I love St Pancras International, BUT….. Monday June 10 2010
I absolutely love St Pancras International. As a 21st century reworking of a 19th century Gothic masterpiece I think it’s a triumph of design and implementation.
There are trains where there always were trains before and its ‘seven stations in one’ status means it has become a tremendously useful hub. The transfer of Thameslink services there, plus the arrival of domestic high speed Javelin trains, in addition to the tubes, East Midlands Trains and Eurostar make it an amazing transport interchange.
Generally it works pretty well (notwithstanding some information weaknesses exposed in the Eurostar Christmas cock-up 2009) and the shops that were added are in the previously inaccessible undercroft and so the station had had its space and facilities expanded very significantly. It's a wonderful achievement and it lifts the spirits just to spend time in the Barlow train shed on a sunny day - it's the biggest conservatory you could want. Lovely.
The cafes and restaurants are a mixed bunch, though, and I only use some of them for business meetings. Carluccio’s is, in my opinion, too smug and overpriced and Betjeman’s is OK - but the Grand (Searcy’s) opposite the champagne bar is fantastic in ambience and the food’s good even if the service is absolutely appalling. Which it is. And I've used it enough to know that this is a regular characteristic. The Pain Quotidien bistro in the undercroft is excellent and good value, with wi-fi and some interesting communal refectory type tables where you can work and meet some interesting folk. They don’t mind you plugging your laptop in along the back wall and it’s very cosmopolitan too – you can sit there listening to half a dozen European accents in the hubbub around you. It’s got a great buzz – like the station as a whole. The PQ is a good choice.
I wonder how SPI will change when the hotel opens later this year, or early next year?
I’ve yet to see SPI overcrowded, strewn with litter (it’s incredibly clean and tidy and a credit to its operators) or struggling to cope with its workload – in all but one very basic aspect, where it's failing pretty significantly at the moment. I've watched this problem for a good few weeks now, but it shows no sign of anyone tackling it, which is a great pity because it really spoils the overall success of the place. It's public loos.
I don’t know whether the station footfall has been greater than was envisaged or planned but there’s a big shortage of public loos to which attention should urgently be devoted.
The loos in the main shopping mall, near the passageway through to the tube and the Euston Road, are clearly far too small in capacity. The gents loos just about cope – and if you can brave the terrible smell which I’ve winced at every time I’ve visited (several times a week, usually). Yes, you can get in and out OK. There’s enough capacity too -but in the gents there's evidently a dire shortage of cleaners. Niffy just isn’t the word for the assault on your nose. You do what you have to get and get out. A couple of minutes, tops.
But it’s the ladies I feel sorry for. On each and every time I’ve used the loos, a queue of fed-up and increasingly-desperate looking ladies snakes out of the loo itself, all the way along the corridor to to the mall and out into the shopping area itself. That’s, at a rough guess, a queue of around 40 women waiting ‘to go.’ It must be very uncomfortable – not least as they have to stand in the aforementioned nasty niff in that side passage off the mall, for 15 minutes or so as they file slowly in to take their turn.
Surely in the 21st century we can plan enough public loos to meet the needs of a massive facility like St Pancras, which is seven stations in one AND a ‘place to just hang out’ as the publicity said at the time of opening?
It’s neither a dignified nor constructive way for the several dozen in the ladies loo queue to spend their time – and it’s a terrible impression for London’s visitors arriving in our capital for maybe the first time, either from northern England via EMT or the Continent via Eurostar?
It’s a horrible, smelly and unpleasant corner of a station which is otherwise a triumph in every respect and which I otherwise love deeply. The reinvention of the Gothic St Pancras and its Grand Hotel as such an important gateway to London in the 21st century is a truly fantastic achievement and one of which I find myself, quite inexplicably and inappapropriately, proud of on a personal level.
Surely….surely……we can provide enough ladies loos on the one hand and cleaners on the other?