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St Peter's Square Proposals: Tram Hassled

Jonathan Schofield on how the lovely images hide a major problem for key civic space

Written by . Published on March 23rd 2012.

St Peter's Square Proposals: Tram Hassled

SO we have the shortlist for St Peter's Square redevelopment. This is Manchester's best opportunity to create a new and genuine civic space right in the heart of the regional centre.

There is a far worse problem for both. Any chance of St Peter's Square being a truly grand civic space have been crushed under the wheels of Metrolink

The entrants have been whittled down to two, we'll call them, Plan A and Plan B.

They're easy to tell apart.

One is designed with all the hard clarity of an airbrushed flame on the fuel tank of a 1000cc motorbike (the main image above), the other is like a watercolour from the cover of a romantic novel. 

Soft touch Plan BSoft touch Plan B

They both have splendid elements. 

(Click here to add text)
Plan A clevely mimics the gorgeous architectural screens or grills that run down the side of the Town Hall Extension. It does this with decorative paving and then adds names of Manchester reformers to the pattern.

This is apt. St Peter's Square lies close to the site of the Peterloo Massacre were fifteen died and hundreds were injured in an 1819 protest about a lack of Parliamentary representation.

Commorating Manchester's radical thinkers in an area were a key step towards full democracry took place is welcome. It's good for visitors, good for locals and good for Manchester schools in establishing local pride and a sense of identity.

St P1aDecorative elements from Plan A 

Plan B doesn't have that but it does clear the square of clutter, lay it out flat for us and adorns it with a grove of beautiful Princess trees (Pawlania Tomentosa). It's almost poetic. 

Indeed, 'reformers' walk' aside, it is the better of the two plans because of the way it opens out the square, gives it breathing room, dignity and poise through simplicity.

Undeniably pretty Plan BUndeniably pretty Plan B

Also Plan A commits a big sin.

To separate the relocated cenotaph from the proposed new tram station at the northern end it builds a two metre high wall, hangs plants off one side and grandly calls it a 'colonnade'.

We have had enough of walls in squares in Manchester after the barrier that is the Tadao Ando's concrete 'pavilion' in Piccadilly.

As with that failure, the proposed 'colonnade' here is too high, no-one but basketball players on pogo sticks will have a chance of looking over it.

And as with the Piccadilly 'pavilion' its name is a lie.

While the latter bears no relation to the lightness of touch implied by the name pavilion, the new 'colonnade' has no columns, is solid, so simply can never be a colonnade. This is deception pure and simple, the real name for this feature is a wall. 

There is a far worse problem for both.

Any chance of St Peter's Square being a truly grand civic space has been crushed under the wheels of Metrolink.

What the plans reveal is the awful magnitude of the new Metrolink facilities necessary to provide a second crossing through the city centre (click here).

Of course the second crossing is urgently needed especially with the line extensions that have been completed or are nearing completion. One pair of lines is simply too fragile to cope. 

But taking that second crossing through St Peter's Square and building an interchange station removes the uninterrupted character a real square needs. 

How so? 

Well, as these plans show - but never state - the area that will be criss-crossed by tramlines and devoted to four platforms of a Metrolink station makes up more than 40% of the square.

The two illustrations below show a 2010, pre-second crossing proposal, the second shows the massive choking of the square by the 2012 short-listed entries (in this case Plan B).

2010 plan with plenty of room for a proper civic space2010 plan with plenty of room for a proper civic space



The 2012 schemes show how fully 50% of this area (perhaps 40% or more of the whole area) of the square will go under platforms and tramlines

On Wednesday I timed the 5pm tram movements as they presently stand. In the first four minutes seven trams scooted past. Other reports say there will be 45 trams an hour - less than I was witnessing but I was viewing the vehicles at rush hour.

Plan B makes much of sitting down and relaxing on the stairs of the cross that marks the site of the long gone St Peter's Church. But with four tramlines slicing past within metres it's not going to be relaxing - except for 'spotters' of trams and trains.

Temple RunTemple RunJust crossing from the refurbished Central Library to the soon-to-be-built and splendid in plan One St Peter's Square by Glen Howells Architects will be like a computer game. A bit like the Temple Run smart phone game, where Indiana Jones types leap over and dodge obstacles. 

The city council press release says the proposals will 'transform St Peter's Square into a world-class public space'.

Well, possibly. If you're a tram.

They also state that 'consideration has been given to the relocation of the historic Manchester Cenotaph to a position more suited to quiet contemplation'. 

Confidential now sees that it's initial support for this was wrong. The new Cenotaph contemplation area will soon be sat next to the busiest Metrolink Station on the network. A more honest sentence from the council would have run, 'The Cenotaph has to be moved because it's in the way of the second city centre crossing'.

Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council, has been quoted as saying: "St Peter’s Square is an important public space which has the potential to become truly world-class. Manchester is always seeking to grow its international standing and we’re determined to create a St Peter’s Square which enhances our reputation."

Of course St Peter's Square will look immensely better after the changes. It will be new after all, and to a coherent plan. But its civic nature has been curtailed by the interchange. 

Aside from relatively narrow areas outside the Town Hall Extension, Central Library and One St Peter's Square, there is no space for public events, for displaying a sweeping expanse of paving with judicious planting, to create a truly civic space. Moving the Cenotaph to create such an area might have, in that instance, been justified. Now it's just expedient. 

Plan B from abovePlan A from above

The sad thing is this may all be a fait accompli.

There would seem to be no time to look again at another route for the second crossing for Metrolink. You have to have some sympathy with the planners' dilemma. There appears little room for manoeuvre in the city centre generally.

An independent suggestion for pushing a line down Deansgate, if the money could be found, would disrupt traffic flows even further on the west side after the recent inexplicable (and inexcusable) narrowing of Deansgate and the closure of Victoria Street.

Running tramlines in front of the Midland Hotel and around Albert Square then down Cross Street might just do it of course, but again hinder traffic movements. And is there even time to redraw the plan?

So once again we have to look elsewhere for a major public civic space that gives real breathing room in the city centre. St Peter's Square will be stifled by infrastructure.

It has to be back to Piccadilly Gardens to create our version of Cracow's Market Square, Place Bellecour in Lyons or countless other examples in capital and regional cities worldwide.

So tear down the wall (Pavilion) in Piccadilly we say, get rid of the grass and the ugly raised flower beds, chuck out the awkward fountain (replace it with a better one for kids flush with the level of the square), move the bus station on Parker Street and close the road on the north side.

Ditch the perverse name of 'Gardens'. Call it Manchester Square.

Dreams perhaps. But ones not quite so haunted by the gentle beeps of an army of trams passing by one a minute.

PS One of the causes for concern in the two shortlised proposals for St Peter's Square lies in attention to detail. Plan B is the worst with lots of errors, 'loosely' is spelt 'loosley', 'height' is spelt 'hight', Sir Edwin Lutyens has been renamed Sir Edward Lutyens. It's not something you want to see in a once-in-every-two-generations development plan. Although even the Council press release refers to the 1930s buildings of Central Library and the Town Hall Extension as 'Victorian'.  

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield

Plan B at nightPlan B at night

Sharp Plan ASharp Plan A

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65 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Joe LucasMarch 23rd 2012.

How about they demolish the Odeon building, and place the new PWC development there? It would allow for a bigger and better square with a prominent space for the Cenotaph, and a lot more wiggle room for the Metrolink. Just an idea...

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Joe LucasMarch 23rd 2012.

doh..! I mean the KPMG building.

tomegranateMarch 23rd 2012.

I'd love that to happen. Sadly the owners of both sites will want to make as much money as they can from them, so offices it is, sooner or later. Though I'd like to hear any suggestions about how it could actually happen.

AnonymousMarch 23rd 2012.

Er, civic spaces, Piccadilly Gardens and St Peter's Square? Transport Interchange Number 1 and Transport Interchange Number 2 more like!!

Never mind an elected police commissioner, this city (region) needs a "directly elected" planning supremo too!

D for DMarch 23rd 2012.

But with these plans there was a chance you know of making St Peter's Square truly civic, I agree that the imposition of the second crossing interchange has severely damaged that

AnonymousMarch 23rd 2012.

The utter garbage KPMG office block won't help matters, it's a pointless development. The area looks quite open now that the old block has been demolished. Could've left that flat and reconfigured the square in that area leaving metrolink - and the cenotaph - where it is.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Calum McGMarch 23rd 2012.

Do you have the money to buy the land off the developer? Perhaps you can get a loan from Cloud Cuckooland Bank.

Tony BracMarch 23rd 2012.

It's private commercial land Anon. Was never going to happen. I think it's a really strong design actually.

AnonymousMarch 23rd 2012.

Let's say 'I heard a story' about 'a friend of mine' who went to the first 'St Peter's Square Stakeholders' meeting with Sir Howard and the gang. There was lots of chat about how big St Peter's Square was (in land mass terms, bigger than Trafalger Sq) and how Manchester wanted a space that would compete with the likes of Milan's main square etc etc.

First question: Where will the tram stop be moved to because that ruins the square/cenotaph?

Answer: It can't be moved, we've just upgraded the platform to take the 'new' (10-year old designed) trams that require a raised platform. The station is fixed, we'll create this magnificent world beating square around the tram stop.


My 'friend' was never invited back to further 'stakeholder' meetings.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousMarch 23rd 2012.

But the tram stop is being moved so that was a pointless little rant wasn't it?!

Kieron McGlassonMarch 23rd 2012.

Why do we find it so hard to combine public transport and civic space in our city centres? Because unlike many of the precedent examples provided we dedicate a significant proportion of our city space to cars; roads, car parking etc. Abroad, they stick car parks under a civic space.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Calum McGMarch 23rd 2012.

And it works really well! Seen that in NZ and in Barcelona. If only our metro was underground as well, but sadly it won't be!

JayMarch 27th 2012.

It also works well with Liverpool One car park underneath Chavasse Park

Calum McGMarch 23rd 2012.

Another wasted opportunity, Manchesster, due to lack of foresight and vision. Let's be under no illusion: we are now creating Piccadilly Gardens #2 (with Plan A even having a solid wall...!). Really, no matter whether we choose A or B, it will not create a square people want to hang out in, criss-crossed by a tangle of steel (and poles and wires) and bounded by roadways and raised platforms.

PavraoMarch 23rd 2012.

I really hope they take some inspiration from the Squares in Europe when then finalise this one.Is a superb chance to showcase the beautiful buildings including the library. The problem with a tram line is the overhead wires which make it not such a pleasant site. Wish it could have been taken underground. But public transport is a key for the future of the city so there can be no compromise there.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Greg DanielMarch 24th 2012.

The metrolink was put together so cheaply originally that we ended up with awful raised platforms so the altrincham and bury lines could reuse the old commuter stations. Here in Stockholm they are even expanding their subway system *and* (something Manchester COULD do) suspending the tram cables from buildings where possible. It looks much better when the unnecessary street furniture is reduced!

AnonymousMarch 23rd 2012.

I really can't see a way to make this work without a lot of demolition or taking the trams underground. Let down again.

CBMarch 23rd 2012.

I suppose Albert Square isn't 'civic' or 'square' enough for people?

2 Responses: Reply To This...
GtrinkuMarch 23rd 2012.

CB well it would be if Heron House wasn't there. But the problem is that it's too small. But Albert Square does provide a good foil for the Town Hall..so it works in some ways.

AnonymousMarch 23rd 2012.

But Albert Square is far bigger than 60% of St Peter's Square which is all that is available after the trams are taken into account.

CBMarch 23rd 2012.

and I hate the wall at Piccadilly Gardens but the alternative is looking at 20 stinking, garish buses....

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousMarch 23rd 2012.

I actually like the wall. Its the best part of an admittedly poor scheme.

AnonymousMarch 23rd 2012.

It doesn't look like there was any other viable route for the second city crossing so St Peter's Square was always going to be compromised. The key therefore is to sensitively and creatively make the most of the situation, or even exploit the presence of the trams in some way.

But let's not kid ourselves. The seeds of this unhappy compromise were sown a long, long time ago. Manchester was built by our forebears to make money with few concessions to proper town planning. Its why we have so few substantial open spaces in the centre, why our most important and impressive buildings are crushed up against each other and why we do not have any wide elegant boulevards to thread a new tram line down as an alternative to cutting up one of our main squares.

I advocate the approach suggested in the article. We need to accept these constraints and draw upon the vast reserves of creativity in Manchester to bring about the best possible solution. Piccadilly Gardnes as it is, is an attempt at self delusion. The area is not suitable as formal gardens - we need to start again there. As for St Peter's Square perhaps the needs of a tram interchange and the Cenotaph are just simply irreconcilable. Perhaps we need to think the unthinkable and move the Cenotaph out of St Peter's Square altogether.

As for the proposals, Plan A is probably the most sensible choice but when that silly wall is removed from Plan B, it starts to look like a decent scheme too.

3 Responses: Reply To This...
ConmanMarch 23rd 2012.

Perhaps we could move the Cenotaph to First Street, leverage its social and cultural value to create a 'hub of mourning'. This will create an opportunity to build a couple of cheap new hotels, thereby driving economic growth and the city's knowledge economy. Hmm.

tomegranateMarch 23rd 2012.

That is brilliant Conman. Don't forget the military history information centre.

AnonymousFebruary 12th 2015.

Is it just me but when the two lines meet at St Peter's are we not going to get hideous congestion. However,due to the line being risen at Deansgate Locks,where would the two lines eventually meet. It is, however we look at it ,a logistics nightmare. The trams are very attractive and look good purring through the city centre. We are lucky to have them.

Jared MooreMarch 23rd 2012.

Why can't we just drop the trams underground through the square? Then we could have the best of both worlds. Surely that's not beyond our capabilities?

3 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousMarch 23rd 2012.

Probably not beyond capabilities but undoubtedly beyond the budget by a few hundred million quid. Also, where would it re-emerge?

AnonymousMarch 23rd 2012.


JayMarch 27th 2012.

This would be a problem when the tram inevitably breaks down underground

Greg DanielMarch 23rd 2012.

What's that suspicious pear drop thingy in the gap between the library and the town hall extension on plan 'a' from above? Looks an awful lot like flat-pack glass shite in that wonderful and mysterious footpath.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousMarch 23rd 2012.

An 'indicative' inclusion of what might or might not (ahem) be built there at a later date, to be considered on a separate plan. If you feel particularly strongly about this I'm having daydreams about a campaign to oppose it. Interested?

Greg DanielMarch 24th 2012.

Yes I am. I love Library Walk as it is. Nobbing around at turning it into a 'transition point of learning and governance' (filling it with crap retail units) is criminal.

AnonymousMarch 23rd 2012.

Disappearing/badly delayed comments is happening again Editor, please sort it out.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
CobbydalerMarch 23rd 2012.

I've found you need to force a reload with Ctrl-F5 to get recent comments to show. Otherwise the old page is just picked up from the cache. Maybe the server settings are designed to reduce bandwidth use?

AnonymousMarch 23rd 2012.

Ah, thanks for that Cobbydaler. Well whatever the technical reason it's a bit shabby. About time Mancon had another overhaul I think.

Compton28March 23rd 2012.

What about bringing the second city crossing through Albert Sq, down Mount Street and through the front of Manchester Central. The line already in situ from Piccadilly Gardens could turn right at Princess Street, thus missing St Peter's Sq entirely and run into Albert Square. Surely though they have thought about this idea already?! or maybe not...

1 Response: Reply To This...
tomegranateMarch 23rd 2012.

Nope. You'd be ruining one square to improve the other, for no overall benefit and much greater cost of digging up and disposing of the track and stop in SPS.
It would also impact on Manchester Central, particularly the ability to create the security cordon around the centre and the Midland Hotel, for party conferences.

James SpencerMarch 24th 2012.

There was a competion for the design of the Square. It does not seem to have been followed though so I hope the entrants were compensated for their trouble.

I made a representation to Planning and to Regeneration about the tree cover. The former told me the same number of trees would be replaced and Regneration told me it was three to one replacement in 'the city centre'

Looking at the pics of the avenue design it looks like the second one is being applied.

There will of course be a planning application of maybe its in so people can have thier say.

James SpencerMarch 24th 2012.

Clearly a cut and cover tunnel for the trams with a underground station would be good for the designs and would shelter the tram users.

How much would it cost?

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousMarch 24th 2012.

Redeveloping SPS brings in very little revenue to MCC. The business case for what they're proposing is tenuous enough. Digging the tram under is, economically speaking - and I wish the truth were different - pure fairy story.

Silva DaveMarch 24th 2012.

If the tram was routed underground you could guarantee they'd put a road though it instead, or a bus station in the middle. Its just the way it goes in this town.

Silva DaveMarch 24th 2012.

Oh and I can't see any provision for cyclists here. Why does the council think building shower and secure storage facilities will encourage more cycling when they keep reducing the options to cycle safely through town?

5 Responses: Reply To This...
Cycling StanMarch 26th 2012.

Since when have the council given a thought to cyclists? We don't generate revenue so we don't get a thought when planning is carried out.

Taking the tram underground would be the way to go here, works amazingly for the tube and paris metro - but there's no monetary benefit for the council so I just can't see it.

Maybe if there was a carpark on the site instead they might go for it, but not to just create a nice space for us.

DavidMarch 26th 2012.

Oh those poor cyclists.Ignoring red lights,riding across the city centre pavements.
If you want the same voice,as car drivers,how about you start paying to use the cities roads.Why should you get to use them for free?.Then maybe people will start listening to you.
As a pedestrian I am sick of arrogant,selfish cyclists.They seem to think it not necessary for them to stop at crossings.

Silva DaveMarch 27th 2012.

I'm not going to get into troll trap arguments about red lights etc however I pay my council tax just like everybody else. That is what pays for road upkeep and anyway, do cyclists cause roads to wear out? I don't think so!

DavidMarch 27th 2012.

Motorists have to pay road tax and they have to pay high charges for parking.Do cyclists have to pay for these?.Actually you get to use the roads for nothing.
Cyclists of course think they should get something for nothing,and yet still expect their views should be taken into consideration.

AnonymousMarch 31st 2012.

David, did someone run over your bike when you were a child?
Bikes don't produce pollution, heat, smells, cause anywhere near the amount of congestion as cars do and also produce next to no noise.
We should be encouraging a means of efficient transport round the cities and maybe then people like you would complain less about being stuck in traffic all day.

Steve RomanMarch 26th 2012.

Despite the trees and decorative paving, neither plan includes the dedicated trees or plaques that are in the Peace Garden. These could have easily been incorporated in the new plans.

Julie JohnsonMarch 26th 2012.

Surprised to see the anti-tram sentiment here from Jonathan. Perhaps he feels a four lane superhighway would be more conducive to edgy urban living. Dodging trams = bad, but dodging cars = good? I'm confused. At least trams have to stay on their tracks, and the don't pull up to park on the pavement.

I agree about the Piccadilly Wall though.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Jonathan SchofieldMarch 27th 2012.

Julie, love trams, but I yearn for a proper, gorgeous square that with real scale and civic value. Piccadilly is the right choice of course.

DavidMarch 26th 2012.

What is this great obsession with huge public squares?.Trafalgar Square and Leicester Square in London,are only remarkable for their mediocrity.

Of course they were very popular with every despot and totalitarian leader in History.No doubt if Hitler had succeeded in invading Uk,he would have provided a suitably vast square for his new capital in Manchester.

Apart from providing a large space,for Football teams to celebrate winning a cup,what exactly is their purpose?.Sure they were relevant in the 19th Century,but that was a time of large public gatherings,before we had radio and television.We should be creating a city for the 21st century not the 19th century.

AnonymousMarch 27th 2012.

Place Massena in Nice it isn't unfortunantly. The tramline through this square seems to intrude very litte. However it is achieved by removal of the OLE and the trams run on on-board batteries. Good luck with that innovation being used in Manchester.

1 Response: Reply To This...
suzyblewMarch 27th 2012.

yes there is a lot less dog poo than in the Place Massena!

Chris PaulMarch 27th 2012.

Your PS points about language detail are well made. But one of your own "it's"? It's wrong.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousMarch 27th 2012.

Life must be rosy in Withington if it's councillors can find the time to correct people on their punctuation errors.

Chris PaulMarch 27th 2012.

More seriously. St Peter's Square is going to be pretty busy 7am to 11pm or thereabouts. But it will have seven or eight hours, through more than half of which there are a good few people about, when it will be rather serene and beautiful - if the design hits the spot.

Any I think we will also find that the new arrangements within the Library, Walk and Rates Hall and Town Hall Extension more generally will provide some fantastic indoor and outdoor public space that works well with the busy square.

And I think the Cenotaph and its relationship with the Waterhouse Town Hall will work well too.

It is a great shame that the very temporarily vacant land opposite the Library is to be built on. We could have had a marvellous space with that thrown into the pot. Perhaps KPMG would like to stop in their tracks and make the best donation to civics .. ever?

IPerhaps not. But it is good to have that extra city centre sky, even for a few short weeks and months.

David OlliverMarch 27th 2012.

In the 1970's there was a booklet published on the proposed Pic-Vic Line. This was to go underground from Piccadilly to Victoria. When the bomb devastated Corporation Street, I believe pilot tunnels were found which had been made for this proposed line.I presume this route was shelved for financial or vested interest reasons. The route would have gone via St.Peters Square, and Albert Square.
It is interesting to think that in 1968 in Naples, when I was working there for 6 weeks, had a Transport system very like Manchester's. When I went back there a few years ago ,there was an amazing difference:trams,buses,overground railway,two underground lines in the centre of the town, and a third line under construction.All services covered by one ticket which could be bought in many places,and could be for three, five,seven days, or longer periods.Why are we so backward in England.Do not say it is because of the infatuation with the Car:nobody could love the Car more than the Italians!

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Duke FameMarch 27th 2012.

This booklet in the 1970's, did it cost around £3m of public money and was the idea totally stupid and impractical? THey could have called it TIF.

DavidMarch 27th 2012.

Because we are not London or Scotland that's why.Look at how much per person is spent on transport in the porth west compared to London.its just as bad under Labour governments,despite all the spineless Local Labour MPs.

the Whalley RangerMarch 27th 2012.

Judging by the tram track routings on plan, we have quite evidently lost the square. Yes, lost.

At no point can any other activity take over this space now unless you were to halt public transport provision altogether. So where actually lies the improvement? A spring clean?

Fine, but once you have completed the removal of plenty of unwanted clutter from the square, why replace it with new clutter?

The north facing trees on Plan A will prosper only after repeat treatment with MiracleGrow; upon completion 'the wall' in Plan B should receive a good dose of graffiti and skateboarder abuse. Nice!

I would love to see the square as bare as possible. No trees unless for a very good reason, certainly no street furniture ad board child play nonsense.

Why are we scared of big open empty spaces? Do we fear Nuremberg processions or the return of the Peterloo cavalry?

According to our Justice Secretary, it's the 'feral underclass' he is most worried about - they don't appreciate big squares but the intimicy of a small store stocking umbro. So go on, keep the square clear!

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousMarch 27th 2012.

You do talk a load of pretentious twaddle...

DavidMarch 28th 2012.

Maybe you would prefer a private square,to which the feral underclass,orang other group,that pompous you dislike could be excluded.
Also virtually every square in European cities is full of much more graffiti than here,and just as many skateboarders,and a lot more dog shit.The ones that are not are just full of overpriced restaurants catering to tourists.
What Manchester actually would benefit from is a decent park in the city centre,like the one in Kowloon,Hong Kong.There are already enough large open squares.

David OlliverMarch 29th 2012.

To Duke Fame I would say that with modern tunnelling equipment, rather than the cut and cover method,and underground system is no more stupid than the closing of the town centre for six months, and ripping up structures that had on been recently put in place. If this had been thought out properly ,in the past,we would have no problems with the Squares on the surface. Instead of a proper system in manchester, we got a cobbled together cheap system.Part of the problem with Metrolink,is that they compensate for losses through fare avoidance by employing vast numbers of Inspectors,and charging extortionate prices for tickets.The logical solution to fare avoidance is to make all stations outside the City Centre closed ,and allow free travel to the open stations in the City centre.To get out at any Station other than those in the Centre would require a ticket, as on London Underground. I am sure that long term this would be cheaper than employing armies of Inspectors,as is now the case.It seems that repainting all the Stations grey and yellow is far more important

AnonymousMarch 30th 2012.

When do we hear the councils choice?

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