Platform 4 gate: the case against

I welcome (and will always try to engage with) comments under my posts here on SE13URE. But one of the more surprising ways in which I’ve received feedback this week was through an e-mailed Word document letter sent to me via a mutual contact!

With permission of its sender, I’m reproducing it here in full, one paragraph at a time, with my comments, as it seems fair to air a competing view to my much-publicised petition – while also explaining why I disagree!

Dear Paul,

Firstly I wish to applaud you for the excellent Se13ure website.  It is very informative concerning the Lewisham Gateway scheme.   A pity that the Council have left it up to you to provide details of what is going on.

This is a little unfair on the council I think – the developers were tasked with providing this information and (after a very slow start) are now doing so to a decent standard.

That said I wish to take issue with you over the reopening of the dangerous slope from platform four into Silk Mills Path.  I have no doubt that you will get plenty of signatories for your petition but if you asked the motorists using a rat run if they did not wish to see road closures I expect you would get a 100% to sign up with no regard for the children and aged crossing the road.

I dare say you would get a majority (I suspect not 100%) but the comparison is inappropriate – even as the argument develops in subsequent paragraphs it’s clear that the only people whose lives would supposedly be put at risk by reopening the slope are those signing the petition as potential slope-users, so that’s not equivalent to the passive “children and aged” mentioned here.

Originally this was a track workers access route and never intended as a passenger entrance.  When it was used as a temporary exit during the installation of the staircases and lifts it caused a great deal of problems for the residents of this quiet, pretty street who had to endure not just a huge amount of rubbish but late night revellers, people urinating, even defecating between our parked cars, drug dealing and abusive, aggressive car drivers blocking our parking spaces while they waited for passengers coming down the slope.  All of this my neighbours and I would put up with while the first phase of the Gateway scheme takes place.

I’m glad we are at least agreed at this point that Silk Mills Path is a “quiet” street – I don’t know if I’d go as far as “pretty” but that’s just personal taste 🙂  The scenarios described here are of course not good, but it’s very hard to quantify. Much of the described behaviour is clearly illegal, so Police/Safer Neighbourhood Teams could be deployed to monitor this in the event it did become a serious problem. And parking there to collect commuters should certainly be banned, with enforcement.

However please consider how dangerous this exit is.  We residents of Silk Mills Path have witnessed many close shaves when passengers leaving the station via this slope step out in front of vehicles from a blind corner.  It is just a matter of time before someone is seriously hurt – even a bicycle could cause severe injury.  A  very likely accident as bicycles are not noisy.   No health and safety officer would ever countenance the use of this exit.  It is for this reason that Network Rail sensibly closed it.

I have considered how dangerous this exit is, and reached the conclusion that, well, it’s not very dangerous. For a start, we established in the previous paragraph that it’s a “quiet” street. I agree, which is why there’s simply not a high risk of accident. My correspondent mentioned earlier in his letter that the slope was open all the time during the installation of the lifts etc., which from memory took about a year; if it is truly “just a matter of time” before a serious accident, quite how much time will this be, if none happened during that whole year?

And even if we accept that this risk is serious, there are simple mitigation measures that could be employed such as:

  • a short barrier at the bottom of the slope to force people to walk left a short distance when reaching the bottom so that they’re no longer turning a blind corner; or
  • a mirror opposite the end of the slope to show what’s coming.

His next paragraph seems to turn a little sinister:

I have copies of much correspondence with Network Rail, station managers, politicians and other interested parties concerning this potential accident spot.  So if the slope were reopened there would be some anxious people who would quite rightly be fearful of litigation when the inevitable accident happens.  And be assured there are some of us residents who would have no hesitation in pointing the noses of injured parties in the direction of those responsible.

Is that some sort of threat? Does he believe that every signatory to the petition should be jointly and severally liable for damages in the event of this gate being reopened?! All the more reason to get as many people as possible to sign, I suppose, to limit each person’s costs 😉

Finally, I’m pleased to say we can end on another point of substantial agreement:

Paul, I totally understand your frustration at the longer walk you and many other rail travellers have to take but reopening that slope is not the answer.  Far better to make an entrance into Tesco’s car park as it appeared in the original plans for the upgrading of the station.  I have no idea why this was not carried out as it would be simple to, as you say, ‘oysterise’ and provide easier access for disabled people – something not provided by the slope because of the steep steps from the platform level. This entrance would also allow direct access to the central concourse, ticket office, platforms 1 and 2 and the DLR for those coming from the North side of the station.  Minutes in the morning are usually more important when going to work than when arriving home in the evening.

I completely agree that this is the only sensible way forward in the long – but hopefully not too long – term, and have said as much in the petition and in the message to Southeastern that each signature of it triggers. The problem with it, however, is that the eastern end of Station Road is closed now, and arranging to install a proper exit gate in the most sensible place, even if Southeastern miraculously agreed to it overnight, could take months. The only practical short-term fix is to reopen (and Oysterise) the Platform 4 gate – now.

I’d be interested to know what my correspondent has done in the years since the Platform 4 gate was last fully open to press Southeastern for the proper exit to be installed at the foot of the Platform 4 stairwell into the Tesco car park. I suspect, perhaps unfairly, that his enthusiasm for this exit is linked very closely to the chances he perceives of the Platform 4 exit gate being reopened…

(Incidentally, I’m not sure what the relevance of the point about morning versus evening minutes was, but as someone in the minority who catch a train from Platform 4 to work every morning, I’m very much in favour of not assuming any particular exit is only of use at any particular time of day.)

And my correspondent signs off:

Geoff Fleming

Ah, can this be the same Geoff Fleming who is standing as UKIP council candidate for Lewisham Central on 22 May? It surely can. It seems Mr. Fleming is keen for thousands of locals to be inconvenienced for the next year for the benefit of the small minority who live on Silk Mills Path and fear problems from those exiting the station via their road. Typical UKIP, always defending minorities’ rights 😉

(Full disclosure: I’m a member of the local Labour party – it hardly seems fair to bring my correspondent’s affiliation into this without bringing my own into it too – neither is really relevant to anything under discussion, after all!)

Anyway, if Mr. Fleming (or anyone else) wants to reply to any of the points here, please do so in the comments – I’d far rather discuss this publicly than by letter. But (sincerely) thanks for the correspondence!

» Sign the petition here

» Full Lewisham Gateway content archive

7 Responses

  1. It’s appalling that the operating company seem to single out Lewisham customers for extra punishment, in addition to high prices and poor travelling conditions. It is a clear example of putting profit before customer convenience. What makes it worse is that it causes a problem that customers did not experience in the past.

    I’ve lived in Granville Park for 20 years and can confirm that for about half that time access to the station via platform 4 was not a problem. When turnstiles were introduced to the main entrance it would have been appropriate to address the problem more appropriately than simply closing the gate.

    I suggest that the gate be closed around the time that the main turnstiles are unmanned, around 8-9pm, so as to obviate the problem of late-night revellers for the residents.

    The argument about safety is one of many poor excuses offered to me in correspondence. Passengers descending by the slope have a good view of what’s in front of them. If there is a danger with a few slow-moving vehicles, then why is no concern mentioned about Tesco customers who used the path to access the back entrance to the store? The planning permission for the car repair shop perhaps needs to be reviewed, although it seems to be the main objection is the obstruction caused by parked cars.

    I have seen people scaling the gate out of sheer frustration, and that seems to be more likely to cause injury.

    I hope the re-opening of the gate will be seen as a matter of urgency now the walk around the station is lengthened because of development work.

  2. Paul

    Congrats for your efforts and looks like a few steps have been made 🙂
    The 2 new entrances required for Platform 1 via new Bus Station & Platform 3/4 via Tesco Car Park they are so simple and logical to implement it hurts my brain that they are not there.

    Keep up the good work

  3. that letter is a triumph of NIMBYism isn’t it… why can’t the guy just be honest?

  4. Dear Paul,

    Thank you for publishing my letter with your comments.

    Let me reiterate that Silk Mills Path residents have no objection to the temporary opening of the slope whilst the first phase of the Gateway scheme takes place. Many of us are to be inconvenienced during this essential development but hopefully it will result, albeit in three years when completion is forecast.

    The main reason for my original letter was to point out how dangerous this exit is and for it to be reopened, even temporarily, someone at Network Rail will have to take that decision. And with that decision comes corporate responsibility. It is ludicrous for you to suggest that every person signing a petition would somehow dilute culpability.

    You state that you are in the minority in catching a train to work from platform four. You certainly are (NR monitoring figures confirm) as the huge majority catch up trains to Central London and the slope provides no advantage to the thousands of city workers in the morning – many of whom travel from platform one.

    I fully expected to be accused of NIMBYism and to a certain extent I hold my hand up to that. As an unelected person I have fought a few battles at a very local level. Specifically; I got Tesco to drop their no-deposit trolley system which resulted in Silk Mills Path becoming a repository for their trollies. How would you like to come home and find forty or more abandoned trollies outside your house – often left overnight and all weekend? Like to see the pictures?
    Was that NIMBYism or caring about my local environment?

    I campaigned for over two years to get more substantial bollards installed in the street to prevent rogue parking and the blocking of the Silk Mills Path entrance. This often meant that our bins were not emptied and if needed, emergency vehicles would not have had access. These bollards were eventually installed last week.
    Was that NIMBYism or caring about my local environment?

    I managed to acquire the office email address for the chairman of Network Rail and bombarded him with correspondence and pictures of the rubbish on the embankment opposite our houses. It did the trick and although it took a team of men four days to fill two skips it was done.
    Was that NIMBYism or caring about my local environment?

    These problems were very local to me and getting them resolved was achieved when I was in full time employment. Now that I have retired I have decided to stand for election as a councillor in the Lewisham Central ward where I have lived for over forty years. I can now devote time to ward residents and help them resolve their problems. One of them being the opening of the entrance to the station from Tesco’s car park as it was originally designed when planning was sought.

    Yours sincerely,

    Geoff Fleming

  5. Has there been any advance in any of this? All I’m seeing is fairly appalling delaying tactics by Mike Gibson of Southeastern – declaring that we have to produce ‘tangible evidence’ of increased pressure on the existing gates before they can even consider opening another – thus missing the point entirely. Other than that, nothing seems to be happening and things are only going to get worse as the chaos increases in the roundabout area.

  6. Late to this discussion — sorry, just seen it.

    It’s disingenuous to claim that “Originally this was a track workers access route and never intended as a passenger entrance”.

    I owned and lived in 5 Silk Mills Path from 1982 to 1989 and the platform 4 exit/entrance was a regular part of the station, sometimes with ticket inspectors at the top. It had been there for decades and was a normal part of the station infrastructure, not a temporary arrangement in any way.

    I’ve lived in SE London since 1973 and the slope was in use then — 41 years ago.

    In those seven years I lived there, there was never any problem with accidents or any other incident relating to the use of the platform 4 entrance.

    It’s entirely wrong to suggest that an ancient slope was brought back into use during the construction of the lifts and stairs. It’s been there, I would think, for a century or more.

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