There's a campaign to save the mosaics at Tottenham Court Road station

The threatened arch mosaics. Image: Oxyman via Wikimedia Commons.

If you've visited London's Tottenham Court Road underground station lately, you might have noticed that it's not looking its best. Down on the plaforms, the walls are stripped to bare concrete. Those with longer memories may remember that the walls were once covered in bright mosaics by the artist Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, like this one on a Northern line platform:

Image: Sunil060902 at Wikimedia Commmons.

Most of the mosiacs have been removed for now, but will be painstakingly reinstallled later in the renovation process.

Two walls of mosaic, however, are facing a longer-term threat, and now a heritage society has launched a campaign to save them. From the Evening Standard:

Heritage group The Twentieth Century Society has demanded urgent talks with the architects behind the £400 million station redevelopment.

The society fears that two “essential and integral” elements of the collection of Paolozzi works — a double set of tiled arches over the escalators in the main concourse and a large decorative panel at the entrance to the south side of Oxford Street — will be demolished.

Roger Hawkins, one of the station's architects, told Architects’ Journal:

The arches are no longer needed because they are not supporting anything …There will be a modern, daylit, space there five times as large.

Short of redrawing the entire plan, then, it's not clear how the mosaics could be preserved. The most likely compromise might be for them to be removed and donated to the Paolozzi Foundation, or reinstalled elsewhere.  

Plans for the shiny new station also show a new set of tilings for some of the station's walls by artist Daniel Buren, known for his bright, geometric designs. This mock-up, however, is distinctly colourless, especially when compared to Paolozzi's hyperactive version:

Looks like it's out with the old, in with the monochrome.


Sadiq Khan and Grant Shapps clash over free bus travel for under 18s

A London bus at Victoria station. Image: Getty.

The latest front in the row between Transport for London (TfL) and national government over how to fund the capital’s transport system: free bus travel for the under 18s.

Two weeks ago, you’ll recall, TfL came perilously close to running out of money and was forced to ask for a bail out. The government agreed, but offered less money, and with more strings attached, than the agency wanted. At present, there are a range of fare discounts – some up to 100% – available to children depending on their age and which service they’re using, provided they have the right Oyster card. One of the government’s strings, the mayor’s office says, was to end all free TfL travel for the under 18s, Oyster or no Oyster.

The Department for Transport’s line on all this is that this is about maximising capacity. Many working-age people need to use buses to get to their jobs: they’re more likely to be able to do that, while also social distancing, if those buses aren’t already full of teenagers riding for free. (DfT cited the same motivation for banning the use of the Freedom Pass, which provides free travel for the retired, at peak times.)

But in an open letter to transport secretary Grant Shapps, the mayor, Sadiq Khan, wrote that TfL believed that 30% of children who currently received free travel had a statutory entitlement to it, because they attend schools more than a certain distance from their homes. If TfL doesn’t fund this travel, London’s boroughs must, which apart from loading costs onto local government means replacing an administrative system that already exists with one that doesn’t. 

Some Labour staffers also smell Tory ideological objections to free things for young people at work. To quote Khan’s letter:

“It is abundantly clear that losing free travel would hit the poorest Londoners hardest at a time when finances are stretched more than ever... I want to make sure that families who might not have a choice but to use public transport are not further disadvantaged.”

London’s deputy mayor for transport, Heidi Alexander, is set to meet government officials next week to discuss all this. In the mean time, you can read Khan’s letter here.

UPDATE: The original version of this piece noted that the full agreement between the mayor and DfT remained mysteriously unpublished. Shortly after this story went live, the agreement appeared. Here it is.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.