Sunday, November 30, 2014
Yesterday, finally, the last piece of the Olympic Park bus jigsaw fitted into place. Several tweaks were made in 2011 when Westfield opened, and more changes post-2012 as Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park transformed. In the earliest phase the D8 was diverted via Warton Road to Stratford City, passing under the railway to serve the mega shopping mall rather than the old town centre. But the plan was always to send the bus via Carpenters Road instead, because this is the route buses used to take until 2007, and because this would allow it to serve the Aquatics Centre. But when the big swimming pool opened in March, no change was made. The 339 was diverted here via a different route, but the railway bridge on Carpenters Road stayed resolutely closed, for no readily discernible reason. Yesterday, finally, all that changed.
Bus passengers in east London are to benefit from better connectivity in the local area from this Saturday (29 November), as Transport for London (TfL) re-routes the D8 via Carpenters Road and Pool Street to provide access to destinations in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, such as the London Aquatics Centre and ArcelorMittal Orbit.Like so.
The Carpenters Road estate has had a rough deal of late, not least Newham council's determination to decant as many of the residents as possible and board up their empty properties. Now those who remain get their own bus service, at two freshly implanted bus stops along a smartly landscaped streetscape. It all looks remarkably public-spirited. But the real reason for the change is that it allows the D8 to corkscrew round the maze of roads to the south of the Olympic Park and pull up round the back of the Aquatics Centre. There's no entrance to the pool at this end, only the car park, but a couple of minutes up the Lea gets you to the customer service desk, or you can cross the river and end up in the Park proper instead.
John Barry, TfL's Head of Network Development for buses, said: `The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games delivered a world-class event and we want to play our part in ensuring that its legacy lives on in east London. By re-rerouting the D8 bus local communities will be able to access the Olympic Park and its facilities much more easily.'And that's true. The D8 used to dash past the Olympic Park without stopping, but now it stops and local residents can alight if they want. The thing is, they don't really want. Almost everyone on the D8 at this end of its route is heading to Westfield or Stratford station, and going for a swim or a £15 ascent of the Orbit is the last thing on their mind. What the D8's re-routing has done is delay them by an extra few minutes, on a detour born of community aspiration rather than regular need. The bus now passes three additional sets of traffic lights, two of which are programmed to wait unnecessarily long for traffic that isn't always there. Whatever TfL's press release says, most people aren't going to be thanking them.
I rode the D8 on Friday, a speedy run, though admittedly with no chance of alighting near the Olympic Park. And then I rode it again on Saturday, joining a large band of merry shoppers to see how they'd react. The couple sat in front of me nudged one another in surprise when we didn't turn off down they road they'd expected. We had to crawl for longer up Stratford High Street, slower than it once was since a Cycle Superhighway ate up the bus lane. Then we headed up Carpenters Road, where one resident got on, so that was good. Then we waited at red to emerge from under the railway bridge, and then we waited on red for almost a minute at a junction where we were the only vehicle in sight. It's ridiculously quiet down here at sub-Westfield level, but the lights are set as if all the proposed flats have already been built and the roads are heaving with traffic. And then nobody got on or off outside the Aquatics Centre, nor was there anybody even walking down the road, let alone waiting on the other side. And then we queued on red for another minute to join the stream of traffic on Montfichet Road that we would have already have been a part of until yesterday.
So it's great that the D8 now serves the Olympic pool. But it's also a timewasting diversion for most. Swings, roundabouts.
posted 07:00 :
Saturday, November 29, 2014London's quintet of K buses run through and from Kingston-upon-Thames. They originated in the late 1980s, at one point as many as ten in number, and branded as Kingston Hoppas. Disappointingly the K9 is long gone, otherwise that would have been my ride of choice. Instead I chose to ride the bus that runs least frequently, the bus whose route you described as "the most quirky", the bus nearly scrapped in 2006. And, well, blimey.
An A-Z of LONDON BUSES
Route K5: Ham - Morden
Length of journey: 12 miles, 85 minutes
You'd never sit down and invent the K5 today. It's far too long a route, linking outposts that nobody needs to travel between, as if some child scribbled a line on a map and asked the driver to oblige. The fact it runs only once an hour is a hint that TfL's accountants wouldn't be sorry to see it go, but when they threatened to cancel it various residents' groups sent in a volley of support and hence the little bus survived. Waiting at the Ham terminus I wonder whether that faith might perhaps have been misplaced. A single-door minibus is parked up on a road faced only by back gardens, hazard lights flashing, matched by a simultaneous beep. Everyone else waiting - a footballer, a smoking Dad, and a schoolgirl off to take her 11+ - board the regular 371 when it arrives instead. Only I wave my Oyster when the K5 driver revs up. On the grass verge opposite, a crow caws four times.
It's only a minibus with 21 seats but it has grand pretensions, not least the stack of Epsom Coaches Holiday brochures in a rack up front. But the size of vehicle proves crucial two stops later, on Tudor Drive, as we take an unexpected right turn down something narrow. Parked cars on either side of the road leave space for only one vehicle to squeeze between, and hopefully that's us, otherwise the oncoming driver is going to have to find a gap along the side and nip in sharpish. There's no genuine need for our bus to be heading this way - two other buses run within 400m of this Tudorbethan avenue, that being the requisite distance for TfL to hit their targets. But our presence on this Hail and Ride section is greatly appreciated, as I can tell by the number of pensioners standing poised by the side of the road with shopping baskets waiting to flag us down. Many greet their friends as they board on the morning trip to town, mostly in couples, until we have at least a dozen aboard.
We take another wtf narrow turn and give a white van driver pause for thought. Then it's our turn for trouble approaching Canbury Park. A Warburton's driver has somehow manoeuvred his lorry through this maze of narrow backstreets and is out of the cab delivering a tray of bread to the adjacent Co-op. Unfortunately his rear is poked out into the street, and another driver's parked his car slap bang on the T-junction, so not even our driver's skill can ease us through. A honk and a reverse eventually create just enough space, and we proceed, hinting further that this rather tasteful enclave is damned fortunate to have a bus service at all. Further diversionary tactics lead us along smart Victorian streets and round a trading estate before finally emerging round the back of Kingston station.
It looks like rain, and the ladies of North Kingston are already adjusting their plastic bonnets in anticipation of hitting the shops. We're about to do something highly unusual, for a bus, which is to serve the same stop twice ten minutes apart. Kingston's rigid one-way system is to blame, forcing us to drive one and a half times around the ring road (past both bus stations) in order to reach the main shopping streets. Most of our pensioner cargo alights near the tumbledown phoneboxes, or outside Heal's, where we pick up replacements for the next bags-home run. And Cromwell Road Bus Station is the lucky stop that gets two hits, the second after a spell at the driver changeover point which delays our progress even longer. As we head off with a feeling of deja vu, I genuinely think the half hour I've just experienced was mad, but all the constrictions and contortions must suit some.
Things get a bit more sensible from here on, but not by much. Ks two to five all head down the London Road towards Norbiton, the station and the hospital, where we dive off again down some under-served back road. There's another "what, seriously, are we going down there?" moment, then we're off over the speed bumps to serve Kingsmeadow, the home ground of Division Two youngsters AFC Wimbledon. This next stretch is almost normal, enlivened by roadside banners reading "Dee Watts Is The Big 5 0" and "Dee Watts Nifty Fifty". But it doesn't last. Someone in the 1980s route planning department spotted a loop of estate roads backing down to the Hogsmill River so we deviate that way, much to the delight of an old lady wearing entirely unnecessary ear muffs and her patient-looking husband.
We're ticking off the backwaters of New Malden, seemingly all of them, and picking up a fair few Hail and Riders on the way. Most are heading for the shopping centre, deemed important enough that Nando's are about to open a branch by the Fountain roundabout, where we lose half a dozen and gain a sobbing toddler in a pushchair. She must know what's coming. A whopping diversion through Motspur Park awaits, meaning that in fifteen minutes time we'll have circled right round to within three stops of where we are now. I'm glad I can't see this on a map as we continue, it would all be terribly depressing.
But we end-to-end tourists aren't the target audience, indeed it was vociferous cries from Motspur Park where the K5 is the only bus that helped keep this service alive. We run past some rather desirable semis, broad-fronted and with gardens best described as ample. It's Hail and Ride again, a long stretch this time broken by a single bus stop halfway, immediately after the level crossing by the herringbone parade. Here the quirkiest passenger I've seen in many a day boards and sits behind me. This forty-something man is dressed exclusively in autumn colours, and in his mind's eye must believe he's a genuinely dapper gent. His bright mustard trousers create the greatest visual impact, followed by his cocked brown trilby and the beige waistcoat beneath his tweed jacket. Closer observation reveals a partridge emblazoned on his tie, and a two-tone umbrella that's copper on the outside and khaki within, the complete ensemble topped off with a lingering bouquet of lavender. It's not how the average Motspur Parker dresses, I can assure you.
An hour into the K5's meandering we hit a second level crossing and then head deliberately in the wrong direction - west - to negotiate the A3. All is suddenly a bit out-of-town arterial, with B&Q sheds and takeaway drive-ins beneath a thundering concrete flyover. Up we go alongside the main body of traffic on the Kingston Bypass, but only to take the flyover and end up one stop away from that last level crossing, but one level higher. We're not seeing the nicest side of Raynes Park, especially when we divert off again to serve the station, indeed it's the first time southwest London has looked anything other than desirable. This is as far as Autumnal Man is going, which clears the air a little, and only a few of us continue.
We're still somehow keeping to timetable, which is important when a bus runs only hourly, but our driver's now making no real attempt to stop because nobody's interested in joining us. Up next is Wimbledon Chase, the houses increasingly aspirational, even mainstream, which is the cue for the K5 to make one last break for freedom. I'm quite excited to discover that these splendid leafy avenues form Merton Park, home to 70s mod band The Merton Parkas, and now (for architectural rather than musical reasons) a conservation area. The final Hail and Ride section seems to exist solely for people who can't be bothered to walk down the street to Morden, of whom today there are none. And it's here, at the foot of the Northern line, that the driver finally chucks us out before joining the throng of red buses on the station forecourt, and leaving me to wonder if that journey was actually for real.
» route K5 - route map
» route K5 - timetable
» route K5 - live bus map
» route K5 - route history
» route K5 - route history
» route K5 - The Ladies Who Bus
posted 05:00 :
Friday, November 28, 2014So many H buses to choose from. Nine in Hillingdon, which I could have done. Nine in Harrow, where I could have gone. But instead I went for the pair in Hampstead, specifically the hourly minibus that plies one of the richest roads in the capital. I've had my eye on the H3 for some considerable time...
An A-Z of LONDON BUSES
Route H3: Golders Green - Hill Top
Length of journey: 6 miles, 30 minutes
Step out of Golders Green station and a large bus station greets you. As many as ten different bus routes terminate here, in three separate bays, on a slice of land that could be valuable real estate if only it wasn't transportationally essential. Expect to see a large number of bus drivers standing around, passing the time between runs with a fag, a chat, or a cup of tea in the Arriva changeover wing. A finger of commuter-angled retail units points out towards the clocktower, including the formica tables and sugar shakers of Bar Linda. Step beyond, across a patch of grass, to discover a second much much smaller bus terminus from which the Optare minibuses ply their trade.
There used to be an H1, a school service running three times a day to a local girls school, but TfL ran a consultation last year and renumbered the route 631. There's still an H2, a circular which makes a two mile loop of the avenues of Hampstead Garden Suburb, and somehow still runs every twelve minutes. And then there's the H3, a very different proposition, and one of London's least frequent buses. It runs hourly, but not during the morning rush hour when it's requisitioned for the 631, and it stops running by three in the afternoon, and it doesn't run on Sundays. That's a mere 42 journeys a week, which means I had to time my arrival very carefully.
I picked a Saturday morning, which isn't necessarily the best time to visit Golders Green. Much of the population is at synagogue, indeed many of the shops hereabouts are closed, so I was wondering how busy the bus might be. As the H3 shuffled forwards to the front of the stand, I get my answer. Six of us board, which might not sound much but on a small vehicle like this uses up several of the seats, plus there'll be three more joining us at the next stop. At least two passengers exchange a "hello" with the driver, because it's a friendly bus with repeat patronage, the H3. And one less familiar soul enquires "do you go to the end of the road", which is a damned stupid thing to ask and will have awkward consequences later.
So who have we got on board? A ginger teen with a nosering, his baseball cap at the currently approved jaunty angle. A Jewish gent attempting to write a spidery address in fountain pen on a whisked-out envelope. Someone up front, of indeterminate gender, screened beneath a non-designer anorak hood. The lady who asked where the bus was going, paying no attention now she's jabbering away on her phone. Two older ladies homeward-bound with shopping, using the H3 for the purpose for which it was commissioned. And someone who smells of inadequately-dried jacket - I'm not sure who, but I genuinely don't think it's me.
A pair of Jehovah's Witnesses are poised resolutely outside HSBC waving "Is Satan real?" booklets at a demographic that totally isn't interested. We're heading 'the wrong way' at first so that we can turn right past the shops and make a run for it up Hoop Lane. Nobody wants the crematorium or the extensive Jewish cemetery, we're heading for the upmarket garden village beyond. But just when it looks like we might be entering the heart of it we veer off and aim instead for the London borough of Barnet's premier mansion tax zone.
Hampstead Way's rather nice, with big homes behind clipped hedges on one side of the road only. On the other is the Hampstead Heath extension, here more park than heathland, a rarely-visited tongue of green that locals seem to have very much to themselves. It's at this point that our jabberer spots she's not where she thought, puts down her phone and asks "Isn't this the H2?" It's not, obviously, the front of the bus was quite explicit, but it's an easy mistake to have made when the H3 runs so infrequently. A fellow passenger points out unhelpfully that if she stays on board she'll eventually end up back at Golders Green and can try again. But she doesn't understand, her English isn't good, and she sits forlornly as we thunder on.
At Wildwood Way we head around the tip of the Heath Extension and the houses get bigger. Very close by is the site of what might have been North End station, the deepest on the tube network, had the earliest residents not seen the developers off. Instead the number of homes round here remains low, the acreage high, and the number of cars per front garden higher still. We pass a series of swept-back symmetrical villas, an increasing number with electric gates, twisting in an S-shape round a small wood and a golf course. I have to keep reminding myself that this is inner London, barely two miles from Regent's Park, yet feels instead like deepest Surrey.
We pop out briefly to reality, to a bus stop notionally serving Kenwood House. And then we turn up a legendary road I've heard so much about but never seen, The Bishop's Avenue, otherwise known as Billionaires Row. It does not disappoint... wtf?! This fairytale mile boasts one of the most expensive collections of property in London, and is home to magnates, playboys, presidents and sultans. And yet it's not pretty, indeed it feels like Metroland blinged up, mixing Arts and Crafts mansions with vulgar pillared neo-classical piles. One Kazakhstani fortress sold for fifty million a few years back, and there's an 8-bedroom newbuild on the market now for thirty-five. But look closer and several of the palaces are empty, with security notices on locked gates, a symbol of how swiftly great wealth can drain away. For this is more a trophy street than a proper community, less somewhere to live, more a series of conversation pieces to own. I love the fact that a little London bus tracks up and back a handful of times a week for the benefit of people who don't 'do' public transport, the ultimate Hail & Ride.
The top end of The Bishop's Avenue, beyond the A1, is a disappointment in comparison. We're suddenly in East Finchley, stopping by the station, having threaded from one branch of the Northern line to the other. Only five of us are left aboard, no fresh passengers having boarded since we started, which I guess is what tends to happen on rarely scheduled buses. We tick off the sights - the East Finchley archer, the pioneering Phoenix Cinema, Amazing Grates. And then we're off into suburbia again, much more ordinary this time, following a double decker 143 up East End Road. We've climbed gently to the extent that there's almost a view, but nothing significant, just undulating rooftops and sky.
The H3 has one more loop to follow, this through the northern strip of Hampstead Garden Suburb, with its white curved semis and trimmed-hedge gardens. Our destination, Hill Top, turns out to be a narrow minibus-width avenue, and isn't truly a destination at all because we carry straight on. Baseball-cap-lad has been waiting patiently for the farthest stop on Brookland Rise, and lumbers off, while three of us ride back east to the splendid interwar parade at Market Place. It turns out that this was where Lost Lady was trying to get to all along, so she's happy, even if the H3 has taken twice as long to get here as the H2. I take the hint and cross the street to take the quicker minibus back.
» route H3 - route map
» route H3 - timetable
» route H3 - live bus map
» route H3 - The Ladies Who Bus
posted 03:00 :
Thursday, November 27, 2014
Citizen, your attention please
Illegal online activity detected
Your internet service provider has confirmed the presence of terrorist keywords in your browsing history, and has brought this potential criminal activity to our attention.
The jihadi phrase you have accessed is: time to kill a service man
This unpatriotic message was discovered: in the previous blogpost
Under emergency long-term legislation, the digital expression of extremist thoughts is now classified as treasonable behaviour.
Your explicit hatred of Britain has been noted, and your arrest by special services personnel is imminent. This is for your own safety, and for the protection of Our Nation going forward.
As you will be aware, greater Government powers are urgently needed to combat a complex and ever-changing threat to national security. This is appropriate and proportionate legislation based on well-established intelligence, and absolutely not a gross overreaction quashing long-established civil liberties.
Our security services face an overwhelming challenge in scanning trillions of terrabytes of digital traffic in the search for extremist traitors. And yet this is crucial work. Imagine the potential horror if radicalised persons were to enter into communication online and plan for death and destruction on an indiscriminate scale.
The Home Office has therefore deployed an army of Citizen Volunteers to scan and scour the internet for incriminating evidence of wrongdoing. Application forms were placed in two national newspapers earlier this week, and passionate volunteers with a considerable amount of spare time recruited. Each was then given access to hundreds of personal datastreams - shared under self-policing privacy controls - and asked to monitor ongoing communications for jihadi keywords and impure thoughts.
Your betrayal was detected by:
Citizen Volunteer: Mr Graham Alan Prentice
Citizen Volunteer ID: Truthcrusader47
Location: Rochester, England
Incident Number*: 28362059
* Please quote this number when security personnel arrive to make your arrest.
In these perilous and dangerous times the protection of our country is of paramount importance. You have not displayed the right-thinking attitude required, and your freedom of expression has been forfeited. We're watching you.
posted 07:00 :
I mentioned yesterday that there are two passenger ferries across the Thames between Kingston and Chertsey. But only I wrote about one of them. The other crosses the river at Hampton, about a mile to the west of Hampton Court.
Ten Hampton Ferry facts
• One side's in London, the other in Surrey
• The ferry celebrated its 500th anniversary this year
• It's one of the 10 oldest established companies in the United Kingdom
• A crossing costs £1.50 (bikes 50p) (dogs and folding pushchairs free)
• It departs Hampton on the London bank, near the church and the Bell Inn
• It departs Hurst Park on the Surrey bank, near the Molesey Heritage Marker
• Hurst Park's riverside racecourse closed in 1962, and is now mostly housing estate
• The boatmen are based in the Hampton Ferry Boathouse (ding the bell for service)
• The ferry runs daily throughout the summer, on demand, until 6pm
• It's not to be confused with the Hampton Ferry in Evesham
And, damn, it stops running at the end of October.
I turned up in November, with time to kill. A service manned by nobody.
Maybe next summer.
posted 00:15 :
Wednesday, November 26, 2014It's well-known there aren't many Thames crossings to the east of London, but there aren't that many to the west of London either. In the ten or so miles between Kingston and Chertsey there are only two bridges, one at Hampton Court and the other at Walton-on-Thames. This lack of connectivity is bad news if you're a Surrey driver, but there are two additional options for those on foot or two wheels, both of which are ferries. And Woolwich it ain't. [5 photos]
There's been a ferry between Shepperton and Weybridge for nigh on 500 years, such has been the historic need for folk to cross the Thames hereabouts. Shepperton lies on the northern bank of the river, originally clustered around the medieval church, then slowly strung out to the north after the railway arrived. The Shepperton branch line opened 150 years ago this month, but the planned extension across the river to Chertsey never materialised hence the terminus today has a fairly unrushed feel about it. The famous film studios are to the north, on the banks of the Queen Mary Reservoir, while the M3 motorway curves through the edge of the built-up area between a series of flooded gravel pits.
Old Shepperton is cut off behind the cricket ground, a single winding road with cottages and larger homes off to each side, bending out towards the Thames. It's most pleasant, or would be without all the parked cars, not least the focal point of Church Square running down to the river. St Nicholas's is built on the site of a 7th century church, and is about the only building hereabouts not to serve beer and/or food. The Anchor used to be a coaching inn and is now a hotel, and a romantic haunt of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor while they were filming up the road. The Warren Lodge hotel is merely 18th century, but boasts Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton amongst its more famous courting couples. Which begs the question what are quite so many hostelries doing here on the edge of nowhere opposite nothing much at all?
The answer's the Shepperton Ferry, which once ran from the quay by the church but long ago shifted half a mile upstream. Ferry Lane is a bit of a trek out of the village, through waterside meadows to the edge of the Thames proper. This is a place dominated by Britons Who Like Boats, indeed if you own any of the large homes hereabouts it's probably because some nearby sleek motorised craft is at the heart of your recreational life. The only shop is therefore a marine suppliers, namely Nauticalia, also found in Covent Garden and Greenwich but which began here in 1974 as a floating antiques shop in a converted rubbish barge. It's less rope and anchors and more jackets and giftware, but ideal if you ever need a comedy brass plaque for the door of the captain's cabin.
Tied up at a short jetty is the latest incarnation of the ancient ferry, this a small skiff with bench seating down each side and two outboard motors at the back. Getting aboard's intriguing because the timetable's unusual. The ferry only runs every 15 minutes, specifically on the quarter hours, but to summon service you have to ring a bell. Arrive at any other time and you're urged to wait, presumably because the boatman has other activities to fit into his life and doesn't want to be called out willy nilly. I arrived at 11.46, which was awkward, but while pondering what to do the boatman emerged from deep within Nauticalia and introduced himself. Game on.
A crossing costs two pounds, or one quid extra with a bike or for a return, There's even a weekly season ticket for a mere £6, which is a bargain, but only if you have regular need to cross between two fairly quiet Thames-side outposts. The pilot gets to stand beneath a protective awning, but you're out in the open so get wet if it rains. You may also have to wait for river traffic to pass, in our case a pair of rowers and a narrowboat, which extended the minute-long crossing time by about 100%. From midriver there's a fine view of the Weybridge Mariners' boathouse on Shepperton Lock Island, and someone very wealthy's back lawn, plus a steeply arched footbridge to a private island a short distance downstream.
And then you're across, at the steps on the Weybridge side, not that the centre of Weybridge is especially close by. Impressively there's also a ramp, making this a step-free ferry crossing and therefore more accessible than several much younger southeastern transport projects. By this time the boatman will be off, steering back across the river and tying up on the northern side, then using his intermediate ten minutes to do the crossword, have a cup of tea, go to the toilet, whatever.
The Shepperton Ferry has a fictional claim to fame, which is that HG Wells set most of chapter 12 of The War of The Worlds right here.
We remained at Weybridge until midday, and at that hour we found ourselves at the place near Shepperton Lock where the Wey and Thames join. Part of the time we spent helping two old women to pack a little cart. The Wey has a treble mouth, and at this point boats are to be hired, and there was a ferry across the river. On the Shepperton side was an inn with a lawn, and beyond that the tower of Shepperton Church - it has been replaced by a spire - rose above the trees. Here we found an excited and noisy crowd of fugitives. As yet the flight had not grown to a panic, but there were already far more people than all the boats going to and fro could enable to cross.This idyllic scene doesn't last for long, not once a Martian comes striding across the meadows from Chertsey burning up the valley with its heat ray.
A violent explosion shook the air, and a spout of water, steam, mud, and shattered metal shot far up into the sky. As the camera of the Heat-Ray hit the water, the latter had immediately flashed into steam. In another moment a huge wave, like a muddy tidal bore but almost scaldingly hot, came sweeping round the bend upstream. I saw people struggling shorewards, and heard their screaming and shouting faintly above the seething and roar of the Martian's collapse. For a moment I heeded nothing of the heat, forgot the patent need of self-preservation. I splashed through the tumultuous water, pushing aside a man in black to do so, until I could see round the bend. Half a dozen deserted boats pitched aimlessly upon the confusion of the waves. The fallen Martian came into sight downstream, lying across the river, and for the most part submerged.Fear not, no Martian has collapsed here recently and the ferry continues to run daily from 8am (nine on Saturdays, ten on Sundays). And that's especially good news for anyone walking the Thames Path, which officially crosses the river here to avoid detouring round the mouth of the Wey. So you might well have good reason one day to come pay the ferryman... but time it right, else there's a three mile detour to get to the other side.
posted 07:00 :
Tuesday, November 25, 2014If you read the Evening Standard, you'll know that one of the greatest threats facing the capital today is the mansion tax. This annual imposition might be levied on every UK household valued at over two million pounds, should a Labour government come to power, and the revenue used to help fund the NHS. The Evening Standard is very much against the introduction of a mansion tax, as you can tell by the frequency with which they publish stories about how awful it will be. There are rarely any balancing arguments, only facts against and negative public opinion, often supported by editorial comment. It's plain that the Evening Standard strongly supports the interests of London's £2m+ homeowners, and would like the rest of its readership to do so too.
Yesterday the paper published the results of a survey in which a well known property website was asked count up the precise number of properties worth over two million pounds. Around 20000 homes outside the capital would be affected by a mansion tax, but 86000 inside, which is a higher estimate than expected and therefore ghastly. The survey also totted up the total number of £2m+ homes borough by borough, including the terrifying news that 22454 homes in Kensington and Chelsea would be hit, 18596 in Westminster and even 37 in Redbridge. And OK, so Barking and Dagenham gets away with having none at all, but imagine the number of 'asset-rich cash-poor' residents who might be left seriously out of pocket elsewhere.
So relentlessly one-sided is the Evening Standard's reporting that I thought their figures could do with a sense of proportion. I checked out the last census and discovered that there are approximately 3¼ million households in London, of which less than 3% might be affected by a mansion tax. In inner London that percentage rises to 5%, whereas in outer London it's less than 1%, with over half of London's boroughs even lower than that. Indeed the number of homes in the capital not affected by a mansion tax would be 3,180,000, which puts the Standard's headline figure of 86000 firmly in the shade.
This map shows, borough by borough, how little the mansion tax would really affect the capital. Don't expect to see it in the Evening Standard any time soon.
posted 07:00 :
If you're smug enough to have an annual season ticket, and hence a Gold Card, the terms and conditions are changing from 2nd January 2015. And mostly for the better.
until 1st January 2015 from 2nd January 2015 Network Railcard Area covers most of southeast England, but stops just short of Leamington Spa, Rugby and Ipswich [map] Network Railcard Area extends to Shrewsbury and Stafford (including Birmingham), and covers all of Suffolk and Norfolk [map] Does not include Eurostar services Does not include East Coast, Virgin Trains and Eurostar services 1/3 off Standard Single and Return tickets for yourself and up to 3 adults travelling with you 1/3 off Standard and Off-Peak fares for yourself and up to 3 adults travelling with you First Class upgrade for £5.00 (except on journeys departing London on weekdays between 1600 and 1900) 1/3 off First Class Anytime fares for yourself and up to 3 adults travelling with you £2 flat fare for up to four children aged between 5 and 15 60% off child fares for up to four children (£1 minimum fare) Up to two children aged under 5 travel free of charge Up to two children aged under 5 travel free of charge Buy a Network Railcard for another adult for just £1 Buy a 16-25, Family & Friends, Senior, Two Together, Disabled Persons or Network Railcard for another adult for just £10 1/3 off Off-Peak Day Travelcard Zones 1-6 1/3 off Off-Peak Day Travelcard Zones 1-6 1/3 off Oyster Off-Peak pay as you go fares and Oyster Off-Peak daily price cap for the cardholder when you get your Annual Gold Card discount set on your Oyster card 1/3 off Oyster Off-Peak pay as you go fares and Oyster Off-Peak daily price cap for the cardholder when you get your Annual Gold Card discount set on your Oyster card 1/3 off adult PLUSBUS Day tickets in the Network Railcard Area 1/3 off adult PLUSBUS Day tickets in the Network Railcard Area Discounts on journeys to and from the Isle of Wight using Wightlink, Red Funnel Discounts on journeys to the Isle of Wight using Wightlink, Red Funnel or HoverTravel Valid for travel from 10:00 Monday to Friday and any time on Saturday, Sunday or on public holidays Valid for travel from 09:30 Monday to Friday and any time on Saturday, Sunday or on public holidays
As someone who often catches the 0938 to Norwich, I am well chuffed.
posted 01:00 :
Monday, November 24, 2014The future of the Bow Roundabout (according to the deeper recesses of the TfL website)
"We are working with the London boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Newham deliver the Vision for Bow: a place which is safe and accessible for all road users."A 'Vision For Bow' sounds remarkably grand, whereas in reality it's the creation of a non-lethal road junction.
• Late 2014: We are developing a scheme to provide signalised crossings at the roundabout. The proposal will go to public consultation in late 2014.So that's good, probably. It's about time there were signalised pedestrian crossings at the Bow Roundabout, indeed it's almost criminal it's taken so long. The four entry arms could have one already, because all the traffic stops anyway so it'd be simple to add a red/green man for pedestrians. It's the four exit arms that are the problem, because vehicles can come off the roundabout at any time, so adding lights is non-trivial. Any solution will involve stopping the traffic, be that cars, lorries or bikes, so won't be especially popular. Indeed it'll go against the policy of "smoothing the traffic flow" that has until now given Bow's A12 connection priority. Will TfL suggest an all-red phase, whether any pedestrian wants to cross or not, or will we be asked to press a button to bring the entire roundabout to a halt?
• Mid-2016: We are developing a scheme to provide signalised crossings at the roundabout by mid-2016.
• 2018-2020: We are also looking at opportunities to deliver more substantial changes at Bow to support the regeneration of the area including long-term plans to remove the flyover and roundabout. This is as part of the Road Modernisation Plan. More details on these proposals will be shared during the 2014 consultation.And blimey, will you look at that? The long-term vision for Bow is the removal of the the flyover and the roundabout, both structures inflicted on the neighbourhood when the A12 was dualled in the 1960s. Presumably this means we'll be getting a crossroads instead, or some similar kind of junction at which all turns can be tightly controlled. There's plenty of room, or there would be if the flyover were removed, which'd require a pretty mammoth piece of engineering. Indeed East Londoners should expect a particularly lengthy period of major disruption, which isn't ideal when local crossings of the River Lea are few and far between. But no doubt the A12 underpass will survive, because the great flow of tunnel traffic must continue, and by dipping underground it doesn't kill cyclists.
None of this has anything to do with the upgrade to Cycle Superhighway 2 whose consultation period ended earlier this month, and on which work is due to begin early next year. This explicitly excludes the Bow Roundabout, which means the early stop lights are scheduled to survive until the junction gets a bigger makeover later. Road users might find it pertinent to watch the videostream of cyclist @SW19cam who's using the roundabout twice a day and uploading a video feed to YouTube. Most people behave, some people don't, that seems to be a summary of their findings so far. But not ideal, whatever.
We should find out TfL's proposed plans for the Bow Roundabout within the next few weeks. Safe passage for pedestrians? It's about bloody time.
posted 01:00 :
Sunday, November 23, 2014London has no F-prefixed buses, so we're straight on to G. And there's only one of those. The G1's a real peculiarity too, having started out in 1988 as an attempt by Wandsworth Health Authority to link as many hospitals as possible via a variety of unserved streets. Initially it had a partner, the G2, but that was removed in 1992 leaving just the G1. It follows a slightly less convoluted route today, but only just, hence it's very much a bus for short hop journeys rather than anything end-to-end. Oh, and the G stands for St George's Hospital, obviously.
An A-Z of LONDON BUSES
Route G1: Battersea - Streatham
Length of journey: 10 miles, 85 minutes
To the northeast of Clapham Junction, nudged up against the railway, lies the Shaftesbury Estate. It's rather lovely too, with leafy avenues of basic but well-proportioned terrace houses built for the working man, but now snapped up by those rather richer. The G1 starts its epic journey up a dead-end street in the far corner, outside a scout hut from which the sounds of gospel singing are temporarily emanating. About a dozen of us are waiting, the last bus having seemingly been cancelled, and only the small toddler scooping up leaves seems immune to a general feeling of polite restlessness. When the bus does finally arrive it still has to turn round, which proves awkward, and then the driver (who looks like he's just out of school) finally whisks us away.
"Why did we get the bus?" Two well-spoken lads are sitting behind me on their way to watch some rugby in a pub. They nipped aboard as we crossed the Shaftesbury, as did a dozen others, but are regretting that decision now we're stuck at traffic lights trying to filter onto Lavender Hill. "I can't believe how long this is taking." We need five attempts to get through, and then we join another snail's pace line heading up towards Clapham Junction. A suspiciously high number of passengers alight outside the enormous Asda - some have travelled barely half a mile - and then we wait while the ramp is deployed so a wheelchair shopper can come aboard. "Should've walked," says one member of the increasingly-irked rugby chorus, but they still reach The Northcote in time for the majority of Sky Sports' pre-match banter.
The terraces off Northcote Road are often known as 'Nappy Valley', a reputation well justified as the bus progresses through. Our first pushchair is swiftly joined by a second, carefully lodged opposite the wheelchair, then somehow a third ("yeah, but you'll have to fold that up"). Mummy and Daddy number four are not so fortunate and are left at the roadside with the news that there'll be another G1 along soon... which may not be entirely true but alas our mobile crèche can take no more. Space is limited outside the bus on Broomwood Road where a Tesco delivery driver has parked slightly too close to a traffic island and is blocking the road. A honk from our driver gets the van shifted, but also merits a curse and a one-fingered salute from Mr Tesco (LM60 UFH) as we drive off.
The western side of Clapham Common is busy with joggers and several games of football. Due to the cursive nature of the G1's route I note that I could have walked here from the start in the time it's taken us to get here, and hung around to watch part of a match too. Our vehicle half-empties at Clapham South station, because that's how London buses work, then immediately refills with folk going back west again. One has brought an IKEA shelf unit as a travelling companion, another his ice hockey gear including two skates and a pair of gloves slung over his stick.
Our next Common is Wandsworth, which we narrowly missed ten minutes ago, and very smart it is round here too. The lady sat in front of me has been checking her phone ever since she boarded, repeatedly googling the Central London Golf Centre to work out pecisely where to get off. The ice skater kindly nudges her to alight at Tilehurst Road, whereas she should have waited for our doubleback to Springfield University Hospital, the first of the G1's blatant diversions for medical reasons. We waste time doubling back again just down the road at St George's Grove, but once you realise these 500 flats are all NHS keyworker accommodation the extra detour suddenly makes sense.
I may be riding all the way to Streatham but the driver isn't. On Garratt Lane he pulls up and greets his replacement, who's just popped out of a red van parked in front. They swap tales of driving conditions and shiftwork for a bit, then Young Driver crosses to the van and drives away while Older Driver spends a minute beeping the ticket machine. Are we done? It's finally time to enter St George's, a hospital on a huge campus to the west of Tooting. We're not seeing its best side, we're rounding the perimeter past a sequence of entrances to delivery bays, wings and clinics. It's here at last that our wheelchair passenger alights, justifying the Wandsworth Health Authority's route planning all those years ago, although why she needed to go all the way to Battersea for two bags of shopping is beyond me.
After four hospital-edge stops we finally escape. We're down to just five passengers now, and barely get a sixth as we enter Tooting High Street. The lady in question's Oyster card beeps empty, then beeps empty again, and the driver decides to refuse her passage. She attempts to pay by cash but is four months late, then plays the "not being very good at English" card in a desperate attempt to stay aboard. This works inasmuch as the driver lets her remain "For One Stop Only", but then she retires somewhat sheepishly, presumably to try her scam on someone less strict.
It's hard to turn right at Tooting Broadway, but eventually we do, and suddenly a whole load of new passengers pile aboard. This end of the G1 is effectively a whole new route, dispersing shoppers and tube users into the deeper suburbs, and every seat aboard is soon taken. We're heading for Furzedown, Wandsworth's largest interwar estate, pleasantly tucked around the back of Tooting Graveney Common. As the only bus to venture this way we've soon dropped off most of our human cargo, eventually emerging near Tooting Bec Lido, which is virtually in Streatham. Oh good, nearly there.
I've not been through Streatham for a while, so it's a bit of a shock to see the Mega-Tesco and Leisure Centre development on the High Road that's recently replaced the old ice rink. A new ice rink lurks within, above a swimming pool and surrounded by flats, and the end result is very clever but utterly devoid of visual joy. A bus lane helps us speed ahead - it's possibly the first time we've hit thirty since we set out nearly an hour and a half ago. The bloke sitting opposite is jabbering almost as quickly into his phone. It's a relief when finally we turn off and stop round the back of a Lidl, parking up in a grotty temporary bay beside a building site. The bus blind calls it Streatham, though I'd call it Norbury, into which I am only too happy to escape.
» route G1 - route map
» route G1 - timetable
» route G1 - live bus map
» route G1 - route history
» route G1 - The Ladies Who Bus
posted 01:00 :
Saturday, November 22, 2014There are ten 'E' buses, all of them in the Ealing area, the first three inaugurated in 1968 as Flat Fare routes. I could have chosen any of them, but with no stand-out option I decided to go with the bus that shares my postcode. Perhaps not my best ever decision, the route twisted all over the place and took forever to get nowhere very exciting. Enjoy.
An A-Z of LONDON BUSES
Route E3: Greenford - Chiswick
Length of journey: 9 miles, 75 minutes
Greenford sounds lovelier than it is, along the main shopping street at least. The E3 pulls out of a sidestreet and doesn't hit its first stop until the other side of some traffic lights, giving adequate opportunity for any potential rider to break off from shopping and still catch it. I beat a cabal of post-church kids to the front seat on the upper deck, from which I shall be mostly underwhelmed for the next hour and a quarter. Immediately beyond Lidl we traverse the floodplain of the River Brent, not especially overdeveloped, and familiar if you've ever walked this section of the Capital Ring. The sports field where we turn right is completely speckled with seagulls, from the nearest goalmouth to the furthest rugby posts. And then we climb Greenford Avenue to a relatively lofty peak, between leafy avenues down which certain other E buses deviate as indirectly as possible.
We're in the vicinity of Castle Bar Park and Drayton Green, two of the least used stations in London, but running parallel to the railway so never intersect. Instead we head for Hanwell, a more socially mixed locale and our second burst of shops. Three large places of worship dominate Church Road, a big Methodist, a more trad Anglican and a rather more modern Roman Catholic. Behind me everyone is sitting politely and not talking, which would normally be great except that nothing noteworthy is happening, so you'll have to make do with me looking out of the window and telling you what I see. The Pamela Howard School of Dance on the Broadway. The entrance to the Kensington & Chelsea Cemetery, seemingly miles from home. The Diamond Hotel, which looks like it definitely used to be a pub. As you can see, the E3's highlights are legion.
Despite being an E bus we're not heading straight on to Ealing Broadway but turning off to escape the congestion early. The run down to Holdenesque Northfields station features an increasingly upmarket retail selection, from a Wine Shop selling beer's and can's to the artisan Cheddar Deli. We pause a while outside the Ealing Christian Centre, formerly the Avenue Theatre, where the younger churchgoers have emerged onto the front step to check their smartphones. A more elderly worshipper waves her stick at the driver as she hobbles across the road, and we drive off a minute later with her safely aboard. Our next passenger has heels and a gold designer bag, hence Little Ealing Lane must be swisher, or is this South Ealing now - I've lost all geographical sensitivity.
You can tell from its wiggle that Popes Lane was once a country thoroughfare. Today a long curve of tasty semis shields the open space of Gunnersbury Park, which comes to the fore only when the gateposts of the Rothschilds' former mansion butt up against the street. Our dalliance with the North Circular is thankfully brief, making a direct beeline for Acton Town station, and in the process becoming an E3 in W3. Acton's 1930s fire station survives, but the Mill Hill Free House hasn't been so lucky and languishes all boarded up on a street corner. Ahead one badly parked car blocks our progress, and it's only when an E3 turns up travelling the other way that headlamps flash and we're on our way again.
Hang on, we're now back on the Uxbridge Road we left two paragraphs back, as the E3's meandering journey continues. Here it's known as Acton High Street, home to the very first Waitrose (now a takeaway), and where two policemen are keeping order by queueing at a cashpoint. But we don't stay on the main drag for long, instead nipping round the back of the old town hall to aim for a dog grooming and hypnotherapy studio in bijou Bedford Park. A blue plaque marks the former villa of John Lindley, orchidologist, whose son-in-law is responsible for turning a few sparse villas into the world's first Garden Suburb. Many passengers alight at Turnham Green station, at which point the shops vault up a gear to sequential bistros, boutiques and brasseries. My local postcode of E3 could never support a patisserie called Château Dessert, but on Chiswick Broadway it's positively buzzing.
We've been going an hour now and we're still not done. Indeed my ordeal is about to be extended by the dreaded crew-swap announcement. "This bus will wait here for a short time for a change of drivers to take place." We have an almost entirely new complement of passengers by now, boarding the E3 for its final leg out into tube-less territory. They're not best pleased at waiting either, but are probably well used to it, even the man to my left clutching a large laminated shelf. When our new driver's finally settled in we take the cut-through across actual Turnham actual Green, past Gilbert Scott's Christ Church isolated at its centre.
We have one last big road to cross, the busy A4, where the traffic lights let out only a few vehicles at a time. Annoyingly there's a bus stop partway down the lengthy queue and we're taking ages to reach it, but our driver kindly drops off expectant passengers early in the hope. Annoyingly one local resident doesn't take him up on the offer and holds back, dinging fifty yards down the road just before the stop, hence we miss our chance and get to queue one more time. But then we're across, entering the tongue of land inside the Chiswick meander and continuing almost all the way down to the Thames. But not quite, we halt finally on the lip of a housing estate - such a long way from Greenford, and so indirect too. An eye-opening ride for an east Londoner, but never again, E3, not all the way.
» route E3 - route map
» route E3 - timetable
» route E3 - live bus map
» route E3 - route history
» route E3 - The Ladies Who Bus
posted 03:00 :
Friday, November 21, 2014Primrose Hill is not a village.
Wimbledon Village is not a village.
Stratford's new East Village is absolutely not a village.
But London does have proper villages, because in some areas the suburban sprawl doesn't quite stretch as far as the Greater London border.
So here's my attempt at a schematic map of London's villages.
Click on the name for more information from the excellent Hidden London website.
And click on the postcode for a map.
The largest concentration of London villages is to the southeast, in Bromley, across several square miles that probably ought to be in Kent. Several more villages run across the top of London along the outer edge of Barnet and Enfield. Meanwhile the county of Surrey generally begins before the houses stop, hence to the southwest there are barely any villages inside London at all.
But what precisely is a village?
I've plumped for settlements disconnected from London's built-up area, generally surrounded by fields or undeveloped land. I've included hamlets if they have an identity, but not mere clusters of houses. But I haven't done that religiously, I've also used judgement and common sense, which means you'll probably disagree with some of my choices.
Isn't Harefield big enough to be a town? Is Arkley more a suburb than somewhere rural? Do Luxted and Horns Green technically exist - their woefully brief Wikipedia entries suggest not. And where's [insert name of village here], shouldn't that also be included?
You may well have some comments to make about my selection, and how it should be tweaked, reduced or increased. If so, please let me know, and we'll try to make this as definitive a list as possible.
Because Notting Hill, Marylebone and Highgate are not villages, whatever the property-thumping media try to claim. The real thing is readily available within London's borders, so let's not pretend.
posted 00:10 :
Thursday, November 20, 2014Three East London villages: 3) Noak Hill
My third village sits in the north-eastern corner of London, at the top right-hand corner on the map. Not the precise right-hand corner, because that's on the M25, but sprawled across the Havering Plain one field in. It's very much off the beaten track, not really on the way to anywhere, nor with any intention of being. It's an hour's walk from the nearest station, and not quite served by bus, but then if you lived out here you'd almost certainly drive. It has one church, one pub, the odd thatched cottage and the obligatory garden centre. It's Noak Hill, and it's a proper Essex village in every respect except that it's not quite in Essex. [4 photos]
Once known as Nook Hill, this is another village that owes its survival to the Green Belt. This whole area north of the Brentwood Road was once part of the estate of a manor house called Dagnams (not to be confused with Dagenham, which is the other side of Romford). In 1772 it was bought by a merchant called Richard Neave, whose meteoric rise to the nobility included posts as the Governor of the Bank of England and the High Sheriff of Essex. In 1919 the 5th Baronet auctioned off a large portion of his estate to a number of farmers, but kept hold of the land immediately around his mansion. The remainder was compulsory purchased in the late 1940s by the London County Council who promptly covered it with ten thousand houses to create the Harold Hill estate. Planning legislation has ensured that no finger of suburban sprawl quite reaches out to touch the original village today.
You can almost take the bus, indeed two routes advertise themselves as terminating at Noak Hill. But they stop by a patch of green beside the last houses in Harold Hill, and to reach the village proper requires five, ten, fifteen minutes walk. While you're here, perhaps visit the pub. Once called The Goat it changed its name in 1715 to become The Bear, and upped its game still further in the 1960s by actually acquiring a pair. Landlord Ron kept two brown bears called Rhani and Honey in a cage in the pub garden, along with a public menagerie of lesser animals, and occasionally brought them into the bar to enjoy a brown beer and a bag of crisps. Don't come expecting the same devil-may-care attitude today. The Bear is now a pub grill targeted far more at the neighbouring estate than the village up the hill, and serves nothing more exotic than a Chilli Dog.
Noak Hill Road rises steadily after crossing Carter's Brook, passing a handful of delightful cottages on the climb. Thatched Cottage speaks for itself, and used to be a village store, while Rose Cottage and Old Keeper's Cottage are timber-framed and weather boarded. What used to be the blacksmiths until the 1970s is now a characterful long house with four motors parked outside, and the former Post Office across the road has long turned residential. It's left to three signs at the main road junction to reveal what Noak Hill does best today - a plant nursery, a potato merchants and an aquatic centre.
The Ingrebourne Way starts here, a cycle track and footway running 11 miles down to Rainham. If you ride I think you'd like it, not least because it's so utterly different to most other London bikeways. A short distance through the first section the woodland opens out to reveal an unexpected public park, this the former grounds of Dagnams Manor. Of the house itself there's no sign - this because the LCC installed a caretaker after the war who promptly pinched all the lead from the roof and the rain got in, forcing demolition. A few fenceposts and the cobbled stable floor are all that survive, this at the Noak Hill end, whereas most of the parkgoers are dogwalkers from Harold Hill to the south.
Back in the village, one of Noak Hill's two places of worship is what you'd expect - redbrick Anglican with a slippery path to the front door, the last Lady of the Manor buried outside, and Zumba classes in the church hall every Tuesday. The other is a Hindu mandir, the Radha Krishna Temple, which in reality turns out to be the old school converted to community use, and not the glamorous turreted marvel you might have hoped. Tisbury's offers the only coffee in the village - a machine brew in a huge shed whose main purpose is the sale of tropical and marine fish, if that's your bag. And the garden centre's closed until the end of February, sorry, in case you were thinking that might be a good reason to visit.
Step further north along the lane and you'll catch the unmistakeable tang of manure, as if to prove the area's rural credentials, and then the smallholdings kick in. It's quite horsey out here, and pigeony and cattery too, and the sort of place you'd build a bungalow if you were trying to flout a planning regulation or two. Hence I found Benskins Lane quite oppressive, forever afraid that the local Neighbourhood Watch firmly wished there wasn't a public footpath passing their front gates. Ditto the tunnel at the end of the track where the path dips beneath the M25, in a cutting that destroyed the rural calm forever. The top right-hand corner of London lies along the hard shoulder, indeed it's somewhere you've quite likely, fleetingly, been. Essex looks a lot prettier on the other side.
[Today's challenge: risk a third trip to the outskirts of Havering before the remaining readership departs]
Friday update: I've been taken to task by the webmaster of the FriendsofDagnamPark website, whose excellent resource I linked to eleven times above. "In the main you did a pretty good job. I have two minor complaints; one that we got no acknowledgement and two that one part paragraph is grossly inaccurate. I accept that you had a lot to take in and your synthesis of the data on our site was not bad." Hopefully the second half of the second paragraph is now less inadequate as a result of their helpful feedback.
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