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House of Commons Hansard
Vauxhall Bus Station
06 January 2016
Volume 604

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Julian Smith.)

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I am pleased to have this opportunity to bring to the attention of the House and the Minister the anger that is felt by my constituents, and by many other people in a much wider area, about the plans of Transport for London and Lambeth Council to demolish Vauxhall bus station. It is also an opportunity for me to express publicly our concern about the series of misleading statements about the matter that are currently on the TfL website, and, indeed, to raise widely the view of, I believe, thousands of people that TfL consultations are clever exercises which do not give the public an opportunity to answer the real question, but are designed to give the answer that is wanted by TfL.

In London, 2014 was celebrated as a year of the bus, but now, in 2016, there seems to have been a cultural change in both City Hall and TfL from championing bus passengers to scrapping bus lanes. We are seeing more and more buses being forced into general traffic lanes, slower journey times, frequencies being cut, and, now, the incredible decision to demolish Vauxhall bus station.

Just 15 years ago, Arup Associates won a public competition to build a new bus station within the gyratory. The commissioning statement from TfL said that the purpose was

“to create a coherent and efficient interchange for bus, rail and Underground users…to promote the use of public transport”

and to be

“a landmark structure to enhance the local environment and amenity.”

Less than 12 years ago, the bus station was completed at a cost of £4.5 million, and was opened by Ken Livingstone. It was immediately hailed by architects and public transport users as inspired. Jonathan Glancey, The Guardian’s architectural correspondent, said that it was “a trumpet blast”, but that what made it

“so special is the fact that it is localised… the Vauxhall bus station does show what can be done as public transport in London is taken increasingly seriously… it points to a new ambition, however crudely expressed by politicians, to make London’s public transport system among the finest in the world.”

That was 12 years ago.

By the way, the ski-slope roof is not just a gesture. It is studded with photovoltaic cells which, angled towards the sun, help to generate electricity for the station’s lighting.

At the time, those who had used the previous dreadful facilities expressed their delight. Peter Hendy, then in charge of TfL, said then that

“The Vauxhall Cross interchange has been an ambitious project for TfL. For passengers at Vauxhall Cross, changing between bus, rail and Tube had been difficult for a long time.”

The view was that following the changes the interchange would

“provide easier access to, and transfer between, bus, Tube and rail services”.

I want to mention some key facts. Vauxhall is the second busiest interchange in London, after Victoria.

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I have a home just the other side of Vauxhall bus station from Westminster. Twelve years ago, when it was being built, there was a big hole in the road, and people who lived at the other end of Wandsworth road were unable to escape south London. If TfL is to knock the bus station down, I fear that again people across south-west and southern London will be cut off from the centre of London for months.

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I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention. That is another important reason why the whole scheme is so ridiculous.

Vauxhall is the second busiest interchange in London, after Victoria. It is used by 2,000 buses per day. Nearly one in four of London’s buses use the station. It serves 14 bus routes, 11 of which are daytime routes. Three routes offer a 24-hour service. The three night routes are used frequently by many of the LGBT community who visit the clubs in that area. Every day, 712 Victoria line tube trains and 739 mainline trains go through Vauxhall. It really is a hub. Forty-five thousand commuters go through it each day. The largest group by far are bus users, who include the most vulnerable—the old, disabled people, parents with young children—all of whom make disproportionate use of buses because of the ease of access and frequent stops. Many change from bus to bus at Vauxhall. Others change from the tube or the train. Getting the bus interchange right is crucial to keeping traffic moving across a wide area of central and south London.

So where does the proposal to demolish the bus station come from? It did not originate from TfL. It was first made public in Lambeth Council’s draft supplementary planning document way back in 2012. That talked about looking at replacing the bus station with

“a series of relocated bus stops.”

In November 2013, in the local plan, the council stated that it wanted to work

“towards the removal of the gyratory. At the outset this will involve remodelling the bus station so that the canopy is removed and bus stops and stands are relocated to allow for the introduction of the high street”.

That intention was repeated in presentations time after time. In 2014, there were initial consultations. Now, finally, TfL is consulting on a scheme that looks at getting rid of the gyratory. However, it claims that to do that the bus station must be removed. Artists’ impressions, but no detailed designs, of the plans for the bus station show a series of bus stops around two or more high-density, multi-storey commercial developments.

Interestingly, the Secretary of State’s inspector, reporting on the Lambeth local plan submission in 2015, concluded that it should be reworded so that it stated that removal of the gyratory “may” be necessary, not “will” be necessary. Although we understand that Lambeth has accepted the inspector’s changes, that has not been published on the website. Lambeth is obviously trying to disregard that change of emphasis.

A majority of people, including local residents, agree that replacing the one-way roads—the gyratory—at Vauxhall is desirable. But that does not mean they want the bus station to go. They have never been asked whether they want it to go. A local community group, Our Vauxhall, which includes local architects and traffic engineers as well as residents, has produced an ambitious plan for the area which goes much further than the one put forward by Lambeth and TfL. Its plan has been enthusiastically backed by local residents, including at well-attended public meetings that heard repeated demands to keep the bus station.

TfL obviously wants to rubbish Our Vauxhall’s plan. TfL put all sorts of wrong things on the website about it. It has tried to pretend that it has modelled the scheme. We know it has not. It has stated that it would not work, without giving any reasons. It has just done what it assumes it can get away with—that is, say what it wants to say and people will have to go along with it.

On 19 December, TfL published a statement about the scheme claiming to have done a comprehensive review. That contained some blatantly false and misleading statements that are now subject to a formal complaint. We have raised the matter with the Transport Commissioner and Leon Daniels. I am confident that in a straight competition Our Vauxhall’s plans would outperform TfL’s on a range of measures, including overall road safety and total distance travelled. They would also be much cheaper and quicker to implement and would avoid some of the issues that my right hon. Friend raised.

So what does TfL or Lambeth get out of abolishing the bus station? The proposal seems to be linked to the huge developments at Nine Elms and plans for the Northern line extension to Battersea and Nine Elms. Lambeth used the opportunity of the Northern line extension to negotiate a deal with TfL which culminated in an agreement about Vauxhall’s redevelopment in November 2013. Lots of discussions have been going on about that.

TfL is a landowner in the area. The consultation does not include any new commercial development over and above what is needed to support the transport interchange. If any further development is proposed in the future, it would be subject to planning permission. That is what TfL says. Londoners, including local residents, are being asked to accept a pig in a poke—“Agree to the plans to demolish the bus station and then we’ll show you what our plans involve.” TfL wants to get rid of this fine facility just to free up the land for some unspecified private development.

What do bus passengers get out of Transport for London’s plan? What is being proposed is not a new bus station. That is perhaps the most shocking part of the whole exercise. There will be bus stops on pavements in four separate locations. Half the buses will stop at the side of heavily used main roads—Wandsworth Road and Kennington Lane. There is to be a huge high-rise development between some of those stops and the others near Bondway. Changing buses will be less straightforward, especially for those with mobility problems. There will be less space to wait in. Passengers will be waiting on crowded roadside pavements which will be less safe, more polluted and with less shelter, even in the planned new central area. The present canopy is very good because it extends over the roadside as well as the waiting area, so passengers do not get wet as they get on to the bus.

There is a feeling of safety in that station. Yes, we could make it greener and make other improvements, but it certainly does not need to be knocked down. The most important aspect is that Lambeth and TfL have not played fair in their consultation. At no stage has the option of retaining the bus station in its current form been put to residents or anyone else. Indeed, in January 2014 a motion to include an option to retain the status quo was explicitly rejected in an amendment moved by the leader of the council.

The community’s solution for Vauxhall shows that it is possible to retain the existing bus station structure by modifying certain entrances and exits and to get rid of the gyratory system. If the current plans for Vauxhall go ahead, the Minister must know that the second busiest bus station in London will be turned into a building site for several years, with a reduction in bus services and unacceptable disruption for all passengers. The consultation period on the plans began in December and is due to end on 17 January. We have repeatedly asked for that to be extended because it covered the Christmas holiday period and was deliberately set up to confuse people. Arranging meetings was very difficult. There is some sharp practice here, I believe.

On the maps that have been produced, interestingly, all the symbols denoting the bus stops have been placed as far apart as possible on the maps of the existing area, and as close together as possible on the proposed plan. The maps do not show accurately what will be there and how bad it will be. TfL has sent out emails to those on its Oyster card database, but that database does not include freedom pass holders, pensioners and the elderly, who we know are heavy users of the station.

At the recent public meeting people were very angry with TfL because they felt they were being—I know that I cannot use the expression “lied to”, but whatever the equivalent parliamentary term is, they felt that.

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Order. The hon. Lady is perfectly entitled to accuse people outside the House of lying. She cannot accuse someone in the House of lying. So she was in order, even if she did not know she was.

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Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am very pleased to say that and I will do so because people felt that very strongly.

TfL said that it was trying to get the consultation on the plans “out of the way” by March—that means before the mayoral elections, as public bodies will enter a period of purdah in March. It has refused to extend the deadline and there has been no wider consultation in the area of Waterloo, Westminster or Southwark. Today the first meeting was held in Wandsworth in the Clapham library near Clapham Junction, and I understand that one person turned up in the first half hour.

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Does my hon. Friend acknowledge that the current bus station is a splendid example of what is rarely achieved in urban planning—an integrated transport system where the buses are above the trains? It is also a fine iconic building.

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My hon. Friend is right. How can everybody’s attitude to it have changed so much in a short space of time, especially now it has been used?

I could quote all sorts of users who say how good it is, how much better than in the past, and how angry they are. For example, there are the users who go to St Thomas’ hospital. People from right across south London attending appointments there tend to use it, because south London does not have the network of tubes that other parts of London have. At present they can do that straightforwardly, all on one level and under cover. We should try to imagine what it must be like having to cross roads and pass through a multi-storey block to change buses, with a sick child in a buggy or while on crutches. All these things have genuinely not been looked at. I believe that TfL is letting down bus users, including by reducing the area available.

The bus station is on the border of Wandsworth, Westminster and Lambeth. A lot of children change buses there in the morning to go to school, and their situation has not been looked at. No one has been properly consulted. From our experience so far with the plans and the way the gyratory has been looked at, we genuinely do not think that TfL can be trusted to do the best, because it is not doing this for the right reasons.

I ask the Minister to intervene right away with his colleagues in City Hall, the current Mayor of London and TfL to halt what I call a sham consultation. It is something that will affect transport users across London, and indeed outside London, which is why it is not just a local London issue. This should not be railroaded through.

It is going to fall to the next Mayor to implement whatever is decided, and I think the next Mayor and the mayoral candidates should have a part to play in reviewing what TfL is planning. We want them to be involved in this even leading up to the mayoral elections.

The consultation should be started properly, and it should start with one simple question: “Do you want to retain the bus station?” That has never been asked. No one has had a chance to answer that. This has all been smoke and mirrors.

The bus station should not be demolished, even if this is gone ahead with, before there are the new owners of the island site, which has been put up for sale again, and before TfL has published its plans of what it wants to do with it. This is irresponsible; this uncertainty should not be allowed.

There is absolutely no certainty, and no reason has been given as to why the bus station has to be demolished, other than we know somewhere there is money involved and there is obviously interest in land and development and future plans. Well, the people of Vauxhall and the general area, including Wandsworth, are sick, sore and tired of developers coming in and making huge developments which end up doing very little for people who cannot afford those properties and are on a long waiting list. It would be an irresponsible waste of public money to knock down something that works.

Will the Minister get the Minister for London—who obviously is not in his place so he cannot respond tonight—to come and visit in the next two weeks, before 17 January? I want him to get the period extended, and then to visit and meet the people who have done so much work on a voluntary basis to get this campaign out there in the country.

This is being pushed through by smoke and mirrors. All the people who use the station—from outside London and all over London—will be horrified when they discover what is being suggested. I am suggesting the Minister should get involved now—should come along and talk to people and learn what an irresponsible waste of public money this would be. The bus station is entirely functional, and appreciated by its users from all over London, and especially by the residents of Vauxhall who remember the time before it was built.

I want to end by saying that I wrote to Leon Daniels, managing director of Surface Transport, in November—I have been involved with him many times over different things—and said:

“When is someone like you going to stand up for bus users?”

He wrote back:

“I am! I have called a halt to new schemes which materially disadvantage bus passengers. Poorer reliability and slower journey times are affecting bus passengers negatively as is worsened interchange when stops are moved to less convenient places. I am now sending back such proposals with a clear message that permanent material worsening is not acceptable.”

That was what Leon Daniels said on 6 November 2015, yet TfL has not stopped the consultation and sent it back. Mike Brown, the new head of TfL, should take a lesson from the now much missed Peter Hendy, who was involved when the bus station was built and said things that were proved right about how important it was.

Thank you for the opportunity to raise this issue, Mr Speaker. I hope that the Minister will take it seriously, because it is not just a little local issue. It concerns Londoners, and it will concern more than just Londoners when it gets out into the public domain. We need proper, genuine consultation. We can have changes and get rid of the gyratory, but we have to keep the bus station. The Minister must not allow us to go back to the situation before it was built.

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I congratulate the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) on securing this debate about the effect on London and its transport network of the proposed demolition of Vauxhall bus station. It follows a slightly more convivial debate that we had on the same subject last night in a different location in the building.

This debate is particularly timely, because Transport for London’s consultation on its proposals is open for another 10 days or so. If anyone has been misled during the process, I am sure the hon. Lady has clarified matters. I will ensure that a transcript of her comments and of the whole debate is sent to those she mentioned.

Transport is London’s lifeblood, and London’s transport is critical to the rest of the UK. We know that London contributes about 20% of the UK’s GDP, and that its population is set to grow to 9 million by 2020 and 10 million by 2030. We all understand the need for continued investment in transport infrastructure to allow London and the rest of the UK to continue to prosper. I do not need to tell hon. Members that transport in London is much improved from just a few years ago. We have better bus services, Boris bikes and transformational tube modernisation.

I turn now to London buses in particular. There are at least 6.5 million journeys a day on the London bus network, compared with 4 million on the tube. That amounts to 2.4 billion journeys a year on the London bus network, which is more than half of all bus journeys made in England. I am proud that some of the buses are manufactured in Scarborough in my constituency, and some Members in the Chamber will know that a number are manufactured in Ulster. I will not comment on which might be the better buses.

Vauxhall bus station is owned and maintained by Transport for London and is, as the hon. Member for Vauxhall said, the second busiest in London after Victoria. As she will be aware, in 2013 her comrades on Lambeth Council and TfL announced plans to demolish the bus station to build a new high street as part of Vauxhall’s regeneration plans. Those plans include redesigning the transport interchange, including a new central bus station. TfL’s plans also include providing more cycle and pedestrian crossings, providing segregated lanes and parking for cyclists, and improving existing public spaces and providing new ones. As a cyclist myself, when I was down there last week I had a look at how difficult the area currently is for cyclists, despite the fact that we have a new cycle superhighway into the area.

TfL ran an initial consultation on its proposals in 2014 and is currently running a further public consultation on detailed design proposals. It received more than 2,000 responses to the initial consultation, with the majority supporting the proposals.

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Will the Minister give way on that point?

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By all means. I thought the hon. Lady might want to intervene.

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The Minister must understand that in that consultation no one was asked whether they wanted to see the bus station removed.

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I am aware that that is the hon. Lady’s view. I have not looked at the consultation in detail, but I hope that her making these points will help her constituents respond in the time available. I encourage them to take part in TfL’s consultation and express their views before it closes on 17 January. I understand that TfL has hosted several drop-in sessions to discuss the consultation with local parties in detail—there is one tomorrow night. I encourage her constituents to attend those sessions.

The proposed changes to the bus station are an integral part of TfL’s wider plans to transform the wider Vauxhall Cross area. In turn, that is part of TfL’s £4 billion road modernisation programme, which is the biggest investment in London’s roads for a generation and which, among other things, aims to make London more cycle-friendly. The road modernisation programme consists of hundreds of projects to transform junctions, bridges, tunnels and pedestrian areas. The Government’s financial support to TfL has helped to enable it to deliver that programme, the tube modernisation programme and all other investment in London’s transport infrastructure.

For many years, Vauxhall Cross has been heavily dominated by motor vehicles. The gyratory system can be difficult to navigate and the area is very unwelcoming to pedestrians. The existing pedestrian crossings do not always follow the most direct or popular routes, which can lead, as I have observed, to pedestrians crossing roads away from crossings. That leads to a large number of collisions involving injury to pedestrians and cyclists in London.

The overall aim of the proposals is to create a thriving, more pleasant and safer public space, with better facilities for pedestrians, cyclists and bus users alike. I should like to assure the hon. Lady that improving the area for bus users is a top priority for the Mayor and for Vauxhall’s town regeneration scheme. Redesigning the transport interchange will bring benefits for not only bus users but cyclists, pedestrians and vehicles.

A new bus station will benefit bus users in a number of ways. It would be fully integrated with the new pedestrianised square and two-way road system, and would have facilities including public toilets, seating, information displays and maps, and an information kiosk. All that would mean a safer and easier interchange at the centre of Vauxhall.

TfL will ensure that bus passengers are inconvenienced as little as possible. Temporary bus stop locations will be incorporated in the construction phasing plan and consideration will be given to the ease of interchange for users, minimising alterations. The stop locations and any changes to routes will be fully communicated to all bus passengers with clear signage on site.

The hon. Lady mentioned her concern that TfL’s proposals, particularly the removal of the distinctive ski-jump canopy, will mean that bus passengers have less shelter from the weather than they do today. I understand from TfL that its proposals include a new canopy in the main bus station, with a contemporary look and feel to it, that will provide shelter from the rain.

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I know the Minister has the TfL briefing, but if he knew as much about TfL as we do, he would not believe it. The briefing is wrong. The proposed canopy will not go over everywhere—it will be like little bus stop covers that he can find at any bus stop. The proposal is not for a bus station or interchange, but for a hotch-potch of bus stops put together.

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I hear what the hon. Lady says. There will also be canopies providing shelter between the different parts of the new bus station. I should like to assure her that the canopies have been designed to provide a better level of weather protection than the current canopy. As the current canopy is so high, when it is a windy day, the rain can blow under it. I have observed that when I have been in the area.

The design of the bus station may be iconic, but it is certainly not universally popular. I understand that it won a certificate of merit in the structural steel design awards in 2006 in recognition of its high standards of structural and architectural design, with the judges noting that

“the bus station elegantly gathers together all the elements of public transport within an overall umbrella surface which weaves its way overhead”.

In my view, however—a view that I think will be shared by the Prince of Wales—winning an architectural design award is not always a guarantee of long-term popularity for a structure. Although I would not go so far as to describe the current bus station as a “monstrous carbuncle”, I am prepared to say that I am not the biggest fan of the current design, but that is personal taste. Having seen artists’ impressions of the proposed bus station, I would argue that it is much more pleasing to the eye than the current one.

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is it in order for the Minister to call in aid members of the royal family? I understood that it was forbidden under our house rules.

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Ministers should certainly tread with great care in such territory. I think that the Minister was referring to a known public statement of the Prince of Wales, but I am sure that he was not seeking to invoke his support with reference to the future of the Vauxhall bus station. I am sure that he will disavow any such intention immediately.

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Absolutely, Mr Speaker. Indeed, if one hears the word “carbuncle”, there can be only one name that comes to mind.

It might be helpful to the hon. Member for Vauxhall if I explain what TfL plans to do following the consultation. TfL has told me that it will publish a report on the results and analysis of responses in spring 2016. It plans to start construction in 2018, and it is also its firm intention that a bus station will remain in some form throughout the entire construction period.

The spending review settlement shows that we recognise that London is a city on the move. The capital’s economy is moving emphatically in the right direction, and our support is helping to transform London’s transport network. I am proud to be part of that transformation, together with all our partners, including TfL, although I understand that the hon. Lady is not its biggest fan. The investment we are making for the next five years will not just keep London mobile but equip the city for the challenges of the future, to compete and win in the 21st century global economy.

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Will the Minister come and visit, with the Minister responsible for London, to meet the people who understand the issue much more than some of the experts at TfL?

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I will certainly extend the hon. Lady’s invitation to my noble friend Lord Ahmad, who covers this area in the Department. I am sure that he will consider it carefully.

TfL’s plans for Vauxhall bus station are an important part of its wider road modernisation programme and I strongly encourage all interested parties to let TfL have their views on the proposals before the consultation closes on 17 January.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.