BY MATTIE BRIGNAL
Residents and developers are set for a showdown as controversial plans to demolish a major transport hub face scrutiny.
A four-day public inquiry starting on December 16 will decide on the proposal to flatten Vauxhall bus station and replace it with high-rise flats.
It will be chaired by a government inspector who will report to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
The Housing Minister, Robert Jenrick, will make the final decision based on the inspector’s findings.
The inquiry has delayed by at least six months plans by Transport for London (TfL) to demolish the 14-year-old bus station, yards from Vauxhall Bridge, and allow Zaha Hadid Architects and owners VCI to build two tower blocks on the site – one 53 floors high and one 42 floors.
A new bus station would be constructed on the ground floor and a public space created between the towers and Vauxhall railway station.
The £600million complex is expected to net developers £47million, according to their own study.
But campaigners are furious TfL has not carried out an environmental impact assessment, even though residential roads and three primary schools will be affected.
In March, residents Helen Irwin and Pauline Gaunt wrote to the then Housing Minister, James Brokenshire, on behalf of the Vauxhall Society, local residents and the Save Vauxhall Bus Station pressure group.
They said: “This is unforgivable in one of London’s most notorious pollution black spots.
“These schemes are inextricably interdependent, but TfL has manipulated the planning rules to isolate the elements of the plans, so preventing any consideration of its overall effect on transport or the needs and health of the population.
“Information has not been made available to those it affects. The massive land swap deal to hand over half of the bus station to developers has been completed behind closed doors and without public discussion.
“It is not necessary to waste £50million of precious taxpayers’ money on this project.
“TfL has rejected, without modelling it, a well-researched scheme by traffic experts and local residents for a less polluted and more efficient two-way scheme, which would not require demolition.
“This is a prime example of how the process can be manipulated to fail the people it is set up to protect.
Local campaigners have also questioned whether the plans will bring the public benefits that developers claim.
A spokesman for the community group Kennington, Oval and Vauxhall Forum, Michael Keane, said: “Over one third of the planning application is public land (£54million worth) and a large part of that is being deployed to benefit a private development.
It is being presented as a land swap but the land is far from equal in terms of value. Not a single penny of that difference is being acknowledged. A straight land swap avoids close scrutiny if any public land is sold.”
Pauline Gaunt said: “We still hope that the Mayor might be persuaded to look again at the Vauxhall Cross plans in the light of current circumstances and huge changes since their inception.
“We hope that the inspector will investigate in full whether the plans do what it says on the tin – provide a vibrant, safe, accessible town centre with no increase in traffic or pollution problems.”
The project is being managed by Great Marlborough Estates (GME), which said its plans would provide “improved pedestrian environment and experience, helping to create a safer and more legible streetscape, accommodating the increasing pedestrian activity between Vauxhall station and Nine Elms.”
“The design responds to Lambeth council’s aspirations for a district centre for Vauxhall by creating a vibrant new public square adjacent to the busy rail, underground and bus interchange.
A TfL spokesman said: “We are working closely with Lambeth council to reintroduce the safer two-way road system in place of the one-way system at Vauxhall, which was supported in public consultation.
The current bus station was created for the one-way road system so needs to be completely redesigned to allow buses to operate.”