Back to the cable car again, I’m afraid – blame a stroll around the area in the Sunday lunchtime sun. As mentioned here on Friday, the Emirates Aviation Experience has opened in the retail space next to the cable car station. It didn’t exactly seem to be doing a roaring trade when I passed by. (The cable car itself was doing a decent trade, but the huge queues from last summer weren’t there – although the competing attraction of the Wimbledon men’s singles final may mean it’s an unfair comparison.)
Actually, it’s only £3 to to get into, although there’s no sign telling you this. I might have wandered in if I’d known, instead I assumed it’d set me back a tenner or so and walked on. But half an hour in a flight simulator will set you back £45 – or £35 if you can get there before 10am.
There’s also a cafe and little gift shop – with the whole thing opening from 8am to 7.30pm. Considering the cable car attracts just 16 regular commuters each morning, those early opening hours might just be a little optimistic, although there’s an outside chance it could get some custom from commuters who use the Thames Path to get to North Greenwich.
Inside the gift shop, you’ll will find Fly Emirates notebooks for a tenner. Cheap-looking brollies for £13. Mugs for eight quid. And “I love Emirates” cuddly toys for eighteen pounds. No wonder why they were looking a bit lonely when I popped in.
All the souvenirs lionise Emirates Airways – it might as well start selling the new Arsenal home kit.
What you can’t buy a souvenir for is the cable car itself – the thing people will have come here to see. You can go to the London Transport Museum and buy gear celebrating London buses, the Tube, the Docklands Light Railway, even the London Overground and the Croydon trams. But why can’t you come to the Greenwich cable car gift shop and buy cable car souvenirs? Is Transport for London embarrassed about it?
All this emphasises the confusion between whether the cable car is a mode of public transport (as the mayor insists) or whether it’s a tourist attraction (as everyone else believes).
A cable car run as a mode of public transport wouldn’t charge premium fares or give you “boarding cards”. But a cable car run as a tourist attraction would be open later so people can enjoy the glorious post-9pm sunsets at this time of year. If nobody works out what it’s for, the cable car will never be a success.
But failure of the cable car matches the ill-thought-through approach to developing Greenwich Peninsula. Think about the walk from the tube station to the cable car terminal. Here was the big screen in Peninsula Square, next to the O2, on Friday evening as Andy Murray was playing in the Wimbledon semi-final.
I’ve previously pointed out the way that Peninsula Square has so far failed to live up to expectations, but Friday night really demonstrated what a wasted opportunity the big screen is – especially when you see what a difference it’s made to Woolwich.
So you walk past a screen spewing out ads for O2 and other Dome backers (I pass it daily and the one featuring Emeli Sande, constantly playing silently, has started to give me the creeps, frankly) turn right, and then you find… a car park.
Yet when you get to the cable car, on a sunny day there are people sunbathing on the little green underneath the gondolas, or sitting down having a picnic. And the little bit grass next to the car park is also regularly packed.
So here’s a dramatic idea. Get rid of the car park. There’s plenty of space further down the peninsula to open up a new car park.
Grass the car park over. Put a big tent up. And put things on in it. Put a circus on. A fun fair. Music. Comedy. A little festival. Anything other than a miserable car park. And anything that’ll actually attract people to use the cable car and to visit North Greenwich. Not only that, but moving the car park south will also ease the traffic issues which affect the area at the O2’s chucking-out times.
Obviously the area can’t be planned around the rare weekends when the temperature breaks 28C, but almost anything would be an improvement on the current arrangements, which seem only to exist to funnel people into the O2. This might make commercial sense for Dome owner AEG in the short term – but why would anyone in their right mind willingly return if they didn’t have a gig to go to? And if they do return, they’re unlikely to return by cable car, according to TfL’s own polling.
The peninsula’s an amazing opportunity to create something special. Mistakes have been made, but it’s still possible to fix things with imagination. But landowners and planners seem to want to milk every inch for financial and political ends – as a couple of tales I’ll be sharing in the next week or two will show. (Hey, there’s an event full of them on the 19th if you’ve £360 spare.) Improving the way the cable car fits into the area would be a small, but important step towards putting things right.
Creating the O2 out of the political ego-trip that was the Millennium Dome was a smart move. Will anyone have the courage to step in and fix the latest peninsula folly?
Thanks to those who’ve voted in the poll on what to do with the cable car – it’s been striking to see how few people think the current set-up is sustainable. In this poll, please assume there’s no money to build bridges to replace or supplement the cable car.