Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Third Report


Memorandum submitted by Mr Ian Charie


  1.1  This evidence is submitted by Ian David Charie. I have professional qualifications in Town Planning and Project Management, and am a full member of the Royal Town Planning Institute. I have worked in the town planning, development and project implementation field for over 15 years, 11 of those in London, and from September 1988 until March 1998 was Development Planner at the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) responsible for planning, development and project work within both the Tower Hamlets and Newham parts of Docklands.

  1.2  I have a strong general personal and professional interest in the Dome. I am a keen supporter of the proposal and take an interest in any major such project, especially one with such a close physical proximity to and relationship with the Docklands area. More importantly, I became closely involved with two particular aspects of the transport initiatives associated with the Dome; firstly LDDC was the planning authority responsible for granting the planning consent for the Cable Car project on the northern side of the river, and I was the lead LDDC officer responsible for progressing the proposal with the promoters Meridian Cable Cars Ltd and taking a report through to Planning Committee to secure planning consent. Secondly, I was also the lead officer in inputting to the Park-and-Ride strategy, similarly liaising with the New Millennium Experience Company (NMEC), their consultants (Colin Buchanan and Partners) and other parties, also securing planning consent for a Park and Ride proposal at the Limmo site, Canning Town.

  1.3  I believe I was in a pivotal position to understand some of the strategy approach to dealing with the all important issue of transportation access to the Dome for the Millennium celebrations, although, importantly, without any particular vested interests, am able to now make objective comments and statements regarding these issues. Since my move into private sector planning and development consultancy last May, after the time of the LDDC coming to the end of its life in March 1998 (and having stayed to the end) I have followed these issues with interest, although I have no continuing professional advisory, or other, formal role in these issues. In addition to knowing the location of the Dome site and its hinterland (on both sides of the river very well), I have also had a tour around the Greenwich Peninsula and Dome sites in October 1998.

  1.4  Although the remit of the Inquiry is wide-ranging, I shall limit my involvement to those areas in which I had a professional input during this time, or on which I have strong professional views namely; Transport, Ticketing; the Dome Fringe, and; Use of the Dome after 2000.


  2.1  In my work in connection with the cable car and park and ride strategy, I was privy to seeing reports prepared by Meridian Cable Cars Ltd (Traffic Impact Assessment, November 1997) and by Colin Buchanan and Partners. I have also read the Second Report entitled The Millennium Dome, Volume 1 Report and Proceedings of the Committee, and the Sixth Report entitled Not Only the Dome: The Millennium Celebrations In The United Kingdom, Volumes 1 and 2, Report and Proceedings of the Committee and Minutes of Evidence and Appendices. I have also actively read general and professional press articles on these issues since they became subject to articles being written. My evidence in the main relates to the cable car and park-and-ride strategy.


  2.2.1  This is clearly absolutely critical to the success of the Dome and the Millennium Celebrations. Perhaps it is relevant to remind ourselves that the JLE has been critical for a long time before the Dome became confirmed, particularly to Docklands, and that now with a "drop dead deadline" this is an "insurance policy" for the JLE being completed to the rest of south and east London's benefit. A fully operational service must be operating before January 2000, including 24 trains per hour (not 17) and with a full connecting service between Charing Cross and Stratford, despite the project difficulties at Westminster station. Anything less than this will lead to poor press, potential visitor reluctance to travel and self perpetuating adverse publicity and visitor inconvenience.


  2.3.1  The decision for the Millennium Experience to be a "non-car event" is the right one based on the straightforward geographical isolation of the site. Anything other would simply lead to "madness" on the roads and considerable frustration for both regular road users and visitors in the vicinity of the Blackwall Tunnel. The decision is also highly appropriate as we enter a new millennium and the need to seek a sea change in people's attitude regarding the use of the car. It is difficult to imagine a more national and prominent event to help try and plant the message that in these modern times we just simply can't expect to use a car all of the time, to get to all places for all needs. We have to hope that this is a message oft repeated—not only to avoid otherwise inevitable disruption on the roads close to the Dome, but also for the longer term, wider culture change that is necessary. Publicity in this area is crucial.

  2.3.2  Accepting the above then entails ensuring the availability and appropriate promotion of good public transport options and still making provision for those who choose, or may have little real alternative, to undertake part of their journey by car. Human nature for personal comfort and convenience, combined with families with children or elderly or disabled visitors and those living in remote areas or where travelling by public transport is precluded by reason of cost or inconvenience will travel by car. Everything must be done to reduce this as much as possible at peak visitor attraction times in particular. The main point of action here is to address the issue of cost, and this must be linked to integrated ticketing (see below, para. 3.0).

  2.3.3  Assumptions were made in the initial park-and-ride strategy that park and ride sites should be provided in relatively close proximity to many of the radial routes leading towards the Dome. This strategy has now been changed to provide park-and-ride sites further out of London, and, as a further reason, perhaps, where existing sites can be used without large cost in acquiring and constructing such facilities. There were flaws in the original assumptions—in that encouraging visitors to drive en masse to parts of south and east London, often at peak times (both morning and evening) would still lead to considerable congestion. However, having such facilities only very remote from the Greenwich Peninsula area will also lead to problems of "fly" parking in any locations where visitors could then continue their journeys by public transport (eg close to rail, tube or DLR stations).

  2.3.4  A balance is therefore needed recognising that many will still come by car. A clear strategy needs to exist, with very good advance publicity and certainty at the point and time of sale of Dome tickets that an advanced Park-and-Ride Ticket is also available. This also needs adequate contingency measures for those for whom the message of advance booking has not got through and arrive still hopeful of parking when at peak periods this may well not be a possibility.

  2.3.5  It is regarding these last few points that the NMEC strategy, at the time of my active involvement with these issues (March 1998), was not well advanced. As the local planning authority at the time, working in conjunction with LB Tower Hamlets as the Highway Authority, the LDDC was very aware of the inevitable criticism at the time of future operation of the proposed park-and-ride site that we gave consent for at Canning Town of problems of congestion on the surrounding road network or lack of contingency measures for overspill. As the public authorities concerned, we sought answers for a wide range of pertinent issues relating to operation, ticketing, marshalling and times of use of car parks and such issues as how an effective change-over between morning and afternoon visitors could be effected, and how a restriction could be imposed on cars leaving at peak evening times, for example.

  2.3.6  It has to be said that answers to the above issues were not well advanced, leaving some doubts about the potential effectiveness of such operations, manifested by a long list of conditions remaining to be satisfied prior to the implementation of the planning consent granted. There was almost an attitude from NMEC of "why are we being troubled with such issues" and a feeling of expectation of an easier ride through the planning process than we could possibly ever have given.

  2.3.7  While I am unclear of the detail of more recent proposals for park-and-ride, I hope more recently there has been a sharper focus of detailed operational issues than exercised in the pursuance of the initial set of planning consents in the early part of this year.

  2.3.8  It is a little curious that having worked very closely with NMEC to secure an acceptable planning consent for the Limmo site in Canning Town (close to the JLE Canning Town Station, just one stop from Greenwich Dome station)—given that there were, at the time of consideration of the proposal, and no doubt still are, many concerns—that, I understand this proposal is now being taken forward in private hands. This will mean that both the profits but also the management, have now passed out of the organising body (ie NMEC)'s control. Whether this proves to be the best operating regime for the year of the Experience remains to be seen but the early seeking of planning consents as part of a strategy, only for that strategy to be dropped indicates some of the muddled thinking that has characterised, regrettably, much of the approach towards the country's main Millennium celebration.


  2.4.1  Although a relatively small percentage of visitors are expected to choose to travel by riverbus (some eight per cent), this nevertheless appears to be another crucial, and more importantly appropriate mode of travel to NME. It is clear that this is another area where, in the beginning, there was inadequate preparation. It has been evident from the start that some element of public subsidy would be necessary for both Riverbus and park-and-sail operations. Again my experience at the time of review of the park-and-sail strategy was that the strategy, and the funding of it, were woefully lacking. I recall a meeting called by London Borough of Barking and Dagenham in March 1998, attended by all of the relevant local authorities (and LDDC) who were affected by the transport to the Dome issues, and called because of an over-riding common concern about the lack of state of clarity of the transportation issue. As well as general criticism of the park-and-ride strategy, there were pleas particularly from the Leader of Barking and Dagenham, which I was happy to support, for more consideration to be given to the issue of public subsidy for the construction of new piers to enable this laudable objective to be viable. I have to say that the degree of preparedness and ability to respond to important points of strategy by NMEC was less than adequate.

  2.4.2  Afterall, it would be a remarkable failure if Britain's major Millennium celebration, on the banks of the river Thames—the under-used artery in London—could not secure a riverbus service (admittedly where others have failed in the past) as an important integrated part of the transport strategy.

  2.4.3  As with previous failures in this area, the key is in being able to offer a regular, reliable service (offering the visitor certainty and flexibility with departures) with a pricing structure that links the service into other transport fares, namely the Travelcard system.

2.5  BUSES

  2.5.1  Although on its own this will never form a major element by itself of the chosen means of travel to the Dome, I was perturbed to read of the "reason" given by London Transport for their lack of enthusiasm for laying on services from central London direct to the Dome on account of the "length of the journey might vary according to the time of day and traffic conditions." (Culture, Media and Sport Committee Not Only the Dome: The Millennium Celebrations in the United Kingdom volume 1, para 28).

  2.5.2  Hopefully this disgraceful excuse has been replaced by a somewhat more positive attitude from one of London's key transport operators.


  2.6.1  It was early 1997 when, at the LDDC, we were first given a presentation regarding a proposal for a cable car crossing to access the Dome from the DLR at East India Dock. It immediately seemed an eye catching and imaginative proposal worthy of succeeding. We recognised the not inconsiderable technical and safety issues, but with a certain amount of enthusiasm, we were able to deal with all the planning related issues (straying into all sorts of borderline planning issues such as safety, ticketing and operational matters).

  2.6.2  Planning consent was duly granted in December 1997 (for the northern section) and right before the end of LDDC's planning powers then passing to London Borough of Tower Hamlets. It is fair to say, I believe, that with searching and rigorous questioning of the promoters, we actually helped shape and advance the proposal considerably, particularly, as there was a close inter-relationship with an adjacent development site and new main road proposal.

  2.6.3  It has been disappointing to read recently of the apparent failure of the proposal to secure adequate funding, and the seeming real risk of the project not being implemented. This is particularly disappointing given that a cable car would prove a significant attraction in its own right in addition to being a significant (and certainly spectacular) way of transporting visitors into the somewhat inaccessible Greenwich Peninsula. The argument over likely visitor numbers, and the suggestion that NMEC's conservative estimate of ridership levels caused funders to back off is a sad reflection on the lack of securing a real champion and political support for the project.

  2.6.4  I am aware of a number of concerns being expressed about the project; firstly, concern regarding Meridian Cable Cars (the promoters) Business Plan not being robust enough; robust enough for who? It appears to be adequate for the Directors of the Company and their funders, until NMEC worried the funders with pessimistic ridership figures. It is, in any case, difficult to present an over robust Business Plan on the basis that it has had to be prepared over one year only given the complete uncertainty about the future of the Dome and any question of whether there can be a case for the long term of a cable car (see para 5.0). Given that after the Millennium celebrations are over, the land will pass (on the south side) to English Partnerships, a more positive commitment from that body would have perhaps been helpful.

  2.6.5  Secondly, there has been argument over the visitor usage: if this really is an issue (rather than a mask) it must have been possible, or perhaps even is still possible, to secure an independent audit of likely cable car users. There must be sufficient clarity now in terms of the transport strategy to enable this to be done; why it has not been is frankly baffling. It either shows a weak case or poor promotion of the proposal—unless there are other insurmountable real difficulties. Even the transport consultants to NMEC (Colin Buchanan and Partners) have consistently confirmed figures for use of the cable car of between 6 and 13 per cent now stating 6.5 per cent, as opposed to the derisory and, I believe unsupported claim by NMEC that it will only carry two per cent.

  2.6.6  The important figure is the 15 per cent actual Dome visitors that the cable car can carry (rather than a marketing prediction), which represents a considerable safety valve in the event of interruption to the core transport means.

  2.6.7  Thirdly, I am aware of reference to a concern being expressed by NMEC in being reluctant to financially underwrite the project in the case of business failure. I understand that the promoters, and their funders and financial backers are not seeking and have never sought, that this provision needs to be made. If this is the case, why are NMEC peddling this line?

  2.6.8  There are a number of alarming discrepancies here. Further, there are a number of commercial issues to consider. I have heard reference to NMEC being concerned about the loss of sponsorship monies that they themselves may have been able to tap into if it were not for the cable car, and also that they see the risk of on-site spending power being lost to the cable car through "joy-riders". Both concerns, if there is any basis to them, represent an incredibly short sighted approach—particularly for what is supposed to be the event of the Millennium—which seems to put an over sensitivity on how the sponsorship/spending power cake will be cut up rather than on a sensible transportation strategy, with attendant attraction benefits to users.

  2.6.9  Given that the promoters of the project are represented through Docklands Railway Management Ltd (DRML), that provides the credibility in terms of an existing transport operator who is tied into this visionary proposal. It is real—not just a superfluous frivolity that seems to be getting in the way of the main event—even though that is sometimes how the proposal does seem to be being portrayed (certainly in the press) by NMEC. It can be said that at best they are doing little to help support the project, and at worst, are actively causing the plug to be pulled on the proposal.

  2.6.10  Within this sorry situation, it does seem that a serious lack of a champion, particularly at political level, has not helped in presenting the case and balancing the issues (including resolving the three concerns expressed in paras. 2.6.4—2.6.6). This may—regrettably—come back to the promoters of the proposal. However, it is also perhaps regrettable that the Minister for Transport, Glenda Jackson, who is in other respects showing a clear interest in all these matters does not appear to be minded to bring the necessary support to this proposal, and, if necessary bang the two heads together of the promoters and NMEC. It is also perhaps disappointing that, from the previous reports of Inquiries into the Dome, there does not seem to have been as full a review of the cable car proposal as with other transport initiatives.

  2.6.11  Picking up the capacity point from para. 2.6.5, it is worth reiterating that there is one significant transport related point which needs to be made here. If the new type of signalling system, or other elements on the JLE lead to delays or more significant loss of service at some stage during the Millennium year (as is perhaps inevitable), shouldn't the organisers be looking at all possible alternatives for getting people into or off the inaccessible Greenwich Peninsula? This surely must be a significant consideration when adequate transport access is so high on the agenda of making the Dome a success. Further, it just strikes me that NMEC must be looking for some good news about the Dome (because of course there is always much bad press floating around) and that an announcement about the cable car going ahead could just do that.

  2.6.12  It almost appears that within this, hopefully balanced, canter through the issues that there is "simply something missing", another perspective or issue that must be at the heart of this project's apparent near failure. That could, of course be a funding deficit or other financial guarantor issue, although this has not been claimed in public, so far as I am aware, and the promoters claim (as one might expect that they might do) that this is not a problem and that they have never needed any reliance on the public or NMEC purse. It must be the job of this inquiry to get to the bottom of why there appears to be a near failure to enable this worthy and imaginative proposal to proceed. Further, it must remain the hope that the submission of evidence to this Inquiry may not still be too late for investigation—if there is the political will—into enabling this project to succeed. Deadlines are tight, and if there is to be any realistic chance of salvaging this proposal before it goes down in history as the marvellous Millennium proposal that only nearly happened, then action is urgently required.


  3.1  My input to the park-and-ride and cable car proposals confirmed the view that whatever transportation strategy is pursued, it has to be attractive through the ticketing process in terms of price, ease of booking and offering a complete package of travel with visitor entry. There particularly needs to be travel incentive packages for those far out from London to encourage people to accept that the Dome is not just a London attraction. The next group who will need encouragement to travel on public transport are families, and again, discounted group tickets need to be available.

  3.2  Concessions, group discounts, repeat visits etc. should all form the backbone of a flexible and attractive ticketing policy. The ticketing process needs to be used, as well as major publicity campaigns, to remind people that they will not be able to bring cars close to the Dome, and moreover that if they are intending to drive part way, they are strongly advised to book an advance park-and-ride space as well. The sale of integrated travel and entry tickets must be available at all if not the vast majority of ticket outlet points.


  4.1  It is important that we get the rest of the Greenwich Peninsula right, in addition to the Dome, if the real legacy of sustainable regeneration is to be achieved. The Greenwich Dome underground station (which I have visited) is, indeed, worthy of a visit, and added to that—in due course—could be the first phase of the Millennium Urban Village and the convention breaking Sainsbury's store. In talking about the Dome being a showcase of British excellence in so many ways, it is important that the areas around the Dome can similarly be "shown off". Provision does need to be made for casual visitors, from the opening of the underground station onwards, and good signage and educational/interpretative boards are critical to this.


  5.1  This is a critical issue in the minds of the British public. There is a strong case to be made that the wider regeneration of the area, with the Dome as a long term centrepiece within it, would have been the right way to have approached the redevelopment at Greenwich Peninsula, rather than as is happening with the Dome itself actually driving everything else forward, arguably at the expense of options for the long term. How great it would have been to have left a wonderful legacy building for the future, whose use and purpose was assured and which was central to driving the process forward, with an interim use for housing the Millennium celebration.

  5.2  People will feel that the Dome project has been a terrible extravagance of spending if there is no long term use identified and implemented upon cessation of the celebrations. Britain has been through this loop before with the programme of five National Garden Festivals held every two years throughout the UK between 1984 and 1992 and from where I gained direct experience working closely on the 1986 Festival project for Stoke on Trent City Council. A large number of parallels can be drawn here; the primary aim in these cases was for the reclamation of a large area for which traditional reclamation programmes were not likely to prove appropriate, with the holding (in these cases) of six month Festivals aimed at visitors throughout the country with importance, also, placed on the long term economic redevelopment of the sites. If parallels are to be drawn, these projects also usually entailed an over emphasis in their preparation of the shorter term temporary use, sometimes to the detriment of the real long term planning.

  5.3  Arguably, though, the Festival projects that have since been analysed in terms of value for money and achieving the longer term developmental objectives (such as at Stoke on Trent) rather than the opening International Garden Festival in Liverpool in 1984 where promises of turning a considerably smaller dome structure into a sports and leisure facility for the local community failed to be achieved and led to raised expectations only to turn to accusations of mismanagement and misuse of resources.

  5.4  The lesson to be learnt from this is the importance of the long term. It seems inconceivable that there cannot be a viable and appropriate use for what will be a splendid new structure, on the riverside, with a dedicated tube station and the hopefully, proven track record as a major, successful visitor draw. Large space-users such as exhibition or sports use seem the obvious candidates for the Dome. It would simply be deeply disappointing if a real use, and user, is not identified by very early into 2001. There is also the issue of looking at a co-ordinated approach. By this time we will have a London mayor and the agenda for London based priority facilities will perhaps have emerged. One aspect of potential overlap that needs careful review is the provision of major international exhibition space; although being promoted by a wholly separate and credible team, the question of whether one site rather than the other better fulfils this need in London needs to be raised.

  5.5  This could, and should, reinforce the case for long term access to the Greenwich Peninsula, including the cable car. It could just well be that a cable car crossing at this point could have an enormously important role as a visitor and even business/commuter link at this point, if a suitable long term use for the Dome, of which it is so worthy, is found


  6.1  That an urgent review is taken of the background to decision making regarding the lack of support for the proposed cable car, and that if the business, funding and ridership cases are there, that every attempt is made to salvage the project.


Estimates of Meridian Cable Car Patronage

  When the Millennium Dome opens to the Public late in 1999 a number of ways of travelling to and from it will be available. These range from the conventional methods such as the Underground (Jubilee Line) to buses and the more unusual such as Riverbus and perhaps most unusually, at least for London, a Cable Car crossing the Thames. The so-called Meridian Skyway will link the East India Dock station of DLR with the Millennium Dome. The crossing will take less than four minutes and will be capable of conveying 2,500 people per hour in each direction. The average return ticket price for an adult will be approximately £3.50. It is expected that passengers using the Skyway will fall into three main categories. Firstly, those travelling in transit via DLR to the Dome or other activities in North Greenwich and completing their journeys on the Skyway. Secondly, visitors to Docklands will wish to sample this unique form of transport for its own sake and obtain the magnificent aerial views of the area. They will undertake a round trip from East India Dock to the Dome station, with or without alighting and then return. Thirdly, people visiting the Millennium Experience who undertake a round trip from the Dome station to East India Dock, with or without alighting and then return. These have become known as Transit, Round Trip from DLR, and Round Trip from the Dome.

  There has been some debate recently about the likely patronage that the Skyway will have and a number of studies have quoted firm estimates of patronage. These estimates must be suspect unless they state the assumptions on which those estimates have been made. Presented here are two independent views of likely patronage should the Skyway be built.

  The first view is that of DRML, the operators of the Docklands Light Railway. DRML believe that 10 per cent of the visitors to the Dome will travel via DLR and the Skyway. They see this figure as strongly dependent on marketing and joint ticketing arrangements with other transport operators. This same approach has seen patronage on the DLR increase ahead of original pre-franchise expectations. DRML also expect that up to 10 per cent of its passengers will go for a round trip from DLR. This is based on their experience on the leisure use of DLR over the last few years and is strongly dependent on the amount and type of marketing undertaken. They also see DLR and the Skyway as a way of diversifying transport to and from the Dome, particularly the cross river element. DLR knows only too well the problems of early unreliability in new railways such as the JLE and the Skyway would have the capacity to carry 15 per cent of the Dome visitors in such eventualities.

  The second view is that of Colin Buchanan & Partners. CBP have been producing transport studies and projections for a number of clients over the years. Recently they have been the major transport consultant advising the NMEC. Their patronage estimates like all such estimates are heavily dependent on pricing and passenger's perception of the benefits of the mode of transport concerned. CBP estimate that for the transit element of the Skyway patronage could be at a level somewhere between 4 per cent and 12 per cent of visitors to the Dome, dependent on the pricing policy, amount and effectiveness of the marketing and the level of public interest in the Skyway. In other words a marketing-led organisation would be able, to a degree, to control the level of patronage through advertising and pricing. Estimates of the number of round trips from the Dome will also be highly dependent on how it is promoted. CBP are in broad agreement with the assumption of 20 per cent or more visitors to the Dome taking the round trip experience if they had the option.

November 1998

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