Blackwall Lane pocket park: Greenwich Council ignores objections and sells to developer

Blackwall Lane open space and flats
Greenwich Council’s cabinet agreed to sell a “pocket park” off Blackwall Lane to a developer on Wednesday night, despite 54 complaints about the plan.

Councillors agreed the plan to dispose of the open space to the company building flats on an adjacent plot of land that had formerly been used as a car wash.

The vast majority of complaints came from streets close to the open space, which has been tended to by council street maintenance staff for many years.

Most of the complaints were about the potential loss of open space, while 38 were concerned about increased noise and air pollution levels at a site which is close to the Blackwall Tunnel approach.

They were all given the same reply: “The planning process deals with local consultation and issues relating to the potential loss of public open space and the impact of any new development.”

The cabinet was asked to consider a quick sale because “a decision in September 2015 will be too late to enable the Royal Borough [sic] to seek to secure the best possible receipt”, according to documentation released earlier this month.

The sale price was not made public, but the council says it is trying to address concerns by ensuring that 20% of the receipts would “be used for the purpose of environmental improvements to other areas of public realm in the vicinity”, to be decided by regeneration cabinet member Danny Thorpe and senior council officer Pippa Hack. No role is mentioned for the area’s local councillors or residents.

The cabinet paper adds: “There may also be an opportunity for further public realm improvements to be secured under any section 106 agreement linked to a planning consent for redevelopment of the site.” This will also be something for local residents to stay vigilant about, as section 106 deals in Greenwich are usually used to fund borough-wide projects.

The other 80% of the sale cash will go into the council’s general funds. Wondering where that’s going? Well, Wednesday night’s cabinet meeting also agreed a £12.2 million budget for a scheme to build a cinema in Eltham High Street, and heard that the latest budget for the 2017 Tall Ships race is £1.8 million.

Greenwich cruise liner terminal: The night Greenwich councillors ignored air pollution – again

London City Cruise Port

Worth noting the London City Cruise Port’s graphic, taken from this year’s application, doesn’t show the impact of other developments on Greenwich Peninsula

Hugely controversial plans for a cruise liner terminal at Enderby Wharf, east Greenwich, were approved on Tuesday night after a marathon four-hour session of Greenwich Council’s planning board – with councillors dismissing fears of air pollution from the ships.

I couldn’t be at Woolwich Town Hall, so have to leave you in the hands of those who were and who tweeted from the meeting. The plans were approved 6-3, with one abstenion, after a motion calling for approval to be deferred was defeated.

This Storify page contains just about all the tweets from the meeting – and a few from afterwards.

The crucial issue is that the ships will be generating their own power, using much dirtier fuels – critics say it’ll be the equivalent of having 50 lorries running their engines all day and night, and that the terminal should use its own power sources, as used in New York and Amsterdam and demanded by an EU directive.

But these fears were dismissed by councillors, who also heard the terminal will only provide 88 jobs – down from the 500-odd previously mooted.

It’s not the first time air quality concerns have been brushed aside on a major planning application – this happened most recently in March 2014, when outline plans for an Ikea store, also in east Greenwich, were approved.

Those that were there also managed to hear leading councillors make hugely simplistic assumptions about the effect of the terminal.

Forget the charms of the West End – leisure cabinet member Miranda Williams claimed the development will bring tourists to Woolwich and Eltham…

(Worth noting that Stewart Christie is in the Greenwich Lib Dems, Simon Edge in the Greenwich Greens.)

Regeneration member Danny Thorpe claimed the only sources of air pollution in east Greenwich came from Blackwall Tunnel queues and buses – conveniently ignoring the horrendous westbound traffic through Greenwich town centre, which in the 1990s led the council to consider building a bypass under the Thames.

And to top the lot, council leader Denise Hyland told residents that they should have raised air quality issues when the terminal first came before planning some years back – despite the fact that the new plan envisages cruise liners staying for longer. It’s also worth pointing out that Greenwich Council wasn’t making its readings from nitrogen dioxide tubes public at the time.

Peninsula ward councillor Chris Lloyd defended residents, along with colleague Stephen Brain, and local MP Matt Pennycook asked for the matter to be deferred. Conservative councillor Matt Clare also spoke against the scheme, along with his Tower Hamlets counterpart Chris Chapman.

As I said, I wasn’t there, but here are tweets from the night, while The Wharf’s Rachel Bishop was also there.

I suspect we’ll be returning to this issue before too long.

9am update: Any Greenwich resident who wishes to ask a question of Greenwich Council regarding this can submit a question to next Wednesday’s council meeting – email committees[at]royalgreenwich.gov.uk by noon today.

Reaction from Tower Hamlets Labour councillor Candida Ronald…

…and local MP Matt Pennycook.

Greenwich cruise liner terminal: Planners shrug off pollution fears

The new proposals for a cruise liner terminal at Enderby Wharf

The new proposals for a cruise liner terminal at Enderby Wharf

10.40pm update: The cruise liner terminal was passed by six votes to three, with one abstention. Read on for the story from before the meeting.

Greenwich Council planners have dismissed fears of air pollution from the new cruise liner terminal at Enderby Wharf, recommending councillors pass the scheme at a meeting on Tuesday evening.

Groups including the East Greenwich Residents Association and the Greenwich Society are objecting to the terminal as liners berthed there will be generating their own power, keeping their engines switched on rather than using cleaner shore-side power, as used at termimals in New York and Amsterdam.

Critics say the effects of the ships generating their own power while berthed will be the equivalent to having 50 lorries running their engines all day and night.

Across the river, Tower Hamlets Council is also objecting to the scheme, both on air and noise pollution grounds, criticising the lack of detail in the plans and branding as “nonsense” a claim that noise levels will be cut for Isle of Dogs residents.

Local Green parties in both Greenwich and Tower Hamlets have also submitted objections. In total, 117 objections were received by Greenwich Council, with just three expressions of support.

The application has gone to the planning board just a few weeks after a second consultation into the scheme closed.

EU directive 2012/33/EU says:

Air pollution caused by ships at berth is a major concern for many harbour cities when it comes to their efforts to meet the Union’s air quality limit values.


Member States should encourage the use of shore-side electricity, as the electricity for present-day ships is usually provided by auxiliary engines.

But this is dismissed by Greenwich planners.

In a response to residents of Plymouth Wharf in Cubitt Town, which faces the terminal, they declare that this isn’t their responsibility.

Implementation of the EU Directive is the responsibility of the UK Government by transposing this into national legislation. The UK Government must give the Directive effect by instituting schemes, projects etc,. to comply with the Air Quality Directive. The LPA’s role is to assess applications according to legislation and planning policy.

Later, Greenwich’s planners say that following EU directives would be too costly for the cruise liner terminal’s developers.

The applicant has assessed the use of shore power to supply vessels with electrical power in order to reduce emissions when in port. Using shore power has a number of issues attached to it namely:

• Very few cruise ships worldwide actually have the ability to link up to shore power.
• Ship power requirements vary with the size of ship
• The ship electrical requirements differ from those supplied from the UK national grid.

In addition to the above, it is understood that the costs associated with providing such facilities can be prohibitive to both the provider and user when considered against the environmental benefits of burning low sulphur fuel in generators and this is reflected in the low number of ships and ports utilise this facility globally.

Furthermore, the council commissioned a report… but it’s nowhere to be seen in the planning document.

The Council commissioned independent consultants to assess the case for on shore power. The consults report [sic] supported the application position [sic] stating that with the new low sulphur requirements now governing the supply and use of heavy diesel fuel for marine vessels it is unlikely that the huge investment in shore side power equipment can be justified.

Whose side is the council on? It’s a valid question, considering it’s five years since the prospect of a cruise liner terminal at this site was first raised by former leader Chris Roberts, who took the media out on a boat trip to show off the site. He claimed it’d be built for the Olympics.

Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts on BBC London News, 4 June 2009

These days, the planning board is chaired by independently-minded Mark James. Planning is supposed to be free of all political influence, although in practice this hasn’t been the case in recent years.

James replaced Roberts’ one-time henchman, former chief whip Ray Walker, who has now to be content with being vice chair. Current leader Denise Hyland and regeneration cabinet member Danny Thorpe also feature along with Roberts’ former deputy Peter Brooks – so much for doing things differently from the Dear Leader’s days.

So this starts to feel like the Ikea decision – rushed through in the dying days of the Roberts regime, now regretted by some on the council – all over again. Indeed, picking entirely unnecessary fights with local residents and even neighbouring boroughs has a depressingly familiar ring to it.

Will councillors recognise the serious concerns about this project, or will they just give another pet project the nod? It’ll be a big test for the council under Denise Hyland.

Here’s what local MP Matt Pennycook has to say: 

The meeting will be held at Woolwich Town Hall at 6.30pm – this post will be updated as soon as a result is known.

Blackwall Lane pocket park: Greenwich Council plans quick sale to developer

Blackwall Lane green, 7 August 2014
Last summer, this website revealed Greenwich Council was planning to sell a small piece of green space on Blackwall Lane in east Greenwich.

In other areas, it’d be called a “pocket park” and cherished – it soaks up some of the terrible pollution in this area of SE10 and provides a valuable bit of green space. It also offsets the grim-looking block of flats going up next door.

Local residents and at least one councillor protested about the council’s plan – but their complaints have fallen on deaf ears.

Greenwich Council’s cabinet is set to approve a quick sale of the land… to the developer of the ugly flats next door. The cabinet is being asked to rush through the sale at a higher price to suit the developer, according to this document:

“The adjoining owner/developer has offered a sum in excess of Officers’ opinion of the market value. The building works on his adjoining site are progressing to completion and, to justify the offer, he is requesting the Royal Borough finalises the deal soon. The concern is that a decision in September 2015 will be too late to enable the Royal Borough to seek to secure the best possible receipt.

“With Member’s [sic] approval to the disposal in principle, the process to secure the best receipt will be established and implemented by the Director of Regeneration Enterprise & Skills. Any development of the site will be subject to the usual planning requirements to ensure the delivery of a sustainable development.”

Meanwhile, contrary to what library staff were telling customers, the old East Greenwich Library is also set for sale to the highest bidder.

At the last full council meeting, regeneration councillor Danny Thorpe confirmed that the building – donated to the community in 1905 by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie – was not protected by a covenant.

Battle for Greenwich Time set to cost £120,000, council admits

Greenwich Council is fighting to keep its weekly newspaper

Greenwich Council is fighting to keep its weekly newspaper

Greenwich Council leader Denise Hyland has admitted its legal fight to save its weekly newspaper Greenwich Time is set to cost £120,000.

Hyland accused the government of wanting to “censor democracy” by trying to force the closure of GT, one of only two weekly council papers in the country.

The admission came during Wednesday’s council meeting, when new Conservative leader Matt Hartley pressed her on the costs in a written question.

Hyland revealed the council has spent £30,000 on the action so far – including £22,320 on outside legal advice, with total costs expected to reach £120,000.

The answer also indicates that the council, which claims publishing GT weekly saves it money, is planning to claim that a government ban on publishing its own paper would be against its freedom of expression, as enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights.

Greenwich is seeking a judicial review of the decision by former communities secretary Eric Pickles to direct it to close GT, following a new law prohibiting councils from publishing newspapers or magazines more than four times a year.

As well as undercutting ad rates in existing local newspapers, Greenwich Time has been accused of bias and misleading information. The only other council to publish a weekly newspaper, Tower Hamlets, recently saw its elected mayor ejected over charges of corruption.

Hyland told the council chamber: “I’m just amazed, actually, that the Conservative group over there are so against the democracy of Greenwich Time to be untrue, that you will actually support the Department of Communities and Local Government in censoring information going out to residents.

“It is beyond belief, frankly.”

She added that the council would be studying the results of its recent tender for advertising, a possible replacement for GT.

Speaking slowly, she said: “We will make our decisions strategically, and be advised by coun-sel – a QC – and we will take each stage as it comes. We have been assured by our QC that we have a strong case and we expect to win.”

The legal process is set to take some months yet, meaning residents will still get GT for the time being. At the last council meeting in March, Hyland mocked those who signed a petition against the newspaper, accusing them of being Conservatives or Liberal Democrats. “I didn’t know they had so many members,” she said.

Also at Wednesday’s council meeting… a motion protesting about the 53 bus being cut short at Lambeth North turned into a political squabble.

Greenwich Time, 26 May 2015

Greenwich Time talks up the mayor’s party

Hyland also defended the £20,000 private mayor-making event held for new mayor Norman Adams, saying any attempt to open it up to the public would increase costs.

In a written answer to Matt Hartley, she called it “a good opportunity for key players and residents to meet”, adding that “a broad range of partners and community groups and residents from across the spectrum of Greenwich life were represented at the event”.

“I would be happy to explore ways that the event could be opened up but, should we wish to retain the current community involvement, it could further increase costs.”

When asked by fellow Tory Matt Clare if representatives from political parties not represented on the council were invited, she replied: “The Mayor’s inauguration is not a political event. It is a civic reception with an invited audience of guests from across the spectrum of Greenwich life. including: Faith Leaders, businesses, community representatives, Civic Award winners, voluntary groups, Borough tenant
representatives, MPs, stakeholders, representatives of the Armed Forces, all members of the Council as well as a broad range of partners and community groups and residents from across the borough.

“All members of the Council are the elected representatives of local people – the public have made their choice of who they want to represent them.”

Could the London Cycle Hire scheme finally reach the Dome?

Could the London Cycle Hire scheme finally reach the Dome?

Regeneration and transport cabinet member Danny Thorpe said he would welcome an extension of the London Cycle Hire scheme to Greenwich town centre, following Boris Johnson’s backing for the proposal last week.

But told Conservative councillor Matt Clare the council would not pay the £2 million other boroughs – such as Tower Hamlets and Hammersmith & Fulham – have paid to see the bikes, now formally known as Santander Cycles, extended to their areas. When the scheme was first implemented in 2010, boroughs did not have to pay.

Thorpe said it would be “a fantastic opportunity”, adding he had discussed the idea at a scrutiny meeting last year, joking: “I know you call them Santander bikes because they’ve gone red, just like City Hall will next year.”

He added: “We’re open for business, we’re always happy to chat to Andrew Gilligan, the cycling commissioner, but Greenwich will not go above and beyond in terms of paying for what other boroughs have had for free.”

Goodbye to Greenwich’s ‘eco’-Sainsbury’s: 1999 – 2015

Sainsbury's Greenwich, 24 June 2015

On a September morning nearly 16 years ago, I watched Jamie Oliver fire a little white cannon to open the “eco” Sainsbury’s in east Greenwich.

Last night, on a warm June evening, I watched it close for the last time.

Greenwich Sainsbury's, 23 June 2015
Greenwich Sainsbury's, 24 June 2015

At 5.58pm, people were still wandering into the store. If it wasn’t for people leaving through the entrance rather than the already-closed exit, you’d have thought all was normal.

Then some staff filed out, and at 6pm, a smiling security guard took charge of the door.

As the staff posed for photos, the final shoppers left. Some shook the security guard’s hand, one hugged him. A young woman next to me turned around as she left and said, “bye bye, Sainsbury’s”.

And that was it. One of the staff patiently explained to a man he was too late to do his shopping, I toddled off to North Greenwich station.

Greenwich Sainsbury's, 24 June 2015
Greenwich Sainsbury's, 24 June 2015

While watching the scene, I realised just how much people will miss this supermarket. It may not have worked as well as Sainsbury’s intended, but with its distinctive shape and natural light pouring through, it was that rarest of stores – one that was a pleasure to shop in. People even came from across the river. A favourite of stock photographers, you could see it on the news and know it was our Sainsbury’s. Not any more.

Of course, the “eco” store wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. And coming home at ten to midnight last night, when you’d expect stock and equipment to be being moved out, the lights shone as brightly as they ever did on what’s now a ghost supermarket. Maybe we’ll never know how ecologically-friendly this building really was.

From 9am today, the action moves down the road to Gallions Road in Charlton. The new store may be bigger, but it won’t be open through the night like its predecessor. It’s already in hot water over its giant signs, which were refused planning permission but appeared anyway.

It’ll probably lose custom from the Greenwich Millennium Village, which grew up behind the store and whose residents treated it as their local. It’ll certainly lose a chunk of custom from those who won’t be able to take the bus there any more – Transport for London having refused to extend route 202 from Blackheath to the Charlton store, despite the store developer offering money.

With wider trends in the industry favouring home delivery, smaller shops or discount stores, I wonder if Sainsbury’s will come to regret going for such a huge new store.

Greenwich Sainsbury's 23 June 2015

As for 55 Bugsby’s Way, the future is bleak. There’s no news on any short-term use for the doomed building. Ikea’s planning permission for the site remains only outline, the Swedish furniture giant poised to submit a full planning application after what, by all accounts, seems to have been a token consultation with local community groups. There’s even talk of Ikea eyeing up the adjacent B&Q site.

Like so many of the Greenwich Peninsula dreams of 1999, the eco-Sainsbury’s turned out to be a false start. Now there’ll be a solid block of big-box retail with enormous car parks for a full mile between Greenwich and Charlton. And people say London’s short of places to build new homes in.

Greenwich Sainsbury's 23 June 2015

Would it have been better if Sainsbury’s had never come here in the first place? It depends how much you can tolerate Asda, I guess. Or if you want a steady, big-name employer to give people work – and the staff at the Greenwich store have been exemplary over the years. The new store will have more of them.

But in future, if a stranger approaches your town and offers you an eco-supermarket, you may wish to think very carefully before you accept…

10.30am update: The Charlton Champion went to see the new Charlton Sainsbury’s.
Charlton Sainsbury's, 24 June 2014

Journalism in SE London is slowly dying: Why you should support the News Shopper strike

News Shopper reporters on strike

Everybody out: News Shopper NUJ members are on strike for two days

Imagine this: the government has decided to close down a vital public service in SE London, moving its remains to Sutton.

Valued workers will be fired, teams will be split up and told to work from home – depriving them of the opportunity to share ideas about providing a better service. An organisation already distant from the clients it depends on will retreat even further into itself, and its service will lose value by the week, growing more and more irrelevant.

There’d be outrage. Even the Labour party might briefly stir itself into complaining. There’d be a big campaign to save it – and the demand that it should be the well-paid heads at the top rolling, rather than the modestly-compensated toilers at the bottom.

Well, it’s happening. Except it’s not the government doing the closing, it’s this bunch of clowns in the video below. And their target is the News Shopper, whose journalists are on strike today and tomorrow.

This is the senior management team at Gannett, led by chief executive Roy Orbison Gracia Matore, performing a children’s song from a children’s film in a video shown to their staff in the US earlier this year.

Gannett’s a highly-profitable media conglomerate best known for owning USA Today. Its UK subsidiary, Newsquest, owns a string of local and regional titles, including the Brighton Argus and the Glasgow-based Herald.

It also owns the News Shopper and the South London Guardian series, which between them cover most of SE and SW London and the northern parts of Kent and Surrey.

Newsquest made £64 million in profit last year, which clearly isn’t enough – so it’s been decided that the Shopper and South London Guardian should effectively combine – they already share an editor – into one team based at the Guardian’s office in Sutton, with many staff either sacked or told to work from home. The current Shopper HQ in Petts Wood would close.

Petts Wood is distant enough as it is, but that’s always been the Shopper’s weak spot. Launched in Orpington 50 years ago as London’s first free newspaper, it’s always been a slightly eccentric title. A 1976 front page lectured readers on how hard work was vital to secure the nation’s future.

It expanded into Lewisham and Greenwich in 1988, but looked out of place for many years – a suburban news agenda doesn’t quite get the nuances of the city. Hardened readers of this website will remember when it gave a pen as a prize to a homophobic letter writer, and dished out inaccurate reporting of the 2011 riots (the latter a symptom of the cutbacks in the local press).

News Shopper strikers at The Valley

Greg Stubley, a freelancer working at Charlton Athletic, joins Shopper staffer Paul Green (right) at The Valley

But in recent years, it’s sharpened up its act in these parts – thanks in no small part to the work of beat reporter and deputy news editor Mark Chandler. Recent stories include revealing a councillors’ jolly to Spain and tracking the continued downfall of former council leader Chris Roberts’ allies – the Shopper played a big part in bringing Roberts’ bullying to a wider audience.

The website still veers wildly between clickbait and serious issues – and it showed a strange glee when reporting on a man having a crap at a bus stop – but on the whole the printed paper’s led with some strong stories of late. It’s even possible to pick one up these days, as branded dispensers have appeared in some shops.

For a paper that’s produced miles away, it’s doing a decent job on the resources it has. Heaven knows what will happen if more staff are cut and the thing moves to Sutton.

Imagine being a young reporter, stuck on crap money living in a houseshare – probably miles away – trying to work from home, without colleagues to share information and tips with.

Maybe you’re lucky enough to have actually got out to report on a story, but you now have to camp out in a library to write it up because you’re miles from home or the office, the deadline’s coming up and the library’s about to close. (Oh, and the story’s about library cuts.)

Or being stuck in Sutton, expected to work on copy about places you know nothing about because you’re expected to now know New Cross as well as New Malden. You’re not going to do your best work, are you?

But still, everything is awesome, isn’t it? If I had a car, I’d drive down to Petts Wood and give the picket line a honk of my horn. Instead, this post will have to do. Good luck to the News Shopper strikers.

mercury_greenwich640

It’s not just the Shopper. Not by a long way. Cuts have been the big story in the local press for years, with reporters stuck in offices rather than getting out and about. By losing a day’s pay to take placards around the Shopper’s enormous editorial area, the paper’s reporters have probably seen more of it than they have done in years.

The loss of the Shopper’s Petts Wood HQ would mean that none of the major news groups would have a presence in south-east London any more. The only weekly newspaper left in the wider area would be the Southwark News, which – guess what? – is independently-owned.

Otherwise, the big news groups have upped sticks and gone – Trinity Mirror moved the Mercury from Deptford to Streatham a decade ago, a decision that current owner Tindle Newspapers has stuck with. Archant moved the Kentish Times from Sidcup to Ilford a few years back.

There are now only three journalists who cover issues in Greenwich borough full-time – none of them cover the patch exclusively anymore. Mark Chandler and Jaimie Micklethwaite juggle Greenwich and Lewisham for the Shopper, while Mandy Little covers Greenwich for the Mercury as well as putting together seven different versions of the paper. (Its sister paper, the South London Press, now just has one staff reporter covering Lewisham, Southwark, Lambeth and Wandsworth.)

Cuts and clickbait might sum up the Shopper’s difficulties, but the Mercury’s in an even worse state because octogenarian owner Ray Tindle doesn’t believe in the internet. He’s even got a terrible TV ad to extol how great the papers of 1956 were. It pretty much sums up the worldview of a man who set up his newspaper group with his demob money, and hasn’t moved on since.

The Mercury was once the undisputed king of this area’s local papers – a campaigning weekly with reach and clout. It’s where I did my first newspaper work experience in 1991.

But firstly under Trinity Mirror, and latterly under Tindle, it’s shed staff and circulation, and is now locked in a death pact with its one-time rival the South London Press. And because Tindle – a kind of Christina Foyle of the local newspaper industry – doesn’t believe in the internet, it can’t even run a page of kitten photos on its token website to raise any interest.

Two years ago, the journalism trade press lauded Tindle’s decision to split the Greenwich editions of the Mercury and sell them through the news trade. So as well as the (free) Lewisham, Greenwich and Bexley Mercury titles, there would now be paid-for 30p editions for Charlton, Blackheath and “Greenwich Town”. The likes of Press Gazette sat on the great man’s knee as he opined on how important paid-for newspapers were.

Straight outta Streatham: The now-defunct Charlton Mercury

Straight outta Streatham: The now-defunct Charlton Mercury

Of course, this was barmy, as Greenwich hasn’t had a paid-for title since the Kentish Independent closed in 1984. Even more barmy was that Tindle was putting no new resources into these titles, so a skeleton staff had to source stories to fill pages in three extra papers, and they’d be padded out with irrelevant coverage of events in Sydenham or Erith, at the far edges of the Mercury’s patch. Nor did he pay for any promotion of these titles.

The other suicidal thing about this strategy is that neighbouring communities in London aren’t discrete – they blend into one another. I don’t often visit my local newsagent in Charlton, but I’m more likely to visit one in Blackheath as I pass it more often. So I’d have to go out of my way to spend 30p on a title for Charlton that perhaps had three dedicated pages of news for my area.

Splitting titles up also means that you have to justify having a Charlton paper by having a Charlton story on its front page. So a major story could happen two miles away in Woolwich, but the Charlton paper would have something inconsequential as its front page splash. That’s madness.

To nobody’s surprise, a couple of months back, the Charlton Mercury closed along with its two paid-for sisters, unnoticed by Tindle’s fans in the trade press. I’d be stunned if more than 100 Charlton Mercurys were sold each week. I’d be surprised if it did even half that sum.

But was Tindle going to concentrate on making the Greenwich Mercury great again? No. Instead, the Mercury was to be sliced up again, without any investment in staff.

Now there are free editions for Greenwich, Lewisham and Bexley boroughs, plus local editions (free this time) for Abbey Wood & Thamesmead, Woolwich, Plumstead and Catford, all coming from the understaffed SLP office in Streatham (which is also putting out a series of local SLPs for areas such as Deptford, Peckham and Brixton, plus Tindle’s new plaything, a series of tatty-looking titles for central and west London, the London Weekly News). The Catford edition is especially puzzling, as most of the news stories (and advertising) are about Greenwich borough.

A pile of Mercurys abandoned in Sainsbury's Local, Charlton Church Lane

A pile of Mercurys abandoned in Sainsbury’s Local, Charlton Church Lane

As for Charlton, Blackheath and “Greenwich Town”, we’ve got a generic Mercury back again, barely delivered through any doors and occasionally found abandoned in piles in supermarkets. I recently tried to buy one in a newsagent only to find there was no cover price or bar code. Me and the newsagent settled on 30p. With miserly promotion like this, the Mercury’s future has to be looking bleak.

It’s not just greedy, stupid newspaper owners killing the local press – in Greenwich, the council is contributing by placing Greenwich Time up against them, undercutting the Mercury and Shopper’s ad rates.

Of course, Newsquest’s cuts make it easier for Greenwich to justify carrying on with its vanity weekly – the government’s legal action against the council on this is set to drag on for some months yet. And sadly for the Shopper strikers, their own union has undermined them by backing council Pravdas. Greenwich Time is an anomaly that affects just a sixth of the News Shopper’s distribution area, but it’s certainly not helping matters.

I don’t know what the solution is – heck, I can’t even get a decent job in the industry myself at the moment – other than to keep buying Euromillions tickets so I can buy the Mercury off Tindle, move it back to SE London and save the bloody thing from its slow death.

But news is important. Here’s the founder of BuzzFeed, Jonah Peretti, on why it matters to his business.

Having a great news organization has a positive effect on BuzzFeed’s entire culture and makes the whole organization better. Even our team members who work on entertainment content or on the business side are proud to work at a company that is breaking big, important stories. It is inspiring to be part of an organization with reporters doing work that helps shut down ISIS oil smuggling across the Turkish border, exposes sex abuse at an elite private high school, or shines a light on battered women who are wrongly imprisoned. That kind of work pushes all of us to do our very best work and aim high, and we plan to keep pushing.

Or, to put it more parochially, the News Shopper can do all the “you’ll be amazed by these 21 arse-cracks we found in the Wetherspoon in Petts Wood” clickbait pieces it likes – but unless you’re balancing it out with the kind of serious reporting that takes time, effort and risk (exposing wrongdoing, not drunks having a dump at a bus stop), you’ll just end up with a hollow product.

Sadly, Newsquest doesn’t seem to be seeing it this way. Maybe – like some commercially-run hyperlocal websites that concentrate on lifestyle above news – it just thinks someone else will do it. But who?

It’s worth noting that the papers that are doing well are independents such as the Southwark News. The Camden New Journal even put out a special issue the day after the general election. And even our own Greenwich Visitor punches well above its weight for a monthly produced by a tiny team.

Perhaps local communities should be empowered to be able to buy local newspapers (like they can bid to buy threatened pubs and other local assets). Perhaps then community-run papers should be able to get charity status. Would this work here in south-east London? I don’t know. But even asking these questions is a start.

The next time something in your community is threatened, you’ll want some support and publicity. And local papers still carry clout. So give the News Shopper strikers your support. Complain to Newsquest. Tell your MP to do the same. Ask your local Labour councillor if they’ll support union members.

The News Shopper may not be the perfect paper we all want to see. But it – and the Mercury – are the best we’ve got. And we’ll miss them when they’re gone.