Half a high street or a whole high street – Lambeth plans for Vauxhall

01 Feb

I don’t claim to be an expert on high streets but as a former shop owner I do have some insights on the matter. The ‘High Street'(on the site of Vauxhall Bus Station) that Lambeth are planning could never be one. Yes, you could throw money at it – build yet more residential accommodation and put shops underneath – but it still wouldn’t be a high street.

A high street is typically the main street of a town – the place where most shops, banks, and other businesses cluster. Most date from the late 19th century. Clapham and Brixton certainly have ‘high streets’ linked into town centres but do Kennington Oval and Vauxhall have them? Kennington Cross is certainly a candidate but the mix of shops is not that of a typical high street

What about the following commercial areas?

(i) South Lambeth Road (Little Portugal)
(ii) Oval parade
(iii) Kennington Park parade
(iv) Brixton Road (from the Oval)

One thing these areas have in common is that they all have shops on just one side of the road not dissimilar to what is proposed at Vauxhall. Such commercial areas face particular challenges due to the footfall and traffic patterns. Much as we might love and support some of the local shops there, they are not high streets. Let’s call them aspiring high streets or ‘half a high street’ in the sense that they don’t have the mix of shops found on a typical high street.

The great irony is that if Lambeth had a proper plan for Vauxhall before developments like St George Wharf came along they could have had a proper district centre. The Vauxhall island site could have been that but the Kylun Towers have put an end to that possibility. It seems to me that Lambeth have arrived for dinner when everyone else is putting away the plates and then decided to take out the cooker (bus station).

Let’s be positive though. No one can doubt the need to improve the public realm area around Vauxhall for pedestrians, cyclists and those who live and work in the area. It is unfortunate that some senior officials in Lambeth have got it into their heads that the only way to do this is to demolish the bus station and build what could only ever be half a high street. Looking at the membership of the Board (TfL+Lambeth) that will oversee the project gives me no confidence that the right solution will emerge for Vauxhall. Perhaps they should consider having community representatives on that board rather than the current bilateral TfL/Lambeth arrangement.


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