The redevelopment of London's railway sites gets under way at last with Paddington leading the way
The regeneration of land around London's railway stations is finally gathering momentum. For years, development plans for King's Cross and Paddington were left in the sidings, shunted between planners and developers.

Now the first phases of residential and office buildings at Paddington are nearing completion and a realistic design and consultation document on King's Cross was published last month by joint-venture developer Argent St George.

Stratford in East London is another area that is set to benefit from the redevelopment of railway lands. Last week, Chelsfield, Stanhope and London and Continental Railways unveiled designs for a huge 1.11 million m sq joint development between Stratford station and the new international station for the Channel Tunnel Rail Line.

The masterplan will create an extension to Stratford town centre and contain retail, commercial, leisure, municipal, hotel and residential buildings including up to 6000 new homes.

Criss-crossed by railways and scarred by heavy industry, the desolate railway lands in London have proved a difficult physical and financial challenge for developers. It has taken 25 years to develop the former goods yard at Paddington, and an attempt to develop King's Cross by developer London Regeneration and architects Fosters and Partners failed back in 1992. Only Broadgate, next door to Liverpool Street station, has been successfully redeveloped in recent years.

Current proposals should have a more positive outcome, as central government, regional government and developers ultimately want the same thing. That is, mixed-use designs featuring high-density housing. The high demand for housing in London makes housing profitable for developers at the moment, and while prices continue to rise, they're happy to provide homes at a high density.

The only sticking points at King's Cross are the types of affordable housing to be provided – that is, family homes or flats. Argent St George has already agreed that 50% of the housing to be built should be affordable.

All these projects aim to link previously stranded pieces of land to the rest of the city. At Paddington cycleways and footpaths will connect the station with the development and districts previously cut off by railways and roads. For instance, it will soon be possible to walk from Maida Vale to the station via a waterway running through Paddington Basin.

At Stratford, the plan is to connect central Stratford with Leyton and existing residential communities as well as the green environments of Hackney marshes and the Lea Valley.

The redevelopment of Birmingham New Street station is another scheme that should help to reconnect isolated pieces of urban development. Alsop Architects has just been appointed to lead the £200m refurbishment. It will be up to the practice to sort out "the mess around the station that's holding up the whole regeneration of Birmingham", as one source close to the project describes it.

For an ideal as to how it should be done, the designers should visit Paddington. Here the damaged fabric of the urban environment is gradually being stitched back together to form a desirable destination for both businesses and the community.