Not The Great Escape: Digging deep – major tunnelling project south of Ruskin Park

This is a National Grid project, stretching over several years and representing an investment of over £1 billion.

Phase 1 was a seven-year, £1 billion programme, to build 32km of tunnels and two new substations across North London.

Now Phase 2, “London Power Tunnels 2” relates to south London and will see the replacement of existing electricity cables in South London which are coming towards the end of their useful life, the majority of which are buried beneath the road network.

It involves building a new network of cable tunnels, 32.5km in length, between Wimbledon (via Lambeth and Old Kent Road) and Crayford. The local stretch of this long tunnel runs deep under Coldharbour Lane. The Bengeworth Road tunnelling project is designed to connect the substations and other installations on the Bengeworth Road site to this main cross-London tunnel. The operations on the Bengeworth Road site are the responsibility of UK Power Networks, who are infrastructure operators: they own and maintain electricity cables and lines across London, the South East and East of England.

To upgrade the connections between the UK Power Networks installations at Bengeworth and the main National Grid, their contractors need to tunnel down to build a shaft at Bengeworth Road to connect to the main tunnel under Coldharbour Lane. Tunnelling works are due to start in the second half of 2021, and once complete (likely in 2022), a new substation and headhouse (to access the shaft for maintenance purposes) will be installed on the site in 2023 and 2024.

Bengeworth Road is the access route to (and also the name of) a large industrial site occupied by UK Power Networks. It is squeezed between the side of King’s College Hospital , the residential streets east of Cambria Road, and Southwell Street. It borders on the railway line, which separates it from Ruskin Park. See map below.

The residents’ concerns about the impact of this major project include the impact of noise and disruption during the tunnelling and the building of new, taller infrastructures that might permanently dominate their sightlines and deprive them of light. Meetings have been held with residents and attended by our MP Helen Hayes and representatives of Lambeth Council. Consultations are ongoing.
It seems clear that the project cannot be stopped, so the issues are about mitigation.

Planning Permission in the usual way is not required because the project is classified as a Permitted Development – a legal category which seems to have some ambiguous rules and different interpretations. But there may still be ways to challenge certain aspects of the plans, and local planning experts are examining these at the moment. The Loughborough Junction Action Group and the Herne Hill Society are involved in the consultations and the campaign.

All the documents relating to the formal application for Permitted Development can be found on Lambeth’s planning website by keying in reference 20/04417/LDCP or clicking here.

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