A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, people used to go to work on the train, as many readers will have heard. And because they often travelled at the same times each day, trains got unpleasantly crowded. So, inevitably, did some of the stations.
Aspiring City Thameslink passengers at Herne Hill will have felt this pain.
But it was often much worse at Denmark Hill Station. No, it’s not in Herne Hill but for many commuters and other rail travellers wanting to touch down somewhere other than Victoria, or the City, Denmark Hill offered wider options, including the London Overground heading towards Clapham Junction and all points beyond, or north-east to via Peckham to Canada Water, Whitechapel, Shoreditch, Hoxton en route to Highbury & Islington. True, if you lived more towards the Brixton or Tulse Hill side of Herne Hill, it would have been something of a trek, but for those of us close to the Camberwell frontier, a brisk walk alongside or through Ruskin Park would get us there pleasantly. If you’re more central, the 68 bus may be the solution.
More important in some ways, Denmark Hill is a destination for visitors from other points in London and the South-East. Every day, King’s College Hospital draws in thousands of staff members, out-patients and visitors. The simultaneous arrival of several train loads of alighting passengers is the main cause of the congestion.
The station was redesigned and upgraded to ensure accessibility in a programme that concluded in 2013. But contrary to the hopes of many local residents and station users, the redesign left it with only one entrance/exit.
Meanwhile the number of passengers using Denmark Hill went up from 3.7 million in 2011-12 to 5.63 million in 2014-15. Much of this increase was down to the introduction of the London Overground services in December 2013.
This surge in traffic meant that the station was operating in unsafe conditions – because its only ex it, accessed up quite long staircases, could present a lethal bottleneck if the station ever had to be rapidly evacuated. Traffic numbers have grown further – at least before the pandemic. Last year (2018-19) the figures suggest that entries and exits totalled some 6.9 million.
Herne Hill station, by comparison, had 2.9 million entries/exits and we know how unpleasant conditions could be at rush hour. As a benchmark, Clapham Junction was running at 29.5 million – but of course it is vastly bigger station, indeed one of the busiest in Europe, some say.
Pressure grew from local groups for the obvious remedy at Denmark Hill – opening a second entrance/exit on Windsor Walk, the quiet street that leads from Champion Park down past the Phoenix pub then, with a sharp right turn, runs just to the north of the platforms and alongside the station to join Grove Lane.
Various groups including the Herne Hill Society and the Dulwich Society lent their support to the Camberwell Society whose committee initiated and from 2016 onwards have led a persistent and well-informed campaign, building a positive working relationship with Network Rail and Southwark’s planning team over several years.
It now seems to have been a success. A planning application (No 20/AP/0745, for planning addicts, or link here) has been made to Southwark Council for the construction of a new entrance to Denmark Hill Station on Windsor Walk. Listed Building Consent was granted last month, and the rest of the process seems on track for overall approval.
So if Herne Hillians feels like going to work again on the train, Denmark Hill might in due course be an attractive option. Covid–19 permitting, the new entrance is planned to be open by April 2021. It will have 4 gates plus 2 wide gates and will connect up with the existing modern footbridge. The current one-way system will be dispensed with. Platforms 2,3 and 4 will have extra canopies at the east to encourage people to use that end of the platforms.
New pedestrian access
Separately, Southwark Council has been awarded £1.5m by the GLA’s Good Growth Fund. One slice of this funding will be used to create better pedestrian connections between Denmark Hill station and the hospitals and town centre. Our friends at the Camberwell Society think that the walk route to the hospitals and Camberwell will go through the Maudsley campus. There is going to be a new ward block on Windsor Walk called Douglas Bennet House, just opposite where the new station entrance will be. The plan is for this to have a walk-through route to the Maudsley garden and thence to the main road.