News (and stuff) from London E3

Wednesday 18 November 2009


Bromley-by-Bow TescoEvery time a planning decision is made that you disagree with, it's likely that you missed the public consultation which would have enabled you to disagree in advance. Equally, even the very best planning applications contain minor niggles that make them less than perfect, but which you could easily have pointed out if only anyone had asked. So it's been good of Tesco to ask my local community what they think of proposals to double the size of their superstore in Bromley-by-Bow, and of plans to stick a library, hotel and housing nextdoor. Sadly only a handful of the local community have so far taken up the opportunity.

There was a "Community Forum" event at Kingsley Hall last night, hosted by the Tower Hamlets planning team, at which a suited Tesco threesome were given a public opportunity to put forward their proposals. Slightly revised from those they presented in September, and which I outlined here, but this time a teensy-bit more firmed up. And another chance to screen their very impressive computer generated "fly-through", so that we could all gulp and go "blimey, really, gosh" and "oh look, they can't spell pedestrain crossing". The area facing redevelopment is to the eastern side of the A12 close to Bromley-by-Bow tube station, including the current Tesco and the industrial land between that and the railway. Everything here could look very different before the Olympics, and even more different a couple of years later.

It was illuminating to hear Tesco's representatives belittling the current Bromley-by-Bow store as badly-stocked and underperforming. Serves us all right for doing our shopping there for several years, I guess. But the new Tesco Extra, if built, will be a whopper. Almost Beckton-sized, we were told, with all the increased traffic that might bring. It'll have a "bespoke sustainable roof design" which'll let in plenty of light, and an underground car park with 480 spaces. That's only 30 spaces more than exist outside the store today, so let's hope that a larger proportion of the new shoppers arrive by public transport.

Plans are afoot for much more than just a megastore. 18 adjacent retail units for a start, hopefully selling goods that can't be undercut by Tesco nextdoor, and perfect for residents who can't be bothered to go to the new Stratford Westfield up the road. There'll be a 10 storey hotel, probably of the Travelodge/Premier Inn style, with another 10 storeys of apartments piled high on top. I can't imagine wanting to stay here myself, not unless it's a particular few weeks in mid-2012, but a cut-price room beside a Zone 2 tube station should have potent backpacker appeal. There'll be a medium-sized Idea Store, for which all credit to Tower Hamlets council for squeezing a souped-up library out of a multinational. And a gym! I cannot imagine a £500-a-year gym being popular in Bromley-by-Bow today... but the proposed future is, I suspect, rather yuppier.

Many attendees were interested in transport-related issues. Would there be any new bus services? No, and they were sorry TfL couldn't be persuaded to reinstate the S2. Would the subway under the A12 from the tube station be upgraded and enlarged and better lit? Yes, and about time too. How would cars approach the new district centre? Via a new "all movements junction" on the dual carriageway, which when installed would become the only traffic lights between Poplar and the Redbridge roundabout. Last night's attendees were split between delight at a non-subterranean pedestrian crossing of the A12, and concern that speeding Blackwall-bound traffic might not really want to stop.

And what of timing? If all goes to plan and the appropriate land is snapped up, construction will begin around this time next year. The new MegaTesco will then be ready to open in March 2012, just in time to sell to grab-and-go sandwiches to visiting Olympic tourists. The Idea Store would also open at this time, and the 18 neighbourhood shops, and hopefully the renovated subway. But as for the 25%-affordable housing on the old Tesco site, plus the new hotel and the new park and the new school, expect these no earlier than 2014. Drivers on the A12 need fear no new pedestrian crossing until 2014 either, because there are rules in place banning any kind of major road upgrade before the Olympics.

None of this is yet a fait accompli. Tesco are putting in their planning application at the end of the month and then Tower Hamlets will go through all the appropriate official consultation stages into the New Year. There'll then be full opportunity for local residents to inspect and interact with the proposals, including via an as-yet-unregistered website called tescoinbromleybybow.co.uk (dangerous things, as-yet-unregistered websites). Up until now the consultation has been Tesco's own, farmed out to a private liaison company who've been busy gathering feedback. I was impressed to hear that "1000 expressions of support" had been received, but less than reassured when the consultants admitted that a huge proportion of these had been obtained by approaching shoppers in the existing store. I trust that the E3 community will give Tesco's plans rather more diligent scrutiny in the months ahead, but I bet that 99% of them won't even notice until the whole megaplex is eventually underway.

Thursday 12 November 2009

Installed by cretins

Last year I spent an entire week blogging about 'next train' indicators, and how they're installed by cretins in locations where passengers can't actualy read them. After the week was over I enjoyed some lengthy email communications with one of TfL's Press Officers, who empathised with my thoughts and assured me (in some detail) that things were slowly getting better. One particular paragraph in her reply stood out, which was this:
"With regards to the positioning of train indicator boards, ideally there should be one on each platform and it should be positioned so that the information on the display can be read as customers enter the platform and from the middle of the platform. If this cannot be achieved by a single display then an additional one should be fitted where possible. As part of the Tube Investment programme we have endeavoured to install train indicator displays in the best possible positions on the platforms. The layout of many of our stations means it will never be possible for customers to see the train indicator boards from everywhere on the platform and so we stipulate that they can be seen at the entrances to platforms so customers can see what trains are due as soon as they get on to the platform."
Which is an excellent sentiment. It's just a shame it doesn't always happen.

Mile End stationLet me illustrate this with an up-to-the-minute example of 'next train' indicator cretinousness, which is happening as we speak at Mile End station. The platforms at Mile End have been a complete dump for the last couple of years because they were mid-strip-out when Metronet collapsed and the tube upgrade programme ran out of money. Recently, finally, the station's modernisation has kicked off again, which appears to involve the construction of a suspended ceiling across the top of Mile End's cavernous platforms. It's unnervingly low, indeed so low that the ceiling is in some places lower than the top line of the existing 'next train' indicators. Which means that passengers arriving down the stairs onto the westbound Central line platform can no longer see where the next train is heading. The second train's fine, but not the first, because a metal bar at new-ceiling-height now blocks the view [enlarged photo]. Cretins, I tell you, absolute bloody cretins.

Mile End is already seriously sub-optimal for the viewing of 'next train' indicators. Its rows of prettily-tiled pillars don't help, because they tend to block either the left hand end of the board (destination) or the right hand end of the board (minutes). But the real problem has been that there aren't enough 'next train' indicators, and they aren't in the right place. Let me sketch you a pretty diagram of Mile End station to show you what I mean.

Mile End station

Mile End's two eastbound platforms form an island across the top, and its two westbound platforms form an island across the bottom. Trains run along the white strips - the Central line very-top and very-bottom, and the District/H&C through the middle. The stairs down from the ticket hall are at one end of each platform, whereas the exit stairs are located much more centrally. There are four 'Way out' signs, shown in yellow, and six 'next train' boards, shown in blue. The bottom left 'next train' board is one-sided only, facing west. And all the green squares represent pillars (which, for the purposes of what I'm about to explain, are irrelevant).

Mile End stationThe blue shaded areas are the sections of each platform from which a 'next train' indicator can be seen. Maybe not easily, and maybe requiring a step to one side and a shuffle, but visible all the same. Good news, that's pretty much the entire length of the westbound District line platform, as well as most of the eastern half of the station (the end furthest away from the station entrance). But there's a long-term problem with the (yellow) 'Way out' signs, because they're positioned right up close to the four 'next train' indicators in the centre of each platform. They have to be there, it's Health and Safety, because everybody needs to know how to get out. But they act as an opaque shield to the destination information immediately behind, which means that the 'next train' can't be viewed from any of the areas I've shaded red. Bloody useless, but nothing new.

What is new are the pink bits. It used to be possible (last month) to view the 'next train' indicator from the pink areas, and now it isn't. This is the fault of those new low ceiling bars, which are extra-low in places and are getting in the way of important customer information. Stand at the far eastern end of either eastbound platform and, especially if you're tall, the 'next train' is no longer visible. More importantly, walk down the steps from the ticket hall onto the westbound Central line platform and the 'next train' is suddenly no longer visible. Where's it to? Don't know. How long's it going to be? Haven't a clue. Previously available information, shielded, covered, obscured.

Which brings me back to TfL's supposed rule regarding 'next train' indicators - "we stipulate that they can be seen at the entrances to platforms". Not at Mile End they aren't. At Mile End, bizarrely, they're only perfectly visible at the exits to platforms! Enter either eastbound platform and they can't be read, not unless you walk halfway up towards the front of the train. And now, thanks to the implementation of some all-encompassing modernisation programme, westbound Central line customers arrive on the platform in a freshly created blind spot. Totally un-joined-up thinking, as one part of TfL sticks in a new station feature which acts as a barrier to something previously installed by another. The cretins are back, right now, this week, in a tube station near me.

I did email TfL 10 days ago to see if they could tell me what was going on at Mile End station. I asked for reassurance that I'd interpreted the situation wrongly, and that in fact engineers had some other solution up their sleeve (like lowering the 'next train' indicators or installing new ones or not actually building a new ceiling quite so low as it appears). But no answer has been forthcoming, despite an initial reply saying they'd look into it. So I can only assume that TfL-directed engineers are continuing to add a too-low ceiling at Mile End because nobody's thinking about the complete picture. New ceilings, sanctioned by ignorance, installed by cretins. Nothing changes.