Peter’s Perspective | Cover Our Tracks

With the Crossrail crowds coming and a need for more open space, our columnist says it’s time to cover our tracks

I think the Zeppelin bombers missed their intended target when they destroyed 61 Farringdon Road in 1915. What they were aiming at was the Metropolitan line. They could have seen the rails clearly from maps and as they hovered above Clerkenwell.

There is a big hole where the trains from King’s Cross emerge from the tunnel right in front of the Old Sessions House. It’s a hole that has been noticed by dozens of architects, engineers and planners over the years as they too pored over maps and aerial photos. “Deck it over and create a new public square,” they all say. A landscaped open space would reduce the severance caused by the rail cutting, create a valuable amenity for the area and link up with Clerkenwell Green.

The properties surrounding the space would receive an uplift in value so it would seem reasonable for them to contribute to the costs. Some architects’ proposals included new developments that would generate additional funds to pay for the project. But London Underground showed little interest; detractors talked of the difficulty of building over busy Tube lines – although a new station roof has just been added to Farringdon Station without stopping the trains. Islington Council failed
to see the benefits in spite of the huge influx of people there will be to the area with the opening of Crossrail in 2018.

As London’s population rises and the centre of the city has to accommodate more people, open space will be at a premium and decking over rail lines set into cuttings is a relatively inexpensive way of creating land. They’ve done it in New York at Hudson Yards, in Paris at Austerlitz station, at Broadgate and even Wimbledon town centre. Why not Clerkenwell?

Peter Murray is Chairman of NLA: London’s Centre for the Built Environment.