Northern Line Extension: Skewing the figures to get you to pay for their new train set?

A study prepared for The Vauxhall Society

The claim that 90% of local people support the Northern Line Extension is misleading. According to the consultation paper produced for the scheme’s backers, this claim is based on fewer than 1600 opinions (in a Lambeth population of more than 272,000) and even these few votes are not for NLE as the best choice compared to other transport options but in answer to a different question entirely. Meanwhile, Lambeth proposes to spend millions of your money on the Northern Line Extension (NLE) at the expense of other amenities, such as libraries – yet hasn’t done any Due Diligence. Time for a referendum?

In reality, the 90% figure of support backers claim for NLE in the NLE 2011 Consultation document (page 5) is not in response to a question about supporting the NLE (versus any other scheme) but (according to the document):

‘When asked if they thought the proposed scheme would bring transport benefits to the area of Nine Elms and Battersea, 90% (1,597) either agreed or strongly agreed, compared with only 4% (64) who strongly disagreed’

So, 90% of those asked thought the proposed scheme would bring transport improvements. They did not support the NLE in terms of preferring it to any alternative transport scheme. This headline figure is therefore misleading.

Notice also that this ‘90%’ covers only a tiny proportion of the population affected by the NLE. This ‘90%’ is 1,661 respondents, a very small sample, which is hardly representative of area in which many thousands live.

The way consultation is being handled, it is not even clear that those few who were consulted were made aware of all the issues, including alternative routes to that favoured by NLE’s backers and whether there is any need for NLE at all.

NLE routes: manipulating the data?
There was, apparently, a second set of questions in the questionnaire that is being construed as asking which Underground route was preferred, but in fact only asks whether they support Route Option 2 or not. The results shown in the Consultation document are:

‘Respondents were asked whether they supported or opposed Route Option 2. Of those that answered, the majority stated that they support Route Option 2, with 69% (1,195) in favour and 14% (260) against. The remaining 17% (284) had no preference.’

Again, this needs to be treated with some caution. Does the 69% really represent a majority in the area that will be affected by the proposal or is it too small a sample to consider as being representative? Also, did the sample group who responded to the questionnaire really understand the issues that were involved and what the options are? I doubt whether the claims of ‘majority support’ would survive a critical assessment using either of these fundamental criteria.

The NLE programme seems to be being manipulated in the same way as Sainsbury’s is manipulating the survey data in its favour for the proposals to build high-rise buildings on its current site in Nine Elms (asking the public if they would like a bigger better store and translating the obvious positive responses to that question into support for their monolithic skyscraper proposals).

The real question that should be asked to all the residents of the affected area about the transport options for the planned development to Battersea is this:

A Northern Line extension will be very costly, take Nine Elms and Battersea commuters away from London and on to a route that has the most congested lines and station in London and return to London in the area of Waterloo. A Victoria Line extension will cost much less to construct, will cause much less inconvenience to the public in its construction, will provide access into central London by a quick direct route on a much less congested Underground line, probably at lower journey costs and with much greater choice of alternative transport routes en route. Which of these two routes would you prefer to see constructed?

The facts on which this question is based are explained and detailed below.

This, and only this, question will provide a true public view on whether the public want an NLE or an extension to the Victoria Line.

NLE: The facts according to TfL and Treasury Holdings’ own consultation documents [i] 
The 2009 and 2010 reports at reference at the end of this paper provide the basis of the decision in favour of the NLE (option 2) but they clearly state evidence to the contrary: that the Victoria Line is the far better option. They also ignore completely any other alternative transport solutions for the proposed new developments at Battersea and Nine Elms, including the lightly used overground.

Arguments used in the reports:

  • Vauxhall station is too congested to take additional commuters;
  • The Victoria Line is too congested to take additional commuters

Conclusion reached:

  • The Northern Line is a better alternative

Why this is wrong ‘Vauxhall Station too congested’

  • The only congestion problem at Vauxhall is in the area of barrier management, which is being addressed by planned changes identified in the report at relatively low cost. See page 49 of the 2009 report. 
  • In any case, extending the Victoria Line past Vauxhall to Battersea will not bring any additional loading at the Vauxhall barrier because commuters will already be on the train at Vauxhall.
  • But, creating a new Northern Line station at Nine Elms would likely (using data in the 2010 report) result in commuters from that area opting to walk five minutes to the Victoria Line at Vauxhall (cheaper and more direct route) thus putting more pressure on the barriers there.

‘Victoria Line too congested’

  • There is only a short journey area north of Victoria that reaches anything like 80% of capacity at the peak period. The rest of the line (and all of it for most of the day) is at a much lower level of use.
  • Absolute figures for Northern Line use are much higher than on the Victoria Line already, without adding a new load from Nine Elms and Battersea
  • For example: The statistics on page 44 of the 2009 report show that Vauxhall is ‘an extremely lightly loaded station’ (6,000 passengers in the three-hour peak period) whereas Waterloo on the Northern line (which would be directly affected in traffic flow as predicted by the NLE model) is the highest on the entire Underground network with nearly twelve times as many boardings (69,000).
  • Also: Using the statistics from pages 44 and 45 of the 2009 report, the Vauxhall boardings of 6,000 in the three hour peak period is dwarfed by the 29,000 passengers who use the Stockwell to Oval route in the same period, 22,000 of whom are opting to get into central London via Waterloo. The traffic density indicators on pages 46 and 47 bear this out.
  • The problem relating to crowding on the Northern Line itself has not been addressed in the studies. Adding passengers from the proposed new stations will make the Northern Line even more heavily overcrowded.
  • Current levels of use between Victoria and Warren Street are high, peaking at both ends of this route to just fewer than 50,000 passengers in the three-hour morning rush hour period (page 45, 2009 report) but nowhere near as high as the boarding rate shows Waterloo (on the Northern Line) in the same period with 69,000 boardings (page 44).
  • It makes no sense to route even more passengers on to the already most heavily congested (Northern Line) route on the London Underground system.

The case for extending the Victoria Line – the case that is not being made

Can the Victoria Line cope with demand?

Yes, much more so than the Northern Line:

  • According to page 110 of the report, the Victoria Line, after its current uplift, will be able to accommodate about 60,000 passengers each way in the three hour peak period, so the Victoria Line, while busy, would be well within its design capacity given current levels of passenger use (fewer than 50,000 passengers at the peak).
  • Even if all the predicted new passengers (page 31 of the 2010 report) from Battersea and Nine Elms continued on the Victoria Line to these congested areas the total number of passengers would still be within the 60,000 passenger tolerances.
  • It is unlikely, however, that all of them would reach the congested zone, or would do so for only one or two stops. Although busy, the congestion on the Victoria Line, using the consultants’ figures, would be far less than the congestion predicted by their figures on the Northern Line in the same period.
  • In other words, although the Victoria Line would be very busy for the peak three hours a day, it would not be as busy as the Northern Line. It would be able to cope with the expected future demands identified by the consultants’ reports, including predicted demands from the Nine Elms and Battersea development if directly connected on the Victoria Line via Vauxhall.

Advantages of a Victoria Line spur into London

A Victoria Line extension would/could:

  • Be cheaper and less intrusive to build
  • Be built partly overground using existing (or new) rail lines in the adjacent Network Rail system with spurs out to the new stations.
  • Provide a much less congested route into central London
  • Provide a direct riverside link for residents to be able to commute along the length of the proposed new development area from Battersea to Vauxhall (with its huge other transport hub, including river clipper services) and aid the overall regeneration of the area too;
  • Provide a much more direct (and probably cheaper) route for residents in Nine Elms and Battersea into central London (one example: the new US Embassy staff will want to travel into Whitehall – a direct Victoria Line tube link might encourage them not to use Diplomatic cars so frequently. A NLE would do the opposite.)
  • Bring commuters closer into the centre with no change of trains (making it more convenient for them and relieving platform congestion further along the Underground route).

What should we be doing then?
Transport Requirement

  • A survey of ALL transport options should be undertaken (including the Overground and the possibility of extending river services or introducing a tram service using existing network rail tracks) to see whether an Underground extension is needed in the transport mix.
  • This survey should be based on commuter needs, not up-selling opportunities for developers or contractors.

An Underground Solution as part of the transport mix (if needed):

  • If an Underground link is found to be necessary it should be the Victoria Line extended as a North/South spur via Vauxhall for the reasons given above. This would, like the District and Northern Lines, allow for two train schedules to run on one line giving the potential to slightly increase train numbers. That means:
A service running southbound from Walthamstow to Battersea and another running on the same line southbound from Walthamstow to Brixton.  

A service running northbound from Brixton to Battersea and another running on the same line from Brixton to Walthamstow.

Public Sector Financing: need for Lambeth Due Diligence and NLE referendum

Lambeth Council intends to fund NLE from money intended for improvements to the public realm. They intend to spend between £500million and £600million on this project without any form of due diligence (statement by Lambeth Council to The Vauxhall Society AGM October 2011). This funding would otherwise be used for public realm facilities within Lambeth, including keeping open libraries that are currently under threat.

  • Lambeth Council should commission a comprehensive Due Diligence assessment before committing any public money to a transport scheme of this scale, which will result in a loss of amenities elsewhere.
  • The views of all people affected should be taken into account, not just those of developers and contractors.
  • Those who will profit from NLE (and other developments) should not control ‘consultation’ and its analysis because they have a vested interest in a certain outcome.
  • Millions of pounds of public (ie your) money will be spent on the NLE project. This leaves much less available for other public realm facilities (eg libraries) and/or higher charges on residents to raise more money to pay for community services. It is therefore important to ensure that the most economical and efficient options, providing the best deal for residents, are adopted, not those that bring the most profit to developers;
  • The views of everybody affected in the NLE (and other major developments) should be taken into account, and the way to do that is by an independently conducted and verified referendum with options based on a full disclosure of the facts presented by a neutral expert. The current process of skewed questions and the convenient interpretation of statistics by developers to support their preferred outcome is wrong.

[i] First Report
VNEB Transport Study Report
Final Report, December 2009
Sinclair Knight Merz
Victoria House
Southampton Row
London WC1B 4EA
commissioned by TfL

Second Report
Northern Line Extension Options
Multi-Criteria Assessment of Route Options
Draft Final Report
August 2010
Prepared for Treasury Holdings Ltd

Battersea Power Station
Prepared by
Steer Davies Gleave
28-32 Upper Ground
London SE1 9PD


The Vauxhall Society is the civic consultative group covering the London parliamentary constituency of Vauxhall, which extends from north of Waterloo to Brixton, Clapham, and Stockwell and Vauxhall, as well as the neighbouring districts of Southwark and Wandsworth.
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