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TfL West Ham Bus Garage - Green: at a price

Andy Izatt, Route 1

TfL’s long-awaited ‘state-of-the-art’ £48m garage for 320 buses in West Ham is now fully operational. Andy Izatt reports on one of the industry’s most innovative and environmentally friendly infrastructure projects of recent years.

West Ham in east London is well known for its Premier League football team. However, it now has another call to fame – what Transport for London (TfL) describes as the UK’s largest, greenest bus garage – officially opened by David Brown, Transport for London’s (TfL) Managing Director for Surface Transport. 

Leased to East London Bus Group (ELBG) for 15 years, the £48m garage, designed by Pringle Richards Sharratt Architects and constructed by Mansell Construction Services is capable of accommodating 320 buses and providing employment for 900 staff. The PVR of its current allocation is 226, including 39 artics for route 25. Its environmentally friendly design and structure are predicted to cut CO2 emissions by 27% compared to a building using traditional materials. 

Kulveer Ranger, The Mayor of London’s transport advisor said: “This and other schemes like this are the result of us putting sustainability at the heart of our transport policies. It’s so rewarding to see a bus garage like this one which produces almost a third less CO2 and has so many innovative eco-friendly features. The garage, paired with our bus fleet, which is the greenest in the country, is yet another part of our continued drive to reduce polluting emissions and improve air quality for Londoners.

London Buses Senior Garage Planner, Paul Ross explained that West Ham garage encompasses a seven-acre site with around 80,000 square feet of barrel vaulted roof covered space. Bus parking areas either side of the central engineering facility are roofed to absorb noise from the depot which is located next to residential areas and LDA (London Development Agency) land, zoned for multiple use development.
The two outer arches of the laminated timber roof have been planted with sedum that acts like a sponge for rain water, releasing it more slowly into the drainage system and so reducing the likelihood of flooding. As well as being a more aesthetically pleasing sight to local residents, the “living green roof is designed to provide a wildlife habitat for nesting birds and insects. Rain water collected from the rest of the roof and stored in underground tanks is used to flush on-site toilets. Spruce wood has been used in the inner roof bay beams, larch for the outer.

ELBG has moved its head office and training operation on site occupying the first floor of the north facing office suite. Facilities for garage staff, including the drivers’ duty office, contract-run canteen, staff lockers and a Quiet Room where people can also pray, are located on the ground floor. Toilets on both levels are disability-friendly. 

To minimise the amount of energy used by the site, only meeting, training and computer server rooms are air conditioned. Other rooms have a ventilation system that is designed to draw in colder air over night ready for their day time occupation. The building’s exposed concrete absorbs heat during the day. Biomass boiler and combined Micro CHP heat and power units help reduce reliance on fossil fuels and a high-profile on-site 37m-high 100kW wind turbine could meet around 10% of energy needs. How much power is being generated can be checked at any time by visiting http://northernpower.kioskview. com/westhamgarage.

West Ham garage has an A+ energy performance asset rating of 24. Existing buildings of this type would more typically have an E rating of around 107. The energy performance certificate hanging in the garage foyer gives details.

Natural light is used to illuminate the workshop, reducing reliance on electric light. There are 30 inspection bays arranged in two facing rows of 11 pits with double ‘flatbed’ bays at either end where body repairs can be carried out or lifts deployed. Three pits each side are long enough to accommodate articulated vehicles. Paul Ross described the workshop as having “swimming pool pits because the floor underneath extends under all 11 on each side, giving engineers direct access to the vehicles above them without having to return to ground level. All lubricants are stored in tanks at the lower level. ELBG Engineering Director Peter Sumner has said that the new facilities are delivering significant improved fleet reliability.

Buses enter and exit West Ham garage by a separate entrance to that used by pedestrians and other vehicles. A substantial fence prevents any unauthorised access to areas where buses may be manoeuvring. The temporary bus parking area to the north of the depot that had been used while building work was completed has now been returned to LDA control. 

A three-bay refuelling and washing facility has its own ancillary buildings as it is a stand alone operation at night when the main garage is not operational apart from emergency engineering cover. Smith Bros & Webb supplied the bus washes where 70% of the water is recycled. Each of the refuelling pumps has a range of holsters and access to lubricants to accommodate different vehicle types. Nearby are two 140,000-litre fuel storage tanks and there are also chassis and engine washing facilities.

Planning restraints mean that there are only 63 car parking places onsite. ELBG currently rents parking nearby. There are electric vehicle charging points at the garage’s visitor car parking bays and plenty of cycle and motorcycle parking is available. Star Lane, a DLR (Docklands Light Railway) station adjacent to the site on a new line extension linking Canning Town with Stratford is due to open soon. West Ham was created to replace two garages in Waterden Road, Stratford that were lost as a result of the 2012 Olympic Games construction work. As originally envisaged, the new depot was expected to be ready by the time the two Stratford garages had to close, but this did not happen. Instead a temporary facility, including parking, fuelling and washing was handed over to ELBG adjacent to the West Ham building site in February 2008. ELBG undertook maintenance at Rainham 11 miles away - an inconvenient and costly arrangement.

West Ham’s completion came more than two years later. Some of that delay has been attributed to how the site, which was released in three stages, became available to the developers. It had previously been used by the Royal Mail, itself dependent on alternative facilities coming on stream at Thurrock, and that resulted in changes having to be made in the sequence of works at West Ham. However, in austere times, the new garage is a timely reminder of what can be achieved when public transport is placed firmly at the top of the political agenda and the necessary finance provided to support it. As David Brown said: “This vital investment in infrastructure supports the most widely used form of transport in London, currently delivering 2.2bn bus passenger journeys each year.

© Route 1 2010