Placemaking field trip: King’s Cross

Over two decades in the making, King’s Cross is one of Europe’s largest redevelopment sites. Upon completion in 2020, King’s Cross will provide up to 2,000 homes, 10 new public spaces and a mix of commercial, retail, hotel, leisure and educational uses. On 25 April, Future of London visited King’s Cross to learn about the placemaking strategies that have guided its development, marking the first field trip in this year’s placemaking programme.

King’s Cross station

Although not part of the King’s Cross Central project area, the visit started at King’s Cross station. Anticipating an increase in passengers from the arrival of the Eurostar terminal from Waterloo, in 2010 Network Rail commissioned a redesign of the Grade I listed station and forecourt. The station entrance, partly concealed for over 100 years, now opens onto a 7,000 m2 public square. The new space helps establish King’s Cross station as a place as well as reinforcing its role as a local, national and international gateway.

Pancras Square

Anthony Peter, Senior Project Director at King’s Cross Central Limited Partnership (KCCLP), explained two key aspects of placemaking at Pancras Square. First, as an office-oriented area, KCCLP considered how Pancras Square would be used by workers. Second, with much of King’s Cross located north of Regent’s Canal, Pancras Square is important for drawing people towards Granary Square and beyond. Ground-floor retail and restaurant uses, along with extensive, stepped landscaping and plenty of seating, cater particularly well for lunchtime uses and attract activity deeper into the site.

Redesigned King's Cross station forecourt and Pancras Square
Redesigned King’s Cross station forecourt and Pancras Square

Granary Square

Since its completion in 2011, Granary Square has become well known for its green canalside seating, extensive water feature, arts building and roster of events. However, occupiers were initially hesitant to move in, facing recession and negative perceptions of the area. Andrew Turner, Project Director at Argent, shared KCCLP’s strategy to activate the site.

Flexibility in the outline planning permission was especially important for Granary Square, allowing KCCLP to source riskier, non-traditional occupiers – such as University of the Arts London, whose relocation to Granary Square brought student activity, provided an anchor for other occupiers and helped transform perceptions of the area. To create the unique dining offer, KCCLP worked with targeted businesses, giving each one a dedicated project manager and bespoke contract, including rent subsidy and help fitting out buildings.

Jennifer Walsh, Principal Planning Officer at LB Camden, explained that the council hopes to attract a broad range of people to Granary Square. Events here initially focused on bringing local families to King’s Cross, but have since expanded to reach other groups. In addition to social and economic benefits, events help to draw people into the site.

Granary Square
Granary Square

Heritage zone and housing

Alex Woolmore, Senior Project Director at Argent, said that consultations revealed a strong desire to retain heritage. LB Camden designated the area along Regent’s Canal a heritage zone, which has benefited from improvements to the canal and path. A new footbridge to Camley Street Natural Park has started to address severance between King’s Cross and neighbouring Somers Town; while a second bridge is planned, delivery depends on successful negotiations with landowners west of the canal. The heritage zone extends to Gasholder Park, where a Grade II listed gasholder has been refurbished and incorporated into a new canalside green space.

A significant amount of the site’s housing is located around Gasholder Park, including private ownership buildings, mixed tenancies at the Tapestry building and a unique mixed-use school and residential building. Students have priority use of Gasholder Park and the Tapestry’s multi-use games area for leisure and lessons, saving costs and land compared to building private sports space for the school. Conflicts between the school and residents are minimal; following its success, Argent is replicating this ‘co-location’ model at Brent Cross.

Regent’s Canal and Gasholder Park with co-located housing/school in background
Regent’s Canal and Gasholder Park with co-located housing/school in background

The Skip Garden

An urban farm and café built from recycled construction material, the Skip Garden is a meanwhile use that’s moved around King’s Cross since 2009. While land is provided by Argent, the Skip Garden is operated by Global Generation, an educational charity which involves people – young people in particular – in organic, urban food growing. Director Nicole Van den Eijnde discussed the impacts of their programming, such as creating jobs at the café for youth with learning difficulties, training young people to facilitate workshops, upskilling through internships and giving Bartlett students hands-on experience designing and building structures for urban food growing. In addition to running the Skip Garden, Global Generation has installed other gardens throughout King’s Cross. This brings income for the charity, along with funding from local authorities.

Food growing at the Skip Garden
Food growing at the Skip Garden

One key to successful placemaking is the innovative outline planning permission, which has some flexibility towards the mix of land uses and the order in which the site is delivered. Another is having a development partnership with a long-term stake in the site. This has allowed KCCLP to build individual sites and land uses in response to market conditions. For example, the public realm was one of the first major construction projects, generating visitor activity and transforming perspectives of King’s Cross – which has paved the way for commercial and retail schemes.

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