OVE ARUP’s reputation may not be enough to ensure competent project, says Paul Hudson

FOBP reproduce here a letter (of 14 March 2014) written by local Norwood resident, Paul Hudson, to Marc Hume, Director of Renewal and Recreation at Bromley Council, in which he questions Arup’s architectural competence. Mr Hudson worries when he hears people claim “it will all be alright since Arup is involved”. He says that architectural reputation is not enough, drawing attention to Arup’s past work (the wobbly millenium bridge). He argues that “firms that have built reputations have not necessarily built them on secure professionally competent foundations. Many such organizations survive, simply because their clients do not have the expertise to challenge them.”

14 March 2014

Mr Marc Hume
Director, Renewal and Recreation
Bromley Borough Council
Civic Centre,
Stockwell Close,
Bromley BR1 3UH
marc.hume@bromley.gov.uk

Dear Mr Hume

Proposal for building a structure on the site of the

 old Crystal Palace in Crystal Palace Park      ________________________________________________

 1. Preamble

1.1  I am the person (or one of the people) who spoke to you straightaway after, and  immediately outside the hall in which Arup addressed about 200-250 residents, the question-and-answer session that was held after what the Arup representative was pleased to call a “presentation”—this is not the first time that Arup has held, in cramped conditions, a presentation devoid of information that the public seeks—at The Lodge in Crystal Palace Park on Saturday, 1st March 2014.

1.2    You said that it was because Arup was involved in the proposed structure that you felt confident that things should (and would) go well.  Reputation can be a useful guide in a decision-making process or selection procedure—indeed, this often seems to be the dominant criterion in how architects, consulting engineers and other professions obtain their commissions and get around to awarding each other prizes1 (which, often, are simply not justified when looked at closely)—but reputation is far from being a reliable guide.

1.3  It was only when I told you that I had been informed by civil engineers—and one in particular who is a professor of civil engineering (who has worked in local government and with private architects in this country and abroad as well as in the academic field)—that, in spite of its fame, Arup did not have the all the skills and talents that it liked to think it possessed and which people like yourself evidently also believed it possessed that you kindly invited me to write to you with further information. This letter is a response to that invitation.

1.4  Before I proceed further, I should declare that I have no pecuniary or other money-equivalent interest with any of the individuals or firms or consultants or other bodies that are involved with erecting some structure on the site of of the Crystal Palace Park. I am a member of four local amenity associations: the Crystal Palace Community Association (which, in spite of being [by far] the largest local community association in the vicinity of  the Crystal Palace Park, seems to be excluded by Bromley Borough Council from making a direct and primary contribution to discussions about proposed developments within the Park); the Norwood Society; the Friends of Belair Park.  (Member-ships of all four of these associations seem to overlap to a considerable degree —not that this should surprise anybody, given the overlaps of interests and concerns.)  In spite of my membership of the aforementioned local amenity societies, I am writing in an individual capacity and, therefore, it might be the case that one or more other members of those societies do not agree with one or more of the points that I make below. Indeed, I shall send a copy of this letter to each of these societies so that they can express to you any disagreement that they have with any of the points made in this letter.

2. Architecture and Principles of Civil Engineering

2.1  When I met you after the morning session of Arup’s “presentation” on Saturday, 1st March 2014, I said I would try to dig out what information I could on some project (for example, the Millenium Bridge) with which Arup has been—depending on one’s point of view—famously or infamously

  1. Arup, of course, is not unique:  it doesn’t have a monopoly on misconceived ideas.

 

2.2  I wish to refer you first to two articles written by the particular professor alluded to in Paragraph 1.3. above: Professor Wanda Lewis, MSc, PhD, CEng, FICE, FRStructE, who holds a chair in civil engineering at Warwick University.

These two articles mention structures that are well-known to the general public in this and other countries, but are poorly conceived and executed. The two articles are:

W. J. LEWIS: “Lightweight tension structures—an aesthetic integration of geometry and mechanics.  Part I: The role of minimal surfaces and soap-films” Bulletin of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (1999) Vol. 35, No 1, pp. 10-16

W. J. LEWIS: “Lightweight tension structures—an aesthetic integration of geometry and mathematics. Part II: Finding the form of minimal surface” Bulletin of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (1999) Vol. 35, No 3, pp. 80-84

(The Bulletin of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications had its title changed some years ago and is now called Mathematics Today;  I myself am a fellow of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications and, since talking to you, have been trying to find the issues of the Bulletin containing the two articles, so that I could send you photocopies of the them.  Alas, my search has been in vain. I am sorry about this.)

2.3    Professor Lewis has written a monograph,

Tension Structures: form and behaviour (published by Thomas Telford Publishing, London, 1999) 201 pp.

and, below, I give you some extracts from the some of the non-mathematical and computational sections of the book which I think that a layman can grasp.

2.4    In reading through these extracts from Professor Lewis’ book, it is important to bear in mind that she is addressing a professional readership; thus her tactful use of words such as “unawareness”, “no appreciation” etc. is an implicit criticism of the professional ignorance of architects and civil engineers.

Here are some extracts:            

      “[ . . .] during the design process, the shape of the structure is rarely questioned—unless it threatens the structure’s suitability for a given purpose.” –page 19      

      “[ . . .] the design of lightweight tension-structures requires full integration  of both engineering and architectural skills.  This is dictated by the need to understand the interaction between the shape of the structure of the load-patterns that may develop.” –page 19

“It is not generally appreciated that [both] the initial shape and final configuration of a tension membrane under load are not known. This leads to another common misconception [. . .]” –page 19

“Departing from [the aforementioned] form and choosing a spherical shape for the Millenium Dome has led to problems associated with local saddling of the fabric between the membrane supports [ . . .] Steps taken to remedy the situation led to a complex design[ . . .]”     –pages 19-20

“[At] the time of the Millenium [viz. 1999 – 2000], approximately 4 – 5  million square metres of land in Europe were covered by membrane structures.  This figure compares with 1 million square metres in 1988. The growth of tension membrane structures indicates that they compete with original roofing forms, despite complexities involved in their design.”

“   The Millenium Dome represents a deliberate departure from [the sort of design that entails a ‘saddle’ or anticlastic] form, in order to fulfil an architectural concept. . . . [I]n addition to the numerous masts and ties used to maintain the required shape of the Dome, radial cables had to be pre-tensioned to about 2/3 of the peak tension to ensure an adequate level of stiffness. [ . . .] It is estimated that 700 km of cable was used in the structure (compared to 100 km. in the Munich Olympic Stadium [which was considerably larger than the Millenium Dome].

“   Dictating the shape of a tension structure beyond what is known to be an optimal form, i.e. an ant-clastic shape, may have unforeseen consequences and, [in the] long term, may prove to be futile [ . . .]”                                                                                                    –page 20

“    The treatment of suspension-bridge cables in current textbooks shows practically no evidence of understanding of he underlying form-finding issues [mentioned earlier in this book].  Bridge-designers grapple with numerous problems concerning the prediction of the behaviour of the suspension cables and the whole bridge structure, under a variety of imposed-load conditions. [ . . . ]

“   The activity directly opposite to form-finding is form-dictating [ . . .] The London Millenium Bridge [ . . .] is an example of a dictated form of a suspension-bridge structure, in which the weight of the deck is supported by nearly horizontal cables placed on either side of the deck. This resulted in very high (22 500 kN) total tension in the cables. (The choice of such a structural form has been questioned previously in Chapter 5, Section 5.1 [of this book] when outlining the basic principle of load transfer.)  Further, the action of the cables in this type of  structure resembles that of guitar strings under tension and is, therefore, likely to produce tensions. The topic of vibration has been much discussed [for example, in two papers published in the The Structural Engineer in 2001 and 2002] after the construction of the Bridge.”                  —pages 140-141

Lest we forget, Arup were involved with the construction of the (wobbly) Millenium Bridge.

 

2.5  The knowledge of engineering principles—and the knowledge of the mathematics underlying those principles—is much less demanding on architectural courses than on civil engineering courses. Indeed, perhaps there is even less co-ordination between architects and civil engineers that one might have supposed:

“[ . . .] the two roles—that of an architect, who sees the structure purely in terms of geometry and purpose, and that of an engineer, who understands [the structure] in terms of load-paths and deformations—can be quite separate”—W. J. LEWIS:  Op. cit., page 19

“[Notewithstanding the point made in the immediately preceding quotation, the fact remains that] the architect remains responsible for the overall structural form, even though he/she may have little comprehension of the complexities of the mathematical modeling [that is] involved.”— Op. cit., page 19

2.6  I could give you more quotations, but I hope that I have given a sufficient number of them in this letter to make you think that firms that have built reputations have not necessarily built them on secure professionally competent foundations. Many such organizations survive, simply because their clients do not have the expertise to challenge them.  One observed this at open committee meetings of Bromley Borough Council about six years ago, when proposals to extend the Tramway Link from Norwood Junction to the top (i.e. west) side of Crystal Palace Park were being proposed about 6 years ago—the now-defunct London Development Agency and Transport for London sent representatives who emitted all sorts of blather and blarney and, evidently,  had little clue as to what they were talking about . . . but, except for Cllr Colin Smith (with whom I had several stimulating and fruitful exchanges) who seemed to be the only person amongst the councillors and the officers who understood the issues and the financial questions that needed to be answered.  I shall have occasion to refer back to these unfortunate episodes below (mostly in Section 4), because—as you will see—I fear they will recur in connection with the current proposal to build a structure on the site of the old Crystal Palace.

3. Grounds for much disquiet

3.1  Notwithstanding that you said [see Paragraph 1.3] that—at least before the morning session of Arup’s “presentation”—you felt that, because Arup was involved in the proposed structure in Crystal Palace, you felt confident that things should (and would) go well “given that Arup is involved”, I hope that you will revise your initially favourable impression of Arup.  I say this, in the light of the Company’s

(i) inability to handle straightforward questions on 1st March 2014—mainly, its reluctance to share information with the public and its admission (only after I challenged the Company as to why it needed to call in architects to submit proposals for the design of the structure, given that Paxton’s plan was already available) that the “re-built (sic) Palace” would not necessarily resemble the Crystal Palace (either in its original form as constructed in Hyde Park in 1851 or in its enlarged form when it was moved to Crystal Palace Park in 1853) as ‘everybody’ knew it—and

(ii) lack of consideration during the construction stage of the effects on residents in the immediate vicinity of the Park;

(iii) apparent unawareness of the impact—“we have still to think about that”(!) was the gist of the reply to another questioner’s enquiry—if the structure were built—on private travel (for domestic and business purposes) and on the public transport system (which can hardly cope even now);

and

(iv) past record, showing up flaws in its self-professed expertise—the flaws being so serious as to provoke criticism in the professional (i.e. engineering and cognate) literature [see all of Section 1 above of this letter],

3.2  In view of all this (as well as of what follows), it seems imperative that the whole project be thought through again by Bromley Council—all the more or so, because Arup is involved. (As I mentioned to you after the morning meeting on 1st March 2014, Arup’s flaws extends beyond engineering:  its representative at a public consultation held about 6 years ago (in connection with the proposal to build a multiplex shopping centre on the site of the Crystal Palace in the Park and to extend the Tramlink from Norwood Junction to the top of Anerley Hill, Bromley) did not know of the concept of discounting (a key concept that is employed when trying when trying to assess the benefits and costs over time of capital projects) when I asked him a question about the methodology (if there was one!) how the Company and the now-defunct London Development Agency made estimates of benefits and costs of the proposed Multiplex and Tramlink extension.  (I  have more to say on this in Section 4 below.)

3.3 Notwithstanding the concerns just raised in Paragraphs 3.1 and 3.2, there are even further aspects of the proposal for development that should cause. Although the proposal for the development is (apparently) a simple and straightforward private enterprise project—after Arup’s “presentation”, more and more people seemed to come away with the idea that the Chinese company, ZhongRong , had other (hidden) ideas on its agenda—the project is so large that it cannot fail to affect many hundred of residents and the people who come into Crystal Palace to do their shopping or else visit on business. In short, the proposal is a private matter with large-scale implications for the public concerned–which is why the public has a need (and a right) to be informed.

3.4  It is difficult to believe—especially after the public meeting with ZhongRong’s representatives (viz. Arup)—that ZhongRong have any philanthropic purpose, even though the publicity makes it seems as though there is. In addition, the project is presented as creating many jobs—no figures, with an indication of how they are estimated, are given! We still have to ask whether those jobs are “new” or whether they simply involve transferring people from work in adjacent parts of London to Crystal Palace(in which case, there is no net gain in employment)? If the publicized “new” jobs are mostly connected with the direct construction of the structure, then the boost to employment lasts only for as long as the structure is being built.  [We know from John Maynard Keynes that for investment expenditure to have a multiplier effect on in (permanently) raising the level of  future output (and future income), then that level of investment-expenditure has to be sustained through time. This is possible, for example, if Bromley Borough Council permits ZhongRong to continue to build more structures in Crystal Palace Park until every blade of grass is covered in concrete . . . but I guess that this is not want Bromley has in mind.]

3.5  What we can be sure about, if the structure is built, is a lot of disruption to residents and to the flow of transport but, by its own admission at the morning ‘consultation’ session on 1st March 2014, Arup had yet to consider that. (This is—and what has been in said in Paragraph 3.4—a repetition of Arup’s display of forward planning . . . and all done so brilliantly (again by its own admission without the first clue as to what the benefits and costs of the structure over time would be)2 !

3.6  The probable adverse effects of the structure upon the local residents is not to be dismissed lightly.Even before China embraced capitalism—never mind since it has been implementing capitalism—developers and builders in China have been notorious for not honouring their promises to pay the  levels of to citizens who have been affected (and in thousands of cases, displaced from their land and/or slums)—this phenomenon is a recurring feature on the BBC Radio’s World Service (of which I am a regular listener, because I am woken up by the radio early nearly every morning by the World Service at service, because I drop off to sleep most evenings before turning off the radio).  These phenomena can also be confirmed by  ‘China hands’ who either visit, or are already on the academic staff of the School of Oriental and  African Studies, where I have been regularly attending seminars for many years ever since I bought my house in London. (I even worked at S.O.A.S. for a short time.)

3.7  The disregard that Chinese developers have for ordinary people is not geographically confined to China:  their contempt extends elsewhere in the world, especially in Africa.4  (See the books and articles, especially those that have been published intermittently in The New Scientist over the years by Fred Pearce on environmental issues and also the latest book by the much-travelled John Hilary, a Cambridge-educated economist and now Executive Director of War on Want:  see especially Chapters 5 and 6 of The Poverty of Capitalism 5(published by Pluto Press, 2013; this book is available in various forms, e.g. kindle and paperback at about £14)   

3.8  I myself suspect—based on similar episodes not just in Britain (e.g. perhaps most notably with regard to defence contracts with regard to the supply of armaments to the British Armed Forces)  especially with regard  but  all over the world—that, if the Chinese company is allowed to start its project, when it is half-way through the re-building the Palace at a stage when it looks an eye-sore, the company will plead that it has run out of money or has under-estimated the costs, so that—in order to get the project completed—the company will present the following choices to the local community:

(a) the project stands uncompleted and will simply be a blot on the landscape;

or

(b) Bromley Council (and perhaps other councils) and central government provide lots more money for the project to be completed. [This is exactly the gambit that the consortium of 4 Spanish companies are currently using against the Panamanian government in the final stages of widening the Panama Canal. (The companies are claiming that the cost of the high-quality cement that is specified in the original contract is far too expensive—it is supposed to last for about 100 years—and the consortium want to use a cheaper cement that will last only 10 years;  the Panamian  government have (rightly) objected to this, realizing that it would face another huge cost for the renewal of the cheap cement in 10 years’ time. )  The consortium is threatening to stop any further work on the widening of the Panama Canal, thereby leaving the Panamanian government with a white elephant on its books, because the government will derive no levies from ship-owners until work on widening the Canal has been completed.]

(c) the company promises to complete the re-building of the Palace at the        company’s own cost, provided Bromley Council is agreeable to the company developing other green parts  of the Park with housing.

3.9  Strategies (b) and (c) in Paragraph 3.8 above are similar to what could happen if the proposal for the High Speed Rail-link (HSRL) from London to north of England goes ahead.  I wrote to my MP, (Mr Steve Reed) about 4 weeks ago, to explain why I think he is wrong to support HSRL. (This was before the Government asked one of the Big Four group of accountants to “re-examine” the HSRL, to see whether further benefits could be found from HSRL. So as to make it worthwhile.  Being handsomely paid by the Government, the accountants, lo and behold, found that there were substantial further benefits to be derived from the HSRL!  Yet it seems nobody has been allowed to scrutinize the detail of these newly discovered benefits.6  British government is becoming as ‘open’ as the Chinese government!) Below I give you extracts from my letter to Mr Reed, because (with certain changes in the text) similar sorts of objections apply to the plans (open and, at the moment, covert) that the  Chinese firm has in mind for Crystal Palace Park:

“1. The High-Speed Rail-Link will almost be a huge burden for tax-payers for years to come—mainly, because the estimated costs will be far bigger than estimated. [The beneficiaries will be the construction-firms, the merchant banks and the accountants—and this is what has always happened with mammoth projects, e.g. the Olympic Games (and every city that has sponsored them has been left heavily in debt. To say (as Lord Cohen [who has made a nice pile of money out of the Olympics] has said) that the Olympic Games has generated a  benefit in the form of new housing, is at best misleading:  the new housing was required regardless of whether London hosted the Olympic Games). The only Olympic Games that did not lose its host-city a fortune was the modest affair of the 1948 Olympics in London.]

“2. It is matter of economic history that the outcome of large-scale projects that take time to build are likely to be bad investments:  when the Channel Tunnel was mooted, the most optimistic returns (based on construction costs NOT rising) was 2% to 2 ½% per annum . . . and that rate was not achieved—except when a lot of debt was written off!  Sir John Kay, now an investment banker, who formerly held a professorship of economics at Oxford—he is one of the very few people in the world of investment banking who has done economic research in depth—has predicted that Crossrail will be another waste of money.

“3.  Other examples of large projects—not even as large as those which I have so far mentioned—have been the computerization of the Inland Revenue’s system (which is still going awry);  the computerization of the Passport Office’s records; the Computerization of the National Health Services’ records—[a programme] which is in a shambolic state.  (Before you feel tempted to make party-political points, these were all introduced under the Labour Government.)   The cost of the present building that houses the Scottish Assembly came in at nearly 9 times the initial estimated cost.  (For a local [i.e. Bromley-Croydon] example of a lack of economic expertise and administrative and political incompetence as regards decision-making, please read section 4 (on pages 4-10) and section 7 (on pages 20-22) of the two Attachments7 to this letter. (I prepared that document for the Crystal Palace Community Association in connection with proposed building developments in Crystal Palace Park and the proposed extension of Tramlink to the south-west entrance of the Park. [ . . .])

“4. The larger a project is, and the longer it takes to build, the greater is the risk of it going wrong—and this is not surprising, because the further we try to look into the future the greater the degree of uncertainty, because there is more scope for ‘shocks’ to occur, the longer the time-period we are considering.

“5. Other risks to consider are who does the financing and how the financing is done. Mr Norman Lamont introduced the idea of the Public Private Finance Initiative  . . . and  Mr Gordon Brown (as Chancellor) used the PPFI to finance the building of hospitals and schools, for the purposes of the book-keeping fiddle of keeping these expenditures off the public sector ‘balance sheet’.

“6.  I hope that the above alone will cause you to think hard about the High-Speed Rail Link.  But there are further reasons also.  Even if the money that is being contemplated for the HSRL were regarded as politically acceptable (even though economically daft) one should also consider whether that money could spent in other ways on other transport-projects.  For example, the drawback to London’s railway transport is that most of the traffic is going one way (into London) in the mornings and then going one way (in the opposite direction) in the evenings.

“7.  By contrast, if you look say at Manchester, Stockport and Liverpool, I suspect—but I have not done the research on this—you would find the passengers would be moving in more equal numbers than is the case in London between those three cities both in the mornings and in the evenings.  Likewise, I suspect, for (say) Leeds and Huddersfield or else for Birmingham, Coventry and Rugby.

“8.  Another thing that all three parties seem to forget—certainly Mr Boris Johnson and Mr Ken Livingstone before him—is that transport networks are supply-led (not demand-led).  Mr Johnson’s idea of proposing 3 new bridges within Greater London across the Thames would not ease congestion but increase it:  all such “improvements” act as ‘magnets’  to traffic.

“9. Another aspect of all big transport projects is that there are usually secondary effects–e.g. taking over agricultural land or bull-dozing well-established communities and their housing.  (I understand that “housing blight” has already affected several communities that are located on or near to the projected new railway-tracks for the HSRL.)

“10.  Paragraphs 6, 7 and 8 assume that public money that is contemplated for the HSRL might be spent alternatively on other transport projects. However, the sensible approach is to ask whether the money contemplated for the HSRL could be spent on more necessary or worthwhile projects, e.g. schools, hospitals and further education colleges and vocational-training schemes. (It is a disgrace that almost 1 million people aged 16 – 24 are out of work—the last Labour Government tried address this and started to succeed . . . until the present Conservative government scrapped it and then introduced a watered-down fashion of it.  [. . .]

“12.  One final point that is NOT concerned with HSRL.  I read that Mr Boris Johnson has an idea of developing part of east London with tower-blocks—he wants it to be a sort of Manhattan  (Mr Ken Livingstone had similar ideas [ . . .]) The snag with this project is that (a) Manhattan is about 10 degrees nearer to the Equator than London is and, therefore, the shadows of its buildings are not as long as would be buildings of similar height in London; (b) it is known that high-rise buildings are a cause of (or an aggravation of) social and psychological problems, and the people who live in them frequently feel a great sense of isolation. Presumably, the right-hand ‘men/women’ of  Mr Johnson and Mr Livingstone did not advise their respective principals.”

The last paragraph of the quoted extracts of my note to Mr Reed  12 might well turn out to be the sort of thing that the Chinese company has in mind as regards ’improvements’ to Crystal Palace Park!

4. Advice and Administration—some bad history that seems about to be repeated

4.1 When the proposal for a Multiplex development on the site of the old Crystal Palace Park was put forward over 7 years ago, Cllr Colin Smith (who was the Executive Portfolio Holder for the Environment and Leisure Committee of Bromley Council) of the appropriate (sub-)committee of Bromley Borough Council very kindly invited Crystal Palace Community Association (CPCA) and other interested bodies to attend the meetings of that (sub-)committee when the (now-defunct) London Development Agency [hereafter referred to as “LDA”] and Transport for London [hereafter referred to as “TfL”] made submissions/proposals for developments in Crystal Palace Park [hereafter referred to “the Park”].

4.2. After those meetings, I had some very fruitful correspondence with Cllr Smith, and both of us were worried that the economic ‘thinking’ (for want of  a better word) behind LDA and TfL’s submissions/proposals were either highly flawed or else simply lacking.

4.3 As you probably know, the official “vision” for the future of Park did not involve just the LDA but also TfL. TfL ran into such enormous amount of ‘flak’ from the public—and for good reason [see especially Section 4 of the attached document]!—that the LDA had tried very hard (and not without success) to distance itself from TfL as regards the future of the Park.  And yet the two bodies still conmtinued to work hand-in-hand—as they rightly should, even though the LDA tried to maintain the pretence in public that what TfL plans to do in the Park has nothing to do with the LDA.

(4.4  I should point here that Cllr Colin Smith alone, it seemed, of the members Of the committee which he chaired felt that something was badly wrong with the basis of LDA’s submission.)

4.5  I was much surprised–as were several other members of CPCA who attended at the end of August 2006 and to which Cllr Smith had warmly invited us—that the then-Chief Planner of Bromley Council(sitting next to Cllr Smith) did not immediately pounce on the [lack of a] economic and/or financial case that was put forward for the proposals for the park’s future by TfL and LDA to Cllr Smith and his Committee; on the contrary, the then-Chief Planner and all the other councillors present (viz. all those except Cllr. Smith) seemed to be content to accept TfL and LDA’s bland re-assurances without  any estimates of future benefits and costs having been submitted to him and the councilors present.

Perhaps I should have not have been surprised the lack of financial or economic substance to the proposals since—as one of  my [legally qualified] fellow-members of CPCA, Mr Mike Warwick, pointed out to me—that it was the selfsame officer who had advised Bromley Council that the Council did not have to take notice of British law or the European Union’s directives on planning and planning procedures, in spite of Mr Warwick having advised the Planning Officer at one of the meetings that there could extremely costly trouble ahead. It turned out that Mr Warwick was correct; Bromley Council was saddled with huge legal bills and, eventually, the then-Planning Office was sacked—er, sorry, was later made redundant.

4.6    It is in the hope—which is not running high from the way things look at present—that Bromley Council and its burghers can avoid a repetition of the costly and unhappy experience referred to in the preceding paragraph that I now attach (in two parts) the document, titled Some Observations on parts of the Facilitator’s Report issued in August 2006”.  The document attempts to explore some of the flaws in LDA’s and TfL’s ‘thinking’—cheerfully supported,  albeit in a state of woeful ignorance, by all parties on both Bromley and Croydon Borough Councils—on the economic, financial and some other aspects of plans for the future of the ParkI wish to emphasize that, although the document refers mainly to LDA’s and TfL’s muddle-headness, we have witnessed to a lesser degree (at least, so far) the same of sort of muddle and lack of preparation in Arup’s own organization and “planning”—the local government authorities can hardly escape the charge of incompetence either because the some of its officers did not know their job and/or because the councilors on certain committees have not been bothered to acquire any expertise in areas over which they make decisions—and, by virtue of what you and so many residents in the vicinity of Crystal Palace Park have seen of Arup’s “performances” in recent years, the attached document might help Bromley and its citizens having to suffer a repetition of the foul-ups of yesteryear.

4.7    The attached document was originally a document of about 12 pages; however, additions had to be made to it, as the extent of the muddle in LDA’s and TfL’s “plans” has become more apparent—the dates of the additions are clearly indicated—and, accordingly, the size of the document became double its original  size. Accordingly, I shall try here to give you a guide to the main parts of it.   (The Facilitator referred to is Nigel Westaway and Associates, who was paid by the LDA to facilitate (if you like business babble, or—in more straightforward English language—to ‘sell’) LDA’s proposals to the public.)

  1. A Guide to the attached document (which itself is in two parts)

CPCA–pp 1 -13 of 6th expand DIALOGUE 23-09-2006

CPCA–pp 14-24 of 6th expanded DIALOGUE 23-09-2006

5.0  The following paragraphs were  sent to other parties some time ago, and I alert you to that fact, simply because I have not changed any of the grammatical tenses of the sentences.

5.1 Working out estimates of the expected costs and benefits of any capital project takes a bit of effort on the part of the planners working in bodies like LDA and TfL, and when such an exercise is done sloppily [see the first part of Section 7 (on pp. 20-22of the attached document] we end up with horrors like the new building that houses the Scottish Parliament (costing 9 times more than the original budget) or like buildings and other amenities planned for the Olympic Games  2012 which, are now  (in February 2008) set to cost at least 30% more than the original budget (which is now admitted by its planning chairman not to have been costed in a proper manner) only 3 years after it was first set. Cllr Smith can pass onto you a copy [that he sent to me] of a list of further instances of financial and economic horrors, simply because  proper estimates of benefits and costs were not made and also because sloppily drafted contracts, left the ‘buyer’ (in the end, the tax-payer) badly out of pocket.                         

5.2  The lessons of Scottish Parliament’s building seem to have made no impact the LDA’s Senior Project Manager for Crystal Palace Park (Mr Roger Frith—I am told that he has recently left for “pastures new”):  he perceived it [see the Observation (on Comment 1.1) at the bottom of Page 1 et seq. of the attached document] to be LDA’s job “to respect the Mayor [of London’s] wishes, and he [the Mayor] wants the [extension of Tramlink] to go to the hilltop [within the eastern side of  Crystal Palace Park” [see the CPCA Newsletter (Autumn 2006), p. 4. column 2)] (The Mayor of London has said:

“I want to see some form of development on  the hilltop [in that part of the Park that runs alongside Crystal Palace Parade],  such as a hotel . . .”  [see the CPCA Newsletter (Autumn 2006), p. 4. column 1)]

One would have thought that it was the responsibility of a senior manager to tell his political boss(es)–in much the same way that senior civil servants advise Ministers whether a Minister’s plan is likely to be economically viable or not viable—whether the Mayor’s desire to extend Tramlink to the hilltop makes any economic sense.

5.3  In spite of numerous requests to do so [see (middle of) Pages 2-3 of the attached document], neither LDA nor TfL (which are both public bodies, whose staff are paid out of public monies!) will reveal their ‘thinking’. The community at large is left completely in the dark (a) as to any estimates—even rough ones—of the expected benefits and costs over time of proposals concerning the future of Crystal Palace Park [see Section 1 (on pp. 1 et seq.) of the attached document]  and—equally important—(b) as to the basis/techniques upon which such estimates are made.

5.4 In their (enthusiastic) proposal to extend Tramlink into the Park,  TfL and LDA seem to have ignored [see Comments 4.1 and 4.2 (on pp. 4-5) of the Attached document] the multiplicity of existing routes from Crystal Palace Park—and the attached document  devotes space only to eastward and westward routes! The proposed extension of Tramlink to Crystal Palace is not only an unnecessary duplication of existing services, it also involves–but TfL make little mention of it–the demolition of the homes of many people living on Anerley Hill (at what cost will they have to be compensated) and the aggravation of congestion on Anerley Hill that exists for much of the day. (The photograph shown in TfL’s publicity of Anerley Hill  is, of course, taken when the road was empty except for a single parked car; it seems—to judge from the direction and length of the shadows cast—to have been taken on a very fine day in mid-Summer at about 5:30a.m.!  Why indulge in ‘spin’, when a photograph of  an unreprestentative state of the traffic on a non-working day will do?!)   If the Tramlink were extended to Crystal Palace Park, what impact (if any) would it have on the frequency and standards of the rail- and bus-services itemised in Comment 4.2?

If the Tramlink were to be extended into Crystal Palace Park, what impact (if any) would it have on the frequency and standards of the rail- and bus-services itemised  in Comment 4.2 [on page 5 of the attached document]? (Incidentally,  Tramlink hasn’t told us . . . and one suspects, given the economic nonsense-on-stilts that seems to ‘inform’ its planning, it has not even tried to assess the impact.   One estimate—albeit a non-financial one—that TfL do announce in the publicity promoting the extension of Tramlink into Crystal Palace is the time that it will take for the journey by tram to reach east Croydon. This journey time is longer (albeit by only a few minutes) than the 12-minute journey time by train from Crystal Palace to east Croydon!  Tramlink may claim that the tram would have more intermediate stops than the railway-route currently has;  but—as indicated  in the attached document [see the lower half of Page 5]–the areas served by the intermediate stops are already very well served by the various bus-services.

In short, given the presence of so many alternative routes into and out of the Park, the extension would be a total waste of capital monies that could surely be better invested elsewhere.

5.5  Reference has been made earlier to the economic nonsense on stilts.  A woeful example of such nonsense is described in Comment 4.7 (on pages 7-8 of the attached document).   Double-counting is a mistake that one can forgive in a member of the lay-public but not in (purportedly)  professional planners. Even if they read little else of the attached document,  I hope you will urge Bromley’s councillors to make time to read the entirety of  pages 7-8. Although the criticism is specifically of TfL,  it must not be forgotten that LDA has been backing TfL proposals to the hilt . . . whilst, at the same time (as indicated in the second paragraph [on Page 1 of this letter]) trying to maintain the pretence in public that what TfL plans to do in the Park has nothing to do with the LDA. The fact that LDA cannot see the flaws in TfL’s thinking reflects badly on LDA’s own ‘methods’ of planning.

5.6  Cllr Smith and his Committee were told [at the meeting held at the end of August 2006 (see the first 14 lines of Page 7 of the attached document)—Mr Roger Frith, LDA’s Senior Project Manager for the future of the Park was in attendance, but said little (and certainly not in dissent of what TfL’s representative was saying)—that that the extension of Tramlink to Crystal Palace would probably generate “2000 – 3000 new jobs”.  What is the basis of this prediction?  What was/were the method(s) used for making this prediction. (Was this range of figures a range that the Mayor of London had told LDA to use?) What is the nature of the new jobs (e.g. accountants, shop-assistants, waitresses)? Are the jobs really“new” or are they simply existing jobs being transferred to Crystal Palace from elsewhere (e.g. Tooting Bec, Balham)?

Even if  ‘economies of agglomeration’ (as town-planners and urban economists and geographers call them) were enhanced by the new jobs,  what would be the  nature and extent of the diseconomies of agglomeration—which are frequently ignored in urban development-plans?

5.7  At the instigation of CPCA’a chairman (Mr John  Payne), I sent to Mr K. Baron, the Head(?) of TfL,  a letter (together with an earlier edition of the attached document) pointing out the economic weakness–and the implied wastage of public money—of TfL’s/LDA’s transport proposals on 16th November 2006;  he merely sent an acknowledgement, saying that he noted my comments ‘with interest’.  But, evidently, Mr Baron’s interest does not extend to TfL’s waste of public money.

5.8  But that is not the only waste of public money by the LDA.  The LDA (and also, at various points, TfL) have been engaged in various proposals concerning the future of Crystal Palace Park and of “expensive” [but unquantified] sum (as admitted by a TfL rep. many months at the part-open meeting of  Cllr Smith’s Committee held at the end of August 2006).  (The lack of quantifaction seemed not to worry your predecessor one jot!)  The word “expensive” was used by TfL’s own representative [see lines 4-7 on Page 5 of the attached document] and was not contradicted by LDA’s Mr Roger Frith’s, who was in attendance at the meeting.   The sums had not only been unquantified but (in many people’s view) unnecessary, because the proposals make no economic sense.

[5.9  Various members of CPCA (especially the chairman and a number of people on its committee and CPCA’s working party on planning and development) have also been asking repeatedly (at meetings or pseudo-consultations of a Dialogue process conducted by Nigel West and Associates on behalf of the LDA) for a breakdown of the various costs of the so-called ‘Dialogue’ process, because the estimates have been rumoured to be between £600 000 and £1 100 000 which, of course, is money spent by the LDA out of the funds which are provided by the council-taxpayers in the London boroughs.]

5.10 At public meetings of the (so-called) Dialogue process (facilitated by Nigel Westaway and Associates), LDA and TfL have put forward various proposals and invited the public to express their views. Unfortunately, these proposals have been a waste of time, because members of the public have not been able to express an informed preference; they have not been informed of the estimates of the expected benefits and costs over time of any of the proposals, of how those estimates are arrived,  or of what discount-rates are used in those benefits and costs. (To refresh readers’ memories or else—if they are not sure what is meant by discounting–a short description with a simple numerical example is provided at Comment 4.4 (on Page 6 of the attached document).)

5.11  It is basic to the rationale of any proposal that it should be put forward for consideration (with other, alternative proposals) only if the estimated economic benefits and estimated economic costs over time have been provided, and the former exceed the latter. (This was not done properly in the bid for the Olympic Games—as reported in various recent issues of Private Eye–and I myself sent a letter about 4 ½ years ago [see Comment 7.2 on page 21 of the attached document] to ‘my’ member of the Greater London Assembly.  It elicted no reply from him incidentally, because he was evidently in favour of the Games.)  [I ought to stress that I use the adjective “economic” deliberately because, in the present  context, benefits and costs of a social project are wider than those of “financial” benefits and costs–for example, “clean air” has economic (and social) benefits that would obviously not usually appear on a financial balance-sheet, because clean air produces no revenue or profit.]   However, it is only relatively recently [see lines 10-31 on Page 8 of the attached document] that Mr Roger Frith said that the LDA doesn’t use cost-benefit analyses!  No wonder a lot of questions are now (early-2008) being asked about LDA’s modus operandi !

5.12 As regards the process of collecting and interpreting the preferences of members of the public, there are many things wrong with it.  Latz and Partners (the German landscape architects engaged to re-design the Park) engaged The Dialogue Company—not to be  confused with the so-called “dialogue” process conducted by the Facilitators Nigel Westaway and Associates (appointed by the LDA)—and what you see written at Section 5(c) (on pages 16-17 of the attached document) is exactly what I have told Latz’  representative in London not only by e-mail but also face-to-face.

5.13  When we come to meetings of the Dialogue process facilitated by Nigel Westaway and Associates,  the participants have sometimes been invited to express their preferences and dislikes by the respective means of placing self-adhesive green spots and red spots next to various propositions written out on wall-charts.   The number of green spots given to each participant far outweighed the number of red spots.

5.14  I asked Mr Westaway personally about this imbalance and his reply was: “I want people to think about these matters in a positive way” [see the earlier paragraphs of Section 8 (on pages 22-23) of the attached document].   So much for a desire to make, in an unbiased manner, an assessment of public opinion!

Mr Westaway is not blameless when it comes to making the public distrustful of LDA—and of himself.  He has provoked much anger when, in spite of various Participants making requests that certain (important) points be recorded in his reports/minutes he has quite often either omitted them or, indeed, written the points to convey a meaning that is the very opposite to what was actually said. Just to pick one example.  At one open meeting, it was only by accident, in answer to a fairly innocuous question, that one of the representatives for the ‘LDA side’ let slip that blocks of luxury flats were planned for an area within the northern perimeter of the Park. The majority of participants were outraged that such an important development had been kept secret for so long from the general public. (The general public had little chance of knowing, because Mr Westaway had persuaded some [very foolish] members of his/LDA’s Working Party to sign up to some odious ‘gagging’ clauses [see Comment 5.9 (of Section 5 on page 16) and Section 6 (on pages 17-19) of the attached document] with regard to the meetings of the Working Party. The CPCA refused to be gagged—the terms of its constitution prevent it from withholding any information of public interest—and, accordingly, it withdrew from the Working Party.)

When participants at the aforementioned meeting learned of the proposed property development within the Park,  the LDA and Mr Westaway had do some furious back-tracking over the next few months, claiming to begin with that the proposed luxury property-development within the Park would be only a last resort if no other source of funds could be found for financing LDA’s plans for the Park’s future; then later publicity for LDA claimed that the building of the luxury blocks of flats had become now vital to the future of the Park.

It is to be hoped that Bromley Council will be much skeptical than it has hitherto shown itself to be, and that it will adopt a far more ‘probing’ attitude than it has hitherto displayed when it comes  to questioning LDA’s and TfL’s plans.

5.14 The LDA has repeatedly claimed that it has overwhelming support for its proposals (over 2000 signatures collected), but this is an untruthful claim [see last paragraph (on page 23) of Section 8], because the petition of the 6500+ signatures that opposed the bulk of the LDA proposals were not accepted by the LDA-appointed Facilitator (Nigel Westaway and Associates), because they were submitted a few days late after a deadline . . . even though signatures to the CPCA petition were still coming in after the deadline had passed.  (In fact, after I sent a copy of the attached document to the CPCA itself,  its chairman (Mr John Payne e-mail: cpca@onetel.com) told me that the figure of 6500 was wrong–it was over 7000!

5.15  For myself,  I am now of the view that, as far as I know, has not been considered by either LDA or Bromley Borough Council.  It is a view which, if adopted, would cost a minute fraction of the money that LDA and TfL spent (and are still spending) in  planning their ‘vision’ for the future of the Park. My view is that the Park should remain as it:  those parts of it that are a wilderness (which LDA and others refer to as a “mess”) should remain as a wilderness.

There is no harm in that, environmentally or aesthetically;  indeed, there is much to be said for having areas of wilderness in the Park, especially for children who live in poor inner-city areas, who have little in the way of green spaces near them.

(A possibility of having a fairly large green space in north-east/east London is being lost, because of the stadium and other facilities that are being built for the Olympics.  But this is in accord with much of Modern Urban Planning: if you see a blade of grass, concrete over it.)

I am re-inforced in this view after hearing evidence put forward by an expert witness who had been called before one of the committees (the Planning Committee, I believe) the London Assembly on Tuesday, 5th September 2006:  the witness was Dr Nicholas Falk, a founder director of the  32-year-old URBED (= Urban and Economic Development Group), 19 Store Street, London WC1E 7DH   E-mail: n.falk@urbed.com .  (See also URBED’s Website and Comment 5.1 (on pp. 10-11) of the attached document.)

In less than 60 minutes, Dr Falk gave an entertaining, but highly informative, exposition of some of the widespread beliefs and fallacies about ways and means of re-generating urban areas.  His talk was illustrated with  telling examples not only from U.K. urban areas but also from such areas in Europe and America. So, let us leave the Park (more or less) as it is:  a vast open space, a lung for gaining some [relatively] fresh air for much of London’s population and the tourists who visit the Capital City.

                                                                           Yours sincerely, Paul Hudson                                                      

 

 

FOOTNOTES:

1     I first became aware of this over 50 years ago when I worked in Australia.  It was decided by the professor of architecture and a few of his colleagues at a certain  Australian university to award the main architectural prize to a particular student.  The award was duly announced on the notice-board—fortunately for the professor and his colleagues, the citation which they had drafted  was not also pinned up on the notice-board at the same time as the announcement.

A day or so after the announcement, the professor of architecture was discussing the award-winning student’s project with one of  the professors of civil engineering. To cut a long story short, the professor of civil engineer guffawed: he pointed out that if the attempt had been made to construct the student’s project, then it would have collapsed before it was even half-way completed. Of course, as the winner of the main architectural prize had been announced, the professor of architecture and his colleagues could hardly retract the name of the winner without their losing face and, so, a new citation—it bore no relation to the original draft—had to be written to justify the prize being given to original nominee.

Architects, of course,  are not the only profession much prone to self-admiration.

Among  the biggest  professional ‘con’-men—apart from bankers, and estate-agents—are management consultants (often also accountants), and wonders why local government authorities as well as central government keeps employing them.  The following item appeared in The Evening Standard on 1st December 2006:    

   “   A lunch colleague was explaining the other day why he had quit his job in a management consultancy—he got fed up holding information back from the client so that the last third of any presentation could be turned into a pitch for the next bit of work (where they could ‘find’ the missing data)—only to find it harder and harder to escape his former colleagues, or those like them, from actuaries to remuneration consultants,  marketing gurus to investor relations counsellors.

“  The trouble with British business today, he said, is that it has far too many inputs from people who just don’t understand business.“

          Permit me to add to the piece just quoted. I know two people who have been manage-consultants and both have showed me samples of reports that they had written for their clients.

I was appalled by the superficiality of those reports—they wouldn’t have passed muster in the examinations for the second year of an undergraduate course in business studies! (I have been a teacher of economics and statistics in Australian, British and German universities.) I was tactless enough to explain to the two aforementioned people why I thought their reports were superficial; the flimsiness of their so-called ‘analyses’ were incredible . . . and I was much astonished at the size of the (huge) fees they received for such reports.

Computer consultants seem to be as bad as computer consultants: one has only to think of the computer systems recommended for the Inland Revenue, Passport Office, National Health Service and scores of others—see again issues of Private Eye published over the last 3 or 4 years—that have not been delivered and subsequently abandoned, or are well behind promised delivery-dates or are well over the original budget.

What strikes one as bizarre is that, notwithstanding that all these large failures of various consultants are published, central and local government authorities and commercial organizations continue to employ and re-employ them!

2   At the end of September 2005/beginning October 2005, the Secretary (Mrs Suzanne Elkin) of the Crystal Palace Community Association wrote the following to Messrs Ove Arup, who were the consulting engineers for the proposed Multiplex development in Crystal Palace Park well over 7 years ago:

“  At the latest meeting of the “Dialogue” held on 24th September [2005],  Ove Arup mentioned cited a number of advantages for south-east London if the Crystal Park  was developed.  One benefit that the Company and/or LDA mentioned was the increase in employment.  One of our members—an economist by background—was surprised to hear this (given that he had not seen any figures at any of the previous meetings of the “dialogue”, and that he was why he asked at the meeting whether the Company and/or LDA (= the London Development Agency) had undertaken any impact analyses and/or input-output analyses of the consequences of the various proposed (alternative) developments.

“    Our member was told in categorical terms that such analyses had indeed been performed, and that you would happily supply copies of such analyses.  This is very good news:  up to now,  the thing most striking about the “dialogue”-meetings—as the aforementioned member  has repeated to us more than once over the course of many months— has been the sheer paucity of estimates concerning the [discounted] time-flows of benefits/revenues and [discounted] time-flows of costs of any  of the proposed (alternative) developments.

“    Accordingly,  I now write to ask you if you would be good enough to send the CPCA  a copy of the various impact analyses and/or input-output analyses that you have made.  With these estimates before us, I feel that all we can all begin to have a far more fruitful discussion.

“I look forward to hearing from you shortly.”

Will you be surprised if I tell you that, in spite of the Company’s “happiness” to provide a copy of its impact analyses and/or input-output analyses, no such copy was ever provided?  This is just another piece of behaviour of the Company’s that makes residents in and around Crystal Palace Park so distrustful of the Company.

3Councillor Ms Val Shawcross MLA accused me, in spite of not knowing me from Adam, of being xenophobic; I am nothing of the sort—and certainly I am not racist either, as some of my relatives are Indian and Caribbean as well as European—but I base my opinions on what I read and hear from experts.)

4    Of course, Chinese developers (and resource-extraction companies) do not have—and have never had—a monopoly on riding rough-shod over ordinary people:  Indian and other developers are in the same game . . . and, of course, they are simply doing what was done during the days when the British, French, Portguese  and Spanish had empires.

5  I myself would have thought that The Poverty within Capitalism would have been a slightly better title.

6The fact that significant further benefits were “discovered” shows how ineptly executed the original cost-benefit exercise was!

7These same two selfsame attachments are also attached to this letter that I am now (14th March 2014) writing to you. They were originally written for display on the website of the Crystal Palace Community Association (CPCA) but, at that time, I had no idea that it cost money for the CPCA to maintain a website and, on account of the length of the attachments, the CPCA, very understandably, it could not afford to include them in its website pages.

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