The Times – Let’s get building underground<br/> London has a treasury of unused tunnels. Why not use them, like other cities do? by Kit Malthouse (a businessman and former Tory councillor and is standing for the London Assembly in 2008 (a Tory!))

Other cities have of course been burrowing for years. In Canada, they face not a space problem but an issue with the weather: when it’s minus 25C, how do you keep people shopping? By digging of course.

Underneath downtown Toronto lies the PATH, an underground city stretching for 16 miles. With four million square feet of space, it is equivalent in size to 1.5 Empire State Buildings, employs 5,000 people in 1,200 shops and connects more than 50 surface buildings with five underground stations. Montreal has the same, only bigger. Paris, of course, has the Forum des Halles, a huge underground shopping mall, with a park on the roof. Delhi, Moscow, Tokyo and many others all take the same approach.

Wonderful!

In fact once you start to use that imagination and think about what could go underground, all sorts of crazy ideas pop into your head. We could, for instance, drop the dual carriageway that currently blights the north side of the Thames into a tunnel below, replacing it with a four-mile long riverside park from Blackfriars to Battersea Bridge. Bypassing Parliament Square at the same time would allow it to be pedestrianised on two sides.

Similarly a tunnel could take traffic from the Edgware Road under Hyde Park and the gardens of Buckingham Palace and allow it to emerge south of Victoria station, where most of it is heading in any event.

The entire Hyde Park Corner interchange could be dropped below ground, and the three great parks of Central London could be united. You could walk from Parliament Square to Queensway, about three miles, without crossing a road. Park Lane would be freed up for redevelopment, and a grand new public square could be created at Marble Arch.

ninme swoons

Does this all sound like another madcap scheme? Well, tell that to the madrileños, who are just putting the finishing touches to Madrid Calle 30, a project that has dropped 35 miles of urban motorway into tunnels, replacing them with parks and housing in the space created. Or tell the Bostonians or Sydneysiders who have both completed extensive urban tunnel projects in the past decade.

It really isn’t that crazy. Tunnelling technology is now remarkably advanced. New machines for boring can cope with all kinds of terrain, so work can take place underground with little disturbance. And it isn’t as expensive as you think. You can get a nice three-mile tunnel running under Central London for the same price as an Olympic stadium.

According to the AA, driving in a tunnel is twice as safe as on the surface and there are no pedestrians or cyclists to get in your way. Emissions can be collected and new techniques can “scrub” them from the air, allowing all of us to breath a little easier.

Perfect!

Building ever upwards will change London’s character irreversibly. Digging down would beautify it immeasurably, and create some of the space the city desperately needs.

ninme wants to know where she signs up

So, actually, when I was in London and a nice elderly gentleman picked me up at a church I was photographing (I lost that roll of film, incidentally) and took me to the London Film Festival (Dog Days), he was telling me (standing at a bus stop in Kensington) that the city was seriously considering chopping down all the trees to fit more parking spaces, and, seeing me go alarmingly pale, explained that there were lots of ancient streams running below the city that had long ago been paved over, so building subterranean parking garages wasn’t an option. Hopefully those people had been sent to a slum in Delhi and told to “rethink” their options.

Btw, all this can be tied into Ratty the Water Vole’s new environmental protection.