If London wants Crossrail 2, the Treasury will need to stump up a lot more cash

Image: TfL.

Is there no end to the gentrification of central London? Ageing bohemians still haven’t got over the demolition of several clubs to make way for Crossrail – not to mention the closure of Soho nightspot Madame Jojo’s last year.

They recently had another bout of hypertension, when Transport for London (TfL) released a map showing that they might want to knock down the Curzon, an arthouse cinema down the road, to make way for Crossrail 2. (There was much less clamour about the possible demolition of Electrowerkz in Angel; evidently, goths have poor lobbyists).

Both Crossrail, the new east-west railway tunnelling its way under London, and Crossrail 2, its southwest-northeast younger brother, have the effect of pushing up house prices wherever they go, and encouraging the owners of Madame Jojo’s and the like to put their assets to more profitable use.

Already, large and very bland looking slabs of shops and offices are being planned for the new Crossrail stations on Oxford Street; a shopping centre on top of the Canary Wharf station is to open this spring, three years before the first train arrives. So would Crossrail 2 see even more cultural vandalism, as critics would say, if it gets approved?

Perhaps not. Perhaps the railway won’t get built at all. Because at the moment, it’s facing a funding gap of several billion pounds.

Crossrail 2 would cost what infrastructure professionals would call “a lot of money”. The current estimate is around £25bn: that’s compared to £14.8bn for Crossrail, or as much as 30 per cent of a new “Boris Island”-type airport in the Thames Estuary. Phew. And nobody really knows where all that money will come from.

The reason why Crossrail has spurred the redevelopment of parts of London, for better or worse, is that a) there was land ripe for redevelopment and b) the route connects up places where high value earners want to travel to, like the City and Canary Wharf. Crossrail 2 will go to neither, and the amount of property development it’s expected to spark is consequently lower. What’s more, many of the most attractive sites for redevelopment, in places like Oxford Street, have already been snapped up due to, er, Crossrail.

That might be fine, if there were serious quantities of taxpayer cash on the table. There isn’t.

The proposed route. Click to expand.

TfL, the Greater London Authority and Network Rail are borrowing roughly two-thirds of the cost of Crossrail – debts they’ll repay through local funding sources, such as a supplement on business rates. That leaves roughly one-third of the project’s cost that’s been covered by a grant from central government.

When TfL commissioned financial advisers at PwC to look at how to pay for Crossrail 2, they found only half of the cost could be met by local funding sources – leaving the Treasury on the hook for a larger share of a larger project.

Far from paying a bigger chunk, however, City Hall seems to think Whitehall would be tighter when it came to Crossrail 2. Isabel Dedring, Boris’ deputy mayor for transport, has said that public funding will have to be “substantially smaller” this time round. With more austerity and the building of HS2 round the corner, this looks entirely plausible.

London could try to borrow money against the additional business rate revenues it expects to get from new property developments that get built as a result of Crossrail 2: that is exactly how TfL is paying for the Northern Line Tube extension to Battersea, which will see a new housing development built nearby.

But Crossrail 2 simply isn’t expected to trigger that much building. As PwC wrote:

“ [Incremental business rates income] is forecast to contribute a relatively small amount to the project’s funding requirement, in the region of 0.7 per cent... It is questionable whether it is worth separately identifying and gathering it, unless there is a significant increase in forecast commercial development around the Crossrail 2 stations.”

So not only is Crossrail 2 not likely to cause much demolition, it may not cause as much gentrification as its predecessor either. That’s if it ever gets off the ground at all.

René Lavanchy is a recovering infrastructure finance journalist and tweets at @InfraPunk.

 
 
 
 

Green roofs improve cities – so why don’t all buildings have them?

The green roof at the Kennedy Centre, Washington DC. Image: Getty.

Rooftops covered with grass, vegetable gardens and lush foliage are now a common sight in many cities around the world. More and more private companies and city authorities are investing in green roofs, drawn to their wide-ranging benefits which include savings on energy costs, mitigating the risk from floods, creating habitats for urban wildlife, tackling air pollution and urban heat and even producing food.

A recent report in the UK suggested that the green roof market there is expanding at a rate of 17 per cent each year. The world’s largest rooftop farm will open in Paris in 2020, superseding similar schemes in New York City and Chicago. Stuttgart, in Germany, is thought of as “the green roof capital of Europe”, while Singapore is even installing green roofs on buses.

These increasingly radical urban designs can help cities adapt to the monumental challenges they face, such as access to resources and a lack of green space due to development. But buy-in from city authorities, businesses and other institutions is crucial to ensuring their success – as is research investigating different options to suit the variety of rooftop spaces found in cities.

A growing trend

The UK is relatively new to developing green roofs, and governments and institutions are playing a major role in spreading the practice. London is home to much of the UK’s green roof market, mainly due to forward-thinking policies such as the 2008 London Plan, which paved the way to more than double the area of green roofs in the capital.

Although London has led the way, there are now “living labs” at the Universities of Sheffield and Salford which are helping to establish the precedent elsewhere. The IGNITION project – led by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority – involves the development of a living lab at the University of Salford, with the aim of uncovering ways to convince developers and investors to adopt green roofs.

Ongoing research is showcasing how green roofs can integrate with living walls and sustainable drainage systems on the ground, such as street trees, to better manage water and make the built environment more sustainable.

Research is also demonstrating the social value of green roofs. Doctors are increasingly prescribing time spent gardening outdoors for patients dealiong with anxiety and depression. And research has found that access to even the most basic green spaces can provide a better quality of life for dementia sufferers and help prevent obesity.

An edible roof at Fenway Park, stadium of the Boston Red Sox. Image: Michael Hardman/author provided.

In North America, green roofs have become mainstream, with a wide array of expansive, accessible and food-producing roofs installed in buildings. Again, city leaders and authorities have helped push the movement forward – only recently, San Francisco created a policy requiring new buildings to have green roofs. Toronto has policies dating from the 1990s, encouraging the development of urban farms on rooftops.

These countries also benefit from having newer buildings, which make it easier to install green roofs. Being able to store and distribute water right across the rooftop is crucial to maintaining the plants on any green roof – especially on “edible roofs” which farm fruit and vegetables. And it’s much easier to create this capacity in newer buildings, which can typically hold greater weight, than retro-fit old ones. Having a stronger roof also makes it easier to grow a greater variety of plants, since the soil can be deeper.


The new normal?

For green roofs to become the norm for new developments, there needs to be buy-in from public authorities and private actors. Those responsible for maintaining buildings may have to acquire new skills, such as landscaping, and in some cases volunteers may be needed to help out. Other considerations include installing drainage paths, meeting health and safety requirements and perhaps allowing access for the public, as well as planning restrictions and disruption from regular ativities in and around the buildings during installation.

To convince investors and developers that installing green roofs is worthwhile, economic arguments are still the most important. The term “natural capital” has been developed to explain the economic value of nature; for example, measuring the money saved by installing natural solutions to protect against flood damage, adapt to climate change or help people lead healthier and happier lives.

As the expertise about green roofs grows, official standards have been developed to ensure that they are designed, built and maintained properly, and function well. Improvements in the science and technology underpinning green roof development have also led to new variations on the concept.

For example, “blue roofs” increase the capacity of buildings to hold water over longer periods of time, rather than drain away quickly – crucial in times of heavier rainfall. There are also combinations of green roofs with solar panels, and “brown roofs” which are wilder in nature and maximise biodiversity.

If the trend continues, it could create new jobs and a more vibrant and sustainable local food economy – alongside many other benefits. There are still barriers to overcome, but the evidence so far indicates that green roofs have the potential to transform cities and help them function sustainably long into the future. The success stories need to be studied and replicated elsewhere, to make green, blue, brown and food-producing roofs the norm in cities around the world.

Michael Hardman, Senior Lecturer in Urban Geography, University of Salford and Nick Davies, Research Fellow, University of Salford.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.