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TfL could help fix London’s housing Crisis as well as our trains

By Andrew Adonis 

London Overground has been a phenomenal success since its launch in 2007. This week’s addition of the West Anglia services from Liverpool Street to Enfield Town, Cheshunt and Chingford is great news for passengers, as these commuter services too come under Transport for London control.

It is not only the train services on these lines that have been neglected by train operators for decades: most of the stations are also in a deplorable condition. Network Rail and the privatised train companies lack both the will and the capacity to modernise most of their estate. So a top priority for TfL is to improve stations as well as services.

But this isn’t just a question of investing in stations, as it plans to on the West Anglia lines. More than that, it means TfL reinventing itself as a public development company as well as a transport operator. Stations and associated land have huge development potential for housing, commercial and retail use.

TFL owns 5,700 acres of land — nine square miles, larger than the entire London borough of Camden, including more than 400 stations which it owns or manages. There are also 61 car parks and hundreds of other sites, many surplus or underused.

Until now redevelopment has been a low priority for TfL, in contrast to MTR, the Hong Kong transport operator, which has pioneered major property developments and earns as much from property as it does from transport. MTR is a partner with TfL in London Overground.

The TfL estate could generate tens of thousands of new homes, and new retail and commercial facilities, paying for station upgrades and helping to tackle London’s housing crisis at the same time. A first step is the sale of TfL’s former headquarters building at 55 Broadway, which will be converted into more than a hundred homes, a quarter at “affordable” prices.

Major TfL development schemes at Earl’s Court, South Kensington, North Greenwich, Harrow-on-the-Hill and Northwood are among those envisaged or under way, and there could be dozens more as TfL increases the size of its development team by six-fold and seeks to engage more than a dozen property partners. The aim is to generate £1.1 billion from property over the next 10 years, but this figure could be far higher. The TfL stake in Earl’s Court alone is worth nearly £500 million.

There should be a strong focus on the development of affordable housing. TfL is under the control of the Mayor. It should pioneer mixed communities — for its own sake and as an exemplar for the private sector.

It is now time for south London’s commuter lines to become part of London Overground, creating an integrated metro service for the city.

Transferring the land and property to TfL, as well as rail services, would give London an even bigger dividend, providing thousands more acres for development and transforming the hundreds of sub-standard, often semi-derelict stations across south London.

Tackling Tube and rail congestion, and building more homes, can and should be tackled together by making TTL a major development agency and extending its reach across London’s neglected Network Rail estate. This is a bold vision: now it needs to happen.

Andrew Adonis is a former Transport Secretary and member of  the house of Lords, chancellor George Osborne recently announced at the conservative conference Lord Adonis appointment to 
 independent national infrastructure commission , to get Britain building again

Further Reading 

Zac Goldsmith: housing crisis number one priority in London – videos
Labour conference: Sadiq Khan >"I'm going to make the election a referendum on London's housing crisis"

Taylor Wimpey CEO Peter Redfern will lead Labour Housing Redfern Review