I’ve long been intrigued by the LondonUnlocked.org website, which describes itself as:

[A]n independent organisation dedicated to finding transport solutions for the Capital.

Neither tied, funded, nor affiliated with political parties or industry, we wish to build a broad, grassroots consensus on the direction of transport in London. We want to see a London which works better, in no small part due to the implementation of a coherent, long-term transport strategy.

What drew my attention?  Well, first off it appears to exist in its own little bubble, divorced both from what the Fact Compiler would call the ‘gricerati’ – well known transport blogs and websites such as London Connections/Reconnections or Annie Mole’s, which have built up informed and extensive readerships because they do a great job of covering the issues, and from mainstream political websites like, well, Boriswatch or Dave Hill’s Guardian blog, which also cover transport issues in the capital.  Nor does there seem a great deal of interest in the views of transport journalists like Christian Wolmar.  However, the Times, Telegraph, FT and Evening Standard get lots of friendly links, with the Guardian and Independent getting rather fewer.  Obviously Dave and I don’t hide our rather left-wing views particularly well, but I’m unaware of any right-wing equivalents, so who ya gonna call if you want your ‘broad, grassroots consensus’ to include voices other than those of mainstream journalists, mostly from right-wing papers.  That’s the first interesting point – a London transport website ignorant of the world of, er, London transport websites.

Secondly, the transport projects it highlights under its ‘New Projects’ tag seem to be selected so as to exclude anything Transport for London was actually working on, or, in other words, anything ever likely to be built.  Since TfL had a fairly extensive portfolio of transport projects in the pipeline, this leaves only the silly fringe stuff; privately funded trams, cable cars, individual transport podule things and, most interestingly, two articles on monorails:

MonoMetro plans for a narrow-gauge railway to run above the streets of London, connecting transport hubs such as Waterloo, Canary Wharf, and Paddington, alleviating street-level traffic and taking the strain off the Underground.

Digging into MonoMetro finds a couple of things – it’s run by a bloke called Gareth Pearce, from Blackwood, Caerphilly, Wales.  It’s, so far as I can tell, not been built anywhere yet, although there are stories of Saudi interest leading to a scheme in Mecca opening in 2012.  There’s a lot of accusations that TfL and the Government have deliberatly ignored the scheme, including a comment on this Times piece here and from Mr. Pearce on the International Herald Tribune here.  I quote:

The enire London MonoMetro project, painstakingly planned and meticulously designed through cooperation across a raft of private UK and US companies, it took ten years of effort. And while MonoMetro stands as a magnificant transport achievement it has been resisted since 2001 by the politburo style Transport for London, backed by the Stalinist Mayor Ken Livingstone.

Mr. Pearce, who I’m sure is a lovely fellow really, is mentioned in less than glowing terms here and here.

I then had a quick look at Wikipedia’s entry on the MonoMetro scheme, and the page reads like a mixture of advertising and complaints about the treatment of the scheme by the Government and ‘orrible old Ken, neither of which is exactly in keeping with Wikipedia’s neutral tone rules.  In fact, comparing revisions here and here shows exactly what happened; a user from IP 87.114.135.103 greatly enlarged the previously perfectly acceptable article on the 15th December 2007, in two editing sessions.  The revised article subsequently got marked for style cleanup in June 2008, but nothing’s happened since apart from some minor edits, including one by London transport-and-other-stuff blogger D-Notice (at least, I presume it’s him), who, I note deliciously, has also been doing man’s work on Andrew Gilligan’s page.

Looking at IP 87.114.135.103, I see that he made one further edit immediately after his 15/12/2007 marathon, which was on the page for … Blackwood, Caerphilly, birthplace of Gareth Pearce.  The edit added an unexplained link to www.monometro.com, which, so far as I can see, doesn’t have a great deal of relevance to Blackwood, Caerphilly other than that the founder was born there.  This was duly deleted as linkspam on 11/2/2008.

So, we have an apparent irascible Ken-hating architect with a new transport system to sell, who was told to stuff it by TfL and hasn’t been taking it lying down.  He gets two favourable articles on LondonUnlocked, then *someone* rewrites the Wikipedia page on MonoMetro to render it a biased mess, adding a link to the system’s website to Pearce’s home town’s page to round it off.  Doesn’t sound like a clever way to make transport policy to me, but LondonUnlocked saw it differently:

It would keep with LondonUnlocked’s remit of looking above and beyond what have become the expected modes of transport for Londoners, and provide a long-term, expandable solution to London’s growing transport needs.

Hmm.  Sounds suspiciously like creationist policy making to me, and we know that doesn’t work.  Also, the last time I can remember aerospace engineering being touted as the solution to the stuck-in-the-19th-century ways of the railwaymen it turned out to be BART, which cost a fortune, didn’t work properly when it first opened and didn’t do what it was sold as.  The ‘lightweight, aerospace derived’ cars there were built by Rohr, and suffered no end of teething troubles, and have since been rebuilt by Adtranz (now Bombardier), who coincidentally are a proper heavy rail manufacturer who build most of London’s trains, in Derby.  No problem with them, of course.  Worryingly, MonoMetro cites Boeing’s 787 ‘Dreamliner’ as the source for its car design.

The proposed MonoMetro cars are to be built in the USA using the same method of manufacturing employed by Boeing for their lightweight Dreamliner aircraft. Because of the lightweight material used the trains will be able to operate a high frequency service, stopping and starting far more frequently without the time delay that would be caused on a traditional rail network.

That’ll be the Dreamliner that’s rather embarrassingly late, partly because of problems with the fasteners used in its manufacturing.  Oh dear.

Back at MonoMetro – what does LondonUnlocked conclude about this untried, visually invasive, unfunded vaporware scheme that lacks firm support from any London political party?

LondonUnlocked is proudly independent and not funded or supported by MonoMetro, or its affiliates, in any way. However, we believe that it is imperative that innovative, well thought-out schemes like this should have a full and open assessment. MonoMetro could be implemented in London by 2012 and offers a genuine alternative (or compliment) to Crossrail.

So perhaps they’re just one of many bad judges of credibility fouling up the political landscape?  Indeed, that’s a common criticism of Boris, with his Thames Airport and Routemaster obsessions distracting him from mundane stuff that works, and New Labour, with their massive databases, runways and nuclear power stations.  Ego plus vanity plus engineering and historical ignorance = eye-wateringly expensive FAIL.  It’s an ideology thing, not a party thing.

Alternatively, perhaps they’re not that independent.  Consider this.  We had a comment from LondonUnlocked earlier, which prompted this post which reads:

Thanks for the plug for LondonUnlocked – however, I think you misinterpreted the tone of the article…. our author was highlighting Gilligan’s over-inflated language over the Routemaster’s return, nothing more.

“Highlighting Gilligan’s over-inflated language” was achieved by the following passage:

The media is giving the launch massive coverage following TfL’s enthusiastic heralding of the event. Perhaps the best article on the competition has to be Andrew Gilligan’s latest in the Evening Standard:

Best article?  I beg to differ (and besides, TfL’s press office just re-sent the GLA press release – for a long time the competition wasn’t even on their front page, remember).  That sounds like direct approval of the Git from Greenwich, not highlighting over-inflated language.  Still, that’s not the most embarrassing thing on there – how about the ‘Research’ section, which contains a whole two posts, first an entire article from the Evening Standard about the London Travel Report 2007, which begs the question ‘this is supposed to be the Research section, so why not read the report yourself rather than relying on a crap tabloid?’ and second, an article from ConservativeHome by our old friend Phil ‘£1.50 Bus Fare’ Taylor, which contains gems like:

[W]e now have 5 years worth of comparable figures to pore over, an audit trail that makes it increasingly hard for the Mayor to hide the bodies. In this article I try to unearth them.

Well, there’s nothing like starting with an open mind.  Again, why trust Taylor and the Tories when the data are available for free?

However, that’s not the most embarrassing thing on the ‘proudly independent’ LondonUnlocked.org.  For that, you have to go back to the founding statement, from May 2007:

Maurice Bennett, renowned retail industry entrepreneur, is providing the support and expertise to get LondonUnlocked off the ground.

LondonUnlocked is Maurice’s transport campaign for the 21st Century: web-based and democratic. With LondonUnlocked neither tied to any political party nor dogma, Maurice simply wants to help stir a debate, and to help London retain its position as one of the greatest cities in the world to work and live.

Comments are disallowed for this post.

Very democratic.  Also, there’s only one registered user – ‘Editor’ – who has no email address, there are few or no comments, and who’s this Maurice Bennett?  OK, I confess I’ve never heard of him, but surely he can’t be that much of a shrinking violet if he’s made a bob or two in London retail.  Let’s see what Google throws up.  Ah, a venture capital firm called Amery Capital.  What do they say?

Amery Capital’s three principle ventures to date have been backed by renowned fashion industry entrepreneurs Michael and Maurice Bennett who, over a career spanning more than 50 years, have founded and developed a number of highly successful fashion retail chains, including Warehouse, Oasis, Coast, and Phase Eight.

Any more?  Ah, yes:

Maurice Bennett is a Treasurer of the Conservative Party and instigated the LondonUnlocked.org and ACarFreeLondon.org campaign. He received a CBE in the new year’s honours list.

So there we are, LondonUnlocked.org is funded and supported by a wealthy Conservative donor (to the tune of at least £500k) with business interests a lot of shops, presumably including some in central London.  As far as I can see they don’t mention the Conservative connection *anywhere*, although I’m open to correction.  Personally, I think they’ve got some explaining to do.  A *lot* of explaining to do, starting with their interpretation of the words ‘proudly independent’.

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