Watford Junction Transport Review
SYSTRA was commissioned by Watford Borough Council to conduct a review of transport opportunities and challenges in relation to Watford Junction station and its surroundings, and the existing areas of light industrial activity to the north of the railway. The study area is currently a 19 hectare brownfield site to the north of Watford Junction Station, identified in the adopted Watford Local Plan as suitable for redevelopment. The area has previously been subject to multiple major redevelopment plans and proposals. Due to delivery and viability challenges, none have been subsequently realised. A new opportunity to revisit and redefine these ambitions became available to Watford Borough Council in early 2020 via their discussions with Network Rail around the planned redevelopment and improvement of Watford Junction station, and an early agreement in principle that a new connecting bridge to serve the station platforms could be expanded to form a new public link for pedestrians and cyclists across the railway, thus creating a step-change in access to multiple sites which are currently constrained primarily to vehicular access.
It is considered that, with the benefit of appropriate technical work, vision and liaison with the multiple parties with an interest in the study area, a comprehensive strategy can be developed which will enable the creation of new residential neighbourhoods in a highly sustainable location, drive renewed economic development, create employment opportunities and enhance the town’s retail, leisure and community offer, as well as playing a role in Watford’s recovery from the hardships due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
To start, SYSTRA summarised the existing movements by all modes types within and around the station, identifying the aims for future development and growth in the study area and linking these to wider policy, in order to determine the most suitable approach to addressing the transport issues. To accompany this analysis, a virtual site visit was conducted to ascertain the conditions of transport infrastructure and facilities in the surrounding area.
SYSTRA undertook workshops and consultations with council officers, landowners and other relevant stakeholders to compare differing ideas, identify significant concerns, and gauge support for core transport improvements in the various parts of the study area. Taking the policy analysis, site visit and these initial suggestions into account, SYSTRA adopted an approach where all potential improvements were considered “on the table” and where an opportunity was provided for all stakeholders to provide input. SYSTRA have specifically sought to engage landowners in the area at an early stage to identify where ambitions already exist to undertake site redevelopment, and where such proposals could potentially form part of a landowner’s longer-term planning; this has led to a number of positive responses and enabled the “vision” for the study area to be aligned more consistently with both council and landowner ambitions. It is intended that this will make it simpler and more productive for the different parties to work towards planning and implementation phases over time, and help to overcome the issues which have led to inertia and the failure of previous area-wide work.
SYSTRA subsequently produced a refined set of options for the different elements of the overall strategy, focusing on sustainable modes and connections to the central new pedestrian and cycle railway crossing; these were subject to an initial high level costing exercise to inform early discussions around funding requirements and opportunities. This presented a firm basis for subsequent work relating to the business case and associated funding opportunities.
The major elements of the transport strategy included the following:
- A new pedestrian bridge crossing over and integrated with Watford Junction station, to connect the land on the opposite side of the station which is currently isolated from the town centre;
- Relocation of the existing car parking facilities, incorporating the creation of a new “hub” facility to re-provide the existing car parking as a multi-storey facility with ground floor provision for taxi and rail replacement bus drop-off, cycle parking and (in the longer term) potential Mass Rapid Transit access. The new location would enable more efficient vehicle routing with less journeys impacting the central ring road and the town’s most congested junctions;
- Improvements to the road network serving the existing concrete batching plant and light industrial areas to the east, to make provision for future increases in travel by sustainable modes and increase connectivity within and through this area, including by facilitating access to the new pedestrian/cycle bridge.
- Provision of a second new pedestrian and cycle bridge crossing in the northern area of the site, to increase connectivity for sustainable modes between the wider Masterplan area and Watford’s strategic highway network, and to provide additional resilience for these modes in the event of temporary disruption or closure of the main station area bridge; and
- Upgrading of the existing bus station area to provide better operator and passenger facilities (including the Warner Brothers Studios buses), with associated bus priority improvements to the surrounding highway network.
The Stage 1 Report and Business Case were submitted to Watford Borough Council in August 2020; the Stage 1 work has subsequently been applied by WBC to directly inform preparation of their emerging Local Plan and has supported the designation of the study area as a Strategic Development Area (SDA), cementing the policy basis for the proposals. Stage 2 of the project is anticipated to commence in early 2021.