Residents and businesses in Fitzrovia will have to endure two years of disruption as work is due to kick off this week to transform the Gower Street and Tottenham Court Road one-way system in what Camden Council describes as a “ground breaking project”.
All bus services will move to Tottenham Court Road making the street two-way by the end of the year, and Gower Street will become two-way 12 months later, says Camden.
Known as the West End Project it will create a much needed new public park at Alfred Place and promises improvements to Whitfield Gardens including the restoration of the Fitzrovia Mural.
New paving and road surface will be laid using high quality material and the historic lamp posts on Tottenham Court Road will be restored and relocated. On Gower Street there will be protected cycle lanes running north and south giving cyclists safe and direct access into and out of the West End.
But Camden is hugely behind schedule with the project and it is desperate to get the Tottenham Court Road part completed and within budget before Crossrail trains start running along the Elizabeth Line at the end of this year.
Community groups are concerned that Camden is prioritising commercial interests along Tottenham Court Road over neighbouring streets with residents and small businesses.
The Charlotte Street Association and Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association say that the banning of most motor vehicles from much of Tottenham Court Road during the daytime will merely divert traffic — particularly taxis, private vehicles and delivery vans — into the narrow side streets. They are also fear that public open spaces will be redesigned as low-maintenance with a reduction in greenery and featuring hard areas and seating to reduce ongoing costs, and designing out crime. But this will also mean less biodiversity and comfort.
A predicted increase in motor traffic along Torrington Place due to the West End Project has been addressed already by Camden by stopping west bound vehicles travelling along Tavistock Place. However CSA and FNA remain concerned about an increase in congestion and pollution along Grafton Way, Charlotte Street and other streets.
While there will not be any toilets on the Elizabeth line trains TfL have said that Tottenham Court Road station will have an accessible toilet available when it opens in December 2018.
“Overall, 34 of the 41 Elizabeth line stations will have toilet facilities. Where toilet facilities exist within stations, at least one will be fully accessible. All existing surface stations will provide a public toilet facility,” says TfL.
Out of the £35m that Camden Council is using for the scheme there are no plans for public conveniences to relieve cross-legged visitors.
Camden did initially work with local people on a design for the proposed park at Alfred Place but this initiative was cut short. Community groups will be pressing the council to consult and work with them in the hope of a high quality and interesting design for the new open space.
The two year scheme will be the largest project of its kind that Camden has undertaken and many residents are concerned that it could make matters worse not better.
But Adam Harrison, Bloomsbury ward councillor and cabinet member for improving Camden’s environment, is upbeat and hoping to still have his job after May’s election.
“2018 will be one of the most important years in the history of Tottenham Court Road and Gower Street. I am very excited that the fruits of many years’ preparation will soon be seen.
“This part of the West End deserves the ambition that Camden and Transport for London are showing for it. With the opening of the new Elizabeth Line station, the West End Project will create new public spaces for residents, local workers and visitors, making the area safer, greener and good for business.
“This includes the first new park in many years, at Alfred Place — which is currently a road. We will finally be able to sweep away nasty street clutter like old railings and the many redundant phone boxes which cause such a blight. And the restoration of the Bloomsbury Rangers war memorial and the Fitzrovia Mural — which together attest to the history and diversity of the area — will also be brought forward,” he says.
The project extends to the area around Tottenham Court Road, Gower Street, Bloomsbury
Street, and south of New Oxford Street to include Princes Circus and St Giles.
Camden Council has appointed Eurovia as its main contractor and they will have a compound for their welfare facilities on Alfred Place. There will also be an office where the public will be able to meet a representative face to face, says Camden.
Editorial note: This article was amended on Thursday 8 March 2018 to correct previously incorrect information. Fitzrovia News originally stated there will be no toilets at Tottenham Court Road station. This was incorrect. TfL have confirmed that there will be toilets at Tottenham Court Road station for all passengers.