Under the Flyover: connecting communities and humanising leftover space

Written by
Assemble folly for a flyover 05 1600x1066 1024x682
Claire Perrott, Associate at Tibbalds, looks at the strategic potential for a London wide directive to use the spaces created beneath road flyovers to attract new uses and encourage connections between communities otherwise severed by roads. Her ideas were developed as part of her participation in Future of London’s ‘Future London Leaders’ course (Round 18).
Opinion piece
Building underneath road and rail infrastructure is not a new idea: Railway arches have long been occupied by various interesting and useful activities. However the elevated highways that were built in the 60s into central London introduced a new category of leftover space and divided communities.
The road building programme of the 1960’s improved the gridlocked traffic, but created other issues. One of the most well-known elevated routes is the A40 – the Westway – which dissects North Kensington. The protests of local residents about the damage to their environment hit the headlines and the community campaigned for improvements.
Following a four year campaign the Westway trust was set up 1971 as the custodian of the 23 acres of land under the motorway for 130 years to help promote positive use of the spaces that lay underneath it. By the 1990’s there was a sports centre and climbing wall, employment space and a skate park.
In 2012, my company Tibbalds were appointed to work with the Westway trust and come up with a masterplan that would provide a strategy for the next 10-15 years. We looked at how some key areas could work harder and really be activated with community focused uses, with the aim to provide for and connect local communities.
One of the focus areas that is currently being progressed is the Portobello Road area: proposals are being developed for social housing overlooking a public space, an arts venue, improved spaces for local independent business, a new market hall and a more open and accessible Portobello green area.
Some examples of other recent London initiatives are the A13 green festival, where a hostile space under the A13 has been occupied by a summer events programme for the last 4 years. Another is the Folly for a flyover, which was a temporary canal side cinema underneath the A12 in Hackney Wick – which ran a programme of films and performances.
Overseas – there are proposals in New York City for a night-time food distribution facility which by day becomes a series of open spaces and sports facilities under the Brooklyn-Queens expressway, which separates the industrial area from the next door neighbourhood and is an inactive and hostile space.
BUT. As yet there is no strategic London wide directive to coordinate how the left over space below roads can and should be utilised. The Westway trust is only body that overseas more than one space and has any sort of defined agenda and ownership programme.
My proposal therefore calls for a TfL sponsored London wide strategy that analyses, categorises, markets and facilitates the provision of community benefit uses that humanise and activate the left over spaces, and stitch back together the urban fabric. But how to do this? Well I’ve come up with 5 key steps…
Step 1: Programme Launch. TfL will be the sponsor and lead, and all Boroughs must provide buy in and officer allocation to the team. There should be support from the private sector and universities. So at my company Tibbalds we would work with the Southwark team as that is where we are based and have links.
Step 2: There will be a city wide audit and analysis of under road land so that we can quantify and qualify how much space exists, what type it is and group it and catagorise it into what is could be suitable for. There would then be a prioritised list of sites, with overarching briefs for what uses could come forward.
Step 3: The “Fly-under” trust will be set up to administer and run the programme and control the land. The first tranche of sites now need to be marketed and promoted. Community led schemes will be encouraged. There may even have to be a competitive bidding process for some sites in key areas.
Step 4: Planning!! Often seen as a hurdle but in this case a facilitator. There will be a London wide set of LDO’s to cater to cater specifically for this programme and similar spaces. Guidance would be provided by the trust on appropriate funding mechanisms and would help accessing public sector, lottery, private sector and even crowd funding.
Step 5: Construction. Finally the realisation of the projects. At Folly for a flyover the cinema was designed in kit form so that local community volunteers could build it themselves. Similar guidance could be given, and a key final element would be ongoing support from the trust for the entirety of the lease.
In London we ae struggling for space that is available and affordable, particularly for lower value uses. We have left over space that cut communities in half when it was built and continues to do so. We need to address this in a positive and coordinated way, and provide the opportunity for community led uses to activate underused space and bring severed communities together.