For most people coach travel is an essential part of the public transport system – not surprising given that we have the most expensive railway system in Europe. A quick search, using the same dates and times revealed that it would cost you £90.50 for a return ticket to Doncaster on the train and £9.00 on a coach.
People have been asking me why Transport for London want to move out of Victoria. Well, my answer is that it is not Transport for London’s decision. TFL has no statutory responsibility for coaches. They are acting to manage a problem that would otherwise lead to coaches clogging up streets all over London.
They do not own the land on which Victoria Coach Station is built. The land is owned by the Duke of Westminster’s Grosvenor Estate. That’s Hugh Grosvenor who inherited £9 billion in 2016, making him the world’s richest person under the age of 30. The Estate should have been liable for 40% inheritance tax but guess what? It wasn’t paid. They were able to avoid paying billions of pounds in Inheritance Tax because the Estate is held in a trust. Now some of the leases on the land are expiring. Prime land in Belgravia. Eminently suitable for luxury redevelopments. Clear out the bus station and its attendant poor people problems and make even more money. I sincerely hope the Council uses whatever influence it has with the Grosvenor Estate to retain at least part 0f the Coach Station at Victoria.
About 14 million passengers a year pass through Victoria coach Station on 240,00 coaches a year. There are 22 bus stands and 15 different coach companies operating – not to mention the associated fast food outlets, tourist souvenir shops and other associated businesses. Clearly a coach station in Bayswater would fundamentally alter the area for the worse. One resident I spoke to said that when she worked in Victoria she couldn’t find a bench to eat her lunchtime sandwiches on as they were all occupied by people sleeping on them.
Now, if you know Bayswater you will know it as a pleasant residential area with many garden squares, the nearest to Royal Oak being the rather majestic Porchester Square Gardens where last summer some residents complained bitterly about a group of Roma who temporarily gathered there. Well, a few Roma would be the least of the residents’ problems if there were hundreds of coaches coming and going every day. The nearby Westbourne Gardens, Shrewsbury Gardens, St Stephen’s Gardens, Kildare Gardens, Gloucester Gardens, Leinster Square Gardens and Princes Square Gardens would all become magnets for tired travellers – and I can envisage an increase in rough sleeping. It would be a nightmare for residents and the City Inspectors would have their work cut out for them.
Increased traffic would bring increased pollution in a part of London that is already congested and has some of the worst air pollution in the country. I spoke to a resident of Gloucester Terrace who told me that buses were often diverted down her already busy road and although there was a 20mph limit this was often broken. She told me her windows were black – also she didn’t go out after 4pm for fear of crime. With the huge increase in people passing through the area, if there were to be a coach station, I’m afraid her fear of crime could be, sadly, justified.
Existing public transport would not be able to cope. The number 18 and 36 buses are already subject to delays and overcrowding, especially at peak times. Royal Oak tube station with its steep flight of steps and lack of a lift would have to be completely rebuilt.
In conclusion, Royal Oak is a totally unsuitable location and poses a significant threat to the residential area of Bayswater and surrounding wards of Westbourne, Lancaster Gate, Hyde Park and Church Street. Ideally, I would like to see an integrated transport system: railways, coaches, buses, tube, lorries and ferries – a 21stCentury solution to a 21stCentury problem. What we, as a Council, should be putting first is the people of London and an integrated transport system.
You might say well what can we do about it? And my answer is you can do a lot. I met this morning with Karen Buck MP and senior TFL officers – where I vigorously lobbied to reinforce our view that Royal Oak is totally unsuitable. I was told that no decisions have yet been taken, other options were being looked at, including the expansion of Heathrow and Stratford coach terminuses to cope with the majority of journeys that don’t need to come into Central London. I was told that public opinion is an important factor to be taken into account, and that TFL had taken note of letters sent from Bayswater. So our thanks to John Zamit and the work Sebra has done, and I single out Nicky Hessenberg who has been tireless in his research and dedication to the cause. So carry on the good work everybody and I believe we will win.