Does Kings Cross need a second tube station?

York Way. Image: Ewan Munro/Wikipedia Commons.

King’s Cross Central is one of the larger re-development projects currently underway in in central London. A decade in, the area now plays host to the Guardian’s London offices, the Central St. Martin’s art school and an obnoxiously large branch of Waitrose. Only last month, indeed, King’s Cross Central played host to the greatest share of events for the Lumiere light festival. All very prestigious – enough, indeed, to earn the area a shiny new postcode, N1C.

What it hasn’t earned it is a new tube station. Okay, there’s King’s Cross St. Pancras itself, at the area’s southern tip, but the northern end of the development zone is as much as 1km from there. And the rebranding of Nine Elms and Battersea to house the new American Embassy, remember, merited the development of two additional stops and an entirely new branch of the Northern Line.

The partnership behind King’s Cross Central presumably thought that the existing – admittedly, rather large – station would be more than enough. But what if it’s not? King’s Cross is a very busy and congested station, especially at rush hour, when people will be traveling to and from the majority of developments in King’s Cross Central. Buses are an option too, of course – but only one bus stop serves the northern fringe of the development, the 390’s stop on York Way.

This is where abandoned stations come into the mix. Inquisitive visitors to King’s Cross Central might have noticed the Leslie Green-esque building on York Way, in the north-eastern corner of the N1C area. That’s the old York Road tube station, where Piccadilly line trains used to stop between King’s Cross St. Pancras and Caledonian Road. It opened in 1906, but closed, due to lack of use, in 1932.

A map showing the two abandoned stations.

Various entities, from councils to contractors, have proposed re-opening the station as a solution to the area’s transport needs. But it wouldn’t come cheap, and anyway, it would increase journey times on the line as a whole. The result, Transport for London thinks, would be an economic cost that outstrips the benefits of a decongested Piccadilly Line platform.

There is another option. Maiden Lane station once lay between Camden Road and Caledonian Road & Barnsbury stations on what is now the London Overground. Little modern trace exists, but re-opening the station would be far, far cheaper than re-opening York Road (an estimated £8m, rather than £40m). That makes it a far more plausible option to serve the northern end of Kings Cross.


But why should we be choosing between Maiden Lane and York Road? Why not go the full hog, and open both?

A combined Maiden Lane/York Road Piccadilly/Overground interchange would offer a number of advantages compared to the less ambitious alternatives. To the west, Camden Town station is up for redevelopment, in part to improve interchange with Camden Road. Once complete, the stations might well become a popular interchange between the Overground and the Northern Line. To the east, Highbury and Islington already is a popular interchange between NR, Overground and Victoria lines.

That would leave the Piccadilly line as the only tube line in this area without interchange with the Overground. True, Caledonian Road & Barnsbury already offers a rarely used out-of-station interchange (OSI) with Caledonian Road; but it’s an inconvenient walk through an inconvenient location, unappealing to travellers.

If TfL reopened a new York Way station, designed to provide an interchange between Picadilly and Overground, travellers looking to change to the northbound Victoria or Northern lines could take the Overground at York Way to H&I or Camden Town respectively, instead of continuing on to King’s Cross. This would reduce congestion at KGX by reducing the number of journeys using it as an interchange, by offering a new route along the North London branch of the Overground.

Such behaviour could be encouraged by placing York Way in Zone 2, compensating the inconvenience of an extra change with a reduced fare. This would vastly increase the utility of a station at York Way, allowing it to become a hub for commuters looking to avoid the congestion and costs of travel through Zone 1.

A mock-up of what York Way might look like on the Tube Map. Image: TfL/Citymetric.

Finally, the area between York Way and Caledonian Road, lying just opposite the King’s Cross Central development, is currently classified as being among the most socially deprived areas in England. The development as it stands arguably offers very little real benefits to those living literally across the road.

A new station on their doorstep could be transformative in this respect. While the York Road station analysis argued this impact would be minimal, a station serving both Overground and Underground – going above and beyond to connect the local area – would likely be even more effective.

So, there you are. One day soon, King’s Cross St. Pancras might need a hand. And who better to lend one than its old friend from just up the road?


 

 
 
 
 

“Without rent control we can’t hope to solve London’s housing crisis”

You BET! Oh GOD. Image: Getty.

Today, the mayor of London called for new powers to introduce rent controls in London. With ever increasing rents swallowing more of people’s income and driving poverty, the free market has clearly failed to provide affordable homes for Londoners. 

Created in 1988, the modern private rented sector was designed primarily to attract investment, with the balance of power weighted almost entirely in landlords’ favour. As social housing stock has been eroded, with more than 1 million fewer social rented homes today compared to 1980, and as the financialisation of homes has driven up house prices, more and more people are getting trapped private renting. In 1990 just 11 per cent of households in London rented privately, but by 2017 this figure had grown to 27 per cent; it is also home to an increasing number of families and older people. 

When I first moved to London, I spent years spending well over 50 per cent of my income on rent. Even without any dependent to support, after essentials my disposable income was vanishingly small. London has the highest rent to income ratio of any region, and the highest proportion of households spending over a third of their income on rent. High rents limit people’s lives, and in London this has become a major driver of poverty and inequality. In the three years leading up to 2015-16, 960,000 private renters were living in poverty, and over half of children growing up in private rented housing are living in poverty.

So carefully designed rent controls therefore have the potential to reduce poverty and may also contribute over time to the reduction of the housing benefit bill (although any housing bill reductions have to come after an expansion of the system, which has been subject to brutal cuts over the last decade). Rent controls may also support London’s employers, two-thirds of whom are struggling to recruit entry-level staff because of the shortage of affordable homes. 

It’s obvious that London rents are far too high, and now an increasing number of voices are calling for rent controls as part of the solution: 68 per cent of Londoners are in favour, and a growing renters’ movement has emerged. Groups like the London Renters Union have already secured a massive victory in the outlawing of section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions. But without rent control, landlords can still unfairly get rid of tenants by jacking up rents.


At the New Economics Foundation we’ve been working with the Mayor of London and the Greater London Authority to research what kind of rent control would work in London. Rent controls are often polarising in the UK but are commonplace elsewhere. New York controls rents on many properties, and Berlin has just introduced a five year “rental lid”, with the mayor citing a desire to not become “like London” as a motivation for the policy. 

A rent control that helps to solve London’s housing crisis would need to meet several criteria. Since rents have risen three times faster than average wages since 2010, rent control should initially brings rents down. Our research found that a 1 per cent reduction in rents for four years could lead to 20 per cent cheaper rents compared to where they would be otherwise. London also needs a rent control both within and between tenancies because otherwise landlords can just reset rents when tenancies end.

Without rent control we can’t hope to solve London’s housing crisis – but it’s not without risk. Decreases in landlord profits could encourage current landlords to exit the sector and discourage new ones from entering it. And a sharp reduction in the supply of privately rented homes would severely reduce housing options for Londoners, whilst reducing incentives for landlords to maintain and improve their properties.

Rent controls should be introduced in a stepped way to minimise risks for tenants. And we need more information on landlords, rents, and their business models in order to design a rent control which avoids unintended consequences.

Rent controls are also not a silver bullet. They need to be part of a package of solutions to London’s housing affordability crisis, including a large scale increase in social housebuilding and an improvement in housing benefit. However, private renting will be part of London’s housing system for some time to come, and the scale of the affordability crisis in London means that the question of rent controls is no longer “if”, but increasingly “how”. 

Joe Beswick is head of housing & land at the New Economics Foundation.