The Haringey Council has published a set of ‘preferred options’ for Wood Green redevelopment (I’ll call it the Wood Green Plan, or “the plan”). It contains some good ideas but it stumbles badly in two key areas, and is largely silent on a third. The two areas on which it stumbles are open and green space, and road traffic. The area in which it is silent is any for of guarantee for the re-housing of people who would be removed as part of the plan; this is a perennial issue for Haringey as for many London councils, whose relationships with developers and the housing market have been rightly described as producing social cleansing. The rights of the people now living in the area, and the availability of genuinely affordable housing, are of central importance but sadly the plan has so little to say about them that I’ll have to leave those issues to others.
Before I move on, though, let me note that social cleansing is what used to be called in the US “urban removal”. That was of course a play on “urban renewal” which was then, as “regeneration” now, a buzzword that sugarcoated the use of state power to assemble large city centre property portfolios for demolition and new development. The new developments always had laudable stated public objectives, though these objectives often fell before three forces: the shaping of the actual plans by private developers who were not interested in the social objectives, if they compromised profit; inability, or unwillingness, of development planners to understand the complexity of the city’s web of social and economic relationships, which were often damaged by the planners’ imposition of uniform, sanitized, and ultimately sterile environments; and the blind imperative to make more and more room for cars, at the expense of pedestrians, bus passengers, cyclists, and everybody breathing the air. The classic account of the pathologies of urban renewal is found in Jane Jacobs’ The Life and Death of Great American Cities (1961). In addition to writing that book, Jacobs played an important part in rallying New Yorkers to defend Manhattan against bulldozers and highway builders.
Which brings us back to Wood Green, today.
The plan in its early pages is filled with good observations about the problems and promises of Wood Green. There is too much traffic. Activity is too confined to a central corridor along the High Road, with inadequate and unattractive connections to the east and west of that road. It is not a nice environment for either pedestrians or bicyclists. The public spaces that exist are unpleasant because of the heavy traffic, and lack places to sit without paying. There is a shortage of green space. There is an oversupply of parking space, which can be put to better use. And so on. The planners who have written this have clearly taken a good look at Wood Green and its problems, and are also people who have absorbed the lessons that Jacobs and other critics brought to planning.
But when the rubber hits the road, the plan falls down absolutely, because it is unwilling (I expect what’s involved here is that the planners who wrote it did not have the remit) to face two basic problems: the need for more green space, and the need to reduce motor vehicle traffic. The plan proposes to pack a large number of additional residents, workers and retail customers into an already crowded space, but does nothing to provide additional green space and would actually increase levels of motor vehicle traffic. I don’t particularly like Wood Green as it is now, and I believe that Wood Green and London can benefit from higher-density development in places like Wood Green, but as I contemplate these limitations to the plan, and the Wood Green it would create, I feel physically sick. Sorry, TMI.
In discussing the results of previous consultations, the plan notes (p. 8) that “People would also like to see a reduction in traffic, cleaner streets and developments designed to encourage an active lifestyle would improve health. Accessible and inclusive design for the elderly and disabled was considered important.” Unfortunately, the plan won’t provide any of that.
The plan identifies heavy motor traffic as a problem, but makes the assumption that nothing can, or will, be done about it. On p. 50 we read “It is unlikely that the number of journeys passing through the area will change in the near future.” That’s traffic passing through. Such traffic reduces buses on Green Lanes, through Wood Green and south through Harringay Green Lanes, west up Turnpike Lane, and southeast down West Green Road, to a crawl.
But that’s just “traffic passing through” – Wood Green’s apparent obligation to serve as a rat run. Traffic generated by Wood Green – vehicle trips originating or terminating there –is another problem, which the plan seems to make worse. Increased trips are not quantified in the plan (we are promised a separate plan for that), but with thousands of additional homes anticipated, with the usual assumptions made by developers and by the Haringey Council there will more be cars. That is not strictly necessary, of course: a large share of the households in the area today do not have cars, the public transport connections of the area are excellent (but for the buses moving slowly in traffic), and there is a wide range of retail and public services available within walking distance. The plan anticipates more residents, more services, more employment, packed into the same area, and further enhancements to public transport (first an upgrade of the Picadilly Line, then Crossrail 2) are anticipated, so the practicality of living there without a car would be enhanced, and there would be plenty of demand for the housing even if parking were kept minimal and unbundled from the purchase of housing units (unbundled meaning you don’t buy a house and rights to a parking space together – if you want a space, you pay separately for that). But, given the overall deference of this plan to the automobile and its silence on this point, it seems to assume even more cars and more traffic will squeeze into Wood Green, which frankly sounds like Hell.
The plan notes (p. 53) an “an area of open space deficiency, as set out in the Council’s Open Space and Biodiversity Study”. Threaded through the plan are hints that the Moselle River, which runs in a culvert under the Wood Green shopping mall and parking structures in the middle of that area of deficiency, might make a nice feature if de-culverted and brought back to life. But, unlike the numerous concrete proposals for roads and housing developments, these are just hints, and reading the plan doesn’t leave us with much hope that anybody actually intends to do this.
The plan anticipates improved access to Alexandra Park (there’s a pedestrian and cycle path under the railway at Coburg Road), but also building houses on the surplus filter beds of the water treatment plant there. Given the clear deficit of green space and biodiversity in the plan area, and the Groudwater Source Protection Zone status of the filter beds, it would surely be better to make those filter beds part into a wetland / nature reserve, like the small one already found a bit further north in the park.
The plan does make repeated references to the value of Ducketts Common, at Turnpike Lane, and Wood Green Common, between the Wood Green tube and the Alexandra Palace rail station. There are only two problems. One is that these two green spaces, nice as they are, are paltry even for the current population of the area. More green space is needed (e.g., a deculverted Moselle, and filter-beds-to-wetland, as above).
The other problem with those two commons is, again, traffic. The plan says, of Ducketts Common, that it needs “Improved access and frontages… from Turnpike Lane and Green Lanes…. These frontages should create a high quality environment for both visitors to the park, and passers-by, including users of Turnpike Lane station/ bus stops/station.” Now the need for improved frontages on Green Lanes and Turnpike Lane is transparently obvious, but in light of the plan’s total acquiescence to increased road traffic, promising such improvement is, to be as polite and generous as I can be, utterly devoid of meaning. Because, as anybody who uses or even looks at it knows, the biggest problem for Duckett’s Common (as for Wood Green Common) is that it is surrounded by the noise and fumes of heavy motor traffic, and the plan as it stands will only aggravate that.
The plan also says that improvements to Ducketts Common frontages will lead to “improving enhancement of the pedestrian and cycling route between Turnpike Lane and Hornsey rail station”. Two points here, pedestrians first, then cyclists. These are small points, but illustrative of the way the plan’s great aspirations for an improved pedestrian and cycling environment, and for enhanced (if not increased) green space, fall foul of its kowtowing to the automobile.
The pedestrian route east from Hornsey station follows Hampden Road, goes straight across Ducketts Common and then, at Green Lanes, meets a barrier – a pedestrian fence, aka “guard rail”. For anybody walking from Honsey station and continuing to either the southbound bus stop opposite, or down West Green Road, the desire line goes straight ahead, as the actual route surely did in days of yore, across Green Lanes and through the little triangle of Green Gate Common on the other side. Green Gate Common must once have been a delightful park if but is now in the middle of a traffic gyratory (Alfoxton Avenue has nice houses which face on Green Gate Common, but people who breathe are advised not to live there). And the pedestrian desire line now runs smack into that little fence, because the traffic on Green Lanes is too heavy to allow uncontrolled crossing and too precious to be interrupted by a zebra: our pedestrian must divert some metres to the north; wait to cross at the traffic signal at the junction with West Green Road, often waiting on the “safety island” for a second light; and then double back to the bus stop (if going to the bus), or walk on the pavement along West Green Road rather than through Green Gate Common (if heading that direction). This is just one of thousands of examples of what traffic does to our use of green spaces in the city; it is the main problem with the pedestrian route to the Hornsey rail station. It won’t be solved without reducing traffic, so the planners really shouldn’t pretend.
As for cycle access: first off, good cycle access to Hornsey rail station from the Duckett’s Common / Turnpike Lane underground direction is easy to provide, but it is far down on anybody’s priority list for the cycling network because it’s an effective dead end – the stairs to the bridge crossing the tracks there are so high that the only people going there on bikes will be catching the train and wanting to leave the bikes at the bottom of the stairs. It’s already easy to ride there from Ducketts Common: secure cycle parking would be nice, but that’s beyond the remit of this plan.
Anybody who has ever ridden, or contemplated riding, a bike from Wood Green to Hornsey will know that the big problem with cycle access, given the impracticality of crossing at the rail station, is that Turnpike Lane from the junction with Wightman Road / Hornsey Park Road, on under the railway, is a nightmare. It is also ugly and uninviting for pedestrians, and makes the housing estate nestled between the railway, Turnpike Lane and Wightman Road look a bit like JG Ballard’s Concrete Island, but with fouler air. The plan will make all of this worse by funnelling more traffic through the west side of Wood Green, down Hornsey Park Road into all the other arms of that junction, so for all its fine words about pedestrians and cycles the plan promises a great setback to circulation between Hornsey and Wood Green by foot or bicycle – or for that matter, by bus – and also worsens an already grim pedestrian and cycle access down Wightman Road to the Hornsey station.
Change a few names, and the same story can be told about other places within the plan area. Wood Green Common, slated for more traffic. A new east-west road in central Wood Green – why a road there, for God’s sake? Public spaces screened from the High Road are needed because… traffic. Heavy traffic is just taken as given, something we must accommodate and adapt to.
We don’t need to accept this dystopia. We can say that if we are going to make a dense area with good public transport links even more dense with even more public transport, it can and should come with a big reduction in private motor vehicle traffic, and an increase in green space. There should be no private motor vehicles on Green Lanes between Wood Green and Turnpike Lane (let the buses move and leave some space for pedestrians). Traffic along Hornsey Park Road and other N-S routes should be filtered, to eliminate through traffic. Traffic to the south of the area (Wightman Road, Green Lanes, West Green Road) should be heavily managed, to allow local access for homes and businesses, but not through traffic. With improved bus service and an enhanced pedestrian / cycling environment, experience from other cities (and other parts of London) tells us that a great deal of that motor traffic will not be diverted to other roads, but will simply evaporate, to the benefit of us all.
This is not actually a lot to ask. Nor are enforceable guarantees for current residents that they will receive appropriate resettlement. The Wood Green plans anticipate a huge increase in both the quantity and the value of property within the plan area. This produces capital gains for the Council (if they don’t let themselves get robbed by developers). The Council might seek to maximize the financial gain, effectively using its property portfolio to generate cash for short-term needs (then the cash is gone… but that’s another day, and another set of elected officials). Or it can try to build a city centre in Wood Green that actually works for people there. The second course of action might be less profitable in the short term, but it would create a better future – in financial terms, a better new asset for the borough and its people.