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?


 

 
 
 
 

To see how a city embraces remote work, just look to Helsinki

A deeply rooted culture of trust is crucial to the success of remote work. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

When I speak to Anssi Salminen, an account manager who lives an hour outside Helsinki, he’s working from a wooden platform on the edge of a Finnish lake. With a blanket laid out and his laptop set up, the sun low in the sky, Anssi’s remote work arrangement seems blissful. 

“I spend around half of my time working somewhere else other than the office,” he says. “I can work from home, or on the go, and I also travel to the Netherlands once a month and work from there.

“The emphasis in my work has always been that it doesn’t matter when or where I work, as long as I get things done.”

For many people around the world, the shift to remote work was sudden, sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. Finland, however, is finding the transition much less significant. Before Covid-19, the Nordic nation already displayed impressive levels of remote working, with 14.1% of its workforce reporting usually working from home. Only the Netherlands has a comparable percentage of remote workers, while the UK lagged behind at 4.7%, and the US’s remote workforce lingered at around 3.6%

Anssi works for one of many Helsinki-based companies that offers its employees flexible policies around when and where they work. That arrangement is in part due to the Finnish capital’s thriving start-up scene. In spite of being a relatively small city by global standards it is home to over 500 technology start-ups. These companies are leading the way when it comes to keeping employees connected wherever they choose to work.

“Our company has a completely location-free working policy,” says Kasper Pöyry, the CEO of Helsinki-headquartered software company Gapps. “All meetings are made available for online participants and facilitated accordingly. Some employees have worked extensively from abroad on a working holiday, whilst others prefer the comfort and social aspects of the well-stocked office. Whatever works for our employees is what works for the company.”

Like Gapps, many Helsinki-based firms are deeply preoccupied with providing the necessary technology to attract talent in a vast and sparsely populated country. Finland has only 15 inhabitants per square kilometre, and companies understand that in order to compose teams of specialised expertise, they may have to seek talent outside of the city. Local governments take a similarly proactive stance toward technological access, and Helsinki offers free, unrestricted, high-speed Wi-Fi from city-wide hotspots, while the country as a whole boasts some of the best coverage in Europe. 

But encouraging remote work isn’t just about optimising the potential of Finland’s workforce – companies in Helsinki also recognise that flexibility has clear benefits for both staff and employees. 

“The idea of a good work-life balance is ingrained in Finnish culture,” says Johannes Anttila, a consultant at organisational think tank Demos Helsinki. “It goes back to our rich history of social dialogue between labour unions and employers, but also to an interest in delineating the rules of working life and pushing towards people being able to enjoy their private life. Helsinki has been named the best city in the world for work-life balance, and I think that this underlies a lot of the mentality around remote work.” 

For Peter Seenan, the extent to which Helsinki residents value their free time and prioritise a work-life balance prompted his move to the city ten years ago. He now works for Finnair, and points to Finland’s summer cottages as an example of how important taking time to switch off is for people in the country. These rural residences, where city residents regularly uproot to enjoy the Nordic countryside, are so embedded in Finnish life that the country boasts around 1.8 million of them for its 5.5 million residents

“Flexible and remote work are very important to me because it means that I don’t feel like I’m getting stuck in a routine that I can’t control easily,” he says. “When I’m working outside of the office I’ll go down to my local sauna and go ice swimming during the working day, typically at lunchtime or mid-morning, and I’ll feel rejuvenated afterwards… In winter time especially, flexibility is important because it makes it easier to go outside during daylight hours. It’s certainly beneficial for my physical and mental health, and as a result my productivity improves.”

The relaxed attitude to working location seems to pay off – Finland is regularly named the happiest country in the world, scoring highly on measures such as how often its residents exercise and how much leisure time they enjoy. With large swathes of unspoiled countryside and a national obsession with the outdoors, sustainability is at the forefront of its inhabitants’ minds, leading to high levels of support for measures to limit commuting. In January, Finland passed a new Working Hours Act, the goal of which was to help better coordinate employee’s work and leisure time. Central to this is cementing in law that employees can independently decide how, when, and where they work.

Yet enacting the new ruling is not as simple as just sending employees home with their laptops. For Kirsimarja Blomqvist, a professor of knowledge management at LUT University, perhaps the most fundamental feature that remote work relies upon is a deeply rooted culture of trust, which Helsinki’s residents speak of with pride. The anecdotal evidence is backed up by data which suggests that Finland boasts one of the highest levels of trust and social cohesion in Europe, and equality and transparency have always been key cornerstones of political thought in the country.

“Trust is part of a national culture in Finland – it’s important and people value it highly,” she explains. “There’s good job independence, and people are valued in terms of what they do, not how many hours they work for. Organisations tend to be non-hierarchical, and there is a rich history of cooperation between trade unions, employers, and employees to set up innovative working practices and make workers feel trusted and valued. 

“It’s now important that we ensure that this trust can continue to be built over technology, when workers might have been more used to building it face-to-face.”

As companies begin to look hopefully toward a post-Covid future, the complexities of remote work are apparent. Yet amid issues of privacy, presenteeism, and social isolation, the Helsinki model demonstrates the potential benefits of a distanced working world. The adjustment to remote work, if continued after the crisis, offers a chance to improve companies’ geographical diversity and for employers to demonstrate trust in their workforce. On these issues, Blomqvist believes other cities and employers can learn a lot from Helsinki.

“People are now beginning to return to their workplaces, but even as they do they are starting to consider the crisis as a jumping point to an even more remote future,” she says. “The coronavirus pandemic has been an eye-opener, and people are now interested in learning from Finland’s good practices… We are able to see the opportunity, and the rapid transition to remote work will allow other countries to do the same.”

Katie Bishop is a freelance writer based in Oxford.