The ambitious new project aims to transform a three quarter mile stretch of redundant railway in Camden and Kings Cross into a linear elevated park expected to attract 1.5 million people a year.
Its design is led by James Corner Field Operations, the practice behind the original highline in Manhattan, an urban greening project so successful it draws five million visitors a year and has been accused of being a catalyst for the area’s rapid gentrification.
Camden-based practice vPPR Architects are also on the design team for the project which will be built in three phases. If approved, it will feature gardens and walkways eight metres off the ground, alongside seating areas, cafés, and space for arts and events.
Running next to a working Overground line, the route will eventually stretch between Camden Gardens in Camden Town in the west and York Way, near King’s Cross station in the east and will have four entrances from street level.
Construction is expected to take place in three phases, with planning permission only so far submitted for the £14 million first stretch, from Camden Gardens to Royal College Street. The application, which has been lodged with Camden Council, is the latest milestone for the Camden Highline charity which launched a £35million funding drive last year.
So far the charity has raised £1 million to pay for feasibility and design work, but it hopes planning permission will attract more funding with a mix of public sector and trust grants, donations from wealthy individuals and corporate sponsorship, which could include naming rights. The project has the support from Network Rail, which owns the land.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan has also backed the new walking route. He said: “The Camden Highline epitomises London’s creativity and ingenuity and is the kind of thinking we need as we head towards a green future. Londoners should be encouraged to spend more time outside and in nature, in cleaner and greener spaces for their health and wellbeing.”
According to the planning application, a portion of the highline’s running costs will be covered by hiring the space out for private events and includes plans for a 70-seat grandstand for small performances and a second space with capacty for 84 people, both located near the Royal College Street section.
Under the proposals, the highline would occasionally close for private events though the charity said this would happen a maximum of ten times a year.
The new route’s first phase runs alongside existing housing estates, Maiden Lane and Agar Grove, built when the whole Highline was an active railway. Agar Grove is currently undergoing a major £97 million redevelopment by Camden Council into the UK’s “largest Passivhaus project”.
The first entrance at Camden Gardens also sits next to Hawley’s Wharf, the canalside development project owned by billionaire entrepreneur Teddy Sagi’s investment firm LabTech. Last week Sagi reportedly put Camden Market, which he also owns, on the market for £1.5 billion.
When complete, the east end of the Highline will end at the door step of the Tile Yards development, a music and culture oriented residential and commercial development on a former industrial site.
Camden Highline CEO, Simon Pitkeathley, said: “The design team led by Field Operations have surpassed our already high expectations and there is no doubt that The Camden Highline will be a beautiful park in the sky. Now the real challenge is to raise the funds to build it so that we can all benefit. This will involve a collaborative effort from a range of funding sources, and we would like to talk to anyone who thinks they might be able to help.”
Lead Designer James Corner of Field Operations added: “We are extremely excited to share this design vision for Camden Highline. The design is intended to celebrate and amplify the unique characteristics of the railway viaduct, dramatizing movement and discovery, set within a sequence of woodlands, meadows, and gardens.”
The planning application is currently under consideration by Camden Council.