TfL in a pickle over bridge mural

Transport for London find themselves in something of a quandary as to what to do about the railway bridge over Turnham Green Terrace.

In a scenario which plays out rather like a badly written panto, Babes in the Wood Karen Liebreich and Sarah Cruz (aka Abundance London) set out on a journey to raise funds to make a lovely mural depicting the history of Chiswick. A good fairy at TfL agreed that they could have the space (the grotty looking walls under the bridge on both sides of the road) and waved her magic wand to agree that TfL would install the mural and bear the cost of the installation. The Babes raised £21,141 from Hounslow Council (no mean feat), £5,000 from Ealing Council and gathered the support of the local community, including primary schools who are all set to do mural related educational projects and businesses such as Fullers which have offered sponsorship. They’ve commissioned original art works from internationally known local artists Peter Blake and Jan Pieńkowski. They’ve even got Hounslow to agree to take care of the mural’s future maintenance.

“What could go wrong at this point”? I hear you ask. Samples were produced in vitreous enamel (a thin layer of glass fused at high temperature on to the surface of a metal) of what the mural would look like. Everyone went off for Christmas happy that it was progressing so well. Work on the installation was expected to start in May.

Meanwhile in another part of the forest the evil stepmother at TfL was plotting their downfall.

Unbeknownst to the Babes or the Good Fairy someone in the advertising sales department had struck a deal selling the wall on the taxi rank side (ie. the better side – the side which everyone looks at while waiting at the bus stop) as ad space, presumably for many thousands of pounds. It was only when the advertising hoardings started going up that urgent enquiries were made, anxious emails sent and the uncomfortable truth uncovered that one part of TfL didn’t know what the other was doing. This is where the panto analogy falls down, as the ‘Wicked Stepmother’ was of course merely doing their job, rather well, blissfully unaware that the space had been promised to another. This is after all one site out of thousands probably, a line in a spreadsheet in an appendix. What’s more, TfL is under pressure to earn revenue at the moment, as the government has given notice that it will no longer be funding its operations. From 2018 TfL must become self-sufficient with its operating costs. So they now have something of a problem.

Sarah, the designer, and Karen, who jointly conceived the mural and have campaigned doggedly for it over several years, were devastated when they were told the deal was off as the wall was no longer available. After more urgent emails and phone calls they were invited to a meeting with TfL on Friday to discuss options. As of Friday, when various options were explored, the decision hangs in the balance as to what will happen next.

TfL has two choices: unpick a lucrative contract or renege on a promise which would make them a shining example of corporate social responsibility and bring them much love from the people of Chiswick. I like the panto analogy because in a pantomime the good guys always win. Evil is banished from the land and Chiswick would get its mural. So let’s hope that Those Who Will Decide at TfL are a fan of the genre, will find room in their £11.5 billion budget to forgo a little extra cash from our grimy, pigeon fouled wall in favour of improving the environment of our community. Maybe if we all clap our hands and say “I believe in the good faith of multi billion pound corporations” they will.