Piccadilly underpass

The Piccadilly Underpass may have to close without “urgent measures” due to concerns over fire safety, a new report says.

Existing ventilator fans designed to reduce pollution levels in the tunnels underneath Hyde Park Corner would activate for smoke, but would not be able to clear it for drivers and passengers to evacuate safely in the event of a blaze.

Replacing the original 1960s fans is estimated to cost £4.25 million and may not be completed until 2024, meaning action would need to be taken to make the underpass safe in the meantime.

The report concludes: “Failure to implement these measures could result in a recommendation that the tunnel is closed until the main scheme to replace the current ventilation fans is complete.

“Having identified a potential evacuation risk to users of the Piccadilly Underpass in the event of a fire in the underpass, it is essential that the Council does all it reasonably can to implement the recommended urgent interim safety measures as soon as reasonably practicable to minimise the risk to tunnel users and improve safety.”

Certain measures have already been implemented, including reducing the tunnels to single lane traffic either side and a 20mph speed limit, both which were introduced following smoke simulation exercises first revealed the problem in November 2021.

Further steps have now been signed off by Paul Dimoldenberg, Cabinet Member for City Management and Air Quality, including installation of CCTV throughout the underpass to remotely detect incidents, new road safety signage, and a Public Address and Voice Alarm system to alert drivers of hazards.

Vehicles carrying dangerous substances will also be banned from the flyunder, which connects Piccadilly with Knightsbridge and together with Park Lane is one of Central London’s busiest traffic hotspots.

A further report is expected to be published next year detailing the installation of new modern jet fans to replace the current ones which are at the end of their life.

Westminster Council has been approached for comment.

Main image: Geograph/Peter Whatley.

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