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news, views and issues around Greenwich, Charlton, Blackheath and Woolwich, south-east London – what you won't read in Greenwich Time

Be magnanimous in victory… except if you’re Eltham Labour

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A little postscript to May’s Greenwich Council election. The highest-profile scalp was that of Conservative Nigel Fletcher, who lost his Eltham North seat as Labour advanced – due at least in part to Ukip taking suburban votes from the Tories.

Nigel’s written well about his experience of losing. Sadly, others couldn’t be as classy. On Saturday, Nigel got this leaflet through his door.

Eltham North Labour leaflet

Ouch. Not nice.

Still, at least Nigel can count himself lucky – up here in the north of the borough, hearing from your councillors after an election simply doesn’t happen.

In the meantime, let’s keep a special eye out for how Linda Bird and Wynn Davies shake things up…

2.45pm update: Nigel has now written about the letter himself.

Written by Darryl

14 July, 2014 at 6:30 am

The Guardian’s redundant row over Deptford’s Job Centre pub

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There are many terrible things going on in south-east London right now. The rise in the number of people forced to use food banks. People young and old are being forced out of our area because of a lack of affordable housing. Stupidly-priced, ugly speculative housing developments appearing everywhere to line the profits of a select few. The politicians who’ll happily sacrifice communities’ health and well-being to drive new roads though our neighbourhoods, instead of delivering the public transport we sorely need.

But according to The Guardian, the worst thing going on in south-east London right now is the name of a pub.

The Job Centre Deptford, 6 June 2014

The Job Centre opened at the beginning of June. I popped in on its first night – in its first half-hour, as it happened. The staff were still figuring out how to work the tills, a spark was sorting out a final bit of work with the electrics and some brick dust still sat on the tables.

I only planned to pop in for one, but I soon gained good company and stayed for a bit longer. By the time we left, the place was doing a healthy trade – hey, some dancing had even broken out. It had the kind of mixed crowd you’d expect from somewhere in Deptford, with a dog curled up on one of the chairs. It felt like the place had been open for years. This’ll be a hit, I thought.

My only worry was the place had barely been decorated. And from the upstairs gents’ toilets, people in the flats opposite had a view right into the cubicle. Awkward.

Job Centre, Deptford, 6 June 2014

I tweeted a few thoughts about the pub, and somebody asked me if I thought the name was offensive. At first, I had my doubts about the name. The place was a job centre until 2010, and was then was squatted on and off – it looked like it was having a riotous party the day of the royal wedding in 2011. Pub firm Antic agreed to take on the site in January 2013, under the name “The Job Centre”.

Antic had clearly based the pub’s logo on the 70s/80s Job Centre design… but nobody did anything naff like making cocktails named after benefits. There’s a little pin board up where people could advertise local vacancies – but essentially, it’s just a boozer.

The Job Centre, June 6 2014

Maybe I’d have called it the Mercury (after the newspaper once based upstairs), but Antic names its new pubs after the buildings they used to be. (Coming soon: The Woolwich Equitable.) It’s common for new pubs to be called after their buildings’ former uses, and a job centre is part of the urban landscape. And anyway, if they’d called it something else, plenty of locals would have just called it “the old job centre” anyway. If you were looking to piss people off, you’d call it the Moustache and Ukelele.

Effra Social, Brixton, September 2013

Effra Social, Brixton

(Indeed, if there’s an Antic pub I’ve found a teensy bit dodgy, it’s the Effra Social in Brixton – a former Conservative club which is a fine place for a drink, but still has pictures of the old club’s members on the walls. If that was my Tory grandad’s picture left up for the amusement of guffawing drinkers, I’d want to have a few words with the owners.)

Scroll forward five weeks, and the Guardian’s Comment is Free ran this on Wednesday morning from Jane Elliott, “senior lecturer in contemporary literature and culture at King’s College London and a resident of Deptford”.

Guardian Comment is Free

Gentrification? Irony? Behave, it’s a bloody pub, and one whose name has been known for 18 months. Brockley Central has dealt with this piece’s failings better than I could, although it’s worth emphasising this line from Elliott:

“Many of those moving into neighbourhoods such as Deptford – myself included – would prefer not to see themselves as part of the wave of displacement…”

Yeah, right. Some well-paid incomers are more worthy than others, eh?

Anyway, there was some sound and fury on social media, largely generated by people who’d never visted the place, branding the Job Centre some kind of hipster hell. Which it certainly wasn’t the night I visited. Nowhere on Deptford High Street is like that.

Someone at the Guardian didn’t want this to blow over, though. On Wednesday evening, a news story appeared.

Guardian, 9 July 2014

So, five weeks after the pub opened to a packed crowd of locals, it faced a backlash over a name that’d been known for 18 months. Eh? Something smelt fishy about this (and it wasn’t the whiff from the other end of the high street).

Strangely, the story didn’t refer back to the Guardian piece that kicked it all off. Instead, it referred to an “open letter” written by one… Jane Elliott.

Guardian, July 9, 2014

So Jane Elliott is actually from Lewisham People Before Profit, the political party which tried to take over the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign earlier this year.

A nice publicity coup for them. LPBP’s main public face, former Lewisham Conservatives vice-chairman, estate agent and political chameleon Ray Woolford, was understandably delighted.

Ray Woolford, Twitter
Ray Woolford, Twitter
Ray Woolford, Twitter

Funny, though, because back when the Job Centre pub opened, Ray was wishing them luck:

ray_woolford

Thanks to tweeter @Chimpman for the screengrab.

So if the whole thing was a publicity stunt from People Before Profit, what about the local outrage? Well, the report didn’t come from a Guardian news reporter, but carried the byline of culture reporter Hannah Ellis-Petersen. I asked her on Twitter if she’d visited the pub, and she didn’t respond.

I wonder, though if she approached the story with an open mind…

Hannah Ellis Petersen on Twitter

It also carried the byline of Helena Horton, the editor of a student newspaper in York. She did answer my questions, saying she interviewed locals “around the area outside the pub”. Like this one:

Guardian, 9 July 2014

How many job centres look like this?

Job Centre, Deptford, 6 JUne 2014

While the Job Centre row is a decent publicity coup for Lewisham People Before Profit, pointing fingers at a pub’s name isn’t going to find people homes they can afford to live in, or jobs that pay a decent wage. Indeed, Woolford appeared to be hoping the pub would close – adding to the dole queue.

The sad thing is that there is a debate to be had about gentrification – from the absurdity of places like Peckham’s “Bellenden Village” enclave to the local politicians who appear to resist nice things in their wards out of fear of attracting middle-class incomers. It’s a debate with many grey areas and one bound to reveal your own personal prejudices.

Maybe we can have a chat about it some day – at the Guardian’s own hipster coffee bar

6pm update: “It’s great to have a new local…” Crosswhatfields’ take on the Job Centre, including the curious case of the Lewisham Council-subsidised supper club…

Government backs Greenwich Ikea: So what happens next?

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Peartree Way, 3 November 2013

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has confirmed he won’t intervene in Greenwich Council’s decision to allow a huge new Ikea superstore in east Greenwich.

Greenwich Council gave outline permission for the store, on the site of the “eco-friendly” Sainsbury’s store in Peartree Way, in March. Planning officers ignored concerns about increased traffic and air pollution, a decision later backed by London mayor Boris Johnson.

The process was halted by Pickles in May, leading campaigners to hope the decision could go to a public inquiry.

Now Pickles’ decision means it’s back in the hands of Greenwich Council, which now needs to hammer out what concessions Ikea needs to make to make any store work, before a detailed planning application goes in.

Of course, the biggest worry is traffic and pollution. The development’s bound to be a draw for flat-pack furniture fans from across London and Kent, yet it’s to be placed in an area which can’t cope with any more traffic. The only real proposal from Ikea to solve this was to route traffic away from the notorious Woolwich Road roundabout, sending traffic in the direction of the Millennium Village.

Any ideas? If you do, contact your local councillors – it’s time for them to earn their corn and try to ameliorate the damage their colleagues have caused.

Written by Darryl

7 July, 2014 at 11:34 am

Bridge East London: Come Labour bombs and fall on Plumstead?

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London Chamber of Commerce - Bridge East London
The road lobby’s getting itchy. Monday saw the London Chamber of Commerce publish a new design for the road bridge it’s desperate to see built between Thamesmead and Beckton. The Evening Standard obligingly spun it as a “bicycle-friendly” bridge, because it has a pedestrian and cycle lane beneath the dual carriageway taking it across the windy Thames. Even the BBC fell for it, The Guardian’s architecture writer piled in with another sycophantic piece, proving that if you come up with a pretty picture of something and call it “bike-friendly”, you can flog any old crap in London.

Nobody bothered to ask any questions like how this bridge would fit into the road network, how it’d be paid for, what effect it’d have on the area, or whether there were any better ideas than digging up a road scheme that’s been around since the 1940s.

All the talk is of supposed benefits to “east London” – so let’s see the effect on south-east London…

Gallions Reach pollution/congestion map

Map created by Stewart Christie for May’s Greenwich Council election campaign.

This map shows the projected traffic impacts of a Gallions Reach bridge, based on a study commissioned for Newham Council last year. The thicker the yellow line, the more traffic. The numbers represent levels of nitrogen dioxide captured in January’s No To Silvertown Tunnel air pollution study. So, going anti-clockwise, there’s a fair chunk of traffic using the only existing infrastructure, the Thamesmead spine road. Then the horrors start – another chunk of traffic using Brampton Road, Bexleyheath, then crossing the A206 to enter a side street – Knee Hill in Abbey Wood, on the Greenwich/Bexley borough border. Here’s how it looks on Google Streetview.

Knee Hill, SE2, Google

It simply won’t cope. It gets worse, though, with another load of traffic using Wickham Lane in Welling, emerging into Plumstead Common – which is buried under a yellow line – and using the side streets there, principally Griffin Road, the last leg of the 53 bus route, to reach the one-way system at Plumstead station before heading towards Thamesmead.

Griffin Road- Google Streetview

Quite frankly, the road network simply won’t be able to cope. And that’s before you get to the known phenomena of “induced traffic”, where new roads encourage new journeys by car or existing journeys to be switched to cars, which is the main problem for the Silvertown Tunnel.

So, if the infrastructure doesn’t exist, does it have to be built instead? Much of Plumstead was blighted for years by the threat of the East London River Crossing, linking the North Circular Road with the A2, which would also have carved up Oxleas Woods and Woodlands Farm on its way to Falconwood.

Either way, Plumstead is squarely in the firing line. Greenwich Council claims to have moved its position slightly to acknowledge fears of congestion and pollution, both from here and the Silvertown Tunnel proposals. Here’s the Greenwich Labour group’s manifesto:

Greenwich Labour manifesto, 2014

Indeed, the Labour campaign in Shooters Hill was very proud of this, judging by this exchange with Stewart Christie, the Liberal Democrat candidate who created the map above.

Shooters Hill Labour Twitter exchange

Nobody seems to have told their colleagues at City Hall, though.

City Hall Labour Twitter feed

Some reward for the Labour voters of Plumstead, eh?

Then, one by one, Labour’s mayoral wannabes started coming out in favour. Sadiq Khan called it “exciting” and said it was “desperately needed”. David Lammy called it “interesting” and “new”. “22 road crossings to west of Tower Bridge and two to the east,” parroted Margaret Hodge, ignoring the Dartford crossing and five railway tunnels, two foot tunnels and a cable car. “Looks brilliant”, she added, although for who, she didn’t say.

I wonder what questions they asked about the scheme and their effects? But let’s face it, as for many of London’s politicians of all colours, Plumstead may as well be on Mars. Even assembly member Val Shawcross managed to undermine her pro-cycling credentials by backing a scheme that’s going to flood the streets with more motorised traffic.

So how did the London Labour Party end up falling for this, ending up taking a more extreme view than its Greenwich outpost? To be fair, a bridge at Thamesmead has been Labour policy for some years, but there’ll be many Labour members locally who’ll be furious to see the London Chamber of Commerce scheme – which contains less for public transport than Ken Livingstone’s Thames Gateway Bridge – backed by Labour at City Hall.

Nobody’s suggesting a “do nothing” option. There are many other ways to get Thamesmead properly connected to the rest of London. A DLR extension from Beckton. A rail link from Barking. Yet this isn’t about Thamesmead, this is about a belief that regenerating the Royal Docks requires a new road connection.

Should Plumstead be sacrificed for some imagined benefits north of the river? A fancy design may be enough to impress ambitious politicians, but it won’t disguise the congestion and blight that will be visited on the area. The 2016 mayoral election should have been an easy win for Labour in this part of SE London. Now they’re looking like they’re making things needlessly hard for themselves.

9.20am update: Today marks 138 years since the Plumstead Common riot to protect common land.

Ghana’s Black Stars shine at the Castle Tavern, Woolwich

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Castle Tavern, Woolwich, 21 June 2014
Castle Tavern, Woolwich, 21 June 2014
Castle Tavern, Woolwich, 21 June 2014

During every World Cup, there’s always somewhere to go in London if you want to follow a particular team. For Ghana, one of those places is the Castle Tavern, by the Woolwich Ferry.

As far as I can gather, it’s run by an English-Ghanian couple – so when the Black Stars are in action, the local Ghanian population flock to the pub. There’s not so much drinking going on – though big bottles of Nigerian Star lager go down a treat at a fiver each – but there’s plenty of singing, drumming, dancing, and laughter.

Castle tavern, Woolwich, 21 June 2014
Castle Tavern, Woolwich, 21 June 2014
Castle Tavern, Woolwich, 21 June 2014

It’s a side to Woolwich that’s not talked up by the property developers. Nor will you find it in Greenwich Time, the council’s weekly propaganda paper. It’s a world away from the sterile gentrification of the Royal Arsenal and it overpriced, understaffed Dial Arch.

And when the Black Stars play, you won’t find a friendlier welcome anywhere else in south-east London.

So, after a tip-off from the Dulwich Hamlet fans’ forum, I thought I’d have a wander down for Saturday night’s match against Germany. Would people mind if I took loads of photos and filmed loads of videos, like a tourist? Then I realised everyone was filming each other anyway, so didn’t worry about it.

And you know what? It was just fun. No cynicism, no slagging off your own side, just fun. After a tense first half, it was outside for some fresh air – and more singing, dancing and drumming.

Back inside, the game livened up in the second half. But nobody was going to let a small thing like Germany’s opening goal stop everyone having a good time.

Three minutes later, though, the Castle went wild as Andre Ayew headed in an equaliser for Ghana. Less than 10 minutes after that, Asamoah Gyan fired the Black Stars into the lead and pandemonium broke out…

Miroslav Klose put Germany back level again – but could Ghana get a third?

It wasn’t to be. But a draw against one of the World Cup’s most fancied team deserves a celebration – so it was back outside again.

So long as the USA don’t beat Portugal tonight, Ghana will still have a shout at qualifying for the World Cup’s knockout stages. But even if they don’t get through, I reckon there’ll still be a party at the Castle anyway. So if you want to see what it’s all about, then get down there this Thursday at 5pm for Ghana v Portugal.

Castle Tavern, Woolwich, 21 June 2014
Castle Tavern, Woolwich, 21 June 2014
Castle Tavern, Woolwich, 21 June 2014
Castle Tavern, Woolwich, 21 June 2014
Castle Tavern, Woolwich, 21 June 2014

Written by Darryl

22 June, 2014 at 3:17 pm

Will Greenwich Council’s new boss be the same as the old boss?

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So, last week, Chris Roberts said his farewells as Dear Leader. I’m told he was still in his office at Woolwich Town Hall as the minutes ticked down until the end of his reign at 7pm last Wednesday. And as the effective editor of the council’s weekly newspaper, Greenwich Time, he got to pen his own farewell.

roberts_farewell

In case you were wondering, “leave this world a little better than you found it” is a quotation from Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scout movement.

More telling, though, from a politician closely associated with huge building projects, is “make no small plans, for they have no power to stir men’s souls”. That’s attributed to Daniel Burnham, a US architect who worked on some of the world’s earliest skyscrapers, including New York City’s Flatiron Building. Something to remember when Berkeley Homes’ huge towers start to loom over Woolwich in the next few years.

Possibly more telling than that, though, is a revealing comment he made at his final full council meeting in March, which you can listen to below. He’s heavily tipped to end up in some consultancy or advisory role, so until he re-emerges, let’s leave this as the last word.

He was paying tribute to departing councillors. But it was pretty clear he wasn’t talking about them when he said: “The service of the public is a noble calling, whether you’re doing it as a councillor or as an officer. No-one in a democracy does it for the money. It can be long, it can be tiring, but as we all know, it can be rewarding.

“It can result in people delving into your personal lives, and as we all know it’s full of journalists, bloggers and tweeters who think that your moral compass and motives are as base as theirs sometimes seem to be – and that public works and public good are something to be denigrated by those who seek to pursue them [sic].”

***

That was then, this is now.

Greenwich Time, 17 June 2014

The Dear Leader is no more, so congratulations and welcome to Denise Hyland as the new Greenwich Council leader, as trumpted by – where else? – Greenwich Time.

It’s lucky for Hyland that one of the more controversial projects under her past watch as regeneration cabinet member, the botched refurbishment of the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels, is finally nearing completion. Indeed, she’d also been saddled with fronting the council’s Bridge The Gap campaign to build the Silvertown Tunnel and a bridge at Gallions Reach – in spite of opposition from her own party.

The party members’ opposition meant Labour’s position in May’s election was subtly different. “Bridge The Gap is dead,” one Labour source insisted to me during the council election. And, indeed, look at what the Labour manifesto said…

Greenwich Labour manifesto, 2014

A little bit of wiggle room emerged. And Labour candidates were telling people on the doorstep that things had changed. Here’s Stephen Brain, now Peninsula ward councillor, on 23 April.

Stephen Brain on Twitter

But on 24 April, despite what was in the Labour party manifesto, here’s what Denise Hyland was telling Boris Johnson, responding to his London Plan

London Plan response, 24 April 2014

Was Denise Hyland just following orders? Here she is from the News Shopper last week:

“I’m saying that we need a package of river crossings, absolutely we do.

I’m not going to get drawn into over whether we’ll accept or refuse a single crossing. I want to work with my colleagues, my Labour colleagues in the majority group and get a consensus after we’ve seen the proposals.”

That sounds like Bridge The Gap is still alive.

“Of course I’m concerned about air quality. I think it’s obviously a very difficult balance. If we actually look at our figures, 85 per cent of people thought we needed additional river crossings. 76 per cent wanting Silvertown, 73 per cent wanting a bridge at Gallions. People seem to think that doing nothing is not an option.”

Let’s not forget that Greenwich Council tried to rig that consultation, of course. Perhaps the new chief whip, one Stephen Brain, needs to get his leader into line…

Generally, the News Shopper interview seemed to promise more of the same than anything new. When asked about opening up the council, she said “I obviously want ward councillors to be frontline councillors, they’re the representatives of the council in the community and they represent their people and its for them to channel people’s voices through to the council” – ie, they should do their job. From this early interview, don’t expect any move away from the current top-down decision-making any time soon.

Then again, her Greenwich Time “interview” talked up the importance of listening to communities – since the Shopper’s piece went up on the website on Friday, shortly before GT goes to press, I can’t help wondering if the piece underwent a hasty rewrite as the introductory paragraph doesn’t match the headline. After all, Hyland is now the effective editor of GT…

It’s early days, and Hyland has to get her feet under the table first. While Roberts’ chief executive, Mary Ney, remains in place, big changes are probably unlikely – although a new cohort of Labour councillors will want to make their presence felt.

But who has her old job of regeneration cabinet member, the most important on the council?

Danny ThorpeCuriously, the job didn’t go to an big hitter such as Jackie Smith, John Fahy or David Gardner – but to Danny Thorpe, the 30-year-old Shooters Hill councillor best known for spending a year of his first term in office in Australia. When a skint Thorpe had to return to London after six months to attend a council meeting to avoid a by-election being triggered, the council’s Labour group had to pay his air fare.

Thorpe, who used to work in events management for Hackney Council, will be juggling his cabinet portfolio with teacher training at a primary school in Dartford. You could always try to follow him on Twitter, but his profile’s locked. Mind you, the last time I saw it, it was full of photos of him and singer Beverley Knight.

Hyland and Thorpe are also both on the planning board along with ex-deputy leader Peter Brooks and ex-chief whip Ray Walker – so the old guard are still represented there.

There are other new faces in the new cabinet. Highly-rated newcomer Sizwe James takes business, employment and skills, while fellow new councillor Chris Kirby gets housing. Miranda Williams, in her second term, joins the cabinet as member for cultural and creative industries. Returning councillor David Gardner takes health and adult social care.

Maureen O’Mara stays in the cabinet, taking community wellbeing and public health; while Jackie Smith also stays in the cabinet, but loses her highly-praised role in charge of children’s services to take on community safety and environment. John Fahy now takes on children’s services as well as being deputy leader. The “Greener Greenwich” portfolio (created by Roberts after the Greens broke through as an electoral force in 2006) has been dumped, with Harry Singh talking charge of customer and community services.

Cynics never the changed the world, so this website won’t be writing the new team off just yet. Denise Hyland and her team need to prove they are better than the unravelling shambles that came before them – and they’ll need to pick up some of the pieces, too.

Of course, Greenwich councillors should be held to account for past actions, but those actions may not necessarily be an accurate prediction of the future. It’d be good to see a review of past contracts signed with developers – as Hammersmith & Fulham’s new Labour administration is carrying out after usurping a Tory regime that also looked a bit too close to builders – but frankly that won’t happen.

Those who kept their head down and did as they were told under a bullying, stifling regime need the chance to find their feet and prove to us they can make a difference. The way Greenwich borough is run desperately needs to change – will they be the ones to deliver?

PS. Former Labour councillor Alex Grant has started a blog – and if you’ve made it down this far, his first post will be essential reading. Former Tory councillor Nigel Fletcher has also returned to being a digital scribe, and his account of losing his seat is also well worth reading.

Save Enderby House campaign launched by Greenwich locals

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Enderby House, 15 June 2014
Enderby House, 15 June 2014
One of the saddest sights on Greenwich’s Thames Path is Enderby House, left vandalised and wrecked, neglected by developers who don’t seem to have a clue what to do with it.

This is the site of the long-delayed cruise liner terminal, although much of the action on the site has been to build homes, presumably as quickly as possibly before the property bubble bursts.

Of course, this is also where the world’s first telegraph cables were made, with work still taking part in a small corner of the site. Without Enderby House, there may well have been no phones, and no internet. It’s a hugely-overlooked piece of local history.

The house has been in a mess for over three years – now a group of locals are taking action. Here’s Alan Burkitt-Gray…

“Just wanted to let you know that a bunch of locals have started to campaign for a strategy to protect and preserve Enderby House, the original offices of the company that created the communications revolution — between 1850 and the 1970s the factory there made most of the world’s undersea telegraph and telephone cables.

“The house is now surrounded by a building site, where Barratt is putting up houses and flats. Alcatel-Lucent, the direct successor to the other Telcon company that’s been there continuously since 1850, has shrunk to a corner of the site, though still does submarine-cable related work.

“There is no clear plan for Enderby House, a listed building, and the future of the cable-loading gear that sits on the riverside is also unclear. For more than a century cable made here in Greenwich was loaded directly onto the cable-laying ships on that jetty.”

The group has a website, www.enderby.org.uk, and want as many people as possible to attend a consultation meeting to be held at the Forum on Trafalgar Road on Wednesday 25 June at 6pm (the developers’ PR people seem to try for the most inconvenient times).

It’s also produced a leaflet explaining more about the history of Enderby House and why it should be preserved and celebrated.

Written by Darryl

16 June, 2014 at 7:54 am

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