Moves to auction London Underground's stations to the highest-bidding private companies threaten to destroy both the strong design identity of the stations and future projects.
Ministers are said to be close to a deal to split the network's infrastructure from train operations. Experts have forecast that privately-run stations, tunnels and tracks could clear the £1.2 billion backlog of improvements.
Under the proposals, firms would lease stations for up to 30 years. Train operation, still run publicly, would meet the government's pledge against total privatisation, ministers believe.
Julian Ross, who recently completed a study on replacing tube stations with more cost-effective modular pods, warned London Underground that design could fragment and 'go to pieces' under the proposals. 'When it leases stations, London Underground must specify what stations look like and how they perform. With private rail companies there is variation between service providers: some are good, others do the barest minimum to run the service,' he said.
Ross is concerned that the tradition set by pioneering station designs of the past, with strong unified identities, would be lost. 'There will be increasing inconsistencies at different parts of the network and design standards may change. If you got on at Amersham or Epping and they were totally different it would not look like a network for London.'
Jeremy Rewse-Davies, head of design at London Transport, criticised the government for not making a public statement to put a stop to the rumour- mongering.'It is all very unsatisfactory - we have no idea what is going on,' he said. 'The lesson from selling off the railways is that the best stations are cherry-picked by private companies.'