One in Five vs. Four in Five, and Lies, Statistics and Common Sense


One in Five vs. Four in Five, and Lies, Statistics and Common Sense

January 2024


Transport-wise, the big story here is the partial cancellation of “High Speed 2” or HS2, the express railway that was to link London to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds in the north. London – Birmingham is under construction, although it seems that the government hasn’t quite got a handle on connecting it all the way to central London. 


Currently, it stops 5 miles short in a railway siding in west London. Now, the government has abandoned everything north of Birmingham, citing cost. Fear not, says our leader, ALL of the £3.6bn saved will be spent on transport investment in the North of England, and the central London connection will be completed. They even published a grand plan showing what they were going to build. It seems that this plan was put together in a bit of a rush. Witness the inclusion of a future connection between Manchester City center and Manchester airport, that opened in 2014, other schemes that were already committed, or had been abandoned, and a road scheme on the coast more than 150 miles south of Birmingham. Oh, and that connection to Central London is committed by the government, if someone else pays for it! 


The government complained that the project was out of control, as if it were someone else’s fault, but they control it! Interestingly the person who built HS1, linking London to the channel tunnel, wanted to run this project. Notwithstanding that HS1 came in on-time and under budget, he was turned down because he lacked the necessary experience! Back in 2019 the current government won a big majority by taking seats in the north that they had never won before, on the promise of “leveling up” with projects like this. Most of the new MPs are not expecting a second term. As one commentator said, “if this had started in the north and built towards London, rather than the other way round, it would never have been abandoned.”


Lies, Dammed Lies and Statistics


The government’s stance on electric scooters here seems to remain in some kind of surrealistic policy vacuum. The government is “monitoring” the limited trials that it has permitted, but doesn’t seem to be taking any notice of the 500,000 plus privately owned scooters that are used illegally, causing mayhem on a daily basis. One assumes that the deaths and injuries that result will simply be ignored by the decision makers. 


A recent story showed just how pliant the powers that be are when it comes supporting scooter use regardless of the data. The city of Southampton has a trial and has just agreed to extend the trial end time from 10 to 11 pm. The justification for this is that, in a survey, one in five women said that they felt safer traveling on a scooter, rather than using buses or walking. So, if one in five feel safer doesn’t that mean that four in five don’t and, if so, shouldn’t the City Council members be doing exactly the opposite of what they have just done, in the interests of public safety?


Let’s talk about car parks. Although the HS2 debacle has grabbed the headlines, it was displaced for a while by news of a major fire at London Luton Airport. Luton is the fifth busiest airport in the UK and has recently invested in two new car parks. Well, one now, because the new 1,900 space terminal 2 car park, built in 2019 at a cost of £20m, caught fire and is now a twisted pile of metal and burnt cars. 


Here, the received wisdom on fires in car parks is that cars burn slowly and the fire spreads slowly, so above ground free-standing car parks don’t need sprinklers. Increasingly, it is becoming clear that that is wrong. Video evidence shows that a vehicle, believed to be a diesel Range Rover, caught fire whilst it was moving through the structure. Within 15 minutes, the whole car park was alight, and by the time the fire was brought under control the building had partially collapsed. Initially, it was hoped to recover some of the 1,450 vehicles in the building, but the Fire Service has now reported that all the vehicles are a total loss.


This building was a steel frame structure, which is very popular here. The philosophy is that the structure only needs to last long enough for people in the car park to evacuate, hence no sprinklers. Despite this, the building does seem to have managed to survive for eight times its rated fire resistance. This is the second large car park of this type that has succumbed this way in the last few years, and I can’t help but think that going forward the industry will mandate sprinklers regardless. Of course, sprinklers are pointless if the fire is in an EV.


Car park design is simple, any fool can do it.


I was reminded of this by a silly story about a hospital where people were trapped in a car park for half an hour when the single exit barrier failed in the down position. Apparently, this was an ongoing problem and the hospital managers had it on the agenda to talk about at their next meeting!! 


Design 101: you never ever, ever design a barrier accessed public car park with a single exit lane, because the equipment will malfunction. When it does, in the UK, you are detaining people unlawfully, which is a crime, and the people detained have the right to use reasonable force to obtain relief. I once found myself in this position at a site operated by a cheapskate company that had cut staff to save money. I explained the situation via the intercom and was told that “someone would be there in 20 minutes.” I knew the equipment and knew that it could be operated remotely, so I simply gave them the option of opening it or I would. They did, I left.

Article contributed by:
Peter Guest, Parking Tales from Big Ben
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