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King's Cross Railway Lands Group (KXRLG): brief history

[ For a full historical Time Line about King's Cross, maps and pictures, click here ]

(adapted from an article that appeared in Network 38, 2002)

Rumours start to circulate in 1987. Kings Cross Railway Lands could be the focus for a new Docklands-style development. No one knows for sure. But press leaks confirm the rumours. It's the biggest development site in the country - and it's up for grabs.

Standing room only at a public meeting held at the Shaw Theatre. British Rail want to site a second Channel Tunnel terminal at Kings Cross, coupled with a massive office development on the railway Lands.

A steering group is convened and meets in the old Inquire Neighbourhood Advice Centre in Somers Town. Local residents, community groups, councillors, planners and activists get involved and from the following year regular meetings of the Group are held at the Great Northern Hotel - itself due for demolition under the then plans - which offers a free venue in recognition of our work to save the hotel.

The Kings Cross Railway Lands Community Development Group is formally constituted and is awarded funding by Camden Council. A core tenet of the Group is that it should represent both Camden and Islington residents. The Group makes links with Coin Street and Docklands, other communities which have undergone developments, to learn what to expect.

A special Parliamentary Act is required in 1989 because the railway works are so huge but some of the measures proposed and British Rail's lack of consultation provokes enormous opposition: 17 acres of existing homes, shops and businesses to be demolished., an extra 40,00 passengers per day on the public transport system, no safety studies carried out, no local consultation, enormous disruption to roads, tube and rail systems. Even British Rail admits King's Cross is not right for the Chunnel terminal.

The Group's work attracts national and international interest and awards and it organises local people to petition Parliament. The Bill is delayed by 3 years. The Group shortens its name to Kings Cross Railway Lands Group. It now has a fulltime admin worker, a community planning consultant and an office in Kings Cross.

London Regeneration Consortium (LRC) submit plans for a massive office development at Kings Cross. Illegal demolition of a listed building begins - and is halted by community action.

In 1990, KXRLG published Towards A People's Plan, a viable alternative to LRC's office city, which receives an award from the Royal Town Planning Institute. It proposes a CTRL terminal at St Pancras, not Kings Cross as a safer, better option. Camden Council decide to stop negotiating with LRC. The following year the Group submits an alternative Community Planning Application for the Railway Lands to Camden Council. It retains all local housing; provides 1500 new social housing units; contains a mixed development of commercial, industrial and retail uses to maximise local employment; retains all listed buildings, community and leisure facilities. MPs Frank Dobson and Chris Smith and MEP Stan Newens attend the launch and Frank Dobson said of us: "... they are moderate and reasonable in their demands. It is the developers who are the extremists."

The Group received an award from the Times/RIBA Community Enterprise Awards Scheme in 1992 and then looked into founding a Community Development Trust to hold community assets on the Railway Lands. This is when the office property market collapsed.

The government finally agrees that St. Pancras is the best site for the CTRL the following year and all planning applications are put on hold. 500 people come to our Summer Festival on the Battlebridge site.

The Kings Cross Bill finally died in 1994 and the CTRL Bill was launched: it's just as bad. The group gives evidence before the Commons Select Committee and then signs up with SRB to bid for Kings Cross. We consult with Camden on their Unitary Development Plan.

Then, in 1995. KXRLG and the Somers Town Area Partnership launched the Community Safety Project. KXRLG presented evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on the CTRL. Some changes were made as a result of our and other community groups' work. Bob West of Camden Council says: "The Group has an acknowledged track record and it brought its experience and detailed knowledge to bear on the proceedings ..."

The CTRL Act was finally passed by parliament in 1996, the year that Kings Cross SRB awarded 37 million over 7 years for the regeneration of Kings Cross. We called for effective community participation with the new body, called the Kings Cross Partnership (KXP). The Community Development Foundation, commissioned by KXP to produce a Community Audit, said in 1997: "There is a long history of community participation activity in the area, largely through the work of the Kings Cross Railway Lands Group." The Group consulted on complex technical and planning issues in 'works' packages' for the new CTRL at St Pancras and produced a free information newsletter delivered to 12,000 households and businesses around the Railway Lands.

The following year, John Prescott announced a deal with London & Continental Railways (LCR) to continue construction of the 5.4 billion CTRL, in two phases but funding is uncertain and Kings Cross continues to suffer from blight because of it. LCR are unable to raise the private finance to build the CTRL and then a rescue package was announced by John Prescott which involved government subsidy and government backed bonds. In 1999, after 10 years of struggle, the Group is under increasing pressure and our work has to be reduced because our grant is cut.

Argent St George were appointed as development partners for LCR in 2000. KXRLG's Management Committee struggle to continue, following the death of local activist and treasurer Colin MacDonald, the loss of our office and reduced grant aid. A public meeting is called again and, in 2001, a new Management Committee is recruited. The Group struggles on with no funding, no office and no paid workers. The new committee works on a 'Strategy for Renewal' and Camden Council defers a decision on funding. A new office is found in Kings Cross, administrative support is found and we begin to fundraise again.

(We soon lost that office but after 2002 things got worse, much worse, and then better - we survived, membership increased and we found increasing support and a new stability).

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