Video: Meet the captain of the Woolwich Ferry


“Everybody’s interested in the job I’m doing, what I’m up to. Yeah, I love it. I’m very proud. You get to see all the vessels that go by, get to see some beautiful vessels.”

Here’s a short film of the Woolwich Ferry’s captain, David Watkins – produced as part of the great 1,000 Londoners series.

Greenwich Peninsula: 22.7% of new homes set to be ‘affordable’

Greenwich Peninsula developers' pavillion

Less than a quarter of homes on the new phase of Greenwich Peninsula development will be “affordable”, according to planning documents released by Greenwich Council last night.

Greenwich planners are recommending councillors approve the scheme at a meeting on Tuesday 8 September. Just 22.7% of homes of the 12,678 won’t be sold at full rate, the 320-page planning report reveals.

The original masterplan for the peninsula, agreed in 2004, envisaged 40% of homes being “affordable”.

But that stalled, and Hong Kong-based developer Knight Dragon – controlled by billionaire Dr Henry Cheng – which is now in charge of the scheme, has taken a much more aggressive approach to developing the huge site.

It controversially persuaded councillors to allow it no “affordable” properties at all on the plots nearest Canary Wharf, Peninsula Quays, leading to a legal row which resulted in Greenwich being forced to reveal the viability assessments it used to make the decision.

2004: Council newspaper Greenwich Time trumpets 40% "affordable" accommodation on the Peninsula. How things have changed...

2004: Council newspaper Greenwich Time trumpets 40% “affordable” accommodation on the Peninsula. How things have changed…

Greenwich has published the viability assessment for the new scheme, where consultants Christopher Marsh and Company pinpoint withdrawals of grants by the last government as a factor in the low figure.

“Some agency, or several, will receive significant sums via the original land agreement, and currently, none, it would appear, are prepared to re-cycle any share of those receipts back into affordable housing in Greenwich. That is a key driver in this case. Before February 2014, when Government largely abandoned grant aid to affordable housing, we would have expected most schemes to have exceeded 30% affordable housing. Without grant, that expectation has now been reduced by about one third.”

A further document from BNP Paribas compares the Peninsula scheme with property values at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich – an improvement on the Peninsula Quays scheme where values across the whole borough were used, despite the unique nature of the site.

The document indicates that the headline figure for new homes remains 12,678, with towers of up to 40 storeys.

A quick skim through the papers would appear to indicate Greenwich planners have largely accepted Knight Dragon’s transport proposals, despite fears from a raft of local groups and even Transport for London that they will pile additional pressure onto North Greenwich station. An early reference to the “Silvertown Tunnel Rail Link” suggests that planners may not totally be on the ball here.

TfL says: “Jubilee Line crowding is already an issue and is forecast to continue in 2031. The additional crowding on Jubilee Line services is considered an issue. TfL cannot agree that the London Underground (LU) and National Rail networks would be largely unaffected by the proposed development.”

Indeed, council planners shrugged off calls for a pedestrian and cycle connection to Canary Wharf to relieve the Jubilee Line in just a sentence – “the feasibility of a pedestrian link between the Peninsula and Canary Wharf has been investigated previously but it is not considered feasible” – presumably a reference to an 2010 assessment by TfL produced to justify the construction of the Thames Cable Car, which said a bridge would not bring in any income.

The only explicit mass public transport improvement appears to be funding for a bus from Kidbrooke Village to North Greenwich – which is likely to pile even more pressure on the Jubilee Line.

There’s a lot to wade through, but it’s hard to see quite where Greenwich has tried to strike any worthwhile bargain with Knight Dragon. The big question remains – will the council’s planning board swallow Dr Cheng’s prescription?

Crap development: Enderby Wharf neighbours disturbed by Greenwich’s ‘poo wagon’

Barratt Homes' poo wagon loading up on Wednesday afternoon

Barratt Homes’ poo wagon loading up on Wednesday afternoon

It’s another tall ships weekend, but for a real sniff of what life’s like by the river in Greenwich these days, head down to Christchurch Way. Here, Barratt Homes has recently unveiled the first homes at Enderby Wharf – adjacent to the planned cruise terminal site.

Unfortunately, these homes haven’t yet been properly linked up to utilities. There’s currently no sewerage service, for example.

So every other day, a truck parks up in Christchurch Way to take the new residents’ effluent away. Sometimes it comes at breakfast, sometimes it comes in the afternoon. It smells, and it’s noisy too…

It typically takes three hours to suck all the sewage away, I’m told.

Worse still, the new homes are currently being powered by diesel generators.

While I was filming the poo wagon, one shift-working resident came out to tell me he’s disturbed by the noise from the crap truck, and his asthma is being made worse by the generators.

These are clearly growing pains for what will be a big new development. But it’s another example of why people in this part of Greenwich are feeling a little under siege right now.

Greenwich cruise liner terminal: City Hall sides with council despite pollution fears

The new proposals for a cruise liner terminal at Enderby Wharf

The planned new London City Cruise Port is expected to be up and running by 2017 and will feature a 31-storey tower block

Mayor Boris Johnson’s deputy has backed Greenwich Council’s decision to allow a cruise liner terminal to be built at Enderby Wharf, east Greenwich, despite residents’ fears that it will increase air pollution in the area.

The Conservative administration at City Hall sided with the Labour council on last month’s go-ahead for the scheme, even though locals are demanding the terminal is fitted with on-shore power generation to save the area from being exposed to emissions from the dirty fuel that cruise ships usually use.

A version of the scheme was originally approved in 2011, but new plans put forward this year propose ships staying longer at the site, using their own fuel, rather than shore-side power as recommended by the European Union.

Despite councillors hearing last month that the scheme will actually only create 88 jobs, a City Hall press release persists with the original claim that the scheme will lead to 500 jobs.

Deputy mayor Edward Lister – a former leader of Wandsworth Council – took the decision, saying: “We have worked with the local authority and the developer to ensure the new terminal and surrounding infrastructure will meet the needs of thousands of tourists coming to the city each year.

“It will provide a major boost to tourism, benefit the local economy and further contribute to London’s status as a world leading city.”

City Hall said it relied on an separate independent assessment to the one revealed to Greenwich councillors just days before last month’s planning meeting.

“While it recognised there could be some moderate adverse impact on occasion, it also acknowledged the height, speed and heat of ship emissions disperse more efficiently in comparison to motor vehicles,” it said.

“Recognising the levels of background pollution already experienced in the borough, £400,000 has been secured towards ongoing environmental monitoring or improving air quality through the Royal Borough of Greenwich’s Air Quality Action Plan.”

For Greenwich Council, regeneration cabinet member Danny Thorpe said: “This landmark cruise liner development will bring many thousands more visitors to the borough, and provide a major boost to tourism.

“The council is committed to improving air quality in the borough, and recognises that this was an area of concern for local residents. I hope that it will be reassuring for residents to learn that the Mayor has submitted our measures to independent scrutiny and found them to be satisfactory.”

Residents in the area already complain of feeling under siege by politicians and developers, and many may find hearing a Labour councillor endorse Boris Johnson’s administration on air pollution – not the Conservative mayor’s strongest point – represents a new smack in the face.

Last week, the East Greenwich Residents Association called on council leader Denise Hyland to step down from its main planning committee after it emerged she was the only one of London’s 28 council leaders to take a direct role in deciding whether new developments should go ahead.

Hyland’s comments during the meeting were also leaked to Private Eye magazine, leading to the council’s first appearance in the satirical publication for many years.

Stand down Denise: Residents call on Greenwich Council leader to quit her planning role

London City Cruise Port

Local residents in east Greenwich are demanding council leader Denise Hyland stands down from the borough’s main planning committee after it was revealed she is the only council leader in London who is regularly directly involved in taking decisions about major new developments.

The East Greenwich Residents Association has made the call following Hyland’s role in pushing through plans for a controversial cruise liner terminal in the area.

Hyland, who has led the council since June 2014, told the planning meeting that the terminal’s planned 31-storey residential tower was “nothing”, criticising residents for not bringing up air pollution fears when the proposals first came before the planning committee some years back – even though plans for the terminal have substantially changed since then.

She also said that on a trip to a cruise terminal in Southampton, she could not “see” any air pollution there – despite the fact that it is usually invisible. Her performance at the planning board earned her an appearance in this week’s Private Eye magazine.

The planning board shrugged off air pollution concerns about the London City Cruise Port, and the lack of any comprehensive, timely environmental assessment. It accepted developers’ claims that it would be too expensive to install on-shore generating equipment which would reduce the impact of ships spending extended stays at the terminal, despite European guidelines recommending this system is used.

Local MP Matt Pennycook and councillors Stephen Brain and Chris Lloyd were among the objectors, along with Tower Hamlets councillors and Isle of Dogs residents.

Research by EGRA – independently verified by this website – shows no other borough in London allows its leader such a prominent role in taking planning decisions, a role where politics should play no part.

Large or contentious decisions across Greenwich borough are usually taken by a committee of 14 councillors, called the Planning Board.

Most boroughs operate a similar system – though using different names for the committees – which usually see less high-profile cases taken by area committees.

But Denise Hyland is the only one of London’s 28 council leaders (a further four are run by elected mayors) to regularly sit on her council’s main planning committee.

The only other council to permit a formal role for its leader in planning decisions is the controversial Conservative-run authority in Barnet. But even here, Richard Cornelius is only a substitute member of its planning committee, deputising for his fellow Conservative councillors where necessary – a role he hasn’t carried out since June 2014.

Indeed, 13 out of London’s 32 boroughs only allow backbench councillors to take major planning decisions – removing any suspicion that may arise from having high-profile councillors taking sensitive formal decisions.

Denise Hyland's accession t the council leadership as reported by its weekly newspaper, Greenwich Time

Denise Hyland’s accession t the council leadership as reported by its weekly newspaper, Greenwich Time

Of the 14 planning board meetings held since Hyland became leader, she has attended nine of them.

This continues a system which began under Hyland’s predecessor Chris Roberts, who started sitting on the planning board in 2007. Roberts did not take part in the 2011 meeting which gave the terminal its original green light, after appearing on TV promoting the scheme.

But Hyland – then regeneration cabinet member – did take part in that meeting, then praising the scheme as “world class”.

In May, ahead of the planning board’s decision, the London City Cruise Port’s chief executive Kate O’Hara was invited to the council’s £20,000 private mayor-making ceremony, attended by Hyland.

Advice from the Local Government Association says that “members of a planning committee… need to avoid any appearance of bias or of having predetermined their views before taking a decision on a planning application or on planning policies”.

Hyland’s successor in that role, Danny Thorpe, has inherited her position the board. Just six other boroughs – Barking, Camden, Harrow, Lambeth, Newham and Richmond – allow his counterparts to assist in making planning decisions.

In an open letter to Hyland, EGRA’s executive committee says:

“We are concerned that your presence as council leader alongside the regeneration cabinet member could make the planning board susceptible to political pressure and decisions made on policy and party lines rather than in the wider public or community interest.  

“This concern is reinforced by your tendency and Councillor Thorpe’s tendency to sum up and make your positions known before voting takes place. The recent decision on the cruise liner terminal is a good case in point.

“Our community feels extremely frustrated at the way in which our attempts to raise legitimate concerns over the development of our area are not being taken seriously and are being batted away through a process that is less than scrupulous at times and is susceptible to what we perceive as potential political interference.

“We call on you to restore our confidence in the borough and the decisions it makes and we formally request that you step down from the Planning Board. We need to have confidence that our borough is making the right decisions for the right reasons and operating in the same way as other London boroughs as part of the statutory process.”

Residents are now pinning their hopes on London mayor Boris Johnson “calling in” the application to decide himself – a move supported by Liberal Democrat, Green and Conservative members on the London Assembly. Tower Hamlets Council has since backed away from its opposition to the scheme. A decision is expected soon.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that European money could have been available to help fund the London City Cruise Port fund on-shore generating equipment.

Trade publication Ship Technology, which accuses the developers of “cutting corners”, reports that the EU can fund up to half the costs of research and 20% of the costs of installation if a member state opts to use such a system. But councillors were not told this before they made their decision.

7pm update: Former Greenwich councillor Hayley Fletcher, who sat on the planning board alongside council leader Chris Roberts, responded to this story…

Greenwich Council leader makes her debut in Private Eye

Private Eye, 21 August 2015

Denise Hyland’s unfortunate habit of picking fights with local residents has been marked with this appearance in Private Eye‘s Rotten Boroughs column this week. (£1.80 in all good newsagents.)

It’s sure to annoy the image-conscious Royal Greenwich Greenwich Council press office, while it’ll no doubt cause sniggers among the Labour councillors who are unhappy with their leader’s performance. After all, her bullying predecessor managed to keep himself out of the Eye…

(Thanks to the Greenwich Green Party for scanning it in.)

Elsewhere: ‘How the Emirates Air Line’s fares aren’t paying its way’

Thames Cable Car
This website hasn’t featured the cable car much recently, so here’s a story somebody else has done about it. LondonLovesBusiness has done some digging and found that the Dangleway isn’t paying its way.

LLB editor Shruti Tripathi Chopra used the Freedom of Information Act to get the Emirates Air Line’s fare income for each year since it opened in June 2012. During the six months it was open in 2012, it took a healthy £6m; but in all of 2013 that dropped to £5.2m; then back up to £5.8m in 2014. Up to July, it’s taken £2.3m in fares – obviously that’s before the bulk of the school holidays.

Operating costs in the cable car’s first year were £6m per year*, so essentially, LLB says, the thing’s not only useless as public transport – journeys have now been slowed to 15 minutes to allow people to enjoy the view – it’s losing money as a tourist attraction, if you judge it by fare income alone. (I’ve amended this paragraph as TfL later went on to dispute this – see update below.)

Some caveats, though. Firstly, most public transport in London is subsidised to some extent anyway – there’s a social benefit in getting people onto mass transit and out of cars, and its existence supports centres of employment. However, the Emirates Air Line’s extremely low number of regular users show this can’t be judged in the same way as, say, the 108 bus through the Blackwall Tunnel (which costs £3.7m each year to run before fares from 3.5m journeys are taken into account).

Secondly, these figures don’t include non-fare income, such as the sponsorship money from Emirates, which is paid in annual tranches. Emirates’ deal is worth £36m in total, including £10.35m up to and including the day the cable car opened. It is now paying the rest off in £2.85m chunks each year – enough, so far, to keep the finances in the black. You could argue that this is similar to advertising on the bus network.

All that said, it’s still another valuable insight into what essentially was a panicky vanity project carried out by a mayor seeing re-election. The sad thing is that a pedestrian or cycling connection between North Greenwich and Canary Wharf wouldn’t have cost that much more to build (£100m instead of the cable car’s £60m) and would have transformed the area.

Political parties are now choosing Johnson’s replacement (this website humbly suggests Labour backers make Christian Wolmar their first choice). It’ll be interesting to see just what the wannabe mayors make of Johnson’s most baffling legacy to London.

* Friday update: After this post was written, LLB amended its story to include TfL figures – which as far as I can gather had been released for the first time – that claim operating costs have fallen since the first year of operation, putting the cable car’s finances in a healthier light. I’d be curious to find out just where the falls in operating costs comes from. And of course, if the cable car was doing its job as public transport, the question of whether it makes or loses a million pounds each year wouldn’t be such a vexed one.