Long journey for residents - but Eurostar makes it all worthwhile

They ve had to endure sleepless nights from round-the-clock builders and have seen graves being dug up by developers. But despite all this, King s Cross residents say their voices have been heard – to the point where they too are welcoming Eurostar s arri

They've had to endure sleepless nights from round-the-clock builders and have seen graves being dug up by developers. But despite all this, King's Cross residents say their voices have been heard - to the point where they too are welcoming Eurostar's arrival. Katie Davies reports

THE elegantly reworked St Pancras Station opened with a festival of celebrations yesterday - as the first Eurostar trains took to the new High Speed 1 track for Paris and Brussels.

Heralded as an architectural dream and an engineering feat, the £5.8billion scheme has been welcomed with justified national smugness.

For it puts Britain - the land which brought the world Stephenson's Rocket - back at the forefront of the rail industry.

Congratulations have abounded for the engineers, architects and builders behind the project.

But little homage has been paid to the struggle of the local community - one of the most deprived in the country.

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Over the last few years, they have been faced with this huge development every time thy have departed from their homes.

"It has been a long time and it has not always been easy," said Bob McMahon, chairman of the residents' association for Coopers Lane - the housing estate closest to the station.

"It was hard work trying to ensure residents didn't suffer as much as they could have done.

"But it did work out in the end when they started listening to us."

In 2001, work began on section two of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link - or High Speed 1 as it was rebranded last year - by a consortium under London Continental Railways (LCR).

Tunnelling started more than five miles away in Stratford to build the new faster line.

But as soon as work began, it courted controversy.

In 2002, residents and local clergy protested against the treatment of graves next to the Old St Pancras Church exhumed by the company to make way for the new track.

Matters came to a head in 2004 when the building consortium applied to work through the night, spelling months of sleepless nights for all those living around the station site.

Mr McMahon added: "It got to the point where we had to stand up and be counted.

"We stuck up for ourselves and I would recommend anyone facing a large development like this to do the same.

"The council backed us and rejected the later working hours.

"LCR then appealed and in a public enquiry in 2004 the company was denied again.

"I think the project learned from that and afterwards there was good consultation with us.

"We've got a magnificent station at the end of it - the best in Europe - and I think residents can feel part of that achievement because of this."

Ward councillor Roger Robinson has supported the community from the beginning.

He said: "The lows definitely came at the start. There was the public enquiry and other issues.

"But people in the community worked their guts out and did a fantastic job influencing the development.

"The station is so close to local flats and, after a while, the developers did very well at understanding the issues those residents faced."

Since 2004, there have, of course, been other hiccups.

A £3,500 fine was given to the contractors for making too much noise in March 2006.

And, most recently, calls were made and ignored for frosted glass panelling on the western station side because platform users could see into people's homes.

But, overall, the scheme has ended amicably with the developer and residents so usually on opposite sides of the table coming to the same place.

Mr McMahon said: "I am sure local people will benefit from this. We won't be going over to Paris every other day. But, hopefully, there will be employment from the station building."

The development has, of course, already attracted new people and businesses to the community. Normandy native Sabine Letort is a St Pancras convert, having taken over the old boozer the Somers Town Coffee House in Chalton Street and made it into a French bistro.

"We were really counting on this," she said.

"We did our market research to move here two years ago because things were happening in this area. We are now publicising the restaurant in Paris.

"The channel tunnel is going to be brilliant for business in this area."

There are fears that the existing communities of St Pancras and Somers Town will be pushed out in the inevitable gentrification of the area. That, of course, is always the danger with regeneration.

But, equally, there is hope that this strong community will continue to fight its corner and retain the area's history.

As Ms Letort laughed: "This area of Somers Town has a great history. It used to be the French quarter back in the 1800s - so maybe we are just coming back again."