Croydon’s bus shelter project ‘has been progressing well’

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.

Gimme shelter: bus passengers are exposed to the elements in Croydon

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.

: Opama Khan

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.

Rare sighting: a bus shelter in Croydon. This, though, is just a CGI

“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.

“Many thanks,
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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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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9 Responses to Croydon’s bus shelter project ‘has been progressing well’

  1. Dave West says:

    No surprise given a complete lack of any track record of the company appointed, but unless I’m missing something, these are bus shelters replacing bus shelters which would have had power at least at the point they were removed. So what is so difficult?

    If I read this correctly, it would also appear that a 10-year contract was let without ensuring that the appropriate legal permissions were in place to deliver the specification and which were needed from the same local authority that let the contract (probably two departments in the same building).

    So again exactly what is so difficult?

    Finally they are still being constructed some 12 months after they were supposed to be installed. Why wasn’t the council having regular update meetings with Valo to chase progress and identify barriers to delivery?

    Utterly bonkers!

  2. If you search Croydon council’s online planning register you’ll find 40 applications for “Advertising as part of a new bus shelter”. 26 have been decided, the remainder are awaiting a decision.

    The one waiting the longest for the thumbs up is opposite Harvey Court at 248 Pampisford Road in South Croydon. That planning application was officially received by the council on 23 August 2021. The associated documents are “unavailable for viewing at this time”, so you can’t work out why there’s been a hold up.

    Two other applications submitted around the same time have been decided.

    If Croydon’s planning department can get its finger out (short-staffed or badly managed?), then all that’s needed is for the shelters to be built and delivered, and for someone to be found to stick them in and hook them up to the mains.

  3. Don White says:

    One of the facilities we used to have in bus shelters around this part of Croydon was scrolling l.e.d info. to tell waiting passengers when the next bus might arrive. Not always reliable, but at least an indication that you might not be sheltering long into the early morning after the last bus had gone that night.
    These information screens have been removed, even from those few shelters which still remain standing.
    Seats similarly were removed around the same time.

    In the lists of brave new solutions and amenities that we are all deemed need, such as more advertising, wayfinding screens, environmental sensors [what they?], power [what for?], wifi connectivity and other new order accoutrements that you or Croydon have blazoned, nowhere can I see that the new shelters will reinstate information about which bus might be coming and how soon that might be.
    Too complex? Or is this seen as another boon to drug dealers – facilitating a quick get-away perhaps?
    Nor is there a mention of seats being provided, often a useful adjunct for the elderly passenger to park their shopping bags.

    • Rest easy, Don. The designs of the new bus shelters, should they ever actually get made, do appear to have seats (you can just about see that in the picture used with this news report).

      And those “wayfaring” gizmos promised are, we believe, similar to the electronic touch screens for route info and bus arrival times that have been commonplace in bus shelters in central London for at least a decade… Real cutting edge stuff.

      • Don White says:

        Last October the perfectly-good shelter at the end of my road was ripped up. Temporary lights were installed to stop the traffic while this was done, so clearly a planned operation.’ That’s the last we’ll see of that,’ I thought. But I was wrong. A new shelter was installed soon afterwards.

        Within a couple of weeks the towel-rail, purporting to be seating in this new shelter had come loose and was dangerous. I reported this to Croydon Council on 11 December as a danger particularly to the elderly and infirm. Nothing happened.
        On 3 February of this year, when the seat had all-but collapsed, I reminded Croydon. No reply. I wrote again on 3 March. 2 weeks later I received a response from Ms Opama Khan, purporting to reply to my 3 March letter and suspiciously dated 4 March; certainly before my letter could have arrived.
        By this time, the “new” bus shelter was in the process of total collapse and had been put “off bounds”! with crime-scene tape. Ms Khan wrote “We have investigated the matter on your behalf with TfL and they advised that after inspection, the shelter was found to be unrepairable. It was taped up for safety reasons and disconnected and removed on 17th February.” [it wasn’t] “The new shelter is programmed for installation 12 May 2022.” [it wasn’t]

        I then wrote to TfL.
        Their reply [6 April 2022] says “I can advise that the shelter was damaged in a road traffic collision and was removed for safety reasons. A new shelter was installed which also incurred some damage. The new shelter is technically safer than the old one.” [sic]
        What has yet to be explained is how the road traffic collision managed to demolish a bus shelter without touching the bus stop, the separate street light nor the equally separate parking restriction notice which stands on its own pole, and all three of which are between the shelter and the road.

        If I rest easy, it will be on the brick wall behind the shelter site, which was also undamaged in whichever road traffic accidents that are supposed to have occurred

        • sarah says:

          Let’s us all hope that the shelters will be water proof .i have my doubts, if Croydon Council are involved in any manner at all .

  4. Lancaster says:

    ” Specialist in delivering complex digital transformation, innovative public digital infrastructure and smart city innovation “:

    and the list of achievements here are….. ?

    I think the catalogued and proven achievements only extend to being a gofer for the inward investment team.

  5. Lewis White says:

    What would be terribly useful , at bus stops, apart from illuminated adverts, pollution monitors, wifi access and other bells and whistles, are things that allow the waiter-at-the stop to see at a glance, without the aid of electronic devices, the time sthat buses are meant to arrive. They were once called timetables.

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