2016 wasn’t all bad. To mark the end of what turned out to be quite a year and bring Surveyor/Transport Network’s readers some festive cheer, here are the Top 5 stories that we have enjoyed covering in the last 12 months.
1) Flexible? Just show me the camera…
Spending £40m on a project that achieved next to nothing is a pretty serious business but what we found amusing over the year was not just the attempts of ministers to claim the contrary but their willingness to pose with a giant mock up that is equally useless.
Paul Maynard (second from left)
In the face of a possible National Audit Office investigation, the Department for Transport has been unwilling to confirm the demise of the South East Flexible Ticketing (SEFT) programme and has continued to cite rail companies launching plastic versions of paper tickets as its achievements.
There was the then rail minister, Claire Perry, launching an oversized ‘smartcard’ in April and her successor, Paul Maynard, this month, promoting what campaigners called ‘a total waste of money’.
However the DfT may have been outdone at the last hurdle by the Department for International Development (DfID)'s truly historic mistake...(read to the end)
2) Let it snow
This year Oldham Council claimed that its competition to name its new gritting machine had ‘not only captured the imagination of Oldham residents but the whole nation’.
Not to be outdone, Connect Plus Services, which services the M25 road network on behalf of Highways England, asked its customers to name its winter fleet and claimed to have received ‘200 suggestions from local schools, our customers and staff’.
The newly named winter fleet are: Polar Express (Kent); Gruffalo Gritter (Essex), Snow Surrender (Buckinghamshire), Blizzard Basher (Surrey), Sir Gritalot (Kent), Gritty Gritty Bang Bang (Greater London), Salt-a-saurus (Hertfordshire) and Roger Spreaderer (Surrey).
His Royal Highness Prince Charles
3) Prince and the silent revolutions
In the year that music legend Prince ended his purple reign, 'namesake' Charles was accused of ‘putting a word in' with the council to have the road outside his Gloucestershire estate resurfaced to give him a peaceful night. The council rubbished the story, dismissing the concerns of local residents who claimed that the road had been resurfaced to a unaturally high standard.
His royal highness had also made the headlines for the wrong reasons earlier in the year, when his car was involved in a collision with a deer at Balmoral. On which subject, transport secretary Chris Grayling’s December went from bad to worse when video emerged of him knocking a cyclist flying with the door of his ministerial car.
4) Boris bashing, Khan hopping
We’re not saying Sadiq Khan, elected in May, is a better Mayor of London than predecessor Boris Johnson, but Mr Khan certainly would – and loses no opportunity to do so. Promising to cut waste at a ‘flabby’ TfL, he told us that ‘The previous Mayor refused to do it’. ‘TfL will be spending twice as much on cycling over the next five years compared to the previous Mayor,’ Mr Khan told us. The money his predecessor wasted paying to store ‘redundant’ water cannon ‘beggars belief’, while ‘Both the previous Mayor and the Government failed to get their act together to meet legal pollution limits’.
Along the way, we’ve noted that Mr Khan’s ‘hopper’ bus fare wasn’t quite the one he pledged during the election campaign and that he gave the go-ahead for a Silvertown road tunnel part-funded by a user charge, something he once told us could be seen as ‘a tax on East and South East Londoners’.
5) White elephants past and yet to come
Speaking of troubled bridges over water, the Garden Bridge has rarely been out of the headlines this year, with Mr Khan firstly backing it on the basis that more taxpayers’ money would be lost if it were cancelled, then asking former Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chair Dame Margaret Hodge to conduct a review. In the Autumn current PAC chair Meg Hiller called the saga ‘a sorry tale’ about how high profile individuals can gain access to funds with little risk.
But that possible waste of taxpayers’ money cannot compete with what MPs called the ‘staggering’ decision to build a £285m airport on the Atlantic island of St Helena that cannot be used by commercial aircraft. In a scathing report, the PAC accused the Government of being ‘evasive’ as to who should be held responsible, having failed to take into account the dangerous conditions caused by ‘wind shear’. They pointed out that wind shear is not just a well-known concept in airport construction but was observed on the island in 1836 by Charles Darwin.