diamond geezer

 Tuesday, June 28, 2005

I was Andrew Gilligan's anonymous source

Yes, it's true. Oh ye of little faith. You probably thought that my daily reportage from Bow Road station [] was mind-numbingly boring trivia of the most anorakky kind. You probably thought that nobody would ever be interested in 16 months of regular updates on the renovation of my local tube station. You were wrong.

Yesterday the Evening Standard devoted a whole double page spread to the sorry saga of Metronet's wasteful procrastination at Bow Road station, including several paragraphs lifted from this blog and a big picture showing some workmen sitting on the platform doing sod all. And all this penned by Andrew Gilligan, the former BBC journalist at the centre of the Hutton Report debacle and now writing investigate articles for the Evening Standard. I'd love to link to the article so that you can read it in full, except that the Evening Standard appear to have downsized their online news presence in favour of advertising features and theatre ticket promotions so you'll have to make do with this photograph instead.

Last week Metronet's inability to complete station renovations to time finally threatened a huge £14 million financial penalty. This was big political news and, hey presto, Andrew Gilligan had the topic for his weekly investigative column in the Standard. In the course of his investigations he stumbled upon this blog, read my daily reports from the PPP's first station upgrade and sent me an email asking if I could shed further light on goings on at Bow Road. But of course. We had a 15 minute phone conversation in which I told Andrew more about what hadn't been going on, what I thought about the end results and how very little of the work had actually been of any benefit to my fellow travellers. And look, there was his full 1500 word article in the paper yesterday. Result!
The suspicion must be that Metronet chose an easy station to begin its £17 billion, 30-year spending programme. But what the company may not have realised is that Bow Road has its very own beady-eyed resident blogger. Every move Metronet made, or rather did not make, was to be chronicled for ever on the blog kept by one Diamond Geezer, who travelled to or through the station twice a day for the entire duration of the works.
As well as quotations from the blog ("Tuesday 10 February: A blue wall has appeared in front of the four Portakabins."), Andrew's feature concentrates on the lack of visible evidence that £3.3 million at Bow Road has been well spent. He uncovers the nightmarish PPP bureaucracy that required more than 50 sign-offs before work could begin, which is probably why nothing happened much happened here for the first six months or so. He gets Metronet's stations director, Clive Coleman, to admit that "nobody quite knew how [quality] assurance and scoping worked, how you brought people on site." Andrew discovers that there are an astonishing 70 new cameras at the station, even though CCTV was already installed at the station before the work began. And he confirms that Metronet have indeed declared "practical completion" on Bow Road this month, although this doesn't mean that the work is finished. Not quite.
"I do wonder where the money has gone", says Diamond Geezer (he will not let the Standard use his real name. Perhaps he fears Metronet will come round and refurbish his flat).
All in all the saga of Bow Road has been a litany of shame and profligate waste with no particularly worthy outcome. And I'm delighted, finally, to see this written in inch-high letters across London's evening paper. Today I can be fairly certain that my Bow Road diary, which started out as an obscure daily 'spot the difference' activity, has been brought to the attention of a readership of 1 million Londoners, including the top brass at Metronet and maybe a few other political movers and shakers too. Who says that blogging changes nothing?
Indeed, Metronet's entire, much trumpeted 152-station refurbishment programme includes almost no improvements whatever in the thing that really matters on the Underground: capacity. The changes will be almost all cosmetic: new vinyl walls, new CCTV cameras, rumble-strips on platforms to help the partially-sighted. New escalators, new entrances, wider platforms or passageways are not on the menu. Given this company's difficulties to date with even quite simple tasks, perhaps from one perspective this is just as well. But it is one more example of how the PPP will fail to provide the Underground with the improvements it actually needs.
And to my new Metronet audience today I say, "Please remember that there's still more work to be done at Bow Road, and I'm still watching you not doing it."


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