Sunday, February 24, 2008

Highbury revisited

East Stand, HighburyNever go back. Never return to a much-loved place to see what it looks like now, not if you value your memories. Because you know what you'll find. Crumbling perfection, decaying reality, and misplaced priorities. And so it is with Arsenal's old Highbury Stadium. Two seasons ago this was the red and white home of football, and now it's a building site with residential aspirations. I went back. Mistake.

What's happened to the East Stand? This used to be a pristine Art Deco masterpiece, with an imposing white facade and bold red detail. And yes it's still standing, the shell of the building at least, but now looking pretty sorry for itself photos. All the glass in the windows has been removed, there's scaffolding propping up one end, and the paintwork has a distinctly weatherbeaten look. A series of big rectangular holes has been punched through the wall, presumably to house joists that will support the new apartments to be packed inside. A hundred yard stretch of pavement outside has been fenced off, and a small red sign on the main entrance door bears the single word "SOLD". It's as if institutional rigor mortis has set in, and it's rather sad.

East Stand, HighburyAnd where's the Clock End gone? There used to be a stand on the south edge of the stadium, and now there's isn't. It's been completely demolished to make way for a mighty apartment block of steel and glass. It's not even an impressive block, not in any way, just the perfect 21st century way to cram as many house-buyers as possible into a confined space. Same up at the other end, where the North Stand used to be. All gone, and a series of characterless cuboids being erected in its place. It's amazing how much acreage the developers have found on which to build within the confines of the old Highbury site, leaving only the old pitch as a central garden feature. Purchase one of the 711 apartments around "Highbury Square" and you're buying little more than a living space on the site of eradicated history.

Emirates StadiumAcross the railway at Ashburton Grove, the new Emirates Stadium gleams in a way that Highbury never did. Like many a modern mega-stadium it has the appearance of a giant glass bowl surrounded by a windswept concrete plaza, severed from the surrounding streets to make crowd control a little easier. On non-match days the footbridges and walkways are merely a cut-through for the occasional passer-by, or red-striped Gooner families trying to locate the club shop, or a few kids kicking a football around photos. This is no longer the heart of the community, this is a tacked-on fortress.

And even here, around Arsenal's new football focus, the emphasis is on residential cramming. A string of new apartment blocks has sprung up above the railway cutting, bringing glee and delight to the face of many an N5 estate agent. To the north, squeezed in between pincered railway tracks, stands the 11-storey Ashburton Triangle development. This grey and red rollercoaster-style design is Europe's largest zinc-clad building, and houses 249 affordable apartments for key workers. No chance of any Arsenal players living here, but more than a few keen supporters have already moved in. A glowering concierge guards the entrance, and doubled-up security doors keep out all but the most persistent undesirables. It's a bit of a rabbit warren inside, and no expense has been spent on decorating the internal corridors. But select your flat carefully and the view from the balcony is really rather impressive photosphotos. Maybe those new Highbury flats in the distance won't be quite so awful after all.

 Friday, February 22, 2008

Bow fly-over

Another day, another consultation. This time it's the skies over London and the South East that are under review. There are plans to relocate several flightpaths around certain major airports to relieve mid-air congestion, and this may mean significant changes to noise levels where you live. If you're unlucky then the current peace and quiet above your house and garden may be imminently shattered. But if you're more fortunate then the existing roaring whine overhead may soon be shifted elsewhere. It might be wise to check out the full details.

Ah, now this is a proper consultation website. None of this feeble one-page-of-text stuff. There are six majorly-detailed sections, from the overall restructuring rationale to various individual regional proposals. If you want a huge fact-packed 50-page pdf stuffed with noise contours and other background information, you can download one. And, best of all, there are maps. When you're trying to trace a flightpath across your local neighbourhood, what you need is maps. And in this case there's a damned clever interactive map that pinpoints any postcode you care to type and displays adjacent flghtpaths both old and new. Time to get worried?

London City Airport (east)Let me have a look at the skies above Bow, where I live. Oh my word. Every single plane taking off westbound from London City Airport will fly ABSOLUTELY DIRECTLY OVER MY HOUSE. Not half a mile up the road, but BANG OVERHEAD. If one of those minijets should accidentally plummet vertically from the sky, I'm a dead man. And at all other times I'll be bombarded by the relentless roar of whining engines, careering on their upward trajectory and keeping me awake at all hours. Look, according to the map these evil aircraft will be buzzing less than 2000ft above my roof. It's going to be A LIVING HELL, I tell you.

Only, ah, hang on, I've been looking at the 'Now' map. If I switch to the 'Proposed' map then things look very different. As of 2009 the London City Airport flightpath is changing, with less of a sharp northward bend immediately after takeoff. Planes are going to be curving over Mile End and Victoria Park instead, and my personal airspace will suddenly be crystal clear. Fan-bloody-tastic. Unless you happen to live in Mile End, that is. Although I wouldn't worry, because it's not exactly been hell on earth in Bow for the last couple of decades. Five flights an hour carrying a handful of be-suited businessmen to mainland Europe aboard specially quietened minijets, they've been almost no intrusion at all. Honest, not even mildly annoying. Fear not the spectre of London City Airport, not unless you're stupid enough to live right at the end of the runway.

[Of course, if you live near Luton or Stansted, then you might have more to be concerned about. And sorry, they're not fiddling with the fearsome noise corridors into Heathrow, not in this consultation. Sleep well]

 Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Thames Barrier Park, Silvertown

The London Dockland Development Corporation had a tough job on its hands trying to get people to move to the Royal Docks. Why would anyone want to live on a forgotten industrial site beside a murky grey estuary? So they carved out a big square park down by the river, on the site of a contaminated tar works, and tried to make it as lovely as possible in an attempt to boost property prices. And it appears that they were successful. Thames Barrier Park was opened in Silvertown as long ago as 2000, and the surrounding area is only just starting to catch up.

The Green Dock, Thames Barrier ParkThis is not so much a park as a big lawn scattered with landscape features. The most striking of these is a deep broad chasm, filled with undulating yew hedgerows, which cuts diagonally across the park. It's best seen in the summer, but the greens and browns are photogenic enough in winter sunlight. At the northern end is a fountain plaza, once home to 32 dancing waterspouts, now alas fenced-off around 32 bare holes in the stone floor. The southern end is rather lovelier. The grass rises gently to a wooden Pavilion of Remembrance, sort-of modern Chinese in style, with a flat roof supported on 26-foot-high poles. From the embankment there's an excellent very-close-up view of the Thames Barrier, with nine piers glinting above the low tide mud. Another long gravel path criss-crosses the park from corner to corner. And, to either side, great white housing blocks look down onto a much enjoyed local amenity.

Thames Barrier Park is a fine place for a stroll with the pushchair, or a game of cricket on the lawn, or a romp in the play area, or a good long stare out across the Thames. The 1km periphery is just right for a jog, or for taking a hound or two for a circular walk. Wrap up warm and enjoy the views, or maybe wait until spring and sprawl out in one of the wildflower meadows with a good book. Or maybe you'll end up hiding from the elements in the much-frequented coffee shop in the Visitor Pavilion by the DLR station, open at weekends especially for those who can't go anywhere without caffeine and muffins.

Oh yes, this is a very civilised park, very millennial, very 'new Silvertown'. I rather like it.
    Lyle Park, Silvertown

But there was already a park in Silvertown, just a couple of hundred yards up the road, built three quarters of a century earlier. You wouldn't guess it was here - Newham Council don't signpost it from the main North Woolwich Road. But take a few steps up a sidestreet, past a row of council houses, and you can enter a proper old municipal mudpatch. At the entrance is a threadbare patch of lawn, close to the tennis courts where you might spot a runty Staffs terrier padding about between the lobs. Mind where you step.

This is Lyle Park, a thin strip of land donated to the local populace by sugar magnate Sir Leonard Lyle in 1924. The big Tate and Lyle factory isn't far away, and the employees needed somewhere for their infrequent recreation. I bet they were extremely grateful at the time. Follow the narrow path down to the right, beneath the piled-up chemical canisters, and you'll reach the main body of the park. It's not huge - it's just a single unkempt football pitch with a dusty path around the perimeter. The changing rooms and toilets are firmly padlocked, and look like they've been closed for years. In the northwest corner is a WWI memorial drinking fountain, relocated behind some drooping shrubbery in the hope that passing yobs won't notice it.

Harland & Wolff gates, Lyle ParkThe whole place is hemmed in on three sides by up-close industrial units, quite at odds with the open expansive feel of the newer park to the east. And considerably emptier. There's nigh nobody here, just a single mum from the local estate and her quietly-rampaging kids. Up the steps to the broad riverside terrace, where the bandstand used to be, stand two grand iron gates erected across a flower bed. They used to grace the entrance to the Harland and Wolff shipyard downriver, but now live out their retirement unseen and unnoticed. A pair of empty benches overlook the water's edge, looking out across nothing much of immediate interest. And yet the council's gardeners have obviously gone to a lot of effort to plant out each border with due care and attention. Heather, crocuses, daffodils, snowdrops - all bloom here for the benefit of the handful that come to enjoy.

Oh yes, this is a very ordinary park, very municipal, very 'old Silvertown'. I rather love it.

[and I bet most of you Londoners have never been to either]

 Monday, February 18, 2008

Millennium Mills

» There used to be three large flour mills beside the Royal Docks in Silvertown. Two were knocked down in the 1990s and now only the granary of the Millennium Mills remains.
» It's a huge building, at least eight storeys high, and my photograph shows only the relatively narrow western end. It's a lot longer than that.
» Millennium Mills now lies fenced off and derelict, behind 59 acres of empty wasteland and a 24-hour security fence.
» A few years ago you could wander up to Millennium Mills and take a peek inside, but not any more (unless you're very naughty).
» There are plans to turn the surrounding area into Silvertown Quays - a brand new mixed development complete with "new homes, offices, workspace, retail, leisure, entertainment and community facilities" (sigh) and an international aquarium.
» There are also plans to redevelop the mills into loft-style apartments. A lot of renovation will be required to make this crumbling building habitable.
» I hope the new residents stock up on earplugs, because City Airport is nextdoor and (as you can see) the flight path passes damned close.

 Saturday, February 16, 2008

Last train to Ealing Broadway

last unpainted 'silver' train, 4:45pm, Bromley-by-BowFriday, early evening, almost the rush hour. Bromley-by-Bow, tip of the platform, between the swearing lads playing football and the being-demolished hospital. A steady trickle of brightly painted District line trains rumbled through the station, delivering and collecting a handful of disinterested locals, then beeping shut and moving on. And then, round the curve from West Ham, came the distinctive silver-and-red front of the last ever unpainted Underground train. Nobody else noticed, but I whipped out my Cybershot for a final photo. One of the three LU staff in the driver's cab smiled, and I smiled back. He recognised a transport geek with a camera when he saw one.

On board, in the maple-floored carriages, a handful of travellers continued on their westward journey as per usual. There was an inkjet-printed clue stuck to the window with sellotape (Last unpainted "Silver" passenger train, 1952-2008) for those who cared to notice, but most didn't. Never mind, the driver had a 30 second non-automated tannoy message up his sleeve to alert passengers to their unwitting part in history. "Ladies and gentlemen, you are travelling aboard the last unpainted etc etc will be taken out of service at the end of the day etc etc the next station is Mile End change here for etc etc." Some passengers looked around and smiled, others checked out a few vanishing heritage features for the last time, but most just carried on reading the paper or staring at the tunnel wall.

a final dangleAt Tower Hill the train suddenly got a lot busier. A crowd of young American tourists bundled aboard before the doors closed, filling the aisles and grabbing every dangly bobble they could find. This was suddenly a very ordinary rush hour train, standing room only, rattling beneath the City. At Monument I gave up my seat to a half-term family, and rose to grab one of the remaining black drop-handles in the maelstrom above. Because, you know, you can't ride on the last train with dangly bobbles without embracing the full dangly bobble-swing experience. There's something comfortably reassuring about hanging onto a firm but flexible plastic teardrop as your train rocks and judders from station to station. It may be easier to find something to hold on to when they're all ripped out in favour of replacement green grab-bars, but it won't be half as much fun.

At Embankment an impossibly optimistic number of commuters attempted to enter the carriage. I think they were all just trying to get home, rather than to enjoy one final dangly bobble experience for themselves. I left them to it. I had a blogmeet to attend in a nearby pub, and they're even rarer these days than nostalgic last-train farewells. So I disembarked and watched the unpainted train slide slowly out of the platform, before heading back to the real world above. During the next seven hours I met lots of lovely old school bloggers and drank lots of bottles of Becks, while the train continued on two last end-to-end journeys.

And, what do you know, at quarter to midnight we both just happened to be back at Embankment station, the last train and myself, so I nipped aboard for one really-final ride in the wrong direction. The train was semi-packed with comatose revellers and burger-munchers, plus (hanging around behind the driver's cab) a slightly more obvious presence of transport geeks with cameras. After a couple of stops I left them to their final journey to the sidings, switched platforms and took the red, white and blue train home. They'll all be red, white and blue trains home from now on. And no hanging around.

 Friday, February 15, 2008

District farewell

Another slice of London Underground history disappears today. A classic design is about to vanish forever, having been gradually vanishing over the course of the last three years. Those old silver District line trains, officially called D Stock, 75 of them in total, they're all being upgraded. And the very last unrefurbished train rides the rails from East to West London today. Bye.

pigeons on the District lineD Stock trains were first introduced on the District line almost 30 years ago. Big chunky trains with unpainted exteriors, appearing silver to the eye as they glided down the line. Inside were furrowed wooden floors, bright moquette-covered seats and big dangly strap-hangers - everything a classic tube carriage ought to be. Except that (in a slight design faux pas) they were built with single doors, not double doors, which has slowed down passenger throughflow ever since. Beside each door was placed a big metal button marked "Push to open", which customers in outer London had to press to be able to get on or off. But this attempt at temperature control didn't last. Before long the doors were adjusted to swish open at every station and the buttons were disconnected, although that doesn't stop unfamiliar travellers urgently pressing them even today. But not tomorrow.

A few years ago every D Stock train was scheduled for a major revamp, one vehicle at a time until the entire fleet was upgraded. The first of the old silver trains was whisked out of service in the summer of 2005, refitted up the M1 in Derby and then returned to London in gleaming new form. Gone were the classic ridged maple floors, replaced with sparkly vomit-resistant underfoot plastic. Gone were the fire-red seat covers, refitted with something distinctly blue with green blotches. Gone were the springy bobbles that once hung from the roof, replaced by bright green grab-poles both across and down the carriage. Engineers threw in a couple of extra windows at each end, and ripped out a few seats to make way for wheelchairs, and covered over the door buttons so that nobody was tempted to press them any more. They added dot matrix displays and pumped the voice of Emma Clarke into each carriage to tell passengers where they were. And they painted the outside of each carriage in corporate red, blue and white, because that's how you brand tube trains these days.

unpainted D StockSince 2005 there's been an ever-changing mixture of original and reborn trains running on the District Line. In 2006 the next train to pull in at your platform was more likely to be a silver classic, while by 2007 it was more likely to be a modernised paintjob. Today the odds of getting on an untainted train are 74-to-1 against, because there's only one untouched survivor left. This Friday the final oldie is making one last day of journeys up and down the District Line, and then on Monday the six carriages will be slapped on the back of a lorry and sent up to the Midlands for reprocessing.

If you want a quiet journey, today's your last chance to travel from Upminster to Ealing Broadway without being interrupted by endless announcements. If you want to travel on an unpainted train, or walk on a wooden floor, today is your last chance to do so anywhere on the tube network. More to the point, today is your very last chance to grab hold of one of those dangly handles with the plastic bobble on the end and swing your way through a tunnel under London. After today, all dangly bobbles are extinct. Farewell, oh dangly bobbles.

Should you want to take a ride on today's final train, here's where to find it.
Upminster 16:14 → Ealing Broadway 17:44 [via Tower Hill 16:59 & Earls Court 17:23]
» Ealing Broadway 17:54 → Upminster 19:24 [via Earls Court 18:15 & Tower Hill 18:39]
» Upminster 19:33 → Richmond 21:02 [via Tower Hill 20:18 & Earls Court 20:43]
» Richmond 21:13 → Upminster 22:40 [via Earls Court 21:34 & Tower Hill 21:58]
» Upminster 22:54 → Ealing Broadway 00:22 [via Tower Hill 23:37 & Earls Court 00:01]

Well that's the plan anyway. It'd only take one signal failure or train-jam to muck up the whole schedule, so only the first train out of Upminster and the last run into Ealing Broadway are pretty-much guaranteed. Be warned also that the train is likely to be full of last-train-riding transport geeks with cameras, and that the security meatheads at Upminster aren't terribly keen on people taking photographs. But either you put up with that or you never again experience underground travel the way it used to be. And never will be again.

"This is a District Line train, to Ealing Broadway."
Oh shut up Emma. Just one last time in silence please.

 Wednesday, February 13, 2008

London 2012  2012 Olympic update
  Flat out

When my eldest nephew was little, he had a thing about diggers. Big yellow earthmovers, huge scoop-fronted lorries, giant grab-arms on wheels, that sort of thing. He'd insist on getting all the digger books out of the local library, and playing with his Bob the Builder workshop, and watching and rewatching his favourite digger documentaries on video. And if we ever passed a building site he'd demand that we stop to take a look at all the fluorescent men in helmets and all the digging they were doing. He'd have absolutely adored standing on the Greenway bridge within the Olympic Park.

Olympic Stadium site - February 2008Every day, seven days a week, the Lower Lea Valley is crawling with dumper trucks and front-shovel lorries busy rumbling across the uneven landscape. Watch for only a minute and a queue of dirty vehicles will emerge from behind a heap of earth and head off up the temporary road over the spoil heap, before dumping their load and crawling back for more. There are more diggers here than a boy could ever dream of seeing across the building sites of East Anglia. "Look, digger! Digger! Digger!" Shame he's now a decade too old to appreciate the view.

There were two big problems with the site of the 2012 Olympic Stadium. Problem one (it was covered with warehouses and factories) is now solved, thanks to a lot of lawyers and some demolition squads. Problem two (it's not flat) is taking rather longer to sort out. You wouldn't think that this part of East London would have many contours, especially surrounded by quite so many rivers, but there's a distinct mound-iness to the area that's proving a challenge to flatten out. The hill where the medals are going to be presented, that summit's got to be removed. And the riverbank where the burgers are going to be sold, that's got to be raised up so that the stadium doesn't tip down into the water. The ODA are spending months moving all the earth from one spot to the other, just to balance things out.

But considerable progress is already being made. To the west of Marshgate Lane, where local kids used to buzz their motor scooters over rough hillocks and down muddy slides, that's all flat already. There's now an extensive earth platform with a steep bank that curves round in a giant arc - not yet a complete semicircle but gradually heading that way. It's the first physical sign of the edge of the 2012 stadium, or at least of the surrounding piazza where all the spectators will mill around to buy hotdogs and souvenir t-shirts. Two temporary buildings have already been erected, each piled high with gleaming white portakabins, each three storeys high, and roughly the same size as a small secondary school. The white flag of Sir Robert McAlpine flutters from the roof above this busy HQ, from which the surrounding deconstruction and re-landscaping is being coordinated. And deep within these buildings are hundreds of grown-up kids who used to love watching diggers when they were little, now earning a tidy packet building London's Olympic dream. Never fear, everything's on track.

The latest in my monthly series of photos of Olympic Stadium development (and reverse slideshow here)
Fantastic aerial photo of the nearly-levelled Olympic site (with just a few uplifted roads remaining)
The latest earth-moving update from the 2012 Olympic blog
Meanwhile, just in case you thought all the construction news was good, the relocated plotholders from the Manor Garden Allotments tell all about the incompetent migration process...
...and are still discovering just how muddy, waterlogged and useless their replacement site is

 Monday, February 11, 2008


When it opened in the 1840s, Victoria Park was a social innovation. West London may have had Royal parks aplenty, but this 200 acre site by the Regent's Canal was home to the first proper municipal park in the East End. Many argued that the working classes wouldn't use or respect such elegant open air utilities as a bathing pond, a carriage drive and a bandstand, but they were proved wrong. Even today, for many residents of Bethnal Green, Bow and Hackney, the idea of living without this much-loved green lung on their doorstep is unthinkable.

the Burdett-Coutts Fountain, Victoria ParkOn a mild sunny weekend in February 2008, the park is still a hive of recreational activity. Several lively football matches are afoot, played out between official goalposts or unofficial jumpers. Families take lunch at the pavilion by the western lake, their Sunday papers spread open while littl'un rides her pink tricycle not too far away. Divorced dads take their occasional offspring to let off steam in the central playground, skidding down the long metal slides with shrieks of delight. Gangs of foul-mouthed kids play hide and seek in the ornamental garden, while leashed dogs strain and yap on the other side of a scrubby hedge. Every face bears a smile.

But, you know, Victoria Park could be nicer. A bit more like the 19th century original and a bit less like a cobbled-together collection of disjoint 20th century updates. So Tower Hamlets council is devising a Victoria Park masterplan in the hope of gaining lottery funding, and they've been running a roadshow over the last week to see what local people think. It's one of those old fashioned consultations consisting of two noticeboards and a stapled questionnaire, moved round from library to library to see what a handful of random residents think. None of this modern online interactive dissemination, oh no, just some laminated boards and a big space to stick some scribbled-on post-its. I managed to bump into the mini-exhibition in Bethnal Green over the weekend, and got to talk to one of the landscape-y architect-y designers responsible for the new plans. She was appropriately excited - especially when the leader of the council popped by, unexpectedly, for a brief look round. Afternoon ma'am.

There are two potential masterplans for the park, labelled (excitingly) A and B. Both are based on the original 1840s design, restoring original features such as the dog statues by the main gate and the water features round the de-fenced Burdett-Coutts fountain. Plan A restores the full-sized central lake to the eastern half of the park, while Plan B creates a new playground-based nucleus around the old boating pond. Both plans try to open up the park by removing fences and adding access points, and attempt to brighten up the two eastern entrances adjacent to the Olympic Park in time for 2012. Expect wild flower borders, and realigned sports pitches, and extra tea-selling facilities - all to make Victoria Park an even more special place to visit.

I'd love to give you a link to the two schemes but, despite promises in print, the masterplan details appear nowhere on the Tower Hamlets website. So it looks like the future of Victoria Park is down to the 100 or so of us who bothered to fill in a questionnaire (I hope future generations like Plan A, because that was my vote). And then the final decision, by the autumn, will be down to the Heritage Lottery Fund and their board of trustees. Let's hope that they haven't donated so much of their funding to the Olympics that there's nothing left for the Victorian jewel nextdoor.

 Thursday, February 07, 2008

Can you feel it? There's something different in the London air. Stand outside, take a deep breath and inhale. Mmmm, the atmosphere in the capital is suddenly crystal clear and spring fresh. Our oxygen is no longer tainted with quite so many nasty black sooty particles. The daily lives of children, pensioners and asthmatics are being transformed for the better. Our nostrils have entered a brave new pollution-free world. And we have the London LEZ to thank.

LEZ, E3If you don't live round the edge of London you may not have noticed, but as of Monday the entire capital is now encircled by a protective barrier of roadsigns. These environmental sentinels have been set up to repel unwanted polluting vehicles, sending them back to contaminate the Home Counties instead. For at the sign of the Big Green Circle, no diesel-engined belcher may pass. The new Low Emission Zone is our last defence against airborne particulate poisoning. Bugger off all ye heavy diesel-engined vehicles exceeding 12 tonnes Gross Vehicle Weight, including goods vehicles, motor caravans, motorised horseboxes and other specialist vehicles, and do not darken our roads again.

Well that's the plan anyway. And it's cutting-edge stuff. Cameras within the LEZ are already keeping their beady lenses open for unregistered numberplates, and if the TfL database doesn't have your lorry registered then you get fined. Don't worry, they waive the charge the first time they catch you, and all you get is a warning letter. But then it's £200, per day, which is quite a lot compared to the piddly insignificant Congestion Charge. A large enough fine to persuade any violating business to take its fleet off the road, or to clean up its act.

So look, I thought I ought to warn you. Do you have a motorised horsebox that you drive around the North Circular? Or a gritter or a dustcart or a concrete mixer that you ride around on in your spare time? Or maybe a removal lorry or a fire engine that you buff up and drive to IKEA on a Saturday afternoon? Or a minibus that you use to drive old ladies to church on a Sunday morning? Or a Routemaster bus or a vintage coach that didn't have to satisfy pollution requirements back in 1958? Or an ambulance that your charity has bought using hard-earned donations that now needs a ridiculously expensive refit just so that it can carry on doing the good works that last week were perfectly legal? Or a hearse? Travelling around London could be about to get extremely expensive.

Certain vehicles aren't going to be penalised until July this year, or until 2010, or even 2012. And cars and motorbikes, they're not going to be penalised at all. It's only the big belching polluters that are going to have to pay. And hey, it's all for the sake of London's lungs so it's got to be a good thing surely? Just so long as this isn't yet another fund-raising exercise by our environmentally-caring Mayor. Another wheeze that leaves drivers' finances exhausted... even if the rest of us are never exhaust-ed again.

The London Air Quality Network (see how bad it is round your way right now)
'Fresh air' walking routes in Inner London (from today you can Walk It avoiding high-pollution areas)
Air Text (free localised SMS, voicemail or email updates if elevated pollution is expected in your part of London)

 Wednesday, February 06, 2008

What are you giving up for Lent? West Londoners are giving up travelling to Shepherd's Bush on the Central line. The station (which is used by 11½ million passengers a year) closed on Saturday for an "upgrade", and won't reopen until October. That's nigh nine months of disruption, announced with little prior warning, so that the station can be made ready for the hordes of shoppers due to use the Westfield retail complex when it opens later this year. Local shop owners in W12 are already worried about the impact that this unashamedly aspirational retail development will bring. Now they face the next 250 shopping days without even a tube station to bring in their existing punters. Let's hope that a revamped entrance hall and overhauled escalators are worth the inconvenience.

Shepherd's Bush and environsBut the area's crawling with alternative stations, isn't it? Surely it shouldn't be too difficult for local residents and commuters to make alternative travel arrangements. Maybe, maybe not. You can read TfL's advice here. Or you might prefer, with the aid of my stunning hand-drawn map, to use the dg guide to escaping from Shepherd's Bush (Feb-Oct 2008)

By rail
Shepherd's Bush (London Overground) Never fear, because there's a brand new station immediately nextdoor. Except there isn't. It was supposed to open last year, only there was some pathetic row about safety concerns and platform width, so it's still closed. And, even when this new station does finally open, the Overground service still won't be terribly useful. Two or three trains an hour to places as useful as Clapham, Willesden and Watford. I think we can dismiss this one.

By tube
Shepherd's Bush (Hammersmith & City line) Two stations with the same name - that's got to mean they're quite close, surely? Well, about 600m apart, as it turns out, which'll take about 7 extra minutes to walk. But which Central line user is going to want to use the Hammersmith & City line anyway? If you're heading for central London, this slow train (plus an extra change at Paddington or Baker Street) will greatly lengthen your daily commute over the next nine months. Not great.
Goldhawk Road Also 600m from Shepherd's Bush, but with a busy road to cross. So no.
Latimer Road 1.3km from Shepherd's Bush (a quarter hour walk). Forget it.
Wood Lane They haven't finished building this one yet either. It's another additional station planned to boost access to the Westfield development. And it's not due to open until late this year. Typical eh? There are two new stations due to open in the Shepherd's Bush area over the next few months, but TfL still had to shut down the Central line station before the other two were ready.
Kensington (Olympia): Just over 1000m away, and a fair walk too, and for what? This single plaform halt boasts the District line's most feeble service, to almost nowhere, and only every 15 minutes. Really, don't bother.
White City: Ah, now this station's on the right line, at last. It's also less than 1km away in a straight line, except you can't walk in a straight line because there's a giant shopping centre being built inbetween. So this is another lengthy 1.3km, 15 minute walk. So not a great alternative.
Holland Park: This is the closest Central line station, exactly a kilometre from Shepherd's Bush. It'll take you up to 12 minutes to walk there, but at least when you arrive you'll be able to catch a train to where you want to go. This has to be the dg-recommended option. But it'll still waste you two hours a week, there and back.

By bus
148: Good old TfL. They're putting on 10 additional buses an hour during the morning peak which'll whisk you (slowly) from Shepherd's Bush to Notting Hill Gate. 10 buses may sound a lot, but together they only have the capacity of one single tube train.
Rail replacement bus service: And yes, there's also a special TfL replacement bus service to shuttle Central line passengers between Shepherd's Bush and White City. It's described as "frequent", but I bet it's not as frequent as the underground trains it replaces. Once waiting time is added in, it may well still be quicker to walk.

So, my final advice to the people of Shepherd's Bush is as follows. Get a grip. It's not going to be fun, but there are plenty of alternative options. It'll be time-wasting, and it'll be inconvenient, but it's not the end of the world. The good people of Crouch End, Camberwell and Collier Row cope perfectly well without a functioning tube station on their doorstep, and have done for a lot longer than nine months. You'll cope.

And the rest of you, even if you don't think this applies to you now, be warned. Because this sort of enforced shutdown could be happening to you next.

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