After last year’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office world tour by two (later three, presumably to cope with the breakdowns) of WrightBus’s Boris Johnson-commissioned New Bus For London vehicles, orders for this “pinnacle of British automotive engineering design” must surely be rolling in in an uncontrollable tsunami of enthusiasm from those countries who
endured it breaking down enjoyed the experience of travelling on a mobile sauna.
Hong Kong, as Tom reported last October, were so impressed by the new bus that they ordered over 530 of Alexander Dennis’s new generation Enviro500 instead.
Now, Singapore has followed suit, rejected the WrightBus New Bus For London and placed an order for 201 Alexander Dennis Enviro500s :
Singapore transport operator, SMRT Corporation, has signed a contract with Alexander Dennis Ltd (ADL) for the supply of 201 Enviro500 double deckers. The deal is understood to be worth £50m. The contract is part of a major initiative by SMRT to upgrade its fleet and will result in the introduction of new generation ADL deckers, all of which will be built and delivered during 2014 and 2015. The Enviro500s will be two-door, 12m vehicles with Cummins Euro5 nine-litre, 340hp engines, capable of carrying 84 seated passengers and 40 standees.
SMRT’s Senior Vice President, Roads Business Group, Benny Lim, said, ‘After going out to international tender and evaluating product offerings from around the world we have agreed on a supply contract with ADL. We have been impressed by their new Enviro500 high capacity double deck and by their aim to build a long term relationship with us. The Enviro500 is a modern, low emissions vehicle that carries large numbers of people but still has the same footprint as a conventional single deck. This means we can reduce traffic congestion but still maintain our high standards of service. In addition, the safety, reliability, passenger comfort and fuel performance of the Enviro500 is impressive. We now look forward to working with ADL and building a strong business partnership that will take us into the future.’
ADL’s Commercial and International Business Development Director, Robert Davey, said, ‘We are delighted to be part of a new future in Singapore and to be involved in such a prestigious project with SMRT. Our new-generation, three-axle double deck – the Enviro500 – is proving to be a real winner. This latest order means that we have now sold over 1,000 Enviro500s since we introduced the new bus to the market in late 2012. It is testimony to our engineers, vehicle builders and aftermarket teams that we are taking competitors on head-to-head in numerous global markets and coming out in front. In this case there was fierce international competition, including well-established suppliers in the local market, so I am particularly pleased that we have prized open this gateway to Singapore and, in doing so, sent a signal to many other territories in the region.’
Maybe Singapore would rather not buy a vehicle which is unbearable to use in its climate without an enormous, portable air-conditioning unit onboard?
Now TfL Commissioner, Sir Peter Hendy, is claiming that the unacceptably high temperatures and sauna-like conditions experienced over the past week on the New Bus For London are “a folk myth” – despite all the evidence to the contrary.
Hendy was a guest on the BBC Radio London 94.9 Drivetime With Eddie Nestor this afternoon:
Nestor: So, I’ve fallen asleep Thursday, Friday, to yesterday and today, ‘cos the Tubes are hot.
Nestor: But you’re getting loads of complaints – well, I am, anyway – about the people on the buses. On your brand new, state-of-the-art buses. Why are they so hot?
Hendy: They’re no hotter than any other bus.
Nestor: What does that mean?!
Hendy: It means they’re all fitted with air cooling and the moment you blew [sic] air cooling which blows cooler air through the upper saloon, if you open the window – the buses aren’t fitted with windows – this is becoming a folk myth.
The buses aren’t fitted with windows because, actually, air cooling is better if you don’t have opening windows. The moment you open the windows, the air you’re blowing through blows out the windows.
Just tell me, do you open the car windows with air conditioning?
Nestor: Well, no, you keep it closed so it works.
“Air cooling is better if you don’t have opening windows. The moment you open the windows, the air you’re blowing through blows out the windows” – the air cooling on the New Bus For London is totally inadequate in normal London summer temperatures and the lack of opening windows means there is no respite for the passengers who are suffering unnaceptably hot and humid conditions.
“Just tell me, do you open the car windows with air conditioning?” - of course not, because cars have proper air conditioning, not utterly ineffectual air cooling like the New Bus For London.
Just tell me, Commissioner Hendy, do you remove the back door from your car whilst running the air conditioning at full blast? No? Then why claim that the air cooling on the New Bus For London “is better if you don’t have opening windows” when all of the routes (minus the 148) operating the New Bus For London run during the day time with their back doors wide open. In any case, it’s been proven that the air cooling still doesn’t work when the back door is kept closed between stops on the 148.
As predicted, the denials have started.
@simonmayo routemaster air-conditioning terrible
— Mark Bolstridge (@mark_bolstridge) May 19, 2014
Yes, it’s Monday and a high of 26°C in London. How did other Londoners enjoy their journeys on Boris Johnson’s New Bus For London today?
Your new buses are hotter than hell @TfLOfficial
— lucyburchell (@lucyburchell) May 19, 2014
@TfLOfficial sitting in a new bus (no. 148) You forgot to put in windows!!!! We are all suffocating in here!
— ZRV (@ZRahvar) May 19, 2014
— charlie beety (@oatsnbarley) May 19, 2014
— Linda Large (@lindatheactor) May 19, 2014
Now I like the Boris Bus / New Bus for London / New Routemaster, but this heat is really something. #HotBus
— Peter Grzeszczak (@Pete_Grz) May 19, 2014
Not so much enjoying as enduring, then.
At 10:10am this morning, I boarded LT157 on route 10 at Hammersmith Bus Station. None of the Oyster readers were working so I got a free ride. 22°C outside. Both the ceiling vents and the skirting-level vents on the upper deck of the bus were blowing their weedy streams of air. Very few passengers, air inside the bus stuffy and with the usual horrible smell. By the time I alighted at the Royal Albert Hall, the temperature upstairs on the back seat was 25.4°C:
At 10:38am I boarded a Routemaster, RM1913. The conductor’s hand-held Oyster validator wasn’t working so I got another free ride. Upstairs, there were only three other passengers and it felt like a greenhouse – all the windows were shut. I walked the length of the bus and opened all the windows – the difference was palpable almost instantly with a cooling breeze blowing through the bus.
I got off the bus at Trafalgar Square. Even having started with all its upstairs windows closed, the temperature on the upper deck didn’t exceed 25.3°C – .1 of a degree centigrade cooler than the New Bus For London with its air cooling going full blast:
Note that the relative humidity was also much less on the Routemaster.
11:06am, I boarded LT112 on route 24 at the top of Whitehall – as I reached the upper deck it was like walking into a sauna. There was no air coming out of either the ceiling vents or the skirting vents – it was hot, stuffy and humid. I got off at Westminster Cathedral on Victoria Street as I couldn’t stand the oppressive heat any longer. The temperature had reached 29.1°C:
As I descended the stairs, I had the following exchange with the Customer Assistant:
Me: It’s sweltering up there – why isn’t the air conditioning on?
Customer Assistant: It’s automatically controlled – the driver can’t control it.
I’m confident that the temperature would have continued to climb, had I stayed on the bus.
What is the truth about the air cooling system on these new buses?
Is its regulation beyond the control of the bus crews?
Do any of the new vehicles have cooling systems which do actually regulate the internal temperature and humidity adequately on a reasonably hot day in London?
Why were Londoners promised expensive new buses with “amazing air conditioning” by Boris Johnson when they clearly have nothing of the sort and are hotter than a vehicle type which is now 60 years old?
Will Londoners have to suffer another summer of sauna-like conditions with some poor passengers requiring medical attention after travelling on the new bus?
We’d like some answers, Boris Johnson.
Maybe you’d like a reminder of your predecessor, Ken Livingstone, who kept his promise about air-conditioned trains for the Metropolitan, Circle, District and Hammersmith & City Lines:
The met line air conditioned tube trains are a godsend. Thanks @TfLOfficial
— Andy Loughran (@andylockran) May 19, 2014
I forgot how good the air conditioning is on the new underground trains. Its soo cool and clean. I wanna just sit on the circle all day.
— Richie (@FindingRichie) May 16, 2014
Ah @TfLOfficial how I love your new air conditioned trains today
— Vish (@MrVeesh) May 19, 2014
Of course, Boris, you then came along and took all the glory for the new air-conditioned trains which were delivered after you had been elected Mayor of London.
What will your legacy to London’s transport be? Oh, yes, 600 bespoke buses which have been touted all over the world yet no other country wants to buy and which cannot even cope with normal summer temperatures in London.
Sir Peter Hendy, Commissioner of Transport for London, speaking about the New Bus For London in June 2013:
It’s fabulous. It’s a lovely vehicle, very comfortable, popular, well-designed – everyone likes it. They love it.
According to the Met Office, a high of 24°C in central London today.
What are Londoners saying about the new bus that they love so much?
Melting on the London buses, have they not fixed them?! @TfLOfficial
— Rob Mence (@RobMence) May 18, 2014
Incredible heat on the Boris bus. Lack of opening windows is crazy. "Aircon" appears to do nothing. And the rear door's not open either
— Clive Bull (@clivebull) May 18, 2014
— undercover homeopath (@urban_healing) May 18, 2014
@MayorofLondon add temp to 24 bus info display_Roastmaster is dangerously hot- and open the bloody windows!
— Robin Smith (@HostRobin) May 18, 2014
meltdown on 24 bus, kids, tourists, grandmas all in disbelief- fix it @MayorofLondon heat is a killer
— Robin Smith (@HostRobin) May 18, 2014
— Andy (@Scandiandy) May 18, 2014
— Andy (@Scandiandy) May 18, 2014
— Mark Rigby (@markandrew66) May 18, 2014
— Piers Ford (@piersford) May 18, 2014
@TfLOfficial health and safety breached on 11 bus. Steaming and smelly. No air disgraceful. Boris vanity
— Jane L (@nkokonjeru) May 18, 2014
— Jane L (@nkokonjeru) May 18, 2014
@TfLOfficial two staircases three exits little space for seats and 10 facing backwards. Boris vanity. Nightmare journey.
— Jane L (@nkokonjeru) May 18, 2014
— Christina Gill (@ChristinaMGill) May 18, 2014
— Susan Weaver (@Mazeppa28) May 18, 2014
Air conditioning on the new London Routemaster buses is just what I want right now, #melting
— Brad Loomer (@braddloomer) May 18, 2014
Can we expect the same performance this summer, Boris Johnson and TfL? Ignore the complaints of passengers until this makes the news and then claim the unspecified problem has been fixed – again? The wrong sort of heat, maybe?
You can use the word “iconic” as often as you like – it doesn’t change the fact that the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has inflicted upon London a new bus which is utterly unable to cope with temperatures above, say, 18°C.
16 March 2012: Boris Johnson lavishes fulsome praise on his vanity project, declaring it to have, amongst other fantastic attributes:
amazing new air conditioning
June 2013: The first production models of the bus enter service on route 24. Reports of vehicles frequently breaking down and passengers complain about the high temperatures on the buses and lack of ventilation.
3 July 2013: TfL claim to BBC Transport Correspondent Tom Edwards that:
heat problems on top deck of New Bus on route 24 are fixed
This is simply a teething problem and I’ve spoken to several people who said they had a fine, a fantastic experience on, er, I know there’ve been some people who’ve had Bikram Yoga-type experiences, you know, obviously we’re sorry for that.
There was a technical problem which has been rectified.
10 July 2013: Transport for London Commissioner, Sir Peter Hendy, takes Thomas Heatherwick, the designer of the New Bus For London, for a spin on an empty bus, armed with a thermometer. Hendy declares that the temperature issue was nothing to do with the lack of opening windows and was merely a manufacturing and operating failure which has now been fixed by the manufacturers:
We found that the new bus, when the cooling is working properly, is cooler than the equivalent latest ordinary bus.
Wright’s [the Northern Ireland bus manufacturer] have fixed all the buses on the 24 and are now checking the ones on the 38 and fixing those too.
It’s not a political issue, nor is it a fundamental design failure, and it’s nothing to do with a lack of opening windows; it’s a manufacturing and operating failure which has been fixed by Wrights.
19 July 2013: Passengers on the New Bus For London still complain that it is like travelling on a sauna. Grayson Thermal Systems announce that they have been commissioned by WrightBus to fix the problems with the air conditioning system on the New Bus For London. Those problems which Boris Johnson had claimed had been rectified nearly a fortnight earlier. Those same problems which Sir Peter Hendy subsequently claimed had been fixed by manufacturer WrightBus:
Grayson Thermal Systems is proud to have been commissioned by Wrightbus to fix the problems that Transport for London (TfL) is having with the air conditioning systems on some of its new Routemaster buses.
Grayson service director Ian Hateley said: “Grayson did not supply the air conditioning systems that were installed on the “Boris Buses”, but nonetheless we are able to offer a full diagnostic and repair service. We have a large number of service vans and trained technicians based in the London area, and we are geared up to offer a fast and responsive emergency service.
“It’s a real shame that the current hot weather has led to problems with these great new buses, but we are confident that Grayson will be able to take the heat out of the situation quickly and efficiently.”
5 September 2013: Buses still breaking down. Passengers still complain of unbearably hot temperatures inside the buses. I record a temperature of 32.5°C on both the lower and upper decks of a number 24 bus.
And today, almost a year on from the first production models going into service on route 24?
Massive flaw of the new routemaster.. There are no windows.! So when the aircon fails, everyone's roasting inside. @TfLOfficial
— Joon Shern Soo (@soochilled) May 17, 2014
On a #borisbus & 1st nice w/e of year – top deck is boiling. Blowers noisy but no draught to be felt. Passengers will boil again this year
— Emma Beattie (@EmmaJaneBeattie) May 17, 2014
— Steve Rochford (@SteveRochford) May 17, 2014
@TfLOfficial Just got off top deck of new double decker 148. It was so hot & stuffy. Difficult to breathe. Is it safe?
— Ike Anya (@ikeanya) May 17, 2014
— Seph Brown (@SephRBrown) May 17, 2014
Would advise no one to use a #borisbus on a hot day except maybe footballers training for the heat of the Qatar World Cup.
— James Lewis (@jmtlewis) May 17, 2014
The new buses are now running on routes 9, 10, 11, 24, 38, 148 and 390. The weather in London over the past few days has been around 20°C and passengers have, again, been complaining that the New Bus For London is like a sauna. Two days ago, I recorded temperatures of 29.4°C on one of the latest batch of new buses on route 148.
Summer is coming. The weather will get hotter. The inability of the New Bus For London to cope with normal spring/summer temperatures must surely be an inherent design flaw, not some “teething problem” that Boris Johnson and various employees of Transport for London repeatedly claimed to have been “fixed” – Londoners deserve better than this.
A brand new bespoke bus, designed and manufactured at great expense, just for Boris Johnson. Claimed to have “amazing new air conditioning” yet temperatures inside the bus have exceeded those at which it is legal to transport animals.
When is Boris Johnson going to admit to us that his new bus is not as described and cancel the remainder of his order of 600 vehicles with WrightBus?
It’s definitely back to normal warm-weather operations for Boris Johnson’s Heatherwick-designed sauna-on-wheels:
Crap Boris Bus today was unbearable. The windows don't open. The air cooling system is inefficient. The design is flawed. #WorstBusForLondon
— Anthony Davis (@theanthonydavis) May 16, 2014
— Anthony Davis (@theanthonydavis) May 16, 2014
@TfLOfficial these new routemasters are torture in hot weather, & the AC is horribly loud; can you make some where the windows open please?
— Until the Bird… (@UntiltheBird) May 16, 2014
It's not even warm outside yet this New Routemaster on the 148 is roasting. Conversely one on the 11 last week tried to freeze me to death!
— Tom Payne (@zappomatic) May 16, 2014
The bus has also acquired a new talent – car crushing:
— cycleoptic (@cycleoptic) May 16, 2014
I travelled on one of the buses from Zone 1 to Hammersmith this afternoon but I was thermometer-free today so can only report that the upstairs was stuffy and airless and the constant smell of plasticky fumes nausea-inducing.
However, I did have a chat with a TfL Revenue Protection Inspector who informed me that inspections haven’t been carried out after 10pm on TfL bus services for around the past four years. That’s one way to make the fare evasion figures look good. This has resulted in a loss of income for the Inspectors as the night shift meant enhanced payments. I remarked that this was unfair, as the “conductors” on the three-doored buses were being paid for standing around and not doing very much.
“Health and safety. Health and safety – that’s all they’re there for” responded the Revenue Protection Inspector. Odd, as only yesterday TfL refuted the assertion that the back doors of these particular vehicles are closed between stops when a “conductor” is not present to prevent passengers boarding and alighting between stops.
Boris Johnson has previously claimed that the vehicle’s “dwell time” is reduced as three doors instead of two mean that it is quicker to load and unload at bus stops. Not true, as I observed yesterday on route 148. When the bus runs with just a driver, the back door does not fully open at bus stops – the rearmost part of it, opposite the stairs, remains shut at all times. This means that passengers descending the rear stairs to alight have to fight with any passengers leaving the lower saloon of the bus for “half” an exit – passengers from upstairs and downstairs cannot get off the bus simultaneously.
So, passengers from upstairs have to wait for the passengers from downstairs to get off first and people who want to get on the bus through the back door have to wait until both lots of passengers have alighted before they can get on. I fail to see how this decreases the time the vehicle spends at stops – in fact, quite the opposite.
As I was last in the queue to board through the rear door yesterday afternoon, I also experienced the rear door almost closing on me as there is very little room on the rear “platform” (much less than on a Routemaster). I note that many of the TfL buses I use in outer London have exit doors which part and slide open on the outside of the bus – they do not fold back awkwardly into the exit as on the Heatherwick-designed bus.
As reported by passengers yesterday, the latest batch of New Bus For London (or New Routemaster, as TfL now insist on calling the things) is unpleasantly hot and stuffy.
I boarded LT143 on route 148 at White City Bus Station at 1:26pm today. As the bus only had a couple of passengers onboard and hadn’t really got going yet, the temperature upstairs was “only” 23.2°C:
By the time I alighted at Westminster Cathedral, the temperature had reached 25.3°C:
Hot and stuffy, yes, and the horrible, stifling, plasticky smell present, but just about bearable.
LT126 on route 148 that I then boarded in the opposite direction, however, was another matter.
Fairly full upstairs, it *was* like a sauna – people were fanning themselves and a dog appeared to have died from heat exhaustion. 26°C:
By the penultimate stop before White City Bus Station it was 28.6°C upstairs:
Bad enough, but I decided to go downstairs and test the temperature on the back seat where the “conductor” would stand on a crewed bus – the 148 is driver only.
I’ve no doubt that if I’d been downstairs in that seat for more than one stop that the thermometer would have climbed to 30°C or more. To those who have theorised that the “air cooling” works better on these vehicles when all the doors are shut between stops – evidently not.
Boris Johnson has committed to purchasing a total of 600 of these vehicles for use on bus routes in London so more and more Londoners will be subjected to these horrible travelling conditions. I feel very sorry for those whose local bus routes will be using these vehicles – temperatures in London are bound to rise further in the summer, so how will they cope and, more importantly, what are TfL and its Chair, Boris Johnson, going to do about it?
— Jessica Stewart (@jessicaannest) May 14, 2014
So there's no windows upstairs on the 148 bus? The heat in here's ridiculous 😷
— Tracey (@Its_tracee) May 14, 2014
The brand new buses on route 148 are part of the latest batch of vehicles so there’s no excuse whatsoever for the air cooling system not working. London’s temperature is forecast to soar to 23°C by the weekend so, fret ye not, Commissioner Hendy, I’ve got my thermometer ready.
As I witnessed first-hand almost a year ago, the main purpose of the passenger assistant/customer assistant is to stop passengers falling out of the open back door.
Perhaps we all need a reminder of the sage words of the then-Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin, who has since returned to the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Transport:
HC Deb 20 May 1991 vol 191 cc755-62 755
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Patrick McLoughlin)
…I am aware that some people still prefer to use the old Routemaster buses with their open platform entry, but buses with doors are much safer. The chances of a passenger having a serious accident getting on or off a bus are roughly 11 times greater on an open-platform bus.
As evidenced by an exchange on Twitter today:
— Steve Hilditch (@SteveHilditch) May 14, 2014
— Steve Hilditch (@SteveHilditch) May 14, 2014
Expect more of this sort of thing, too:
Shocker! Kicked off a Boris Bus yet again due to faults. Regular occurance now that 38 line is full of them.
— Darren Atwater (@darrenatwater) May 12, 2014
Yet another cyclist lost their life in London today, at the notorious Elephant and Castle roundabout, described as “welcoming and safe“ by TfL in 2010 and by Boris Johnson in 2011 as “fine. If you keep your wits about you, Elephant & Castle is perfectly negotiable“. Just hours after this fatality, another cyclist was taken to hospital after being hit by a tipper truck in the City of London.
No word from London’s part-time Mayor on today’s cyclist death and injury, as, not content with electioneering in London boroughs, he spent today in Gloucestershire, where he sheared a sheep, “side-stepped questions about him possibly running in the Cotswolds” informed the people of Cirencester how he encourages cycling in London, discussed the local South West issues:
— Michelle Donelan (@michelledonelan) May 13, 2014
and also visited Cheltenham, where he got the name of the Conservative candidate wrong in his TV interview. Working hard for London, then, by spending the whole day in Gloucestershire, campaigning for Gloucestershire Conservatives. Oh, and emailing members of the electorate to tell them to vote Conservative in the forthcoming European elections:
— Danny (@Danny_BoyUK) May 13, 2014
Had an email from Boris Johnson (supposedly) today. Be interested to know where they got my email address from. #Conservatives
— Alex Raspin (@A_Raz9) May 13, 2014
Also working hard for London, on the payroll of the GLA, was Will Walden, the Mayor of London’s Director of Communications and External Affairs. Here he is in Gloucestershire today, behind the Mayor of London:
Can we take it that Walden was on holiday today, accompanying Boris Johnson out of the kindness of his heart, or was he electioneering for the Conservative Party, his day’s wages and travel being paid for by Londoners?
One thing that we’re sure of, when Boris attaches himself to some whizzy innovation, it’ll usually end up costing a fortune in public money and suffering a variety of easily predictable snags caused by overconfidence and arrogance. To a list that includes cycle hire, cable cars, Lardbuses, electric cars, etc. etc. we can probably load up our traditional quill pens and start scratching in the name of the West London Free School.
Opened, by Boris, in 2011 with the promises of lashings of Latin, classical liberal education (whatever the hell that is) and discipline this establishment seems never really to have settled down – the first Head, Thomas Packer, was kicked upstairs to become Education Director at the start of 2013 and shortly afterwards left completely, accompanied by an FoI request from Helen:
Both Thomas Packer and Janet Packer left the employment of the Trust on 31 August 2013. Thomas Packer’s responsibilities changed from being Headmaster of the West London Free School to being Education Director of the Trust between 1 January 2013 and 31 August 2013. Janet Packer’s salary was varied whilst employed by the Trust.
He was succeeded by Deputy Headmaster Sam Naismith (who personally signed off the FoI, I note). This gentleman is noteworthy for a lack of senior leadership experience, never having run a school, merely having been Director of Sport at Langley School for Boys in Bromley. He’s also notable for having hired straight from university a sporty young man called Sam Druce who’d been a pupil of his whose LinkedIn profile reads:
My principal duty is managing and maintaining the image of the Headmaster and the school. This involves liaising with governors and staff on a day-to-day basis as well as school events management. I schedule and oversee the Headmaster’s diary in order to respond to the changing demands of each day. Within my role, I update and maintain the contracts for all staff and all policies for the school. I am responsible for the organisation and management of the school budget; working closely with the Business Manager and respective Subject Leaders. I lead sport in the P.E. Department, and am the Head of Hockey for Y7 girls, and Y8 boys. Balancing these two roles requires excellent time management and effective prioritisation of tasks.
Do they really let 24 year olds manage school budgets?
Druce’s Twitter account @sdruce17 is sadly protected, so we only have occasional mentions to go on. Such as this one, which was surely was made up by his mates as a jolly good bit of banter:
Headmaster Sam Naismith left abruptly last week with no warning, the deletion of his LinkedIn profile and no explanation from Toby Young, who is not normally this shy. Cat got your tongue? Or a lawyer?
All this, plus local rumour (heard from three sources) of high staff turnover and unhappy parents has led me to have a good look at their arrangements, and it appears they also have some site and building issues. This isn’t rare in the Free School movement, particularly in London where property is insanely expensive and Free School proponents often rather naive and optimistic when dealing with estate agents and other sharks. Toby’s original plans to open in Ealing, where he lives, were stymied when they couldn’t find a site and the council, having been the subject of regular Toby smears against their mostly perfectly decent schools, refused to help. Toby’s ideological fellow-travellers, the libertorians at Hammersmith and Fulham were only too glad to help. So it came about that this pioneering school, set up free from the shackles of local authorities, has been liberally provided with help by a local authority, including the run of the Town Hall when setting up – the address to write to for Headmaster applicants was Hammersmith and Fulham Town Hall.
The council duly helped out with sites including an old special school of 1960s vintage on Cambridge Grove (forcing the incumbent Cambridge School to shift north to a site apparently rejected by the precious WLFS lot), and Palingswick House, a nice but unlisted Victorian pile on King Street. This latter was formerly occupied by volunteer groups, immigrant help charities and similar riff-raff who were promptly kicked out in February 2012, with the council coughing up a fairly miserly £330k in ‘compensation’. The net worth of the site, of course, is considerably higher than that, although the actual figure raised is curiously hard to find…
The original intention was that, having got planning permission in 2012, a relatively short building period would see the first kids transferring to Palingswick in time for opening in September 2013 – this LBHF webpage says precisely that:
The school is currently located at the former Cambridge School site on Cambridge Grove in Hammersmith and is due to move to its permanent site, Palingswick House on King Street in 2013.
They haven’t. The current pupil population are all on the Cambridge Grove site, to which we have to add the new WLFS Primary, 60 kids starting Reception in 2013. That’s added to 120 2011 intake Y7 and presumably the same again in 2012 and 2013 for a total of 360 Y7/8/9. Are they really squashing 420 kids into that site? And why haven’t the 360 secondary kids decamped to Palingswick yet? And why has the Trust spent an eye-watering £9.25m buying a recently refurbished and extended office block further along King St.?
It’s time to find out what’s going on here, and the council’s online planning archive is a rich source of all sorts of interesting stuff. First, Cambridge Grove – note that the 420 figure is also what you get with a seven year 2FE primary school (Years R123456). The Primary website, in between plugging Toby Young’s books, says:
The plans include building a new five-classroom annex to the rear of the current site, bordering Banim Street and extending some classrooms to meet the requirements of the Early Years Foundation Stage.”
The planning documents concur, with the following approved 13/3/2013:
“Erection of a two storey classroom building (south west corner of site); erection of three single storey extensions and a refuse storage block at ground floor level; erection of a single storey link block at ground floor level; erection of two extensions at first floor level (including one fronting Banim Street); erection of, and alterations to, fencing within school grounds, in connection with the continued use of the premises as a school.”
To sum up: they’re extending the existing 1960s building with three rooms added to the existing structure and a pair of Reception classrooms on part of the playground.
However, in addition a planning application 2013/01902/FUL was made dated May 2013 for three portable classrooms on the playground. This mentions:
The proposed development involves the erection of three temporary classrooms, in a single temporary portakabin along with reconfiguration of the grounds to encompass this. The purpose of
this application is to allow the school to continue in the eventuality that the programme of annexe works overruns into term time. The lawful planning use of the site is as a school (D1). The school will have an eventual roll of 420 pupils (2 form-entry primary). It is proposed that the temporary classrooms be for a strictly limited period.
So this was a contingency in case the main works overran. This appears to have come to pass, as the school website says:
For the current academic year 2013-2014, the primary will be housed in its temporary site on Bradmore Park Road and will move into its permanent home in Cambridge Grove in September 2014.
What? Where? From the planning documents:
As a contingency while the permanent annexe is being constructed, the primary school pupils will occupy the Bradmore Centre, with the 360 secondary school pupils being placed in Cambridge Grove. The existing buildings allow eleven classrooms along with the temporary conversion of the library which along with the three additional classrooms allow the new years intake to occur should the annexe building not be completed in time
All of which probably explains a local parent’s comment a few months back to me that the library at WLFS is smaller than our primary’s library.
What’s this Bradmore Park Road building, then? The Primary’s website’s contact address until July 2014 is:
32 Bradmore Park Road
This is the address of the Bradmore Children’s Centre, owned by, yes, the council again. Three sites now. Hang on. Wasn’t Palingswick House supposed to be finished by 2013? What’s going on?
The Palingswick plans were announced in this school blog (full of praise for the ‘Conservative Council’, who just turfed out all those community groups) on 14th June 2012, with a link to a blog post called ‘palingswick-house.html’. This is now deleted, the only blog post existing at the time that is no longer on the site. Wayback Machine might have it? Yup.
I am delighted to report that, after a long delay, the builders have moved onto the Palingswick House site and will start demolition of the annex shortly. In the coming weeks and months, you’ll start to see a lot of activity around the King Street site as it is extended and refurbished so it can become our permanent home. It has been a long journey, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Sam Naismith, Headmaster
Why delete it? Why no explanation of the ‘long delay’? Well, subsequent to that yet another planning application 2014/00963/FUL has gone in, this time for yet more portable classrooms, this time at Palingswick. They’re whoppers, too – a double-height portable in the front yard of the building housing 240 pupils:
The goal is to redevelop the site to use as a secondary school; the current proposal is renovate the Lodge building and provide new two storey temporary Portacabin classrooms until a full remediation strategy can be agreed.
In order to meet the Schools proposed opening date we are planning to commence site construction activities as early as possible following a successful Planning application
The proposed development involves placement of a two storey portakabin on site to provide 9 classrooms to accommodate 240 pupils for 1 academic year (2014/15). The accommodation is needed to enable the development of the scheme granted permission on the 17 December 2012 under application reference 2012/02503/FUL.
Remediation strategy? That suggests that they’ve found something unexpected during the refurbishment or demolition which is going to delay completion of the main building. Since the temporary 9 classroom installation is a 16 week project involving removing three trees whatever’s come up is potentially serious and possibly expensive. In addition this new portable occupies the site previously identified as the main entrance for construction traffic, the site offices, fuel stores, waste disposal areas and COSHH store and one of the two bases for cranes:
This application went in at the beginning of March and has not yet been approved – if the school is to open on site in September 2014 the latest construction can start is around the beginning of June, so they really need that approval sharpish. As a mark of how far things have slipped the original project schedule is on one of the documents and shows site work starting in July 2012 and continuing to completion at the end of August 2013, just in time for last September’s intake. They therefore seem to have started work when they should have finished it, about 14 months late so even if it doesn’t now slip any further it’ll be October 2014 before it’s ready, presuming that having a portable school blocking one of the entrances doesn’t mean a total recast of the project timelines (it will, I’m certain of it, the contractor isn’t an idiot).
With the 9 classroom portable in place the school would obviously only be able to hold 240 pupils, or two of the three years currently at Cambridge Grove. The delay also means we have another 120 Y7s to cope with in September 2014 for a total of 4*120 = 480 pupils across Y7-10, so where do the other 240 go? Tim Fenton has the answer:
the WLFS has just committed to blowing a sum in excess of £9 million – you read that right – of taxpayers’ money acquiring a recently refurbished office building in Hammersmith that is definitely not Palingswick House.
Yes, faced with having nowhere to put 240 13-15 year olds Toby Young, who continually lectures us on the evils of public spending, has conjured up £9.25m of public money from somewhere (us) to buy an office block, 2 Bridge Avenue, thereby neatly driving up office prices and crowding out the private sector in an already tough area for business to find accommodation. Very Stalinist, Toby.
This acquisition has naturally resulted in yet another raft of planning documents, which give an insight into the latest iteration of the school’s ever changing accommodation plan:
The application would enable WLFS to use the building initially, between September 2014 and July 2015, for education accommodation for 240 Secondary School pupils aged 13 and 15 (years 9 and 10). From September 2015 it is proposed for the site to be used as permanent accommodation for 240 Secondary School pupils likely to be aged 14 and 16 (years 10 and 11). It is understood that there would be no more than 240 pupils occupying the site at any one time.
Summing up, the current state of play appears to be:
- 360 Y7/8/9 in Cambridge Grove, which is being extended for a 420 place 2FE primary
- 60 R in Bradmore Children’s Centre
- 0 in Palingswick House
- 240 Y7/8 in a temporary two storey portakabin in the front yard of Palingswick House
- 240 Y9/10 in an expensive converted office block at Bridge Avenue
- 60 Reception and 60 Year 1 at Cambridge Grove, possibly, depending on how the building work goes there
- 360 Y7/8/9 at Palingswick House
- 240 Y10/11 at Bridge Avenue
- 60 Reception and 120 Y1/2 at Cambridge Grove
Clear? One thing that stands out there is that Palingswick House is somewhat underused, given that it was presumably meant to be a 600 pupil capacity school. The Travel Plan for the original application actually says 360 pupils, but that’s the figure on opening in September 2013 so it’s not conclusive, and the four storey block proposed for the site is surely enough for 600. The LBHF puff piece for the planning approval agrees:
West London Free School, which is currently based in Cambridge Grove, Hammersmith, will turn Palingswick House in King Street into a new 4,300 square metre school for 600 pupils, aged 11-16.
So what’s changed such that 240 of them have to be moved permanently to a hugely expensive building down the road, duplicating things like kitchen facilities and complicating staff rostering to allow for what is a fair old walk between sites? For that matter, why does the March 2014 application for the temporary classroom still give the building’s owner as ‘Hammersmith and Fulham’…
‘The Owner has agreed to purchase the Site from the Council’
Why was the S.106 agreement signed only by Toby Young, with no countersignature by another Director or the Company Secretary, merely a ‘witness’ called Grant Berry?
Why do I keep finding new questions, but no answers?
P.S. A handy website gives a list of known DfE funding to WLFS:
- £472,881.05 pre-opening (secondary)
- £1,012,000.00 agreed post-opening (secondary)
- £708,000.00 actual post-opening (secondary)
- £220,000.00 pre-opening (primary)
- £373,000.00 agreed post-opening (primary)
- £95,500.00 actual post-opening (primary)
We can presumably add several hefty capital sums for the various portable classrooms, rebuilds, office blocks. Now, how can we go about finding those out? Ah, there’s a gov.uk site giving finalised capex up to the middle of 2013. Which has no entry for WLFS, one of the first to open and with, as we’ve seen, considerable capital investment going on. That’s amusing.
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