11 times Heatherwick Studio declined to comment

Oh good, it's that bloody bridge again. Image: Heatherwick Studio.

The time it was rumoured to be at work on Google's new headquarters in California.

 

“I can confirm Heatherwick Studio and BIG are working on a joint design project for Google in Mountain View, California. We can't give any further comment at this point," Heatherwick Studio's Tom Coupe told Dezeen.

 

And the time it was set to repeat the trick in London.

 

Heatherwick Studios declined to comment when contacted by City A.M.

 

The time in 2008 when people started worrying about the spiky sculpture it wanted to send to Shanghai, sparking panic about safety and possibly also Anglo-Sino relations.

 

Consultants on the Shanghai project are understood to be worried following the design problems that surrounded Heatherwick's B of the Bang sculpture, according to Building magazine. A week before the 184ft steel work – commissioned to mark the Commonwealth Games – was unveiled in 2005, the tip of one of its many giant spikes fell off.

Lai Pak Hung, managing director at Davis Langdon & Seah, which is working on the Shanghai scheme, reportedly said: "We can't say we don't have any worries. Given it's the Expo, it's not just about safety – it's political. It could affect the UK's relationship with the Chinese government."

Heatherwick's studio declined to comment yesterday.

 

The time when Thomas Heatherwick offended four other architecture practices by publicly slating their plans for the redevelopment of the Royal Mail Mount Pleasant sorting office.

 

Heatherwick declined to comment.

 

The time when opponents of the Garden Bridge launched their “folly for London” competition, to highlight their contention that it was a total waste of public money.

 

The competition budget is £60 million - the amount of public money earmarked for the bridge by by TfL and the Treasury.

The satirical competition has been designed to poke fun at the real Garden Bridge and was timed to co-incide with a fundraising event for the Garden Bridge at Harrods.

Heatherwick Studios declined to comment.

 

The time it looked like then London mayor Boris Johnson may have broken public procurement rules, by taking Heatherwick to meetings with sponsors before inviting any other practice to apply for the job.

 

LBC's Political Editor Theo Usherwood reports: "When you want to fix your roof, you don't just ring up one builder and say how much. You ring up three or four builders to get a quote, compare the prices and make sure you get the best value for money.

"Boris Johnson should be doing the same at City Hall with the Garden Bridge - which is relying on millions of pounds of tax-payers' money.

Heatherwick Studios told LBC they do not comment on private business meetings. 

 

The time it emerged that Heatherwick met Boris or one of his deputies at least five times before the formal launch of the competitive procurement process for the Garden Bridge.

TfL has also been contacted for comment. Heatherwick Studio declined to comment.

(Heatherwick won the bid, by the way.)

 

The time the London Assembly said that all this was a bit rum, really.

A committee of elected London Assembly members criticised the mayor over the tender process for the 60,000-pound design contract for the new bridge, a pedestrian river crossing which would create a new green space in the middle of the city.

The committee said Johnson met five times with the winning designer before the procurement process began. One meeting was during a taxpayer-funded trip to San Francisco to seek funding for the 175-million pound project.

"The mayor's actions undermined the integrity of the process in terms of the contact he had. No other bidders had that contact with him," Len Duvall, chair of the committee that produced the report, told Reuters.

The contract was won by Thomas Heatherwick, who previously designed an "Olympic Cauldron" for the London 2012 games and a new model of double-decker bus for the capital. A spokeswoman for Heatherwick's studio declined to comment.

 

The time it looked suspiciously like Boris Johnson had wanted Heatherwick to win all along.

From the Architects’ Journal:

Transport for London was instructed that its chairman, mayor Boris Johnson, wanted the organisation to support Thomas Heatherwick’s Garden Bridge proposal eight weeks before it held the bridge design contest the designer went on to win, it has emerged.

A December 2012 TfL briefing note released following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request made by the AJ makes clear the mayor’s support for their scheme in its opening paragraph. This and accompanying material released under the FOI response has sparked renewed calls for the National Audit Office to investigate.

Thomas Heatherwick declined to comment.

 

The time Boris’ successor as mayor threw a spanner in the works.

The AJ again:

London’s new mayor has effectively suspended work on the Garden Bridge because of concerns that an enabling project at Temple Tube station will lead to more public money being spent on the £175 million project.

Heatherwick Studio declined to comment.

 

This time.

At time of writing, Heatherwick Studio has yet to respond to a request for comment.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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What other British cities can learn from the Tyne & Wear Metro

A Metro train at Monument. Image: Callum Cape/Wikipedia.

Ask any person on the street what they know about Newcastle, and they’ll list a few things. They’ll mention the accent; they’ll mention the football; they’ll mention brown ale and Sting and Greggs. They might even mention coal or shipbuilding, and then the conversation will inevitably turn political, and you’ll wish you hadn’t stopped to ask someone about Newcastle at all.

They won’t, however, mention the Tyne and Wear Metro, because they haven’t probably heard of it – which is a shame, because the Metro is one of the best things the north-east has to offer.

Two main issues plague suburban trains. One is frequency. Suburban rail networks often run on poor frequency; to take Birmingham for an example, most of its trains operate at 30-minute intervals.

The other is simplicity. Using Birmingham again, the entire system is built around New Street, leading to a very simple network. Actually, that’s not quite true: if you’re coming from Leamington Spa, Warwick, Stourbridge, Solihull or a host of other major minor (minor major?) towns, you don’t actually connect to New Street – no, you don’t even connect to the ENTIRE SYSTEM BUILT AROUND NEW STREET except at Smethwick Galton Bridge, miles away in the western suburbs, where the physical tracks don’t even connect – they pass over each other. Plus, what on earth is the blue line to Walsall doing?

An ageing map of the West Midlands rail network: click any of the images in this article to expand them. Image: Transport for the West Midlands/Centro.

But Newcastle has long been a hub of railway activity. Tragically, the north-east has fewer active railway lines than any other region of the UK. Less tragically, this is because Tyne and Wear has the Metro.


The Metro was formed in 1980 from a somewhat eccentric collection of railways, including freight-only lines, part of the old Tyneside Electrics route, underground tunnelling through the city centre, track-sharing on the National Rail route to Sunderland, and lines closed after the Beeching axe fell in the early 1960s.

From this random group of railway lines, the Metro has managed to produce a very simple network of two lines. Both take a somewhat circuitous route, the Yellow line especially, because it’s literally a circle for much of its route; but they get to most of the major population centres. And frequency is excellent – a basic 5 trains an hour, with 10 tph on the inner core, increasing at peak times (my local station sees 17 tph each way in the morning peak).

Fares are simple, too: there are only three zones, and they’re generally good value, whilst the Metro has been a national leader in pay-as-you-go technology (PAYG), with a tap-in, tap-out system. The Metro also shares many characteristics of European light rail systems – for example, it uses the metric system (although this will doubtless revert to miles and chains post-Brexit, whilst fares will be paid in shillings).

 

The Metro network. Image: Nexus.

Perhaps most importantly, the Metro has been the British pioneer for the Karlsruhe model, in which light rail trains share tracks with mainline services. This began in 2002 with the extension to Sunderland, and, with new bi-mode trains coming in the next ten years, the Metro could expand further around the northeast. The Sheffield Supertram also recently adopted this model with its expansion to Rotherham; other cities, like Manchester, are considering similar moves.

However, these cities aren’t considering what the Metro has done best – amalgamated local lines to allow people to get around a city easily. Most cities’ rail services are focused on those commuters who travel in from outside, instead of allowing travel within a city; there’s no coherent system of corridors allowing residents to travel within the limits of a city.

The Metro doesn’t only offer lessons to big cities. Oxford, for example, currently has dire public transport, focused on busy buses which share the same congested roads as private vehicles; the city currently has only two rail stations near the centre (red dots).

Image: Google.

But it doesn’t need to be this way. For a start, Oxford is a fairly lateral city, featuring lots of north-south movements, along broadly the same route the railway line follows. So, using some existing infrastructure and reinstating other parts, Oxford’s public transport could be drastically improved. With limited engineering work, new stations could be built on the current track (blue dots on the map below; with more extensive work, the Cowley branch could be reinstated, too (orange dots). Electrify this new six-station route and, hey presto, Oxford has a functioning metro system; the short length of the route also means that few trains would be necessary for a fequent service.

Image: Google.

Next up: Leeds. West Yorkshire is a densely populated area with a large number of railway lines. Perfect! I hear you cry. Imperfect! I cry in return. Waaaaaah! Cry the people of Leeds, who, after two cancelled rapid transit schemes, have had enough of imaginative public transport projects.

Here’s a map of West Yorkshire:

Image: Google.

Here’s a map of West Yorkshire’s railway network:

 ​

Image: West Yorkshire Metro.

The problem is that all of the lines go to major towns, places like Dewsbury, Halifax or Castleford, which need a mainline connection due to their size. Options for a metro service are limited.

But that’s not to say they’re non-existent. For example, the Leeds-Bradford Interchange line passes through densely populated areas; and anyway, Bradford Interchange is a terminus, so it’s poorly suited to service as a through station, as it’s currently being used.

Image: Google.

With several extra stops, this line could be converted to a higher frequency light rail operation. It would then enter an underground section just before Holbeck; trains from Halifax could now reach Leeds via the Dewsbury line. The underground section would pass underneath Leeds station, therefore freeing up capacity at the mainline station, potentially simplifying the track layout as well.

 

Image: Google.

Then you have the lines from Dewsbury and Wakefield, which nearly touch here:

Image: Google.

By building a chord, services from Morley northwards could run into Leeds via the Wakefield line, leaving the Dewsbury line north of Morley open for light rail operation, probably with an interchange at the aforementioned station.

Image: Google.

The Leeds-Micklefield section of the Leeds-York line could also be put into metro service, by building a chord west of Woodlesford over the River Aire and connecting at Neville Hill Depot (this would involve running services from York and Selby via Castleford instead):

The path of the proposed chord, in white. Image: Google.

With a section of underground track in Leeds city centre, and an underground line into the north-east of Leeds – an area completely unserved by rail transport at present – the overall map could look like this, with the pink and yellow dots representing different lines:

Et voila! Image: Google.

Leeds would then have a light-rail based public transport system, with potential for expansion using the Karlsruhe model. It wouldn’t even be too expensive, as it mainly uses existing infrastructure. (Okay, the northeastern tunnel would be pricey, but would deliver huge benefits for the area.)

Why aren’t more cities doing this? Local council leaders often talk about introducing “metro-style services” – but they avoid committing to real metro projects because they’re more expensive than piecemeal improvements to the local rail system, and they’re often more complex to deliver (with the lack of space in modern-day city centres, real metro systems need tunnels).

But metro systems can provide huge benefits to cities, with more stops, a joined-up network, and simpler fares. More cities should follow the example of the Tyne and Wear Metro.