Chris Lenon is Chairman of the No Crossrail in Chelsea campaign
It is the Royal Borough, a Conservative heartland and a gem in the heart of West London. But all is not well in Kensington and Chelsea.
A battle is being fought for the future of the King’s Road. And it is a fight that is rapidly eroding the Conservative brand, with lifelong Party supporters turning their backs on the local Tories in their thousands.
It’s all to do with Crossrail 2, on which Transport for London is consulting the public until early January.
The current proposal would see a new £1.2 billion mega-station built on the King’s Road. It would be the only new station on the line – and the only one without an interchange with other lines. It would force business rates up by 50 per cent according to PWC, forcing out the quirky and unique independent businesses that make Chelsea special.
240 listed buildings will be put at risk, the Brompton and Marsden Hospitals say the proposal will stop their vital expansion plans and – above all – it will waste a huge sum of public money in London’s richest village, on a station that local people do not need and do not want.
No Crossrail in Chelsea, the campaign which I chair and which has the support of 7,000 local residents and business owners, is not opposed to Crossrail 2. We think it is a fine project that will do wonders for London’s transport network.
But we just cannot fathom why more than £1 billion should be spent on us, residents in the richest part of London, who already have good access to two underground stations and five bus routes and who will be a mere stone’s throw from Victoria and Clapham Junction, the other proposed Crossrail 2 stations.
Interestingly, Transport for London recently provided a report to our MP, Greg Hands, which states that a direct route between Clapham Junction and Victoria is the best transport option, bringing overall public transport benefits, journey time savings for the majority and an increase in demand on Crossrail 2. Local people support this option – but our Council unfortunately does not.
Local people are asking why our Conservative Council is taking the stance that it is. Is this just a vanity project? Are they driven by the Community Infrastructure Levies they will receive from the major King’s Road development which will be required to help fund the station, and for which the Cadogan Estate has said “there is a significant potential”?
Given the financial pressures on local authorities and the attraction of business rates income, there is a real danger that local politics generally will see councillors and developers lined up against local residents and business ratepayers. London faces enormous development pressures, but we need to ensure that their resolution is not decided by disenfranchising local voters, who may then turn against their political “representatives”. Unfortunately, this is what is happening in Chelsea.
The Council is simply not listening to the people it claims to represent. It seems to want to destroy the charm of Chelsea. The Tory leadership are treating it as the Council’s Borough, not the Borough’s Council. This is doing untold harm to the Conservative brand, in a Conservative heartland.
The proposals have not drawn any other significant local support. The residents oppose, the businesses oppose, the historic Chelsea Society opposes, the hospitals oppose. Celebrities such as Felicity Kendal, Trevor Eve, Loyd Grossman, Sir Alan Parker, Mark Knopfler, Wilbur Smith, William Boyd, Cherie Lunghi, Nancy Dell’Olio and Nicky Haslam have all spoken out. Former WH Smith boss, Sir Malcolm Field, leading businessman, Sir Simon Robertson, and recruitment tycoon, Robert Walters, have joined the campaign – and the Council are increasingly isolated.
Conservative supporter Sol Campbell has said that scrapping plans for Crossrail in Chelsea would “save more than £1 billion in public money, the journey on Crossrail 2 would be even faster – and we would preserve the heritage and the charm of wonderful old Chelsea”. He’s right.
Even Chelsea’s visitors oppose – they come to Chelsea because it is like no other. They don’t want another cloned High Street.
In contrast to the Council, Greg Hands has been very constructive. While he supports Crossrail 2 coming to his constituency of Chelsea and Fulham, he acknowledges what he describes as “vociferous” local opposition in Chelsea. He has therefore been lobbying Boris Johnson and TfL to consider Imperial Wharf in Fulham as an alternative option.
The No Crossrail in Chelsea campaign does not take a view on this proposal, as it is not for us to comment on infrastructure proposals outside our village – but TfL have told Greg Hands that it is now actively being considered – and it is also said that local people will be receptive to much needed regeneration in that part of London.
Unfortunately, the result of the current Chelsea proposal has been a simple “council versus residents” bust up. Many traditionally Conservative-voting residents have been flocking to our campaign – and are now asking us to run candidates against the councillors who continue to support this extremely ill-conceived plan. That is not something we want to do. But it’s something we will have to do if plans for a Chelsea station aren’t ditched, because nobody else is representing the local people.
We can only hope that Conservatives at RBKC think again, listen to their electorate. and simply say, we do not want Crossrail in Chelsea.