Mile End Shaft, Crossrail London - GreenBlue Urban
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Mile End Shaft, Crossrail London


The new Elizabeth Line, formerly known as Crossrail will connect the east London boroughs with the west, as far as Reading and Heathrow. This huge project, the largest infrastructure project in Europe will have the capacity to carry 200 million passengers annually, through 41 stations, and runs for more than 60 miles, much of it underground.

When designing an underground railway, one of the vital considerations is emergency access and allowing adequate ventilation. To ensure that this first new underground line since 1979 is fit for purpose, not only now, but well into the future, six ventilation/access shafts were created along the underground portion of the railway, designed to blend in with their surroundings.

Mile End, in the east of London, has one of these shafts, constructed at the southern end of Mile End Park – a linear park created in the 1990s from land devasted by the bombing in World War 2. This park runs along the Regents Canal and provides a welcome green space in this heavily built-up area.

Mile End itself is an old part of London, lying on the London to Colchester Road, although there is little record of buildings here before 1300, and in 1381 it was where the young King Richard ll (he was only 14) met the Men of Essex during the Peasants Revolt, before acceding to their demands – later rescinded.

The shaft was built by the Costain Skanska joint venture team (known as C360) and has 124 steps from the street down to pavement level. Positioned on the site of an all-weather playing pitch, which had to be relocated. The shaft has carefully designed by Jacobs UK Ltd to add biodiversity to the area. The main feature wall was planted with climbing plants, utilising the GreenBlue Urban Series 100 Stainless Steel climbing wall system, specified by Jacobs, the main designer on the scheme. The multi-disciplinary design team that oversaw both the design and construction of this complex project was Weston Williamson + Partners.

The plants have grown well and will continue to do so as long as they have access to water, uncompacted soil and air. Being mainly east-facing has led to some plants not growing as fast as others, as it is protected by the shaft from rainfall coming on the prevailing winds. In addition to the green wall system, other bio-diverse elements have been added including a wildflower meadow covering the headhouse, with 35 species of flowering plants, and five Hornbeam trees (Carpinus betulus “Frans Fontaine”) and a couple of apple trees (Malus Elstar) which apart from the autumn fruits, are great for pollinators.

The design life of this shaft is anticipated to be at least 120 years. With careful protection and some maintenance, there is no reason why this attractive green wall should not continue to thrive for as long as it is needed, bringing benefits to all those who live work and play in Mile End.