You could argue for years about Margaret Thatcher.
But it wasn’t what she did or didn’t do, that she leaves behind. In the course of history, there are only a few politicians, philosophers and sad to say despots and dictators, who have changed the world.
Margaret Thatcher showed that no rule or thought in traditional thinking is sacrosanct, when it comes to shaping the world. Since then we’ve seen lots of radical ideas work, that would have never even been thought of, had not Margaret Thatcher and a few others shown that you could do something different.
Would Tony Blair have been able to reform a Labour Party, stuck in the 1920s, without Margaret Thatcher showing what radical thinking could do? Or Ken Livingstone, reinvent himself, to make a comeback as the London Mayor. I suspect, if Margaret Thatcher hadn’t been a radical Prime Minister, we’d have had a succession of useless worthies in the last few years.
I’ll only give one example of where Margaret Thatcher ditched conventional thinking.
In 1982, conventional thinking, said that to attempt to retake the Falkland Islands after the Argentine invasion was utter madness, and many on all sides of the political spectrum said that to give the islands away was the best solution. How many people today, think that the decision to retake the islands was wrong? Not many I suspect! I’ve even met an Argentinian, who felt that we did his country a favour, by effectively getting rid of the evil dictatorship of General Galtieri.
Without Margaret Thatcher my life today would be very different.
After I had sold my first successful software; Pert7 to ADP, I received an offer to go to the United States to write a PERT system for a large US computer corporation.
How they got my number or the fact I’d sold out, I don’t know?
Soon after, I was approached to write a PERT system, which later became Artemis, so I turned the Americans down.
I suspect that if that hadn’t happened, I’d have eventually moved across the Atlantic, as it was just impossible to provide for a growing family with the tax rates, then in force.
i didn’t move, as neither C or myself could have ever lived abroad permanently.
But Margaret Thatcher’s Tax and other reforms enabled me to stay in the country of my birth. If tax rates were still as the eighty percent plus they were in the nineteen seventies, I doubt many of the brightest in the UK, would not have gone to where pastures were greener.
One aside here is a story from my accountant of the 1980s. A confirmed Socialist, he was not a supporter of Margaret Thatcher, but felt the tax reforms of the time were very good for the country. Although tax rates were lowered, her Chancellors were good at closing the myriad loopholes that had been developed by clever members of his profession. There may be a lesson here for today’s politicians, who need to both maximise the tax take and keep voters happy.
Years ago, I met the guy, who had project managed the installation of the telephone system on the Channel Tunnel. It wasn’t as simple as you’d have thought. I remember one problem he outlined in particular.
Say you are an engineer, customs officer or whatever, employed by the Tunnel and because you are French, you live in France, but your major place of work is on the British side. You want to make a phone call to your wife, husband or partner, to say that because of a problem, you’ll be late home for supper. Obviously, the same problem would apply to British employees working in France.
So is your call home a local call, which it would be if you lived and worked in the same country or an international call, which of course would be at a higher rate.
The solution was to make for telephonic purposes, the Channel Tunnel, its own country.
The guy who managed the installation was British, but he had a French-speaking mother, so BT probably made a good choice, as to who managed the installation of a rather complicated project.
Huddersfield is a Grade 1 Listed Building which means it is one of the finest buildings in the country. The others are three of the worst examples of how we designed and built stations in the 1960s.
So it got me thinking about what are the worst examples of 1960s architectural design, that I’ve seen. I’ll start with the three I’ve already named.
Euston station - I probably went to Liverpool a couple of times from Euston before the current station was built and I have vague memories of catching trains there during the building in perhaps 1965 to 1967. The design shows classic “Think Small” attitudes as it was deliberately built with foundations that couldn’t support development above. Only twenty or so years later, Liverpool Street station was remodelled, which shows how good design can be applied to old buildings. Since then St. Pancras and Kings Cross have been rebuilt using similar thought processes to those used so successfully at Liverpool Street. One does wonder what would have happened at Euston, if the rebuilding had been a few years later. Euston is now to be rebuilt for HS2 and I suspect they’ll get it right this time.
Euston has another big problem, that you don’t see on the surface. The Underground station is one of the worst in London, with no step-free access, innumerable staircases and escalators and a dingy cramped ticket hall. The only good thing about Euston station is that coming off a train, it’s easy to walk to a bus, as I did last night. But try taking a heavy case on the Underground.
In some ways, Euston’s problems with the Underground should have been solved, when they built the Victoria Line, which opened at around the same time as the new Euston station. It just showed how bad project planning was in those days. The fact that the Victoria line was built on the cheap didn’t help.
Highbury and Islington station – This suffers badly because of the decision to build the Victoria Line on the cheap. Again it is not step-free and it perhaps is one of the worst stations for disabled access in the Underground, as when you get down the escalator, you then have a tunnel and a staircase to get to the platforms. At least the Overground platforms have lifts to the surface. Since I have moved to the area, the station concourse has been opened up considerably and it is not dark and cramped like it was a couple of years ago. To be fair to Transport for London, I think they’ve achieved the improvement without using tons of money. But solving the problems of access to the underground platforms will be very expensive.
Manchester Piccadilly station – This suffers in that it doesn’t have enough platforms and lines. Additionally, of all the main stations in the country, it probably has some of the worst connections to other means of transport. It makes you wonder if it was designed as a cheap stop-gap solution to accept the new electric trains from London. They are spending a fortune on the Northern Hub, but will it get rid of all the hangovers from the 1960s and all the resulting layers of sticky tape? Only time will tell, but judging by the improvement of planning in recent years, it probably will. If you want to read about planning failures in the area, read this Wikipedia topic about the Ordsall Curve, which is a crucial part of the Northern Hub. It would appear that it had the go-ahead ( and money) in 1979.
So that’s dealt with yesterday’s examples, what others can be added to this list?
Kings Cross station – Although not specifically 1960s, but a few years later, this now virtually demolished extension was best described as a wart on the face of the Mona Lisa. The man who designed it, must have had the biggest conservation stopper of all time. I can’t wait until I see the new Kings Cross plaza in the autumn.
Various stations – There were a lot of stations built in the 1960s that I don’t like, although some are listed. I would start with a short list of Harlow Town, Stevenage, and Walthamstow Central. Railways have a lot to answer for, but some of their worst excesses were reserved for buildings like this signal box in Birmingham. Many reckon that Birmingham New Street station is another bad example, but at least the operation of the station seems to be pretty good. In fact the planned reconstruction of the station; Gateway Plus, is all about greater passenger comfort. So yet another 1960s monstrosity will bite the dust. Gateway Plus has this condemnation of 1960s thinking.
The current New Street station was built to cater for 650 trains and 60,000 passengers per day, which was roughly the same usage it experienced when it was first constructed. It was believed that demand for rail travel would decrease. However, it now caters for 1,350 trains and over 120,000 passengers – twice its design capacity. Passenger usage of New Street has increased by 50% since 2000. It is predicted that passenger usage of the station will increase by 57% by 2020.
We do seem to have cut corners for decades and only now the chickens are coming home to roost.
The last time, I walked through here on my way to Liverpool Street station, I’m sure there was a building.
But it’s gone now to be replaced by a new 5 Broadgate, which replaces 4 and 6. Those buildings didn’t live as long as I have so far!
Note that it will be completed in 2015. That shows what I think is a very tight timetable and probably some good project management.
The Cambridge Busway may be running fairly well now, but it still seems to cause trouble for politicians, as this report shows.
At least though the Edinburgh Tram has come along to give the busway company in the book of bad projects.
This has just been announced and you can read about it here in the Independent.
Various commentators and politicians have said that this is all down to good project management.
Sadly, there is no credit given to those that started the project management software revolution in the 1970s. It is truly an unheralded mainly-British software development, of which I played a small part.
It is being reported this morning, that the Midlands Main Line from St. Pancras station to Sheffield is going to be electrified. At present it only goes as far as Bedford, which must be one of the most stupid planning decisions by Railtrack and its predecessors.
But then there are several cases, where electrification stopped in the UK, rather than continue to its logical conclusion. I remember as a teenager, that the original plans for electrification in East Anglia included the branch line to Felixstowe. It should probably have included Ely to Norwich and Norwich to Yarmouth as well. Now there is a strong case to electrify Ipswich to Peterborough to haul all that freight from Felixstowe. Although the last bit would be difficult due to the number of bridges on the line, but hopefully when the line was upgraded for larger containers, they did it to allow for electric wires as well. But knowing the muppets in the Department of Transport, that like to think it’s their railway, deliberately didn’t, so that electrification would stay in the sidings.
This is what surprises me about Midland Main Line electrification being announced. Logically, it should be done before the Great Western, as it is a smaller scheme, doesn’t have a difficult tunnel like the Severn Tunnel and many of the current trains can be converted to electric operation, as I posted here. I think it is mostly three track too, which helps with the engineering.
But when do governments do things logically?
Have they seen sense or does Justine Greening read the railway press?
It will be interesting what is said on Monday.
Thinking about this more, we have to take into account the fact that a spur into Heathrow from the west has also been announced. Putting my old project management hat back on, I can’t help feeling that underneath all this is some very good project management. Three electrification projects on the go at the same time, all relatively close together mean that the expensive electreification train that Railtrack has bought can be fully utilised.
Wimbledon has shown that with a bit of planning, you can avoid the problems of the weather. In 1993, they unveiled a plan to create a venue fit for the 21st century. Now nearly twenty years later, they have completed that plan. Here’s a simplified version of the plan from Wikipedia.
Stage one (1994–1997) of the plan was completed for the 1997 championships and involved building in Aorangi Park the new No. 1 Court, a broadcast centre, two extra grass courts and a tunnel under the hill linking Church Road and Somerset Road.
Stage two (1997–2009) involved the removal of the old No. 1 Court complex to make way for the new Millennium Building, providing extensive facilities for the players, press, officials and members, and the extension of the West Stand of the Centre Court with 728 extra seats.
Stage three (2000–2011) has been completed with the construction of an entrance building, club staff housing, museum, bank and ticket office.
A new retractable roof was built in time for the 2009 championships, marking the first time in the tournament’s history that rain did not stop play for a lengthy time on Centre Court.
A new 4000-seat No. 2 Court was built on the site of the old No. 13 Court in time for the 2009 Championships.
A new 2000-seat No. 3 Court was built on the site of the old No. 2 Court and the old No. 3 Court.
It just shows if you take your care at the planning stage and get everyone on your side, you get a better outcome. The only mistake, they seem to have made was underestimate the success of the roof on Centre Court and not put in provision for a roof on No. 1 Court. I suspect though, that engineers are seeing No. 1 Court as their next challenge.
It is interesting to compare Wimbledon’s progress with the dithering the French have been through about expanding or relocating, the venue for the French Open.
Wimbledon have also had the last laugh, in that they will be hosting the tennis at the London Olympics. What odds can I get on a Federer-Murray final? After all one will be hoping to prolong a winning streak and the other will be looking for revenge.
The Shard is charging £24.95 to go to the top. The Emirates Cable-Car is different and it costs just £3.20 to actually get somewhere. The London Eye is very coy about tickets and I think it costs £15, with the ability to pay extra for fast-track. You get fast-track for nothing on the cable-car if you use your Oyster card.
It strikes me that the choice is a no-brainer. Go on the cable-car, if cost is important to you.
One important point, is that all three projects have been realised by the MACE Group.