The management of even straightforward pieces of street furniture continues to be beyond the capabilities of some of the council’s six-figure-salaried executives
As the chill winds and rains arrive with autumn, council officials snug in their offices in Fisher’s Folly appear to be in denial about the borough’s missing bus shelters, which were ripped from Croydon’s pavements 18 months ago with the promise of some architect-designed hi-tech replacements.
Inside Croydon was first to report the removal of the old, reliable bus shelters – you know the type: with a roof and a side, often providing seats, too, which keep the worst of the rain and wind off passengers while they wait for their bus to arrive.
And this month, we have reported the apparent business difficulties of the fledgling company, Valo Smart City UK Ltd, which has failed to submit its annual accounts on time (hardly something to inspire confidence) and has been taken to court, twice, for unpaid bills worth tens of thousands of pounds.
Croydon’s high-paid execs in the “Digital Team” handed a 10-year contract to Valo Smart City – we don’t think that the use of “smart” is intended ironically – on the promise that the company would generate £6.8million in income for the cash-strapped council from road-side advertising. Even though Valo had never built a bus shelter before. Nor had any evidence of selling a single ad in this country.
This news website is not alone in being concerned for the plight of Croydon’s discomforted bus passengers.
Earlier this month, one resident wrote to the council’s “Contact Centre” to express their concern over the vanishing bus shelters.
The council’s “customer service advisor” did actually reply, to the effect that bus shelters are nuffink to do with us guv, and suggesting that the resident should call Transport for London. This, of course, was false and misleading information from Croydon Council, which in fact has responsibility for at least 185 bus shelters around the borough.
Worse was to follow.
Dissatisfied with the council’s Contact Centre response, the resident asked again.
This time they got a reply from someone in the “Croydon Digital Team” who failed to provide their name. Might it have been a personal missive from none other than Opama Khan, the council’s “head of digital services, access and reach” who has been responsible for the deal with Valo?
After all, Khan’s online profile says that she is a ““.
The Digital Team’s anonymous response is dated September 22 – nearly a year after they had originally said that new bus shelters were due to be installed (October 2021), and two months after Valo Smart City received the second of its two County Court Judgments for unpaid bills.
The council’s reply is reproduced below in full.
It is worth noting that the planning authority referred to here is Croydon Council itself and that the council knew at least by October 2020 that the old bus shelters were to be removed. This, though, according to Croydon Council is “a complex infrastructure project with many moving parts”. Poor dears…
They also fail to mention the objections to the planning permissions from the police, who seem to think that the proposed free wi-fi on Croydon’s street corners will just make life too easy for our local drug dealers.
The council’s nameless operative wrote:
“Thank you for your enquiry concerning the bus shelter programme.
“Our concessionaire partner, Valo, is currently finalising details of the installation programme. As you can expect, this is a complex infrastructure project with many moving parts.
“The logistics of deploying smart bus shelters with digital advertising panels at 185 sites across the entire borough include working with Planning to gain digital advertising consents, managing third parties for the fabrication and install [sic] of bus shelters, advertising displays, wayfinding screens, environmental sensors, full fibre connectivity, free public Wi-Fi, power, and other technology.
“The project has been progressing well, manufacturing of the equipment is underway, civil engineering and installation works are being planned with contractors. Detailed discussions with and applications to UKPN to secure power connection to sites are underway.
“Most importantly above all, Valo is diligently working through the Planning process to gain digital advertising consent through the Croydon Planning Authority. This is a lengthy process.
“Each site requires an individual application which goes through a consultation with multiple external parties prior to review by planning officers to determine a decision. Valo has submitted applications, we have a number of consents and are awaiting further consents whilst preparing applications for remaining sites. Consents are required before any installation can commence.
“We are working closely with Valo to finalise the installation programme and will be able to publish details in coming weeks. Thank you for your patience whilst the work is being carried out.
The Croydon Digital Team”
So 12 months after the bus shelters were supposed to be installed, and 18 months since the old shelters were removed, Croydon Council is still unable to say when the replacements might be on our streets.
Jason Perry, the £81,000 per year part-time Mayor of Croydon, remains silent on the matter, as does Katherine Kerswell, who is paid nearly £200,000 per year as the council’s chief executive to oversee this shit-show.
Read more: Council’s £6.8m bus shelter deal with 9-month-old tech firm
Read more: Bus passengers face a wet winter of discontent with no shelters
Read more: Chief digital officer quits council after splashing the cash
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