08 June 2012

Newsletter: Underpass Impasse

Please note: This article was written before the most recent news on the underpass, which can be read here.

The condition of the underpass in Forest Hill has long been a thorn in the sides of local residents. Despite campaigns progress has been slow. We have managed a few patches in the footpath and to get the lights reconnected.

At a recent meeting with the Council, it was finally decided that they should proceed with refurbishing the subway. Lewisham has a budget of £126,000 (including monies from the developer of the flats on Perry Vale). This will not meet our expectations.The approved works include: installation of new drainage channels to pathway and track bed, resurfacing of the footpath, cleaning, repairing and painting over the mural ready for fresh artwork, and cladding the walls and ceiling of the section under the tracks (the part currently painted white).

The works will be carried out at the same time as the lighting is replaced under the Skanska PFI contract. At the moment, this is envisaged to happen some time after September, but the schedule for Year 2 of that contract has not yet been agreed. In the meantime, Lewisham will keep the pressure on Network Rail to come up with funds to refurbish the steps at both ends, to include repairing and renewing the treads and replacing the handrails with DDA compliant grab rails at both ends of the underpass. You can help by writing to Jim Dowd at dowdj@parliament.uk or House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA, letting him know your feelings and urging him to raise the matter with the Chief Executive of Network Rail. Here is what we sent:

Dear Jim (Dowd)

I am writing to you as the Chairman of the Forest Hill Society concerning the refurbishment of the pedestrian underpass which connects Perry Vale with the London Road side of the railway station in Forest Hill (National Rail code FOH). The Forest Hill Society is a local amenity group representing residents of Forest Hill, SE23 and its environs with some 400 members and over 1000 followers through social media.

As you may be aware, the Sydenham Society was campaigning to improve the subway long before the Forest Hill Society was formed in 2006. Since then, we have both been working with Lewisham Council, trying to make progress.

We have found it impossible to deal with Network Rail. None of our letters or phone calls have been responded to. The only time we have had any success is by working through LOROL and yourself, when we managed to get the graffiti removed from the railway bridge over the A205 - graffiti which had been there for at least 10 years.

Our dealings with Lewisham Council on this matter have been much better, but they too have had a frustrating time, repeatedly blaming Network Rail for the delays to progress - something we have been unable to contradict due to Network Rail's determined silence.

I realise that the state of the underpass may seem to be small fry to Network Rail, but this dilapidated tunnel serves to undermine the good work residents are doing to improve the Town Centre and make it more inviting for shoppers. Lewisham Council have recently invested over £10 million in a new leisure centre and the condition of the underpass is a major obstacle in the way of regenerating the area. Network Rail own the right of way, but share responsibilities for maintenance with Lewisham Council.

Lewisham allocated funds to refurbish the underpass before the last election in May 2010, before finally issuing provisional drawings in June 2011 after protracted dealings with Network Rail.

At a meeting on 14 May 2012, we finally agreed that Lewisham should proceed with some works, including cladding and relighting parts of the underpass, repaving the footpath and improving the drainage, but their budget will not stretch to include more parts which are Network Rail's responsibility. It has always been the ambition of Sydenham and Forest Hill Societies that any refurbishment of the subway should include renewal of the staircases at both ends and modern handrails. Not only can these works not be done within Lewisham's budget, they are Network Rail's responsibility.

Network Rail have already tacitly acknowledged that the handrails are unsatisfactory. When the lifts were being installed at Forest Hill Station, Network Rail installed temporary handrails on the staircases. These have since been removed.

Lewisham cannot afford to pay for handrails which meet 21st century regulations, nor to resurface the treads. Both of these tasks need redoing and I would urge you to press Network Rail to attend to these with urgency. Doing the works at the same time as installing the other tasks (expected sometime in September or October) would save time, money and inconvenience.

Richard Hibbert, Chair, Forest Hill Society

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