – and socially better," says Alderson. "The surrounding wards have some of the worst 'figures' in the UK."

"There's now a chance to optimise the use of the best public transport in Europe. If people can use King's Cross as a destination – not a place to change from one train to another – then a huge capacity benefit could result."

He adds: "It is also the first chance in decades to produce, in central London, 20 new streets and 10 new public squares. The last major new street, Kings Way, was built in 1906. Around this framework we will produce almost 2000 homes and a full central London mix of education, culture, health, leisure, sport, office, shopping, entertainment space providing jobs for around 30000 people."

According to Camden council, there will be several community, sports and leisure facilities. These will include a Sure Start children's centre with medical centre, drop in crèche and nursery; play facilities; two-form entry primary school; contribution of £1.5m towards secondary school provision; two healthcare facilities, one a Primary Care Centre and one a Walk in Centre; a leisure centre with 25m swimming pool; indoor sports hall; multi-use games area; community meeting facilities; a Social and Community Fund of £1m for community activities.

In addition, there will be three new green public spaces, plus new landscaped squares and well-designed and accessible streets, forming almost 40 per cent of the site. A new 'exploratory' visitor centre, floating classroom education centre and bridge across the canal will also be introduced.

Steve Alderson says: “In addition, King’s Cross Central will provide up to 50 arts and music venues, with permanent visitor attractions planned within existing refurbished heritage buildings like the London Children’s Museum and Museum of Illustration. The new spaces and squares will host outdoor concerts, performance theatre, dance, sculpture and interactive art. In 2011 the University of the Arts London, which includes Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, will occupy the Granary Complex.”

Argent is so far trumpeting the relocation of J Sainsbury’s headquarters to the site, as well as introducing innovative CO2 reducing designs, hoped to reduce emissions by over 40 percent.

Furthermore, three new ‘quarters’ – Regent’s Quarter, King’s Place and Nido London – will bring together concert facilities, space for the new Guardian newspaper offices, landscaped gardens featuring new restaurants as well as student accommodation.

King’s Cross and St Pancras

In time for 2012, both King’s Cross and St Pancras stations have been undergoing expansion, too, all eventually linking in to the overall King’s Cross Central scheme.

St Pancras has featured an £800m transformation with the move of Eurostar. This includes 60 new retail and hospitality units (including a much-trumpeted Champagne Bar, Europe’s longest) “specifically designed to reflect customers' demands for individuality, quality, aspiration and provenance,” according to architects Chapman Taylor. In addition, Manhattan Loft Apartments has taken over the old Midlands Hotel, which is being refurbished into luxury apartments and also a hotel leased to the Marriott group.

Ian Wilkinson, partner at Osborne Clarke, legal advisers to both Eurostar and LCR, says that overall project director Mike Luddy, at LCR, had a vision of making St Pancras a ‘destination’ station.

"Everyone is familiar with the style of a Network Rail station," he claims. "London and Continental were particularly keen to focus on the destination station, and there was the political will and desire to open up the Thames Gateway. The concept was that the station should be different to anything else, more akin to Grand Central or a great European station. Mike had to go through a period of re-education with Network Rail, to speak to them about the type of people he wanted – not just accepting the higher price, rather seeing the bigger picture and vision."

"The idea is that this becomes somewhere people want to go for lunch, to shop, without needing to be heading off on their travels."

The point is reiterated by Simon Scott, partner at Chapman Taylor, architects for the main development at St Pancras. “Our brief was to design a station for both domestic and international passengers as a commercial railway hub with an airport design. With mixed-use urban regeneration schemes it’s ultimately about regeneration – but we also have to provide something which is different and positions Eurostar internationally. It’s the next generation, moving on from the less well-positioned stations of the past.”

Hiro Aso, project director at architects John McAslan and Partners (JMP), which has designed a massive new concourse with an almost-columnless glass ‘ceiling’ at King's Cross station, reiterates the point about leisure impacts being in the concept of a 'destination' station – somewhere you come to visit, to spend time, to stay in the wider area.

“By default, it’s a leisure place by its association to travel, holidays, and going away. Apart from the bars and what we call retail leisure, there is secondary functions such as a convivial setting, centred by the retail offerings.”

The idea has been to marry the innovative space with the old 1852 architecture, itself a Grade 1 Listed Building and open up parts of the station – such as its south facade – currently hidden from view.

One of the main challenges, he mentions, as with Mike Luddy, was working with first Railtrack, and then Network Rail, to define the vision. “That took nine years before we got to the stage where the client would let us take this to Camden council for planning permission. Everyone was keen to avoid the mistakes of the past, such as the much-maligned 1974 southern concourse currently on the station, which failed to match the heritage or feel of the original 1852 structure.”

Hotel boom

Kalpesh Tanna, director at Osborne Clarke, suggests that the redevelopment of both the stations and surrounding area will bring a boon to the hotel trade, in particularly "luxury budget" chains and the larger budget chains such as Premier Inn and Travelodge.

“We’ll have tourists arriving from the Continent, and tourists going from here to France. For hoteliers, there’s the prospect of picking up business travellers, especially with the downturn. The West End currently is split between luxury, budget, niche and middle-market hotels. There’s obvious openings for someone looking to do business offerings to the executive market coming over the Channel.”

He refers to a recent article in the Financial Times, in which it was argued the big winners of the credit crunch have been the budget chains which offer under £150 per night rooms in central locations – “always something that hard-pressed finance departments now have to consider.”

Redevelopment of Euston station and the surrounding area could be next on the cards, Tanna says, and there is a great opportunity for more hotel growth there, he says. “The whole area between these stations is going to open up, it’s a really exciting time. It will feel very cosmopolitan. There’s going to be a complete change in character and a great opportunity for hoteliers.”

Simon Scott of St Pancras architects, Chapman Taylor, adds: “The whole opening to regeneration of King’s Cross and St Pancras will be greatly beneficial to that area of London. We had a drink’s evening for the opening of the of St Pancras, and suddenly you could walk around these areas which were, as yet, still a ghost town. It felt desolate, which was a shame. It will be great to see it change; to have people come there.”

Box Out: King’s Cross Central features

Pancras Square
Playful water features, outdoor terrace seating, bars, cafes and restaurants, leading to an all-glass bridge over the Regent's Canal.

The Boulevard
A shopping experience from the best London high streets, with somewhere to leave your bike, generous pavements and high quality food and drink. Get there by rail, underground, bus or, from 2015, the new Cross River Tram.

Granary Square
A world-class public space, with stunning pavilion buildings, dramatic fountains and the flexibility to hold activities and events (including ice skating).

Goods Street
One of 20 new streets within the development, with a mix of offices, shops, housing, hotel, education and other uses.

Cubitt Park
A high quality, contiguous green space, framed by tree planting, suitable for a range of informal recreational activities and larger events.

Gas Holder Number 8
Formerly part of the major Imperial Gas Works Complex. To be dismantled, refurbished and relocated by Regent's Canal as a stunning adventure park with viewing platform.

Overall, the scheme includes some one million sq ft of distinctive retail, leisure, education and workspace within a unique collection of historic buildings. Argent will also be refurbishing historic surfaces within the Goods Yard.

Gas Holder Triplet
The Listed Gas Holder guide frames would be re-erected close to Regent's Canal, framing new residential flats, with a courtyard garden, aerial walkway, top-floor restaurant and ground floor retail.

Coal Drops Yard
Built to last. Trains delivering coal were unloaded on the upper level. To be home to 80 shops, restaurants, galleries and visitor venues by the 2012 Olympics.

Fish and Coal Offices
Original administration building for the 'Goods Yard' complex. To be re-used for new cultural, visitor and other attractions, at the centre of our King's Cross development.

The Granary
The crop from the Lincolnshire wheat fields arrived by train and stopped here en route to London's bakers. Facing a new major London square, the refurbished Granary will be at the heart of the development.

The German Gymnasium
Ahead of its time - this purpose-built gym from 1865 was open to men and women. Next to St Pancras International, Argent will make it a gateway for London and King's Cross by 2010.

The Great Northern Hotel
This disused Grade II Listed former railway hotel will have an arcade created through it at street level to aid pedestrian movement at this busy local, national and international transport interchange. Upper floors will be refurbished to become a high-quality hotel.

Box-Out: Hotel

Manhattan Loft Apartments managing the old Midland Hotel.

St. Pancras Chambers is a landmark 323,000 square-foot Grade I English Heritage listed Victorian building owned by London & Continental Railways (LCR).

Manhattan Loft, with LCR, is restoring the former Midland Grand Hotel at St. Pancras International station with the addition of 67 new apartments at the top of the building.

When completed, the hotel will be called the Renaissance St. Pancras Hotel London. The 245-room hotel will include two restaurants, two bars, a health and leisure center, a business center, a ballroom, a function room and eight meeting rooms. The original main building will house 52 guest rooms. Meeting rooms and other public spaces of the hotel will be located in the historic parts of the building with the remainder of the guest rooms being located in the new bedroom wing.

This article first appeared in Leisure Management magazine ©2008



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