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Ownership lets down transport design

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It was a surprise to see East Croydon Station revisited in the AJ (29.3.01). However, we were disappointed that the writer did not seek to understand the brief or the distinction between the design and the subsequent management. Or the detail that our scope ended at the bottom of the ramps and we did not design the refurbishment of the platforms.

East Croydon Station, designed in 1989 and completed in 1992, does provide a legible, easily used interchange and, as the writer commented, has accommodated the fragmentation of ownership and the introduction of ticket barriers and trams - yet is still recognizable. The station form, detailing, accessibility and services were designed for simple maintenance. One would not expect a car designer to be criticized if a car owner failed to service and clean their vehicle! Perhaps cleaning and maintenance have fallen between tenant and owner, but we agree that East Croydon is now due for a major clean, if not a refurbishment.

This is not surprising as the station has now been used by 220 million people! Our brief called for a station which would be used by 14 million annually.

During the design, development options for increased capacity were presented, but the 1.5 per cent increase in capital cost was not accepted. However the 55m clear span means that the ticket hall could readily be enlarged within the footprint of the site. Retail units were detailed to anticipate this. It is ironic that during construction, a travel centre which was designed next to the ticket office was omitted, British Rail choosing to let this as an off licence instead. Connex has now rented a space within an external parade of shops as a travel centre.

Tramlink clearly is a success in terms of usage. But it has delivered a poor level of infrastructure. The quality of design is poor; the hard landscape does not compare to the quality around the reintroduced trams in Grenoble, for example.

Regrettably the PFI process resulted in our early design studies being ignored. No visual criteria were included in the performance specification of the private public partnership.

Except in streets where wallfixed rosettes are used, the visual standard is worse than the area around the trams in Manchester. Our review of light rail (AJ 8.4.92) noted Manchester's problem of visual clutter. We commented that the 'development of a new transport system offers the opportunity to create a coherent language of design incorporating a high quality of architecture'. Croydon has not taken this opportunity.

Although we may share the writer's desire for wholesale change to Britain's heavy rail system, the need to work with the existing infrastructure is an evident necessity. This emphasizes the architect's role in working creatively with an existing urban context and engineering constraints to deliver a legible, step-free environment for the enjoyable access to what we trust is a reliable and safe transport system.

East Croydon Station does show that integrated transport interchanges can be built around existing infrastructure at a relatively modest cost. However, we do need to establish a clear vision of the future. For it to be a sustainable future, public transport has a key role to play.

Perhaps the next decade will see the establishment of the procurement methods and stable ownership arrangements which help to deliver this.

Michael Stacey, Brookes Stacey Randall

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