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Notting Hill Gate: What’s next?

Three Plans on a Page – Forty Years of Hurt

But after forty years of hurt everyone seemed to know the score, we’d seen it all before, we just knew, we were so sure that RBKC’s gonna throw it away, gonna blow it away

But I know they can play, ’cause I remember…

RBKC are consulting on the “Notting Hill Gate Draft Action Plan”

Click here to have your say

This latest plan is the output from nearly 19 months of local workshops and engagement events following on from another extensive piece of work by RBKC called the “Future High Streets” programme published in 2021.

At its launch back in October 2022 “The Notting Hill Gate Action Plan” was pitched by Cllr Josh Rendall as “an opportunity for us to work with the local community to shape the future of Notting Hill Gate now, and well into the future”.

The draft action plan proposes a range of sensible improvements, yet the council has seemingly ruled that it will not even let people have a say on safe cycle lanes and fails to tackle the blight of traffic despite them being consistent priorities raised in all recent RBKC consultation exercises.

Rather than shaping Notting Hill well into the future, it feels like the culmination of nearly four years of work is more like a disappointing déjà vu half-heartedly playing catch up with the 1990’s.

Please have your say, the proposals are worth supporting in themselves but in our opinion the plans do not go far enough. it lacks vision and ambition for what should be both a vibrant local town centre and a world-famous destination for visitors. It is clear RBKC need to progress with pedestrian improvements and incorporate best practice design without further delay. However, RBKC needs to go back to the drawing board and urgently develop a place-based approach that seeks to reduce traffic volumes and promote other modes of transport.

The Good Bits

  • We strongly support pedestrian improvements and suggest pedestrian priority should be maximised wherever possible including wider pavements, filtering minor side streets, more convenient crossings, greater frequency of crossing opportunities and more crossings along pedestrian desire lines. For example, introducing an Oxford Circus style crossing at junction of “Hill Gate Village” junction would transform pedestrian movement at a congested and busy junction. Reviewing and reducing some turns at busy junctions would enable greater opportunities for people to cross.

  • We strongly support the proposal to filter Pembridge Gardens and relocate the bus stop from Pembridge Road. This offers a glimpse at what a more place-based approach could offer by removing problematic pedestrian pinch points and conflicts with rat running through traffic. Much more consideration needs to be given to filtering other minor side roads to provide a more continuous connected high street feel & make the wider area easier to navigate.

  • We support measures to introduce more trees and planting along Notting Hill Gate and on surrounding streets especially where there is opportunity to create new public spaces along with seating and other amenities such as outdoor dining.

The Bad Bits

  • There is no attempt to reduce traffic volumes or flows with no specific proposals offered to comment on despite some references. The issues of heavy through traffic has been a consistent priority identified by RBKC consultations and reports over last 40 years. A clear place-based approach is needed to develop traffic management strategy as mentioned in previous plans to underpin other key interventions to transform Notting Hill Gate.

  • Notting Hill Gate is an important bus route hub and interchange between bus and tube. Buses need much greater prioritisation along NHG and surrounding roads e.g Pembridge Gardens and Church Street. Previous versions of Notting Hill Gate planning documents included suggestions around bus gate features.

  • The previous vision for relocated Underground station entrances with step free access that featured in previous plans have been dropped. Recognising the inherent challenges to implement, this should remain a long-term objective for RBKC to work with TfL on.

  • The proposed cycle infrastructure is minimal. Despite being well supported in consultation exercises and TfL having identified NHG as an important potential route within a London wide strategic network, cycle lanes are not even offered as a consideration in what is described as a consultation on the roadmap for NHG. RBKC’s approach is disconnected from wider London plans & fails to address critical safety concerns repeatedly raised by Better Streets. To not recognise the role cycling can have in the future of NHG and the wider borough is a fundamental failure and renders the current “greener, safer, fairer” council strap line meaningless. 

The Background

Before getting into the details of the latest consultation, it is worth briefly revisiting the last forty years to give the latest plan some context. Because believe it or not this is not the first grand plan, in fact this plan looks a lot like the previous one, and the one before that.

Go back to 1985, nearly 40 years ago, the RBKC “Unitary Development Plan” clearly identified the considerable problems caused by traffic congestion. The council committed itself to seek traffic restraint, promote other modes of transport and emphasised the need for a coordinated approach to London’s transportation system. This sentiment has been pretty much copied and pasted into every planning document and policy paper since. It is fair to say while the late 80’s saw the implementation of good examples that have stood the test of time, more recently RBKC have failed to seriously address the burden of traffic or promote other modes of transport.

In 2009 RBKC commissioned Urban Initiatives to develop a vision and implementation plan for Notting Hill Gate. There was a clear plan for the street to become more pedestrian-friendly, with improved crossing facilities, fewer barriers, less street clutter, reduced vehicle impacts, and station entrances relocated within buildings. Pedestrian links to Portobello Road Market were also to be enhanced through good design, legibility, and clear wayfinding. One thing RBKC has been consistent on is its steadfast refusal to include safe cycling infrastructure.

The plan was not revolutionary but would have upgraded Notting Hill Gate however after six years there was no sign of the pedestrian friendly improvements or reducing the impact of vehicles. What we did get in 2015 was another vision and plan. With a lot of focus on proposed property redevelopments much of the public realm improvements were recycled from the 2009 plan with a somewhat diluted ambition and seemingly abandoning any hope of reshaping the impact of through traffic on Notting Hill Gate and surrounding areas.

Since 2015 investors have come, redeveloped, and gone but the wider public realm benefits proposed over the last 15 years have not materialised. As each dated building has been redeveloped Notting Hill has remained the 1950’s urban dual carriageway of missed opportunities for residents and visitors. Rather than a collection of “boutique shops, premium quality retailers, restaurants with a revitalised arts and cultural scene”, we have seen a uninteresting clone high street emerge with even more estate agents and every coffee shop chain you could need but where no one can sit outside because of the lack of space, bags of rubbish that accumulate on the pavements, the traffic noise and poor air quality. Where there was supposed to be new step free entrances to Notting Hill Gate tube station, we have a new checkout free Amazon Fresh store but no step free access upgrades.

For all the pretentiousness about what Notting Hill should be and the grand visions launched by every local politician that has been shuffled into council leadership spots, the decades long Tory guardianship of Notting Hill Gate has given us an unfit tatty public realm that serves no one except those who drive through this once go to destination.

Spot the Difference

2009 Plan

Notting Hill Gate 2009 Plan

2015 Plan

Notting Hill Gate Plan 2015

2024 Plan

Notting Hill Gate Plan 2024

So nearly ten years since the last plan, ten further years of inaction, we have another new vision underpinning a plan that is supposed to set a framework to shape Notting Hill Gate’s future. With understandable reservations Better Streets members took part in the workshops that have informed these new plans. We were clear the council needed to be bold with their vision and to deliver on real change. What has emerged are the basic improvements outlined in 2009 having shed any ounce of ambition and vision for what Notting Hill Gate could become. It is a long way from delivering a greener, safer, or fairer borough.

The Good and Bad Bits in Detail

Overall: It is a bit of deja vu, the latest plan seems to be a recycling of long-standing objectives that RBKC have failed to deliver on over the last 15-20 years with even less ambition & vision for Notting Hill Gate. For what is supposed to be outlining a long-term plan for the area this plan misses the opportunity to reflect the learning available from elsewhere in London and other cities around the world over the last 20 years.   

Key locations

Hillgate Village Junction

Hillgate Village Junction

Pedestrian improvements & prioritisation of pedestrians welcomed.

 

  • Strongly support wider pavements, they are much needed on what are congested and, in some places, narrow pavements.

  • Strongly support new crossing designs and additional crossing point on Pembridge Rd/Notting Hill junction. This is important for pedestrian flow, connecting Notting Hill and improving safety as current crossings are staggered with traffic coming from different directions & constricted by small islands and railings in places. This could be further improved by implementing a Japanese style junction crossing design ideal for handling the large footfall that passes through Notting Hill Gate & further decongesting what are pedestrian pinch points on the junction corners.

  • The plan should revise traffic movements on the junction to reduce pressure of traffic flow on pedestrian crossings, for example stop right turn from Pembridge Road into Notting Hill Gate and restrict right turn from Notting Hill Gate into Pembridge Road to buses only – all measures raised previously in RBKC Notting Hill improvement plans.

  • The Hill Gate Street junction with Notting Hill Gate would benefit more from being filtered, providing a continuous pavement to improve pedestrian flow and reduce the number of junctions people must navigate and would provide additional opportunity for greening on the side street and reduce traffic cutting through what is termed in the plans as a pedestrian focused environment. 

  • Parking space bays described as being designed into the extended sections of pavement should be minimised, located away from sections with heavy pedestrian flows and ideally be for only loading or blue badge holders.

  • The piecemeal interventions for improving the safety of cycling falls far below well-established modern standards for a road that is already heavily used by cyclists and which is identified by TfL with high potential cycle demand. Failing to include any meaningful cycle infrastructure ignores the 75% of people who either strongly supported, supported or were neutral about cycle lanes and improving safety for cyclists which had the highest number of suggested ideas in the initial consultation phase and the Future High Street workshops.

  • Nothing has been done to reduce traffic volumes through Notting Hill Gate despite this being consistently identified as one of the biggest issues for the area in all RBKC plans over the last 40 years, these plans should be looking to finally deliver reductions of traffic volumes in a serious way to support prioritisation of pedestrians, active travel and public transport.

 

Pembridge Road

Pembridge Road
  • This section of road forms an important pedestrian gateway and the pedestrian focused improvements are vital to provide an attractive and accessible link between Portobello Road & Notting Hill Gate 

  • The described improvements are not too specific however a key objective needs to be widening pavements on either side and creating a level surface (eliminating the stepped design on the west side which impedes pedestrian flow and accessibility)

  • Measures to reduce traffic dominance” are much needed but nonspecific in the plans. It is a heavily congested street for pedestrians with little room to navigate what is often a bustling section and is difficult and awkward to cross. Prioritising buses on this section and removing through traffic as per RBKC proposals in 2009 would significantly improve pedestrian experience & improve bus journeys.

  • junction of Pembridge Road/Portobello Road would benefit from widening pavements to narrow existing junction, this would provide outdoor seating for surrounding pub/cafes, greening opportunities and improves safety of junction entrance.

  • The junction of Pembridge Road/ Kensington Park Road/NHG remains disjointed and confusing for pedestrians and would be further enhanced by implementing the proposed ideas raised in RBKC report in 2009 to remove general traffic from this junction. 

Pembridge Gardens

Pembridge Gardens
  • Fully support filtering Pembridge Gardens as this will significantly improve pedestrian experience. This is a busy junction with traffic cutting through to avoid the main junction with traffic often making it difficult and challenging when crossing the road. Reducing the number of junctions pedestrians must navigate will help reinstate a high street feel & safety. Relocating the bus stops would provide more comfort for those using buses, decompress a bad pinch point on Pembridge Road & provide a more integrated interchange with the underground station.

  • This will provide additional opportunities for planting, seating and other uses. 

Notting Hill Tube Station

Notting Hill Tube Station
  • Tube entrance/exits need more pedestrian space to improve experience and decongest pavements.

  • Given this is supposed to be outlining a roadmap for Notting Hill Gate, the lack of planning for step free station is disappointing given it was in previous planning documents yet has failed to materialise. This is important for ensuring Notting Hill Gate is accessible for all.

Junction with Kensington Church Street

Junction with Kensington Church Street
  • Pedestrian crossing improvements much needed with more prioritisation and better opportunities to cross.

  • Cycle improvements are again basic minimum and would like to see greater interventions to improve safety for cycling along Church Street & NHG as well as junction treatments.

Kensington Church Street

  • Much more attention needed on reducing traffic volumes in the area, doing this would open up the transformational potential that would underpin the overall vision for NHG. With a more place-based approach to managing traffic Church Street could revert to being two-way significantly enhancing Church Street

Linden Gardens crossings

  • This junction needs a complete rethink if we are looking to develop a roadmap for Notting Hill Gate. While improvements to crossings are much needed in the short term as it is another challenging point to cross as a pedestrian. In the medium to long term the objective should be to eliminate the gyratory layout (again suggested in previous RBKC Notting Hill Gate plans) along with establishing two-way traffic movement on the upper part of Church Street.