Latest ‘Watson whim’ generates ridicule and confusion

As well as little proper consultation over the closure of a stretch of Croydon High Street, there doesn’t appear to have been much thought gone into what Mark Watson, the soon-to-be-ex councillor behind the scheme, and the council intend to do with this suddenly traffic-free stretch of the town centre.

Watson’s whim: this has been designed by ‘a multidisciplinary design collective whose projects aim to reconnect the physical elements of a place with its social dimension’, apparently

The latest “Watson whim” has generated ridicule and bemusement in equal measure since it appeared on Croydon High Street.

The small construction appeared at the Katharine Street end of the closed road just before Christmas. Not big enough for a usefully sized stage, it seems too forbidding to be public seating.

It looks like something knocked together from a clearance sale of off-cuts from Ikea.

“What the fuck is it?” was typical of the responses on social media.

“Should have put a hot tub in it,” was someone else’s comment.

According to a press release from the Town Hall propaganda department, it is an “installation of a new, modern seating structure” which is “the first in a series of exciting works to get under way in the newly pedestrianised area of the town centre’s High Street”.

See that? “Exciting”. Get the bunting out.

The gushing press release continues: “Designed by The Decorators, a multidisciplinary design collective whose projects aim to reconnect the physical elements of a place with its social dimension, the new public seating structure aims to rejuvenate the newly formed space.”

Mark Watson at a recent council meeting: didn’t he know it gets dark and cold in December?

Newly formed space? We thought the space was there all the time. Has anyone told Stephen Hawking?

And “a multidisciplinary design collective whose projects aim to reconnect the physical elements of a place with its social dimension”? Seriously?

Watson is the Addiscombe councillor who opted not to seek re-selection after he so antagonised fellow Labour members in his own ward over a one-way road scheme that favoured his own street, Lebanon Road, at the expense of residents on neighbouring streets.

His track record with other streets while in power hasn’t been altogether successful, either: it was the £1.2million Watson-backed scheme on Surrey Street which managed to drive away nearly half of the existing street stall traders, replacing them with lots of second- and third-rate artwork, or Watson whims.

In the council’s press statement on the “seating” on Croydon High Street, the quote attributed to Watson seems almost to admit that the road closure was done in such a rush that there was no real plan in mind as to how to use the newly pedestrianised area (which pedestrians are hardly using). Certainly, there’s no trace to be found of such “innovative” or prestigious seating to be found in the proposal document which the council’s consultants were hawking around less than six months ago.

“I’m sure the new seating in this area will prove to be a popular addition to the space when the warmer weather arrives,” said Watson, the man who clearly had no idea that it gets colder and darker in Croydon from October to December…

Of course, by May, Watson may have plenty of time to make use of the High Street bench.

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10 Responses to Latest ‘Watson whim’ generates ridicule and confusion

  1. At least the fancy bench will give the drunks somewhere to lie down rather then the cold pavement. It looks like it will wash down easily which will make life easier for the poor sods who have to clear up the pools of vomit before the general public reappear in the morning.

  2. “a multidisciplinary design collective whose projects aim to reconnect the physical elements of a place with its social dimension”? Really?

    Is Mark Watson taking the piss deliberately?

    His whim is yet another example of this Council not consulting or listening to people in Croydon.

    Firstly they do not carry out adequate or any consultations on planning applications, often failing to meet their statutory minimum requirements (as if they care, as this has been pointed out numerous times). So Croydon consultations are now worse than any Tory planning authority.

    Then they completely fail to carry out their statutory duty to conduct Equality Impact Assessments for scheme that effect people in the environment, which would reveal that most of their schemes would make the environment less accessible to the elderly and the disabled. [Oops, my mistake, they dropped the ‘Environment’ from any Council considerations in 2006].

    Sadly there are some officers under the misapprehension that they do take equality impact into account, clearly demonstrating that they do not have a clue what it involves or means. Just as Councillors seem to believe protecting the ‘Environment’ is all about street cleaning and refuse collecting, which it never was. These are truly sad days.

  3. Lewis White says:

    I must go to see this structure. As a designer of outdoor public projects myself, I have some experience in this field. I like the parquet flooring-type deck design, but have some serious design safety queries as result of the picture, which shows no perimeter protection to stop people falling from the edge.

    This is an unsupervised structure, clearly intended as a deck for public use – so safety is vital – and the law is clear on this.

    I am wondering whether the design was signed off by qualified building inspectors working for the council or by a qualified structural or civil engineer.

    Or that it has has been submitted for – and passed – a design safety check by RoSPA.

    It is not a building, nor is it part of a building, so is perhaps not specifically covered by the UK building regs, but it is equivalent to a raised deck, and the regs would be used as guidance in the event of an accident. It is undoubtedly a free-standing structure on the Public Highway which the public are invited (a quaint but serious legal term) to use without control by staff of the council.

    Building regs say that any deck higher than 380mm must be guarded with fencing of an appropriaie height and design.

    If an accident occurs, expert solicitors will ask the council if the necessary safety measures were in place. If a child falls off the edge, and it is deemed by experts and lawyers that the deck can be used as a piece of play equipment, it would need to be designed to meet the appropriate play safety regs.

    Decking in our damp climate can also be slippery – decks like this need abrasive anti-slip strips.

    I wonder if the council could produce such a risk assessment. Their designers (sorry “Decorators”) should have provided one as part of their design. The structure is not supervised, and a warning notice about “unprotected edge” would probably not be enough.

    I might be sounding a bit over cautious, and maybe a French council would laugh at me for this, as their views on Health and Safety are somewhat “relaxed”, but sadly, accidents are very good at what they do, which is happening.

    Is it insured by the council’s insurers against claims arising in the event of an accident?

    The council owe a duty of care to the public using the structure and a duty to the Council Tax-payer to minimise exposure to insurance claims which are a major drain on council resources.

  4. Is there no way we could persuade Councillor Watson to go earlier than promised?

    He seems determined to make a mess of the town and waste our money until the very moment of his departure. There is not one of his projects that has not been a total waste of cash and which has, in any way, enhanced the town.

  5. From what I’ve seen of it so far, it is a great place for people to dump food and drink packaging. If you are going to have a seated area you need bins because we all know people will just drop and go due to laziness if one isn’t close by.
    Although the comment by Lewis is excellent I do despair reading it. No wonder simple things done by councils or the government are so expensive. Personally I think they should have done things like repaving the area and raising the road before adding this “feature”. Given that it is designed to drop across the Kerb I guess there will be no repaving.
    Glad to see our Labour council doing what they are best at – wasting money on silly schemes. Having said that, if done right this could be excellent, but the simple fact is that is isn’t being done right.

  6. And politicians wonder why people regard them with such contempt.

  7. Lewis White says:

    I would guess that this stage-like structure is a temporary filler, as enough funding is not as yet available for a permanent urban design project.

    In terms of design and functionality, this structure is a level stage placed on a sloping street.

    It does not really work as a seating feature, unless users are happy lining up like targets on a shooting gallery, legs a-dangling over the sheer edge of the deck. OK, great to show off those slashed jeans in the above-the-knee zone, but had the structure been designed with a series of steps, it would have given better scope for users to sit and socialise, like a chill out zone in the street. (with litter and recyclables bins close by)

    Gentle stepping on the sides would also have avoided the abrupt sides, and would not need guarding that I am sure is needed for safety.

    David Squires mentions litter. Good point– can we really expect the Veolia street sweepers to get on their hands and knees to get the soggy fast food wrappers and drinks bottles out from under the stage? The open sides are a bit odd, as well.

    Whilst my safety comments might seem a bit negative and over-detailed, in reality, every design has to be assessed for safety, as a matter of a designer’s professional duties. It should be possible without wasting any time, to devise a creative design that works, looks right, does something for the street and the people, and is safe in normal use.

    Looking back briefly, I’m wondering whether the Council thought to have a design competition, to invite the public and / or environmental designers to submit ideas for a temporary street feature.

    Let’s hope that the council truly engages the businesses and public in designing the permanent scheme.. Engagement = involvement = interest in / ownership of design by public = greater vitality, and chance of success !

    That would be good !

  8. veeanne2015 says:

    High Street closure had ‘significant political support from Local Councillors’ ? Did all of them approve the scheme, or were they afraid to oppose it because of possible non-selection for election candidates or demotion by the ‘gang of 4’ dictators ?

    The 6-month trial was a farce – permanent closure imposed without analysing the resultant effects.
    So who benefits ?
    Not the residents whose hard-earned money is being spent on consultants, designers and alterations.
    Not the bars, restaurants and shops suffering an apparent down-turn in trade. (The ‘new lay-out’
    NOT ‘boosting night-time trade’ as Mark Watson suggested ! Nor ‘encouraging the night-life with out-of-doors eating’ – rarely warm or dry enough for outside eating at NIGHT !)
    Not the pedestrians mostly still walking on the wide pavements, few on the ‘pedestrianized’ road, so ‘easing the walk from Katherine Street and North End’ is also nonsense !
    Not the bus passengers from the north wanting the Post Office, Market and shops (Primark etc.), or those going south with heavy shopping, unappreciative of the extra walk imposed on them.
    Nor 109 passengers no longer able to easily change from other bus routes in Katharine Street.

    Were the bus DRIVERS ever asked for THEIR opinion on these re-routed journeys – congestion at bus stops, queues back to Park Lane and the central crossing etc.?

    This is said by the Council to be a ‘medium-term solution prior to redevelopment of St. George’s Walk’. So what is the LONG-term solution should the developers decide they do not want buses through the centre ? Re-open the High Street again – or will passengers have to walk to the other side of Park Lane to catch a bus with the only route south down the flyover slip-road ?
    Perhaps the Council should consider THAT before they spend more of our money on ‘exciting’ projects in the now-closed High Street !

  9. Lewis White says:

    Glad that Veeanne has highlighted buses. In this day and age, most councils sensibly want to make their town centres as accessible to public transport as possible, to get people right in to the shops in the centre. Bus stops should be made as comfortable as possible, and be well located, not “round the corner and miles away”. Especially to make life easier for wheelchair and buggy users and those who find walking difficult.

    Please could the council’s transport planning and urban designers really do everything to ensure that bus stops are located in the right places when the “permanent” design for the redveloped St George’s Walk is considered in the coming year or so.

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