Seren Park finally gets its gate to Maze Hill Station unlocked

seren park 2013The fiasco of the locked gate between Maze Hill station and Seren Park, the housing development to the south of the station which residents started moving into in 2009, is finally over.

When residents first bought or rented flats at Seren Park, they were promised “direct access” to the station. But thanks to railway bureaucracy and inaction from the developer, the gate remained locked for four years (see here and here for previous posts on the saga) – until now.

To cut a very long story short, after many months of nagging Network Rail promised in February 2012 that the gate would be open within a few weeks, but nothing then happened. It turned out that the developer (initially Urban Solutions, now the Royal Bank of Scotland) would not stump up £30,000 for an Oyster Card reader. Incredibly, Network Rail then claimed that they needed to get the council’s consent to allow the gate to be opened (news to the council, which has been calling for it to be opened up for four years), and that the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) also needed to give their approval – yet another bureaucratic process that residents hadn’t been told about before.

In the end, Southeastern agreed that the gate could open before the Oyster Card reader (which is now finally ordered) was put in place. Network Rail agreed that if ORR approval was needed, it could be sorted out retrospectively, as could any outstanding paperwork from the council.

Common sense has finally prevailed and the path was opened yesterday (September 3rd). This was just in the nick of time as the alternative route to the station via Tom Smith Close has at the same time been closed off because of pressure from residents there, who were fed up with their cul-de-sac being used as a cut-through.

Hats off to the Seren Park residents, who have fought an effective campaign which has finally paid off. They are quite right to have been furious about this, as they have had to walk on a huge detour via Vanbrugh Hill to reach a station platform that is only a few yards from their homes. They have been lobbying Nick Raynsford MP, Assembly Member Len Duvall and all three ward councillors for years, and we have all agreed that the process has taken far too long.

What does all this tell us about the state of the railways? Firstly, that getting agreement between the four different bodies involved (Southeastern, Network Rail, TFL and the ORR) can take years. Secondly, that a developer often has to be pressed repeatedly to deliver on their promises.

Back in the 1990s, before rail privatisation, decisions about new gates to railway stations would be taken by a single body: British Rail, which was responsible for all the track, trains and stations. With privatisation, track and train were split between Railtrack (now Network Rail) and the train operating companies respectively.

As the Seren Park saga shows, even delivering a simple bit of infrastructure like a gate from a new housing development to an adjacent railway station can take four years. The current Tory-Lib Dem government is doing nothing to sort out this mess, and is making it worse as public subsidy for the railways is cut and fares are forced up. But as well as more investment, the railway network badly needs to be simplified, with more co-operation between all these bodies.

Things are little better now that the train operating company is Southeastern (generally better than its useless predecessor Connex), and Network Rail has effectively been nationalised. Getting Southeastern, Network rail, TFL, the ORR and the developer to get their act together and open the gate has been frustratingly difficult, with dozens of letters, emails, phone calls, meetings and broken promises. There must be a simpler and better way to ensure access to railway stations is improved more quickly, and to prevent this sort of strangulation by red tape.

The solution does not have to be a resurrection of British Rail (which was not perfect – 20 years ago the Greenwich line was served by only two grotty slam-door trains in each direction per hour off-peak, compared to six trains an hour now). But if we had a properly integrated transport system, with track and train under single ownership and improved public accountability, I hope this process might have been quicker. It could hardly have been any slower.

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One Response to Seren Park finally gets its gate to Maze Hill Station unlocked

  1. Pingback: After 16 years as a Labour councillor in Blackheath and Westcombe Park, Alex Grant says thank you and goodbye | Blackheath Westcombe Labour

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