The first water fountain was installed in March, off Carnaby Street. It's now August and there are four. By the end of the year there will be 20. If you're good with numbers, you'll see how game-changing this is.
(The press release is rife with missing spaces, in case you were wondering. Also, there is no park called Heart of Valentines Park, despite the press release insisting twice that there is. I went yesterday and, unless the council have a secret rebrand up their sleeve, it's definitely Valentines Park.)
The deft use of statistics can of course make any press release sound unduly exciting.
The data confirms the fountains are being well used, but these are fascinatingly disparate facts. The number of times a fountain has been used doesn't directly correspond to the number of litres of drinking water dispensed. And the number of litres of drinking water dispensed won't directly correspond to the number of bottles saved. Londoners buy over a billion bottles of water a year. This initiative might have saved 0.005% of them.
I was particularly intrigued by the fourth water fountain, not mentioned in the statistics, the one in Valentines Park. So I went to take a look.
Despite "accessibility" and "visibility" being key, it took me over half an hour to find it. One drinking fountain was shown on the map in the park, but that turned out to be an ornate 1898 structure and doesn't work. I wandered around the mansion, and along the lake, and over by the cricket pitches, and up by the main gates, but found nothing there. Eventually I spotted the new fountain on the side of a small hut beside the children's playground. Amazingly, it was positioned right next to an existing water fountain, a low metal bowl with an impressively squirty spout. That's designed for sipping, and the new one is for bottles, but it turns out one of the Mayor's four new machines has been located where it isn't strictly needed.
The new water fountain in Valentines Park was being very well used, indeed I had to wait two minutes to take my turn. First at the tap was a small child with a painted face, who pressed the button and attempted to angle his open mouth into the stream. That took a while, and wasted a lot of water. Second was a child with a plastic cup he'd brought over from an adjacent picnic, making good use of the facilities. The third and fourth were open-mouthed children again, and the fifth was a mum with a cloth she wanted to dampen. We should be wary of equating fountain use to plastic saved.
Let's be honest, a handful of water fountains aren't going to solve any bottled water crisis. 20 fountains in a city with a population of 8 million is one per 400,000 people. That's the equivalent of a city like Coventry having a single water fountain. What's more, the first 20 fountains are appallingly badly spread. The dark blue blobs on this map are the existing fountains, and the light blue blobs are the proposed next sixteen.
Although 20 water fountains are proposed in this first tranche, only ten London boroughs are getting them, and twenty three are missing out. Apart from Valentines Park in Redbridge, all the other fountains are in a relatively narrow strip from Ealing to Bexley. Here in Bow, my nearest fountain is three miles away. Londoners in Enfield, Ruislip, Kingston, Sutton and Purley are over seven miles from theirs. It seems no attempt has been made to scatter these 20 fountains across the capital, and the behaviour of the vast majority of Londoners will not be affected.
I fear Dr Koldewey is vastly overstating the impact of this initiative. Give it a few years and there might be a network of bottle-filling stations to match the Victorian drinking fountains that once blessed our city. But what's being lauded in this press release is an absolute drop in the ocean.