The Chelsea Society has expressed its concern to RBKC about the disruption caused to traffic in the Kings Road by two large construction sites, as follows:
Dear Councillor Kemahli,
For the last two to three years there have been two major construction projects on the King’s Road: at 120 (King’s Walk) and 196-222 (the old Curzon cinema site). In each case the Council agreed a Construction Traffic Management Plan which permitted the developers to install so-called pit lanes on the carriageway which meant that only half of it was available to traffic. The permission to install pit lanes was open-ended in time.
With the benefit of hindsight this was a mistake. The installation of two sets of lights on the King’s Road controlling two stretches of one-way traffic has led to chaos. Traffic has at times been in gridlock from Sloane Square down to Sydney Street, with passengers forced to get off busses and walk because the busses were unable to move. Pedestrians have had to cross the road in order to continue their journeys. The disruption and inconvenience to local residents and shoppers, the damage to air quality (already poor) and public health and the pollution caused by the two construction sites has been massive.
Nor is it clear that the pit lanes were necessary in the first place. At both sites other spaces were available for deliveries (in Chelsea Manor Street and Tryon Street) and for long periods the pit lanes were empty or occupied by what appeared to be private cars. Moreover the constructors did not fulfil their obligations to confine the use of the pit lanes to working hours: they regularly, perhaps indeed always, remained blocked off at weekends and in the evenings.
In the view of the Chelsea Society the Council should take action to ensure that nothing like this is allowed to happen again. It is unreasonable for residents and shoppers to be penalised to this extent in the interests of commercial developments with no social or community benefit. We suggest therefore that the Council should adopt a new policy on construction traffic in the King’s Road (whether it should apply to other busy highways as well would be for separate consideration). The main elements of this should be:
The default assumption should be that permission would not be given for any encroachment of the carriageway or any removal of pedestrian use of the pavement. This would be made clear to developers in any pre-application discussions or advice. It would apply to both the demolition and construction phases.
In certain specific circumstances (for example in relation to the delivery of heavy machinery) developers could apply for a temporary derogation to this rule. The derogation would be limited in time, normally days rather than weeks, and would specify exactly when the blocking of the carriageway or pavement would start and finish. The prime construction company would be responsible for ensuring that the physical barriers are removed at the end of the working day and at the weekend.
A policy of this kind would also address the problem of simultaneous construction projects. Council officers have advised that it is not possible, under existing planning law, for the Council to specify exactly when construction work should start once an application has been approved. But a requirement to seek separate permission for any closure of the carriageway would enable the Council to ensure that no more than a single such closure was authorised at any one time.
We hope that the Council will give serious consideration to a change of policy of this kind. We strongly believe that the present regime for Construction Traffic Management plans is not fit for purpose, and imposes disproportionate penalties on residents. With the prospect of more applications for major developments in the offing, this is an issue which, in our view, needs to be addressed urgently.
Sir Paul Lever, Planning committee Chairman, The Chelsea Society
Dear Sir Paul,
Thank you for your email. You raise very fair points and I believe as ward councillors we have all at some point reached out to our network management team to request assistance in managing these sites. I am certainly conscious that the pit lanes have not always been removed at weekends.
Likewise I too have seen the impact the sites have had on the traffic. In my own opinion the Kings Walk scheme was surprisingly low impact but by comparison it highlighted just how much disturbance has been caused by the Curzon project. In hindsight I can see there would have been some merit in using Chelsea Manor Street more and the Kings Road less.
I will take away your suggestions and speak to network management, highways and our planning teams to provide a more detailed response.
Cllr. Cem Kemahli
From James McCool, Transport Planning Manager, Transport Policy, RBKC
Date: 24 July 2023
Dear Sir Paul,
In your correspondence, you question the Council’s effectiveness in regulating construction traffic adjacent to development sites on the highway. You highlight a pair of proximate development sites on King’s Road and submit that the approved traffic management arrangements at those sites have resulted in significant traffic disruption. You suggest that the Council’s policies on managing construction traffic and the Council’s application of those policies may have contributed to the traffic disruption. I will respond to the issues raised in turn.
The principle of using the public highway and in particular King’s Road for servicing development works
King’s Road is a classified “A Road”, a bus route, and is Chelsea’s high street, a key destination for locals and visitors alike. The Council recognises the vital importance of keeping the King’s Road safe, attractive and uncongested for all highway users.
In approving construction traffic management arrangements for major sites, it is Council practice to require that loading and unloading occur off the highway at locations where that is feasible. Given the built density of the borough, with many buildings covering their sites in full, it is often impossible for loading positions to be established off-street. The greatest potential for on-site servicing occurs during the demolition, basement excavation and basement formation stages. Once the superstructure of a building begins to rise it becomes increasingly difficult to service development works from within sites.
The King’s Walk site was particularly constrained. There was no option but to service that development from the King’s Road frontage. The use of Tryon Street for loading would not have permitted satisfactory access to properties on that street to be maintained. Given the narrowness of King’s Road adjacent to King’s Walk, the use of a one-way signal-controlled shuttle lane was unavoidable.
The impact of the temporary one-way shuttle lane on highway users was limited to off-peak hours on weekdays only. Outside of those times the pit lane was pushed back, and the temporary signals were removed. For the most part this worked effectively. On occasion, not all motorists obeyed the temporary traffic lights, resulting in conflicts and contributing towards congestion. There is little that can be done to mitigate the impact of inconsiderate drivers. It is unclear how the King’s Walk development could have been delivered in a different way.
The Curzon Cinema development is larger than that at King’s Walk, providing roughly double the floor area. The developer demonstrated to the Council’s satisfaction that it was necessary to use both Chelsea Manor Street and the King’s Road to service the site in a reasonable way.
Exclusive reliance on Chelsea Manor Street would have prolonged the duration of the development works. King’s Road is better suited for servicing by articulated vehicle as manoeuvring an articulated lorry into Chelsea Manor Street is challenging. Officers observed that traffic on King’s Road was held by traffic marshals for up to 90 seconds every time an articulated lorry reversed into Chelsea Manor Street.
On the King’s Road frontage, the approved temporary pit lane was configured so as to retain two-way working at all times. Temporary signals were provided to permit pedestrians to divert around the works area. The footway was unavoidably closed at times.
The Curzon cinema site currently has barriers in the carriageway to provide a protected pedestrian walkway while façade works are finished off. The site manager has confirmed that there will be no further deliveries to this King’s Road frontage. The temporary walkway will remain in place 24/7 until the facade works are complete. The temporary walkway is not impacting on traffic flow.
There was no requirement within the Curzon Cinema CTMP for the pit lane on the King’s Road to be pushed back outside of construction traffic hours, as sufficient width was left for two-way working. Reducing lane widths can impact on traffic capacity and the presence of the King’s Road pit lane at times when it was not needed should not have been permitted by the CTMP.
Major developments typically require a number of short duration full road closures, usually at night or over a weekend, for crane deliveries and removals. These closures are inherently disruptive but are necessary if development is to be delivered in a reasonable way. There were several such closures in relation to these sites and the impact of those has no doubt coloured local opinion on the overall management of these schemes. The Council’s network management team coordinates road closures and will act to ensure that simultaneous closures that might give rise to widespread traffic disruption do not occur.
The Council’s construction management team monitored the King’s Road development sites during the period of the works. For the most part the sites were well managed. Issues raised by Council officers were addressed in a timely manner. Further to your email of 2 July, Council officers visited the Curzon cinema site over the weekend to ensure that the site arrangements were satisfactory to accommodate weekend traffic and local business activity. They found that the site was compliant.
Coordination of the timing of independent development works
As you have acknowledged, we cannot prevent proximate sites being developed at the same time. There is nothing in law that can prevent landowners from developing their land at a time of their choosing (subject to the requirement to implement within three years). It is not possible for the Council to favour or prioritise one landowner over another. What we can do is ensure that the activities at Site A do not interact with activities at Site B such as to cause significant detrimental impacts on pedestrian and vehicular traffic.
Government policy provides strong support in favour of development. Under the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) “development should only be prevented or refused on highways grounds if there would be an unacceptable impact on highway safety, or the residual cumulative impacts on the road network would be severe”. Local authorities are expected to facilitate development even if that impacts on traffic flow, so long as the arrangements are safe.
Once development works are underway and associated highway licences have been issued, the Council has no power to compel a developer to complete their development by a specified date or within a stipulated period. Most developments take longer than their promoters plan for. Regrettably work sites can encumber their surroundings for years. The law provides for this. It is not clear how the law could be changed to prevent this without stymying development, which is not what is wanted.
Your email prompted me to review our current guidance on construction traffic management plans, on-site servicing, coordination and the like. It is true that our current guidance could be more cohesive and could be improved upon to better (and more explicitly) address the issues you raise. There will be the opportunity to publish updated guidance in 2024 when the Council expects to adopt a new version of the Transport and Streets SPD. This document could strengthen the emphasis on the need to keep highways clear and footways open wherever that is reasonably possible.
The specific circumstances and conditions under which full closures would be permissible could be more clearly set out to stress that the needs of developers need to be balanced with those of residents and highways users.
When agreeing construction traffic management arrangements there is often a difficult balance to strike between protecting residents’ amenity and keeping Kensington and Chelsea moving. Our current guidance seeks to keep construction traffic off residential roads and on the classified road network. Clearly that should not be at the expense of the attractiveness of our high streets and our guidance will be updated to cover this point.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you wish to discuss
Transport Planning Manager, Transport Policy