diamond geezer

 Sunday, January 31, 2016

When The View From The Shard opened to the public three years ago, I looked at the price and decided not to bother. £25 seemed a bit steep to ascend the tallest building in Western Europe, amazing though the view might be, and even that required booking ahead and risking it with the weather. The price has since gone up another pound, indeed it's now £30.95 if you turn up on the day, which is tourist-milking of the rankest order. But then the best bargain in London came along, so I've been up for rather less, and I'm going up again, and again, and again.

Last Monday at Stupid O'Clock in the morning, the ticket desks at the Shard opened early to dispense special 'Love London' tickets. These cost £20.16 and allow unlimited access to The View from The Shard for the rest of the year - that's less than the usual cost price and you can go up as many times as you like. Phenomenal value, I'm sure you'll agree. Only 2016 of these tickets were made available, hence long queues built up, and yet unbelievably the entire stock didn't quite sell out on day 1.

More to the point, "Due to popular demand, 500 additional Love London cards will be available for purchase on Sunday, 31 January 2016 from 10am." You need to live in London, you need to bring a utility bill and photo ID, and you can only buy on behalf of yourself. But I'd be willing to bet that if you turn up this morning (or even this afternoon) you'll easily bag one, particularly given how poor the weather forecast looks. And then you can go up the Shard in sun, in fog, in rain, in darkness, indeed at any time it's not totally booked out between now and New Year's Eve. I'm going at least once a month, at a cost of £1.68 a time, so maybe see you up there?




The View From the Shard

The Shard rises 1016 feet above what it likes to call London Bridge Quarter, but you probably think of as London Bridge station. Going up is a minor faff, thanks to the not entirely unexpected requirement that everyone proceeds through a full body security check. Then there's the lift, or rather two lifts, the first of which whisks you up to the 33rd floor at ear-popping speeds. From here you're ushered round the lobby to lift number two, which feels slightly slower, and this deposits you on (blimey) floor 68. The view starts one floor up, which means stairs, although there is another lift if accessibility is an issue. And finally you step out onto a broad lofty (indoor) viewing platform, wrapped around four sides of the central shaft, and all of London is laid out before you.

No, really, all of London. Normally when you go up a tall thing in London you can see a long way, perhaps to Wembley's arch, but not quite to the outskirts. Up here the horizon is a distant upland ring, in part the North Downs, in part the Chilterns, confirming that the capital is indeed hemmed in by green. I easily picked out the four tower blocks at Ponders End and the church at Harrow on the Hill (but not the O2 because it's hidden behind Canary Wharf). This is all in decent visibility, of course, you wouldn't want to be up in here overcast gloom... although with an annual ticket I will of course be up at some point to check.

Nobody is looking at the horizon. The Shard rises amid some of the most famous real estate in the world, much of which is straight down, so everyone's staring at that. Tower Bridge is close by to the east, St Paul's not far to the west, and the Gherkin/Walkie Talkie/Cheesegrater cluster immediately to the north. Tiny trains file into London Bridge station, immediately below, and journey onwards along model railway tracks. but the Thames is the main point of interest, snaking off in each direction, with a particularly impressive meander heading off towards Docklands - if you've ever wanted to fully understand central London's geography, up here is the place to do it.



And everybody is taking photos, of course they are. This means polite jostling for the best spaces by the window, perhaps waiting patiently until the couple or family between the struts have moved on. Some have cameras, others are attempting to zoom in on their phones, while others blunder in with oversize tablets. Grinning groups with selfie sticks are surprisingly thin on the ground, but most people want photos containing themselves or with other family members in, just to prove they were up here. The Shard even has its own official photographer, impeccably groomed, skilled in pressing his clients up against a chosen backdrop, point and click.

Except this isn't the ideal location for a photo. Every shot is through glass, which means annoying reflections in certain directions, and smeary blotches where it's rained. They send the windowcleaners down regularly, you'll have seen them on the news, so it's by no means a critical issue. But direct sunlight can be more of an issue, making staring into south London tricky at midday, and Westminster potentially dazzling in the afternoon. Overcast skies solve that issue but diminish the rooftops of London somewhat, so getting a perfect shot is unexpectedly hard. Getting a unique shot is impossible - remember thousands have already taken (and shared) exactly the same substandard picture as you.

And then there's upstairs. Three internal flights of steps lead up to the observation deck on floor 72, a full 244 metres above ground level, where a member of staff advises you to put your coat on. This level is open to the elements, but still mostly shielded by a rising spire of glass. In midwinter it's definitely nippy up here, and the wind whistles surprisingly loudly around the rooftop. But that's all good because it keeps the numbers slightly lower, so you're more likely to get a window to yourself and breathe in the amazingly open view. Reflections in the glass may be slightly more of an issue, but wow, won't you look at that?



There are of course little added extras to improve the experience. The highest bar in London, for starters, dishing out warming drinks and alcoholic beverages... for a lofty price. Champagne starts at £10 a glass, but plenty of bubbly was flowing for those who'd come up the Shard to celebrate a birthday, anniversary or special event. There are nibbles too, currently candy floss and popcorn to match the midwinter makeover that 'events' duo Bompas and Parr have given the upper level. Essentially it's a white carpet and some frosty crystalline decor, so nothing amazing, but it's being removed after tomorrow after which the viewing deck should then return to normal.

The upper deck is by no means the top of the building - technically the tip of the Shard is floor 95 - but you won't be passing through the maintenance access gate and climbing the increasingly narrow spire. Even so, you might be wondering how confident you'd be standing here behind glass, at a ridiculously high altitude above London. Fear not, my head for heights sometimes completely fails me but I was absolutely fine, which I suspect is thanks to the building's tapering profile. And rest assured that once you're up here they don't kick you out, you can hang around as long as you like to get value for money. I shall be going back to get phenomenal value for money throughout 2016.

» My 2016 View From The Shard photo album (there are 23 in the set so far)

 Saturday, January 30, 2016

 RANDOM BUS
 Route 31: Camden Town - White City
 Length of journey: 6 miles, 55 minutes [map]


The 31 is an outer inner London kind of bus, orbiting the centre of town at a safe distance. It runs from Camden round to Shepherd's Bush in a none-too thrilling arc, but that's what happens when you pick a route at random, and blimey it could have been a lot worse. Even the starting point is round the back of the exciting bit. All the southbound buses are hidden in Bayham Street, with the 31 stabled outside a row of humble almshouses.... except, this being Camden, each now sells for a million and a half. Our driver-to-be has popped out of his cab for a fag, to enjoy some proper solitary time, until the next 31 parks up behind and he hops onto the front for a chat. Don't worry, it turns out he was only vaping, so the next-but-one ride to White City won't smell of smoke.

We are the next bus to White City. Our first target is Camden High Street, not yet the part where the tourists throng, but the more ordinary part where local people actually shop. Our first stop is outside what used to be The Black Cap, north London's premier drag bar, which suddenly closed last April and now stands forlorn and boarded up after a proposed restaurant landgrab fell through. Whatever used to trade two doors down is currently being reborn as 'luxury flats', and LGBT campaigners fervently hope they can avoid a similarly tedious fate. Past the tube station the road is awash with jaywalking tourists, milling between boutiques selling bags and boutiques selling boots, because that's what they come to Camden to do. Various markets bear off to either side, replete with innumerable micro-retail opportunities, although Camden Lock Village Market beside the canal has been razed and awaits less interesting redevelopment as Hawley Wharf.

There have been no stops for a while - no bus dares pick up between the tube station and the Stables - so a throng boards in the upper reaches of Chalk Farm Road. No visiting Euro-teen would dream of going where we're heading, diverting from the characterful main drag to service relentlessly residential streets in outer Camden. Primrose Hill may be only the other side of the Euston mainline, but Adelaide Road's a rather less cliquey world. The road climbs inexorably between two of the borough's postwar estates, one anchored by four tall (but well-spaced) tower blocks, each named after a prettier spot in East Berks. Beyond Taplow comes Swiss Cottage, first the wonderfully modernist library with its wheeled concrete fins, then a sudden long distance view from the corner of the gyratory. We'll be passing that far-flung Kilburn spire later.

The 31 merely toys with the Finchley Road, its orbital mission requiring a prompt turn-off past the Post Office. Fairfax Road is not ideally suited to double deckers, and is easily blocked by, for example, a smart car parked perpendicular to the kerb and an Iceland delivery van. We have to wait while four car drivers attempting to come the other way slowly deduce that yes, they are going to have to reverse, and far enough back to allow us us pass. Ahead, eventually, is South Hampstead, one of those minor Overground stations that hides away from public consciousness, while the shops at the tip of Belsize Road appear to specialise in pizza and interior design. Residents on the right hand side of the street might well need tile and flooring specialists on a regular basis, while the flats along the opposite side resemble a string of telephone exchanges joined together and are more likely occupied by the fast food clientèle.

As we pause behind a Deliveroo driver, another 31 sneaks up behind and overtakes, accelerating to get through the set of turning-red lights ahead of us. If you thought Abbey Road was all Beatles-glam you've not been this far up, where grim tower blocks called Snowman House and Casterbridge looms down, about as far from Thomas Hardy's idyll as it's possible to imagine. Our last dalliance with the mainline railway is on the approach to Kilburn, where the High Road is in transition from old to new. Our enforced halt at a yellow box junction allows perusal of The Old Bell, still characterful and appealing, and an adjacent block replaced by a too-typical boxy Tesco/Gym/Hotel combo. The other 31 gains enough of a head start to stay well ahead of us, mopping up passengers departing Kilburn Park station and then disappearing out of sight.

It's taken two paragraphs to reach that spire we glimpsed earlier, which belongs to St Augustine's, a prime Grade I example of Victorian Gothic. This brings us to Kilburn Park Road, the dividing line between Westminster and Brent, where the former gets proper 19C terraces and the latter gets "an exceptional collection of private apartments and duplexes for sale". There are bursts of full respectability as we nudge the edge of Maida Hill, even a palpable sense of community around the corner shop cluster on Shirland Road, though we also get to suffer the less affluent end of Elgin Avenue past a boarded-up pub before the Harrow Road. Apologies, this is turning into a diatribe about whether the houses we pass look nice or not, but I'm afraid the wildly varied property portfolio along the 31 very much encourages this approach.

And the contrast only increases. Crossing the Grand Union brings us to the Westway viaduct, and several of the estates that Westminster council never boast about. On the Brunel Estate we stop outside a shop window filled almost entirely by kitchen towels and toilet rolls from a variety of discount brands. A mere couple of turns later the retail offering has shot vastly upmarket, featuring bubble tea and bistros, reflecting an invisible fault line crossing into Notting Hill. Chepstow Road is lined with glorious white portico-ed terraces, Pembridge Villas doubly so, as we pass through parts of town anyone lower than a banker would find impossible to acquire. The proper prime properties are off down adjacent avenues, without a stream of buses and other traffic flowing past, and perhaps a little further from the souvenir shops at the foot of Portobello Road, where a Camden Town vibe briefly returns.

Notting Hill Gate, where the 31 rejoins the mainstream, is considerably less quirky. It's also where the clamour of the disembodied iBus voice becomes somewhat insistent, warning that Holland Park station is closed and so this really would be a much better place to alight to catch the tube. It's now ten years since Emma Hignett's dulcet tones were first introduced - where would we be without her? Holland Park Avenue is probably the peak of the 31's residential aspirations, with elegant ascending terraces and crescents overlooking private gardens, and a bijou shopping parade to match. And it's here that we finally catch up with the 31 that overtook us earlier, slowed down by having to pick up miles of passengers it reached first. With the finishing line in sight, we win.

Ah, Shepherd's Bush, where the influence of a certain shopping centre is keenly felt. Most of those on board alight at the entrance to Westfield, eschewing the delights of the traders round the Green, leaving just three of us to travel the final leg. This takes us up the delivery road between the megamall and the West Cross Route, before dropping us off... oh hang on. Since I was last here the direct route to White City Bus Station has been closed and all the businesses to the north of the feeder road demolished, as Westfield prepares to massively expand. A huge John Lewis will anchor the new development, which'll feature offices, over 1000 apartments and 'public realm', and add at least another minute onto every bus journey. And best not mention what they're doing to Television Centre across the road, best simply alight at the underused bus station with another route ticked off.



» route 31 - route map
» route 31 - timetable
» route 31 - live bus map
» route 31 - route history
» route 31 - The Ladies Who Bus

 Friday, January 29, 2016

Evening Standard to launch new East London edition

London's top evening newspaper is to publish a second daily edition for the eastern side of the capital. The new 'E Standard' will be targeted at less affluent East Londoners, and launches next Monday.

The E Standard will be easily distinguishable by a bold bright red stripe across the top of the front cover. Look out for the official distributors in their red caps outside Stratford and Canning Town stations, as well as selected inner London tube entrances and rail termini from 1st February.

"We've been wanting to do this for a long time," said Evening Standard Commissioning Editor Penny Wright-George. "London is increasingly a city of two halves, so it's only right that we respect that choice with a fresh feed of more relevant journalism."

"We know our West London readers enjoy the lively mix of business news, high society chatter and basement extension updates we bring them every day. Our East London readers aren't quite the same breed, so we'll be doing everything we can to help them aspire to a better lifestyle, whilst maintaining a laser focus on the more mundane aspects of East End life."

"When there's a murder, we pledge to be the first to publish a shot of the location screengrabbed from Google Streetview. If a press release arrives from a dynamic new market stall or backstreet pop-up, we promise to republish it in full. We'll even try and include the occasional news story about Romford and Hornchurch, because it's been years."

The new E Standard will feature graphic details of petty violence and knife crime wherever it may strike, as well as inspiring tales from estates several miles from the nearest proper coffee shop. There'll be gossip from the streets in a new 'Bus Shelter' diary page, and the sports pages will be wall-to-wall West Ham, with the occasional paragraph of Leyton Orient team news when there is any.

Wednesday's property supplement will continue, in somewhat thinner form, focusing on key projects such as shared ownership flats and council housing swaps. Expect Monday's fashion pullout to feature hair straightening tips rather than catwalk style, while Friday's leisure section will review a different fried chicken shop every week.

For the purposes of practicality, and because advertisers concur, Walthamstow and Woolwich are to be included with the Evening Standard's new eastern zone. The special edition may also be shipped to Lewisham and Abbey Wood, assuming people living in these areas actually read newspapers. By contrast Canary Wharf remains a bastion of financial privilege in a sea of poverty, so the red-top will never be distributed here.

Readers across the rest of London should be reassured that the Eastern edition will not be forced on them if they don't want it. Only the pure original Evening Standard will be distributed to commuters at Waterloo and Paddington, and residents of Kensington and Chelsea need never dirty their hands. But both versions will be on offer at locations from Midtown through to Aldgate - grab the red-top if you're heading east, and avoid at all costs otherwise.

"We're well aware that nothing much of any importance happens in East London," admits Wright-George, "so we'll be padding out the E Standard with several 'how the other half lives' features from the sister paper. Our journalists will also continue to spot popular clickbait on Twitter and work it up into a 100-word story, because we know how easy that is."

"But above all, we want our readers to feel a part of the London they live in. No longer will we waste time telling East Londoners about £10m mansions, theatre luvvies and superfood start-ups, while West Londoners need never hear about Sadiq Khan ever again, whoever he was."

The E Standard, from Monday, in your dreams.

 Thursday, January 28, 2016

If one London bus fare costs £1.50
bus

and two London bus fares cost £3
busbus

and three London bus fares cost £4.50
busbusbus

then how much do four London bus fares cost?
busbusbusbus

Wrong, it's £4.50.

And that's because there exists a daily price cap on bus fares. The daily cap is currently set at £4.50, which means if you only travel on buses (or trams), you never pay more.
busbusbusbus

At this year's prices, £4.50 is precisely the fare for three bus journeys, which effectively means your fourth bus journey is free. And so is your fifth, and your sixth, and your seventh, and so on. In effect your Oyster or contactless card is a bus pass allowing free bus travel after the third bus.
busbusbusbusbusbusbusbusbusbus

I'm trying to work out why I'd never realised this before. I think it's because I have a Travelcard, so all my bus journeys come free, so I've never needed to know. The cap's been stated quite clearly in the information associated with the annual fare increase, ever since it was first introduced several years ago. But without the effects making themselves known on my card balance, I've never noticed it was a thing.

TfL don't seem particularly keen to crow about it, which is odd, because it's clearly brilliant. As far as I can tell it doesn't even have a special name, a brand to band about in publicity and get the public's attention, which might help spread the word. It's not even mentioned on the Bus & Tram fares page on the TfL website, not unless you think to open up the table halfway down, and there it is, Daily cap, £4.50.

I've seen posters around London pointing out that a single bus fare is only £1.50, and also that any off-peak tube journey outside zone 1 is only £1.50. But of the daily bus cap, not a word. "Your fourth bus journey is free!" "We only charge for your first three bus journeys!" "Travel by bus and pay no more than £4.50 a day!" How many times might you have caught an extra bus if you'd realised it wouldn't cost a thing? I don't believe this simple travel bargain is widely known. I may be wrong.

There are of course complications.
busbusbustube

If you ride three buses and then a tube, on Pay As You Go, then the tube does not come free. A completely separate cap kicks in as soon as you travel on something that isn't a bus or a tram, and that's much higher. How much higher depends on what time of day it is, and which zones you travel in.

If your tube journey stays inside zones 1 and 2, then this combination
busbusbustube
costs £6.50 off-peak. It ought to cost £6.90 (three £1.50 bus fares plus £2.40 on the tube). But the Z1-2 daily cap kicks in at £6.50, so £6.50 is all you pay, a saving of 40p.

And once the daily cap's kicked in, so long as you stay within zones 1 and 2 you can ride as much as you like for nothing. That's
busbusbustubetubetubetubetubetubetube

Or
tubetubetubetubetubetubetubetubetubetube

Or even
tubetubetubetubebustubeDLRbusovertube
all for £6.50.

If your tube journeys are at peak times between zones 1 and 6 there's a higher cap, but it kicks in even quicker.
tubetubetubetubetubetubetubetubetubetube

But if your tube journeys lie entirely inside zones 5 and 6, then things are rather different.
tubetubetubetubetubetubetubetubetubetube
Tube fares within zones 5 and 6 cost only £1.70 at peak times, but the daily cap for journeys including zone 6 is a massive £11.80, so it takes seven trips before you hit the cap.

Off-peak in zones 5 and 6 it's even worse.
tubetubetubetubetubetubetubetubetubetube
Any two-zone tube journey outside zone 1 costs just £1.50 off-peak, so here it takes eight trips before you hit the cap. Back in zones 1 and 2, it took only three.

Doing a lot of travelling around the outer zones is expensive because the daily cap is high - you're charged as if you'd been to zone 1. But doing a lot of travel around the inner zones is relatively inexpensive because the daily cap is low - you're not charged as if you'd been to zone 6. TfL's capping policy advantages those who live in inner London and stay there, and disadvantages those who live in outer London and stay there. How fair, or otherwise, is that?

Of perhaps more long-term importance, as we've seen, TfL's capping policy is bloody complicated. Travellers using Pay As You Go now generally travel around town without seeing how much each part of their journey costs, instead simply trusting TfL to tot it all up later. We're increasingly moving towards a fare system so complex that it's become a magic black box, deducting one single payment from your account at the end of the day, without you ever needing to know how that total was calculated.

We may not understand how much
08.26 Z4→1
tube
09.23
bus
10.05 Z2→3
tube
13.41 Z3→8
rail
16.18 Z8→4
tube
costs, but there's a computer that does, and all we have to do is let the money flow away.

 Wednesday, January 27, 2016

KENSINGTON PALACE
Location: Kensington Gardens W8 4PX [map]
Open: 10am-6pm (closes 5pm in winter)
Admission: £15.00 (plus optional donation)
5-word summary: three centuries of royal style
Website: hrp.org.uk/kensington-palace
Time to set aside: a couple of hours



Buckingham Palace only opens to the public for a couple of months each summer, but another royal residence in central London is open all year round. You don't get to see Prince Harry's bachelor pad, nor the suite of rooms where Prince William's family have the runaround. But you are allowed inside the other half of Kensington Palace, where a succession of monarchs lived and entertained, and currently <Bargain Klaxon> at half price. One wing of the tour is temporarily sealed off for an exhibition upgrade, but the rest is yours for £7.50, so long as you book online and turn up by Wednesday 10th February. There's a similar offer on at Hampton Court, and that's also well worth a cut-price winter visit. But a bargain at KP doesn't come round very often, in case you've never been. I'd never been.

If you can't place Kensington Palace it's up the far western side of what you might think of as Hyde Park, but is actually Kensington Gardens. These used to be the grounds of the house when it was simply a mansion in the countryside, which'd be the late 17th century, and has since been considerably built up and extended by royal prerogative. The Round Pond was added to look elegantly ornamental from one particular set of windows, and the Serpentine also owes its existence to a regal resident. A fine set of formal gardens faces the park, fully accessible by the public, although much of this consists of very recent additions to add some landscaping oomph. One intriguing feature is The Wiggly Walk, a zig-zag pathway descending through hornbeam hedging, at present 100% dead leaves, but considerably more attractive during any other season.

Wills and Harry (and their armed bodyguards) hold sway at the front of Kensington Palace, so the public entrance is round the back, beyond the golden gates, beneath a fresh Diamond Jubilee porch. The first lobby is open to anyone, because it leads to the shop and cafe, and because the more people stop by for a tea towel and a slice of cake the better. The ticket office is off to the left, your purchase permitting access through to the foot of the Stone Stair and the main vestibule, from which all routes around the palace begin. There are four of these, each historically themed, the intention being to tell the story of four very different eras at the house, each in a rather different way. Kensington Palace isn't your normal heritage trudge, it was revamped in 2012 in a style described as 'tradition with a twist'. Expect an emphasis on fashion and a more theatrical vibe, with a sense of storytelling throughout. Rest assured that's not as ghastly as it sounds.



The Queen's State Apartments
I thought I'd follow the four routes in chronological order, which meant heading to the first floor via a long corridor. The redesigners have done a smart job decorating the walls with tapestry-like motifs, and made an intriguing feature of a long bench by using cushions to create a portrait timeline. The far stairs feature a similarly charming stitched family tree, including the King and Queen whose apartments are entered next. They were William and Mary, who sailed in from Holland to cut off the Catholic line, but found Whitehall's damp riverside atmosphere not to their tastes. They made the move to Kensington in 1689 and invited Sir Christopher Wren to do up the house in a non-ostentatious Dutch style. I was fortunate to find the long gallery occupied by one of the Palace's Explainers, who give talks in different parts at different times of day. He brought the place to life, with more than a whistlestop tour through history, whereas I'd have learned rather less from the information panels dotted throughout the rooms that follow. These stick to the basics of Mary's story, her tenure at the Palace cut short after five happy years by an unfortunate bout of smallpox. Her bedroom is a dark space with a poignant four-poster, and the last of the chain of six rooms here, which are perhaps a little underwhelming.



The King's State Apartments
By contrast, wow, the Georges didn't hold back. George I wanted to make an impact on arrival from Hanover, and had Kensington Palace's state rooms suitably upgraded. The first indication of this is the grand staircase, a showy ascent whose walls are painted with scenes featuring 45 of the palace's courtiers. The next two rooms acted as social filters, screening out the uncourtly, and are bedecked with art from the Royal Collection (yes, that's Cupid and Psyche by Van Dyck). But it's the Cupola Room that takes the breath away, with its high octagonal domed ceiling and gold statues in marble recesses. Queen Victoria was christened here... but we'll come back to her. The King's Drawing Room was the hub of daily activity, often card-game-related, and has the window from which the Round Pond was meant to be viewed. In Queen Caroline's Closet we learn of the love George II's wife had for the place, and her penchant for surrounding herself with the arts and science intelligentsia of the day. On the wall of the King's Gallery is a large gilded wind-dial showing a map of the seas of Northern Europe, then crucial to trade. And throughout the apartments the rooms are dotted with costumes of the day, or rather perfectly-constructed paper reproductions, very much in keeping with the reimagination of the visitor experience. This circuit was the most must-see of my visit, and all the better to enjoy it in January splendour with barely another visitor present.



Victoria Revealed
Princess Alexandrina Victoria was born at Kensington Palace in the last year of her grandfather George III's reign. She was still living here a month after her 18th birthday, when her uncle William IV died and the news came that she was now Queen. The first room you enter on this part of the tour is where the privy council met that morning to confirm the accession, kicking off a tale of Victoria's life told in her own words. Quotations from her diary are transcribed onto carpets, walls and cabinets, in a handwritten font which those with a poor command of English must find hard to read. This allows for a more emotional history than usual, the largest room given over to her passion for Prince Albert ("such beautiful blue eyes, an exquisite nose, and such a pretty mouth with delicate moustachios and slight but very slight whiskers"). The decoration in this part of the palace is nothing special so it makes sense to concentrate on words and the occasional object, from childhood toys to the success of the Great Exhibition. The personal focus adds to our empathy at Albert's death, and the queen's subsequent long period of mourning, with a series of rooms black in both tone and contents. It's then somewhat jolting to see the celebrations of her Diamond Jubilee on flickering film, as a nod to the modern era her passing presaged.

Fashion Rules
This is the section you won't get to see, the reason your ticket is half price. Sponsored by Estee Lauder, it features the dresses of three modern royal clotheshorses - the Queen, her sister Margaret and former resident Princess Diana. On February 11th these six rooms reopen as Fashion Rules: Restyled, which presumably means different dresses, so I'm not too sorry at missing out. I'd say there's been a definite attempt to target Kensington Palace at a female audience, and to attract tourists whose idea of a grand day out is shopping in Bond Street. Whether the experience is worth a full whack ticket I'd question, but if you visit during the next fortnight before the price doubles, this historic hideaway is well worth uncovering. [ten photos]

 Tuesday, January 26, 2016

In just 100 days time, London goes to the polls to decide who runs City Hall after Boris. Once the master of inactivity has departed, who are we going to get instead and what do they stand for? The four main parties have already chosen their candidates, so I've been digging around their campaign websites (and other media) to see what they've been saying on a variety of issues. Transport, air pollution, housing, jobs and crime are all included, as you'd expect, with key pledges and points of view coerced into tabular form. I've been selective, but hopefully balanced, and used direct quotes where possible. If a box is empty that might be because the candidate's website is thin on the subject, or I've missed something, or they have yet to announce their policy. Did I mention there are still 100 days to go?


Sadiq Khan
Labour
Zac Goldsmith
Conservative
Caroline Pidgeon
Liberal Democrat
Sian Berry
Green
sadiq.londonbackzac2016.comcarolinepidgeon.orgsianberry.london
Freeze all TfL fares at 2016 prices for four years.I'll improve the capacity and reliability of London's transport system.Half price fares on Underground, Overground and TFL Rail Services for people travelling by 7.30am.Reduce the number of fare zones to four from next year, and bring in a completely flat fare structure by 2025.
A first-year cut and then a freeze in bus fares, and new ‘Hopper’ bus ticket – valid for any number of journeys in a full hour.The rise of electric cars means that bus lanes will eventually become an unnecessary part of London's transport system.The one-hour London bus ticket has been a prominent proposal of the capital’s Liberal Democrats for at least six years.We’ll also introduce a new ‘ONE Ticket’ that will let you change between any mode of transport on the way to your destination.
If I’m Mayor, the Freedom Pass staysProtect the Freedom Pass  
Government announcement on rail services is a small step in the right direction, but commuters need action now.Bring suburban rail services under the Mayor’s control to increase and improve the service.Pidgeon welcomes TfL takeover of suburban trains. 
Secure a funding deal for Crossrail 2 and review the route to ensure that it helps deliver jobs, regeneration, social inclusion and housing.Ensure the Night Tube goes ahead, start Crossrail 2, and grow the rail network.  
"Boris Johnson was wrong to commit £30 million of London taxpayers’ money to the Garden Bridge. But thanks to my new deal, it looks like Londoners will get the best of both worlds.""I accept that it's costly, but in the context of the TfL budget, in the context of the vast amounts of TfL waste, I think this is a project we can justify.""There is something iffy about the whole thing. If I became mayor I would withdraw funding from it and be looking very carefully at the whole project.""It would not get a penny from the transport budget - as a grant or a loan - if I were Mayor. I favour more foot and cycle crossings in the areas where they are desperately needed, such as Rotherhithe and North Greenwich."
» Champion new measures to encourage cycling and walking, while also making them safer.
» More cycle storage in commercial and residential areas, and more emphasis on making junctions and key routes safer for cyclists and pedestrians.
Encourage safer cyclingIt is simply shameful that year after year TfL have repeatedly spent just a fraction of their allocated budget on vital improvements to junctions and investing in cycling infrastructure.» Make space on the roads for safe cycling, walking, play and all kinds of things that aren’t cars.
» Aim to spend 10 per cent of TfL's capital budget on cycling and walking infrastructure.
Create the longest pedestrianised shopping area in Europe by pedestrianizing Oxford Street.Oxford Street is an air quality disaster at the moment and I think it’s very antisocial for people who work and use Oxford Street to have a great train of buses there.We are calling for Oxford Street to be fully pedestrianised by 2020.As for Oxford Street, Berry wants to change it "radically" by introducing a shuttle tram.
Launch a feasibility study for the reduction of energy consumption on the public transport network.» We won't get cleaner air unless London stops stalling on electric cars - which have zero exhaust emissions.
» Create an integrated electric charging network for London.
» Ambitious plans for a 'Boris Bike' equivalent for electric cars.
A big switch towards zero emission electric buses and taxis, not diesel hybrids, is now vital in London.We will clean London’s air and make this a healthy city for children to grow up in and communities to play in, and we want travel in London to be a joy, not a burden.
Consult on expanding the proposed Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) to all of Zones 1 and 2, and out along primary commuter routes.Tackle air pollution with tougher rules on HGVs.» Introduce a special charge for the most polluting diesel vehicles coming into central London to help improve our City's air quality.
» Bring forward the start date of the Ultra Low Emission Zone.
» Introduce a peak-time ban on HGVs in central London.
A replacement to the creaking Congestion Charge, covering all of London not just a small central zone, should start consultation as soon as the next mayor takes over, with a set of fair new charges based on three principles: how far you drive, how polluting your vehicle is, and the time of day.
Sadiq will campaign against the proposed third runway, and in favour of a second runway at GatwickZac has campaigned continuously to oppose a 3rd runway at Heathrow airport, which would create huge noise and air pollution particularly for local residents.We need a better run Heathrow, not a bigger Heathrow.» No to all new runways in London – at Gatwick not just Heathrow.
» Transform London City Airport into a new quarter for homes and businesses.
» Sadiq will preserve our green spaces and aim to plant two million trees by 2020.
» I want London eventually to be a zero-carbon city.
» Protect the green belt from development.
» Create more green spaces and cleaning up local parks so they are safe to visit and enjoy.
  
» Support housing associations in their plans to ensure a minimum of 80,000 new homes a year.
» 50 per cent affordable housing target for new developments.
» Establish a London-wide not-for-profit lettings agency to promote longer-term, stable tenancies.
» A new form of affordable housing, with rent based on a third of average local income, not market rates.
» If elected Mayor, I'll start fixing London's housing crisis.
» Double home building to 50,000 a year by 2020 and ensuring development is in keeping with the local area.
» Ensuring a significant proportion of all new homes are only for rent and not for sale.
» Retain the Olympic Precept at £20 a year and convert it into a Housing Precept. This "Olympic Housing" effort will enable us to access £2 billion of funds. We can build 50,000 new council homes and 150,000 homes for private rent and sale.
» The government’s plan to extend the right to buy to housing association tenants will be an incredibly expensive policy as well as undermining the viability of the whole housing association sector.
» I pledge not to demolish estates in London if I’m elected. It’s almost always much better to improve than to knock down communities.
» The GLA’s closed fire and police stations (currently under-occupied by property guardians) to be offered for emergency accommodation for refugees while we find permanent homes through councils.
As Mayor, I'll crack down on overseas investors buying up new homes before Londoners.Giving Londoners the first chance to buy new homes built in London - any homes built on mayoral land will only be sold to Londoners.  
» Only companies paying the London Living Wage will be awarded public sector contracts.
» Protect 'incubator' and start-up spaces from the threat of redevelopment.
» I'll set up a new Business Advisory Board - half the board will be women business leaders.
Zac Goldsmith is backing vital action to protect London commuters from politically-motivated strikes by trade unions. » By tackling wage inequality and investing in new jobs, we will transform working life in London to make it rewarding, creative, and deliver a decent wage for all.
» The government’s failure to protect business space in London from conversion to residential property is putting increasing pressure on supply of affordable office spaces.
» A zero-tolerance approach to hate crimes.
» Recruit more police from BAME communities and drive down unnecessary use of stop and search.
» Tougher community payback for those caught with knives.
» Protect neighbourhood police teams and keeping them on the street.
» Tackle the root causes of crime in local communities.
» Put more police on public transport at night.
I urge the Mayor not to proceed with the scrapping of all 1000 Police Community support officers.We want Londoners to be secure in their homes. To feel that they are part of a community that they can enjoy, shape, and design, and afford to live in.
We have the best arts & culture in the world, but it’s out of reach for too many Londoners.All paid for without increasing Mayoral council tax.I call on English Heritage to work with Greenwich Council to ensure that a blue plaque is erected near to Emily Davison’s birthplace in Blackheath.Join me to give London back to Londoners.
@SadiqKhan@ZacGoldsmith@CarolinePidgeon@sianberry

 Monday, January 25, 2016

Visiting a medium-sized town for tourist reasons in January's not normal is it? So I thought I'd check.

Visit England, and their Welsh and Scottish counterparts, run an annual survey to find out where Britons go for one-off leisure visits and why. It's called the Great Britain Day Visits Survey, and the latest round of data is for 2014. Every week of the year a sample of adults is asked what they've been up to in the last seven days, and the results are compiled to create the GB Day Visitor Survey. For the purposes of the report, a Tourism Day Visit must last at least three hours, take place outside the county/borough where a person lives and not be something they do on a 'very regular' basis. 1,585,000,000 such visits took place in 2014, that's approximately 30 per person per year. I think I do rather more than the average myself.

Digging into the data, it turns out around a quarter of Tourism Day Visits are simply 'visiting friends or family for leisure'. A similar proportion are as mundane as going out for a meal, going to a pub, bar or club, or paying a visit to the cinema or theatre. Undertaking outdoor leisure activities (eg walking, cycling, golf) comprises only 8% of the total, going to visitor attractions (eg historic house, garden, theme park, museum, zoo) just 5%, and "going on a general day out to explore an area" a mere 3%. On average, every adult in the country goes on a "general day out" approximately once a year. I'm already up on that, and it's only January.

It won't surprise you to hear that January is the least popular month for a TDV and August is the most. The school holidays bump up August's total somewhat, while in January not only is the weather poor but a lot of people are skint. But the month-by-month differences aren't as great as you might expect.

Millions of Tourist Day Visits each week
JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
242628323132343831293030

Winter is definitely the lowpoint, and summer the high, but there's an underlying flatness to the data - presumably related to the fact that indoor events take place throughout the year.

The English region with the greatest number of TDVs is (not surprisingly) London, while South East England (the region I visited over the weekend) comes second. Both host over 200 million TDVs a year, with London mopping up one-sixth of the national total. Bottom of the most-visited list are the East Midlands and North East England, although both of these beat every region in Scotland or Wales. On this front at least, my visit looks pretty normal.

Of all England's local authorities, Greater London gets the most visits by a factor of five. Next come Manchester, the West Midlands and West Yorkshire, presumably as social hubs rather than sightseeing hotspots. But then come Kent and Devon, which clearly draw tourists in, with Norfolk and Hampshire also punching well above their weight. As for tourist notspots, Bedfordshire is a particularly hopeless case, while Herefordshire is the least visited of the larger counties.

Regarding the kind of locality we visit, almost half of Tourism Day Visits are to a city or large town. Small towns take approximately a quarter of the total, as do trips to the countryside. And this leaves just one in ten days out being to the seaside (or a coastal town), a figure which drops to one in fifty for those of us who live in London.

The average distance travelled on a Grand Day Out is 45 miles, but that's the mean and hence a distortion - half of all journeys are in fact less than 20 miles. The longest journeys were for spectating at sporting events and attending weddings, christenings and the like, where long distances are fixed. By contrast the shortest journeys were for nights out and going for a meal, pretty much as you'd expect. Meanwhile two-thirds of TDVs involve travelling by car, although this drops to one-third for tourists who start their journeys in London. One in ten days out involve taking the train, but this rises to one in five for Londoners.

Of walking-based visits, 30% involve a short walk of up to an hour, and a similar percentage involve sightseeing on foot. Only one in six involve 'centre-based walking (around a town or city)', which is sort of what I was doing in Newbury. Or perhaps you could count that as 'a long walk, hike or ramble', which the survey defines as 'over 2 miles' - apparently the average Briton goes somewhere and does this only once or twice a year. For every devoted rambler, it seems there's a whole squadron of couch potatoes.

The report is particularly interested in money spent, because tourists can bring considerable economic benefits to the locations they visit. People spend almost twice as much visiting a city compared to the countryside, with 'special shopping' and 'going out for a meal' the most expensive activities. The average spend per trip is £34, but this conceals a broad range of outlays, indeed half of visitors fork out less than £10. I gave only 79p to the economy of Newbury, despite spending over six hours in the town, because I am a Chamber of Commerce's worst nightmare.

As for the typical visitor, the peak age groups for tourism are 25-34 and 65+, the former because they 'go out' (and play sport) more, and the latter because they have more opportunity (and dine out a lot). Men and women go touristing approximately equally, and those in higher income brackets go out more - a clear matter of disposable income. Perhaps more intriguingly, only a quarter of Days Out involve families with children. Maybe the cost puts them off going places, or maybe they're just less likely to drag their offspring to a restaurant or cinema.

And finally, around half of Tourism Day Visits are in the company of a spouse or partner, while 20% involve going out with other adult members of the family. A quarter of TDVs are trips out with friends, and just one in seven are by solo travellers. My Billy-No-Mates trip to Newbury, in January, to walk around a lot and spend very little, is right up there at the atypical end of the list. I expected nothing less.

 Sunday, January 24, 2016

Day out: Newbury

When Berkshire was still a county, Newbury was the largest town up the western end. Its importance is location location location, at a bridging point on the River Kennet, and the ideal overnight layover on a two day stagecoach ride from London to Bath. It's therefore a bit historic, and quite pretty, and on the large side, and surrounded by green, hence I found plenty to do during my day out, but only wandering away from the town centre a lot. I rather liked the place. [Visit Newbury]


My Newbury gallery
There are 44 photos altogether [slideshow]

»» Town Centre
Northbrook Street is the heart of the town, a broad semi-pedestrianised high street leading from the clocktower on the old London Road to an arched bridge over the Kennet. This is hemmed in by shops and a pub, one of which is a family-owned purveyor of speciality sausages, with the river too narrow for a towpath to fit underneath. The town has a decent range of shops, with most of the big chains hidden offstage in two modern malls, indeed the authorities have done a surprisingly good job of maintaining an independent flavour. The town hall houses the Tourist Information Centre (grab a Walking in Newbury map, it's excellent), and overlooks the Corn Exchange and a Market Square. Far more appealing than Stratford, Westfield and all. [eleven photos]

»» West Berkshire Museum
There's been a museum in the Cloth Hall since 1904, since extended into the long, low Jacobean granary down the street, and most recently joined up in the middle with a very modern shiny glass link. The granary's charming, with its overhanging outdoor galley, and makes a fine showcase for a series of galleries across two floors. Local flints and fauna mix with more contemporary international displays, but the best bit is probably the gallery devoted to the impact of the Civil War hereabouts, with not one but two major battles fought in and around Newbury. Stop by for a hot drink, the ladies on the front desk looked like they'd quite like to dispense a few. [two photos]



»» Kennet & Avon Canal
This much loved waterway opened in 1810, its aim to link the River Kennet at Newbury to the River Avon at Bath and so aid the passage of trade between London and The West. As such it threads through the heart of the town, canal and river intrinsically combined, through meadows, playing fields and rather ugly trading estates. One particularly scenic section is behind the main church on West Mills, where Newbury Lock sits on an island ("The Captain of every vessel allowing Horses to Haul across the Street will be Fined"), another is on the former dockside by the tearoom. But head further and further out of town and footfall fades, the muddy towpath passing tumbling weirs, soggy ponds and the occasional angler. Imagine this in summer. [nine photos]

»» Newbury Racecourse
One of England's better-known racecourses, combining flats and jumps, this 1905 creation devours a substantial area of land a short distance from the town centre. It also has its own railway station, from whose footbridge the parade ring is clearly visible. There are two grandstands, one old and characterful, and the other essentially an ugly grey box sponsored by a Middle Eastern airport shop. The next big race isn't until February so all was quiet in the spectator concourse yesterday, although the main hall was hosting an showcase for potential Asian Weddings, and an army of golfers were doing the rounds in the centre of the course. A considerable amount of new housing has recently been erected outside, ideal for people who like to be near horses, although it's wildly expensive and some of the best views are of car park. More to my liking was the view from the far end of the mile-long straight, a remote vista from the wilds of unmade Hambridge Lane, and a world away from Newbury's champagne bubble. [five photos]



»» Greenham Common
The US Air Force flew in in 1942, and took fifty years to leave. This area of upland common made an excellent site for an airbase, and allowed the construction of a massive 10000ft concrete runway (completed 1953). The Cold War made Greenham more strategically important, and in 1983 ninety-six Pershing missiles were based here, prompting the creation of that most famous Women's Peace Camp. Try to gain access thirty years ago and you'd likely be arrested. Today, however, you can wander in unchallenged. After the base was decommissioned in 1997 it was handed over to the council who've returned the site to public access. Now cattle and ponies graze the common, budding with gorse, and the entire runway has been ripped out (minus the central crossover, which lives evocatively on). Most people walk or cycle up the former taxiways to either side, but I strode up the middle where the planes once landed, now a squidgy cowpat-strewn wilderness. Most unsettling of all are the six missile bunkers in the southwest corner, still present behind three levels of security fencing. Squat and flat, each has a concrete and titanium roof, topped with grass, and the blast-proof doors up front for easy access. You'll have seen them in the latest Star Wars film, they made the ideal backdrop for Leia's Resistance base. A completely different force once lay within, which could have eradicated Newbury, Russia and half of Europe, and yet somehow we survived and now dogwalkers stroll by, as could you. [twelve photos] [four silo photos]

»» Newbury Bypass
A completely different battle played out on the other side of town during the 1990s. Newbury was choked by traffic, it being the point where the A4 and A34 cross, and hamstrung by a lack of river crossings. The solution was a lengthy western bypass, alas cutting through woodland and Sites of Scientific Interest, and enraging environmental activists and many local residents. They sat in trees, they dug tunnels beneath the soil, and they settled in 20 camps along the line of the road. Heavy security eventually cleared Swampy et al away, construction of the bypass began, and rubble from Greenham Common's runway was used as aggregate. It's diverted traffic away, but also carved an unwelcome line through the countryside, as seen (for example) from the footbridge near Rack Marsh where the ancient woodland suddenly breaks and the replacement trees have yet to take hold. [two photos]



»» Donnington Castle
Not the festival and Grand Prix site - that has one less 'n' and is in Leicestershire. This Donnington is a village fractionally to the north of Newbury, and its hill the ideal defensive site for a castle. Built in the 14th century, it was a key Royalist stronghold during the English Civil War, and survived an 18-month siege before the Parliamentarians finally took over. They promptly destroyed almost all of it, apart from the gatehouse which survives mostly intact and is under the care of English Heritage. There's not much to see, but the view is excellent, and Newburyites like to drive up here and exercise their dogs in the ruins, pretending not to have read the "should be kept on leads" notice by the car park. [six photos]

 Saturday, January 23, 2016

Whenever I visit a new location, mysterious or otherwise, I like to tick off as many of its places of interest as possible. And that's why, since my last report, I've crossed the town, the canal and the shopping centre and walked almost as far in the opposite direction. The village I've been aiming at is an unspoilt cluster of homes with pub and watermill, and nominally famous for an event I might once have visited if I'd had longer hair. It was named after the ruined keep on the hill, which is currently being filmed by a Dad with a drone he presumably got for Christmas, whirring across the grass and up to the flagpole. Several famous battles have been fought near here, one relatively recently in the woodland beyond. And there's a great view up here too, back across the rooftops of Mystery Town, making this an ideal place to finish. Apart from the hike back to the station, that is. [Total distance walked 15 miles]

I've now walked a couple of miles out of town, past its most famous sporting venue. It's not in operation this weekend, so the spectator gates are closed and very local residents are not disturbed by the sound of clinking glasses. A riverside stroll then took me to the other side of the arena, now deathly quiet, along a particularly muddy path. At this time of year I find it's always wise to complete the civilised urban part of the day's travels before striking for the splattered rural outskirts. I'm currently surrounded by gorse and cattle in the middle of an infamous expanse. I've seen this place many times on the news, but always from the outside, because people like me didn't go in. Times change. Proper eerie.

My rail connection held (or rather they held it for us), and the second train slipped through mist-covered fields and past muddy reeds. I reached my destination by ten, and started my travels  in the town centre. It's part very-old, with plenty of infilled new, and a central market place that's served several centuries. The High Street (it's not called that, but you'd only Google) is broad, with craft stalls and chains, plus a new mall that befits a town of this stature. Ducks fly over a central bridge between pub and shops, and the swan quotient is also attractively high - I've just watched thirty come flocking for a toddler's bread. I'm currently sat inside the museum, near a sheep, in a particularly characterful building rescued from decay. And I needn't have worried about the mobile reception, it's obviously excellent.

dg's Mystery Tour (number 7): I'm exiting London by train, setting off on a journey of discovery to an anonymous town in southeast England. I should arrive in just over an hour, assuming the connection holds, and then I'm going to wander around a lot and see what the place has to offer. Quite a lot of variety, I think, from sport to transport, plenty of waterside, and history from a variety of eras. I've never been to this town before, nor anywhere especially nearby, so it'll be good to change that. It's not a small town, but I suspect people are more likely to know its name than to be able to place it on a map. Hopefully there'll be decent mobile reception and I'll be able to report back during the day. But I'm not going to tell you where I am, because it wouldn't be a mystery tour otherwise. See if you can guess...

Mystery Tour 1: Thanet (February 2008)
Mystery Tour 2: Coventry (April 2008)
Mystery Tour 3: Milton Keynes (November 2008)
Mystery Tour 4: Winchester (March 2009)
Mystery Tour 5: London windmills (January 2010)
Mystery Tour 6: Sheppey (April 2011)
      [five year gap]
Mystery Tour 7: ????? (January 2016)

 Friday, January 22, 2016

TfL's London Overground to take command of the capital's entire suburban rail network

Wrong. By no means all of it.

South London to become rail nirvana.

Nah.

Still, it's good news. Plans have been announced to place more of London's suburban rail lines under the joint control of TfL and the Department for Transport. But that's all they are at the moment, plans, up for public consultation, and liable to change. A cynic might point out they've been launched just in time for a Mayoral election, boosting the credentials of the current incumbent and his party, and taking the wind out of the sails of the opposition. But realists will applaud and say "about bloody time!". By applying TfL's customer-focused expertise to troubled suburban lines, it's almost as if the government is embracing the nationalisation of London's rail network for the greater good.

Should proposals for a 'London Suburban Metro' go ahead, and there's no reason to assume otherwise, frequencies on key lines will be increased to at least an every-15-minutes service, more station staff will be visible throughout the day and Sunday services will be boosted. Capacity will be increased by providing fewer seats, turnaround times will be reduced through better signalling, and fares structures will (eventually) be rationalised. But don't expect to see much changing near you any time soon - a lot of this is years away from coming to fruition.

One stated aim is that "the network would be simple and easy to understand, with consistent stopping patterns and clear, identifiable routes", which might finally bring order to the impenetrable tangle of lines that flow through south London. This might also be the catalyst for existing Overground lines to get their own individual identity, even different shades on the tube map. TfL's boss confirmed as much yesterday, stating that they were "considering holding a public competition to help name the new lines which could also be assigned a separate colour on the map." What a tangled weave the tube map of 2030 might be... but best we don't consider that just yet.

What I would like to do is whizz round London's main rail termini, clockwise from Fenchurch Street, to see what effect this might have on existing services. It's not going to be as straight-forward as you might think.

Fenchurch Street (c2c): [no change]
The consultation paper singles out the line to Southend as an existing benchmark of excellence. Run by the most punctual of all the UK's train operators, it has tip-top passenger satisfaction scores and a long-term programme of planned investment. More importantly the government awarded the current incumbent a fifteen year franchise starting in 2014, so there's no likelihood of anyone taking over from National Express anytime soon.

Cannon Street/Charing Cross (Southeastern): [partial TfL takeover 2018?]
Here's the biggest prize. Southeastern are widely recognised as the least competent rail company in London, condemning those in the southeastern corner of the capital to a far more miserable service than most. But hurrah, their franchise is up for renewal, hence the Mayor can steal the inner suburban lines away, whilst leaving long distance services through Kent under the auspices of the new operator. That cheering you can hear from Lewisham, Greenwich, Bexley and Bromley is heartfelt.

London Bridge/Blackfriars/Victoria (Southern/Thameslink): [no change any time soon] [partial TfL takeover after 2021?]
Here's another operator held up in the report as a beacon of good practice, although existing commuters suffering regular delays and disruption might not recognise the description, especially as major works at London Bridge continue to degrade the service. But it's written into Govia's recently-awarded franchise that they will improve capacity, introduce longer trains and increase cross-London connectivity, much as TfL might have done. It also means the franchise won't be up for grabs again until 2021, and even then the government of the day could decide to extend the contract for another two years. Don't expect to see orange roundels at Streatham, Sutton or South Croydon any time soon.

Waterloo (South West Trains): [partial TfL takeover 2017 2020]
South West Trains' franchise expires in the summer of next year, which you might think would give TfL time to nip in and swipe it. Not so. The prospectus for the next franchise competition has already been released, so it's too late to backtrack for a 2017 start, so a different approach is being employed. Bidders will instead be "asked to produce plans for a separable business unit for inner London services", which will then be split off for transfer to TfL at a later date. And that's quite a bit later, specifically 2020 "once capacity works at Waterloo are complete". There are at least two Mayoral elections to go before Wandsworth, Kingston and the Hounslow Loop are welcomed back into the public sector.

Paddington (Great Western Railway): [no change]
Ah, but this is already being absorbed into TfL. The project in question is Crossrail, and it'll be taking over the main suburban line in 2018. There's still a slight issue over what happens to the minor Greenford shuttle, but that's just screaming out to be Overground-ed, so expect this to happen before long.

Marylebone (Chiltern): [no change]
Ah, but Chiltern are the darlings of the rail franchise world - what they haven't done to improve the line out of Marylebone isn't worth discussing. What's more their franchise doesn't expire until the end of 2021, and is likely to be further extended, so this is not on the table... which is perhaps a shame, because the service to Wembley, Sudbury and Northolt Park is pants.

Euston (London Midland): [no change]
No, this was swallowed up several years ago. The Overground took over the Watford DC line as long ago as 2007, so there's no further integration to be done.

St Pancras/King's Cross/Moorgate (Thameslink/Great Northern): [no change any time soon] [partial TfL takeover after 2021?]
Suburban trains from these termini are part of the same mega-franchise as trains from London Bridge/Blackfriars/Victoria - see above - so expect no immediate absorption of the lines to Mill Hill, Hadley Wood and Winchmore Hill.

Liverpool Street (Greater Anglia): [no change]
And this terminus has already been dealt with, thanks. The lines to Enfield, Cheshunt and Chingford became part of the Overground last year, the line through Tottenham Hale is pencilled in for Crossrail 2, and the line out to Shenfield is already TfL Rail and will soon be part of Crossrail. Yesterday's announcement is really all about south London, as you can hopefully now see, or might begin to start seeing in a couple of years. Bring it on?

 Thursday, January 21, 2016

PR Masterclass: Old Street station

Some temporary shops are opening at Old Street station. Here's how to make that sound exciting.
TfL launches pop-up festivals at Old Street Tube Station
That's right, it's our old friends 'pop-up' and 'festival', combined here to devastating effect. Admit it, you're intrigued already.
Old Street Tube station will be home to a series of festivals as part of the station's pop-up revolution that has brought unique retail experiences to the thousands of people who use it each day.
That's not just one festival but, wow, a series of festivals. This isn't just your average collection of temporary retail installations, this is a 'pop-up revolution' - something pioneering, radical, and unique. You'll not be seeing anything like Old Street station anywhere else, for sure.
The new line-up will see a roster of 'secret events', new retail concepts and a whole host of experiences for customers to discover at the station each quarter...
Most promoters baulk at organising 'secret events', because nobody turns up. Not so at Old Street. Their watchwords are novelty, discovery and variety, which are high level concepts you'd not normally expect of a row of shops.
...beginning this month with a Health and Wellbeing Festival.
Well, it is January isn't it? And at least it's not a Wellness Festival. Imagine.
The space is being curated by Appear Here, the largest online marketplace for short-term retail space who TfL has appointed to introduce pop-up shops across its retail estate.
Shops are no longer hired out, they are 'curated', specifically to create the perfect brand mix to induce customer delight. Thank heavens for Appear Here, and their mission to seamlessly connect landlords' vacant spaces to people with great ideas to create a global network of spaces so people can make their idea travel. Their words, not mine.
The transformation of the retail offer at Old Street station is part of TfL's Commercial Development plans to generate £3.4bn in non-fares revenue over the next decade to reinvest into maintaining and modernising the transport network.
Cuts to funding mean that TfL is looking to raise a million pounds a day from commercial enterprise over the next ten years. These Old Street pop-ups could contribute 0.2% of that amount, the equivalent of cutting every tube fare by 0.05p, which is not to be sniffed at.
Justin Brand, Director of Commercial Asset Management at TfL, said: `Since we launched Old Street Tube station as our pop-up retail destination, over 200 retailers have set up shop there, bringing some fantastic services and products to the 23 million people who use the station each year.'
I don't know about you, but Old Street's definitely been on my shopping radar since the outer arcades relaunched in April 2014. And that makes the subway complex not only a true 'retail destination', but also 'the world’s first underground station dedicated to ephemeral retail', according to the brochure.
`The new line up of retailers at the station will showcase some of the best brands around. The revenue that we generate from the retailers is reinvested into our transport network to deliver improved services for customers.'
Before TfL came up with this overarching concept of a themed festival, previous incarnations of 'the best brands around' included American Eagle, Microsoft and Jamie Oliver. I bet you can't wait to hear who's turning up for the inaugural Health and Wellbeing Festival.
<brand name 1> (Unit 3, 11 Jan - 7 Feb)
<brand name 1>'s mission is to ensure keeping fit is never a chore. Launching in Unit 3, they will be hosting a range of classes and events each day, enabling customers to move, fuel, shop and be mindful - without being too detox-y! They will also be bringing to life the station tunnels with experiential artwork.
It's not every curated space which allows you to fuel and be mindful, whilst simultaneously avoiding detox-ification. I'm sure we'll all be dropping in.
<brand name 2> (Unit 2, 4-31 Jan)
Founded by Anna Richey & Alla Ouvarova,<brand name 2> is the champion of egg-white based products. Appearing in Unit 2, the <brand name 1> Kitchen will be serving up delicious protein pancakes, porridge and egg white omelettes daily.
I've thought long and hard and I genuinely can't remember ever experiencing an egg-white-based pop-up before. I hope they sell meringues.
<brand name 3> (Unit 8, 18-24 Jan)
Serving their delicious dairy-free mylks, the <brand name 3> team will also be hosting breakfast clubs, 'Keep It Real Talks' and agony aunt drop in sessions with industry experts to help with New Year's resolutions.
That's not a spelling mistake, this lot do genuinely serve up something called mylk, which is a mixture of coconut water and date nectar, and which is apparently (somehow) nut-free. If you're following a vegan or paleo diet, make tracks.
<brand name 4> (Unit 8, 25 Jan - 1 Feb)
Delicious, hand-prepared, heathy food delivered straight to your door. <brand name 4> will be serving up superfood breakfasts, bright lunches and dinners, alongside a wide array of events from morning yoga to supper clubs inside their pop-up.
That is a spelling mistake. Either that or 'heathy' foods are a genuine thing, perhaps clumps of moss suspended in pondwater, or fern-frond nibbles.
<brand name 5> (Market Stalls, 4 Jan - 28 Feb)
<brand name 5> make some of the healthiest and tastiest juices available. Their juices are packed with vegetables and fruit, and never heat pasteurised which mean they are a quick and convenient way to get the nutrients your body needs.
If you're tempted by pulped kale with a hint of a ginger, be sure you to head to Old Street in person, because this lot normally only courier sixpacks in chillboxes at £17.70 a shot.
<brand name 6> (Market Stalls, 18-24 Jan)
Slow foods for a fast world! <brand name 6> will be serving up delicious bowls of beef, chicken and vegetable broth from their stall.
There was a time when TfL press releases told you about station closures, infrastructure investment and vital roadworks. And they still do that, but now they also tell you about meat soup you can buy on the way into the station, because this bears down on fares, and because that's the future.
TfL also has pop-up shops available at other stations including St. James's Park, Piccadilly Circus and Baker Street, providing exciting retail opportunities for London commuters.
Exciting retail opportunities for London commuters, from the organisation that brought you buses and trains.


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