In March, Transport for London announced that it was seeking a property partner to form a joint venture to develop restoration and development proposals for South Kensington station and adjacent vacant land.

The two strands of the project will see future commercial developments that will provide revenue to reinvest in providing step-free access to the station. It will also support improvements to commercial and retail units that will restore and enhance the heritage of this iconic destination.

South Kensington station will be familiar to readers as the station for the Science Museum, Imperial College, the Natural History Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the objectives of the project reflect the high profile of the station.

Transport for London intends this to be an exemplar of development-funded improvements that preserve and enhance the historic architecture of the station and also provide a good quality and respectful scale of surrounding development. Importantly, a key requirement has been that the design and appearance receives a broad consensus of local community support.

These objectives have and will continue to guide the character of the works at and around the station.

A historic station

South Kensington is one of the oldest stations on the London Underground network. It opened in 1868 as the terminus of both the Metropolitan and the Metropolitan District Railways. It was substantially rebuilt in 1871 and widened to the south to allow the two rival companies to run their own trains on their own dedicated tracks and platforms. A reversing track in the central passenger platform was included and the tracks were covered by a double-arch glazed roof.

The 433-metre-long pedestrian subway was built from the station to the museums in 1885. In 1907, the construction of the electric Piccadilly line prompted the electrification of the existing District line and a modernisation of the station.

The Metropolitan District Railway’s architect, George Sherrin, designed a new Art Deco entrance to the District line station that included a shopping arcade, a new ticket hall space and new canopies over the platforms. The architect for the Piccadilly line, Leslie Green, provided a new ticket hall building with access to the deep-level platforms via stairs and lifts. The building deliberately did not follow the architecture of the rest of the station but instead featured an oxblood red, glazed terracotta façade.

After this early growth and improvement, later years saw a reduction in platform capacity. In 1966, the reversing track separating the central platforms was decommissioned and filled in to create the wide island platform in use today. The two outside platforms were closed and the tracks and passenger access were removed. In 1970, escalators were installed from the ticket hall to the Piccadilly line and the lifts were decommissioned. In 1987, the ticket hall was extended to the current configuration.

The original parade of shops and residential premises along the northern side of Pelham Street were demolished in the early 1970s, when piles were sunk for a mothballed hotel development. Since then, this side of Pelham Street has been left abandoned behind a wall and hoardings.

Today South Kensington station receives 34 million District, Circle and Piccadilly line customers each year and is often congested with the high demand from the local community, tourists and school groups accessing the nearby museums and other cultural centres.

The future station

Transport for London plans to improve the commercial and retail units of the station and refurbish the four-storey buildings at 20-34 Thurloe Street, with the potential to place a single storey on the distinctive Bullnose building and create new opportunities along Pelham Street. The main station entrance through the Grade II listed shopping arcade and a second entrance, via a Grade II listed pedestrian subway, will be restored to their original state.

The Listed Building Consent application for station capacity improvements will be submitted this summer and a preferred partner for the development works will be selected by December. The development works themselves are expected to take place during 2019-22.

The development-funded works to improve the station will provide step-free access to the District and Circle lines via a new station entrance on Thurloe Street. The scheme will also deliver step-free access to the pedestrian subway leading to the museums of Exhibition Road. A new dedicated platform will be provided for eastbound District and Circle line services and the ticket hall will be enlarged, reconfigured and updated. These station capacity upgrade works will be carried out and the Piccadilly line escalators replaced during 2017-18.

Separately, Transport for London is continuing with the third strand of works at the station, to progress plans to rebuild a disused platform for eastbound District and Circle line services. The ticket hall and gate line will be expanded and a new emergency exit to the road bridge leading onto Thurloe Square will be opened. Subject to planning permission, works could start on this part of the project early next year.

Public consultation

This project has a high profile locally and one of its objectives is achieving a broad consensus of support from the local community. As a result, Transport for London has undertaken a series of wide-ranging consultations over the last 18 months with local residents and groups. This has ensured that the design brief to be issued to potential developers has local support and meets local needs as well as those of rail users.

Resulting from public inputs to this consultation, the commercial parts of the development, especially the Pelham and Thurloe Street buildings, have been reduced in bulk and modified in appearance compared to the original conceptual design.

Following consultation, prospective long-term partners will work from this, the final iteration of South Kensington station and the proposed new developments.]

Graeme Craig, director of commercial development director at Transport for London, stated; “We want to find a long-term partner with whom we can work to create a station that reflects its historic legacy and unique setting, whilst generating vital revenue to reinvest in transport and provide step-free access for millions of journeys.”

The next few years will be interesting ones at South Kensington and Rail Engineer will be following and reporting on the project as it develops.


This article was written by Bob Wright.


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