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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

Residents launch fight against ‘planned chaos’ of Greenwich Ikea

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Greenwich Sainsbury's, 14 April 2014
Recognise the green space above? It’s the little eco-garden behind Sainsbury’s in Greenwich, which is due for demolition along with the supermarket if Ikea’s plans to build a store here go ahead.

It’s also going to be where the No Ikea Greenwich Peninsula campaign will be launching with a picnic a week on Saturday (12 noon, 26 April), to fight against the arrival of a store which it’s feared will generate huge weekend traffic jams.

Greenwich Council gave the scheme outline planning permission last month, with planning board members Denise Hyland, Steve Offord, Clive Mardner, chief whip Ray Walker and council leader Chris Roberts ignoring over an hour of public criticism to endorse the proposal, after it was rushed through the planning process.

Campaigners have already sent a blistering open letter to outgoing leader Roberts, branding the site “clearly unsuitable for a standard Ikea store”, adding: “This is not responsible planning; this is planned chaos.”

This would be the first Ikea store in a congested residential area and the only Ikea in a Royal Borough. When Greenwich was granted Royal Borough status in 2012, you visited local primary schools to celebrate, handing out commemorative coins. Only two years later, you cave in to the pressure of an out-of-town furniture retail giant, wilfully disregarding the health of its residents and the impact this development would have on both the Unesco heritage site and the Greenwich Millennium Village.

We will not rest in our efforts to make the public aware of your actions and to use every means possible to put a stop to this outline planning consent going ahead.

The campaign has Facebook page while a a petition to Boris Johnson, who has to ratify Greenwich Council’s controversial decision to give the store outline planning consent, has also been set up.

Roberts announced his intention to not seek re-election as a councillor last Friday, and the council has now gone into purdah ahead of 22 May’s election – essentially, the council must avoid controversial issues and leave those to the political parties fighting he election.

But there’s clearly a rush to get something through planning ahead of Roberts’ departure – a previously-unscheduled planning board meeting has been called for 6 May, just 16 days before the poll.

In 2010, the last planning board meeting was six weeks before the poll, and the gap was five weeks in 2006. With future council policy somewhat uncertain following Roberts’ departure, and a whole load of big schemes being rubber-stamped over recent weeks, it’ll be interesting to see just what’s being rushed through on 6 May.

8.45am update: Boris Johnson’s office has told the protesters he will not intervene to overturn Greenwich Council’s decision to support the planned Ikea store.

The Dear Leader resigns: Chris Roberts leaves Greenwich Council

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Chris RobertsGreenwich Council leader Chris Roberts is to quit the authority altogether at next month’s council election, he’s announced in an email to councillors.

Roberts, who was first elected to the council in the 1990s and became leader in 2000, had previously announced he would stand down as leader but seek re-election in Glyndon ward.

But in recent months he had been bogged down in accusations of bullying, and last year this website first revealed a threatening message left on the voicemail of his cabinet colleague John Fahy.


This website understands that Roberts resigned as a director of council company Meridian Home Start after clashing with Labour councillors about the firm’s role.

Roberts’ resignation email in full:

Dear Colleague

I wrote in February last year to advise that it was not my intention to seek re-election as Leader of the Royal Borough of Greenwich following this year’s local elections in May.

The administration held its final Council meeting at the end of March and on Monday the formal period of election ‘purdah’ commences.

I am therefore writing to you now to advise that it is not in fact my intention to seek election to the Council at all. I believe the presence of a previous leader in the new administration, especially one who has held the post as long as I have, is unfair on any successor.

When I wrote last year, I expressed the hope that we would be able to complete the work necessary to secure the Crossrail station at Woolwich. This we were able to announce last July.

Our work on Crossrail was itself a crucial element of our growth agenda which has also seen the development of four new development master plans backed by targeted intervention by the Council to stimulate economic activity and generate employment.

These include commitments over the next four years to build a new leisure centre in the heart of Woolwich, a new cinema in Eltham High Street, a performing arts centre in the Borough Halls at Greenwich and the expansion of pier capacity at Greenwich, Woolwich, Charlton and Thamesmead.

In addition the Council is primed to finance up to £30m of investment in the expansion of school places to meet the growing demand of our population as well as securing more than 450 genuinely affordable homes to be built on the Greenwich Peninsula for those in greatest need.

Of course the final year of this administration has been overshadowed by the awful murder of Lee Rigby and marks the lowest point of my entire period as Leader. I am relieved at least that his killers were so swiftly brought to justice. I hope this, alongside the outpouring of support and thanks for Lee’s service to his country, provides some small measure of condolence to his family.

During this last year, I am particularly proud of the progress we have made in moving people off benefits and into work. A coherent and coordinated approach has enabled hundreds of families locally move into employment.

Our programmes for growth and anti-poverty have been recognised nationally, as indeed is our continuing strong record of financial management. None of the projects I have referred to above require additional support from the Council Tax payer.

We have frozen Council Tax seven years in a row and the Council’s finances have been left in a robust state which will enable this to be maintained during the four year life of the next Council.

I remain enormously grateful for having had the honour to serve as Leader of this Borough. As I write last year, I have been blessed with an extraordinary collection of Council officers who have embraced the agenda I have set, even when that agenda keeps expanding.

The same is true of the remarkable women who have worked in my personal office and given so much by way of support and help to me.

I was grateful for the huge number of kind messages I received to my message last year and while some have kindly canvassed my candidature for London or Westminster, it has always been my wish to ‘do’ something rather than ‘be’ something.

I have greatly valued the support and commitment of our wide and expanding array of partners to working with, for or alongside Greenwich during my time as Leader.

I trust this will continue and that my successor when she is elected in June will be equally blessed and that the work we have each committed to on behalf of the people of Royal Greenwich will continue into the future.

Yours faithfully
Chris Roberts
Leader, Royal Borough of Greenwich

Roberts’ resignation now opens the way for one of his close associates, such as current deputy leader Peter Brooks, to be parachuted into the Glyndon seat ahead of Monday’s close of nominations for the elections. It could be an interesting weekend in the Greenwich Labour Party.

A new council leader will be chosen by councillors in June. Roberts’ use of the word “she” would appear to confirm suggestions that cabinet members Denise Hyland and Jackie Smith are front-runners.

Written by Darryl

11 April, 2014 at 1:23 pm

Silvertown Tunnel will cause ‘pressure’, Boris Johnson admits

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Charlton Road/A102 bridge, 2 April 2014
London mayor Boris Johnson has admitted his proposals for the Silvertown Tunnel will cause “much more pressure and much more traffic” on local roads – despite his allies at Greenwich Council claiming the opposite.

Johnson’s admission also gives campaigners against a new Ikea in Greenwich a new line of argument while the mayor considers whether or not to ratify Greenwich Council’s decision to back the new store.

All this comes in a week London’s been enveloped in a smog which is actually visible thanks to it including some Saharan dust particles – with the capital’s politicians paralysed by inaction.

Johnson’s comments about Silvertown were made in a phone-in on LBC with breakfast host Nick Ferrari on Tuesday morning. Thanks to Boriswatch’s Tom Barry for the heads-up and transcript of this conversation with a caller called Mark from Dagenham, 25 minutes into the programme:

“What we’ve got to do, Mark, actually, is build not just one bridge but a series of river crossings, we’re starting with the Blackwall 2 tunnel… that will be going by 2020, or 2020-2021 – not so far away! Erm, only six years or seven years to go, we’re going for the Blackwall 2 tunnel at Silvertown, but we will also need a series of crossings to the, to the east and actually there’s a there’s a there’s loads of sites that er, are we are looking at and, um, I think the important thing for people of um both on both sides is that you shouldn’t just do one, because if you do one then you’re going to get much more pressure, much more traffic on, on that area and if you if you you can dilute the traffic if you have if you have several crossings.”

Yet the current proposals from Transport for London, which Johnson chairs, are just for the one crossing – at Silvertown. And Johnson has been happy to push the merits of this one crossing in the past – calling it “a major new crossing east of Tower Bridge”.

(Update Friday 8.30am: A spokesperson for Johnson has also told the Mercury that Silvertown will DOUBLE capacity at Blackwall. Past TfL statements have put the planned increase in traffic at 20%.)

So not only has Boris Johnson torpedoed his own argument, his friendly fire has also shot down some of the nonsense spouted by his partners-in-roadbuilding at Greenwich Council, such as this classic from “Greener Greenwich” cabinet member Harry Singh.

Harry Singh's written response, Greenwich Council meeting January 2013

It’s increasingly looking like the mayor is starting to soften up for a U-turn on the Gallions Reach crossing – which would flood Woolwich, Plumstead and Abbey Wood with new traffic, as well as for more roadbuilding in general. But where else along SE London’s riverfront would Johnson swing his wrecking-ball to build yet more road crossings?

Meanwhile, while voicing doubts on putting too much pressure on the road network on the Greenwich Peninsula, the mayor is currently deciding whether or not to approve Greenwich Council’s decision to allow Ikea to build a new superstore there.

GLA letter on Ikea

Of course, an Ikea will bring the same problem – an increase in traffic, something that was ignored when it was bulldozed through planning last month.

So it’s possible to use Johnson’s words to argue the case against Greenwich’s decision, as well as the GLA’s 2004 objection to a store in Sidcup. If you want to write to City Hall to object, use reference number D&P/3283/PR and write to planning[at]london.gov.uk before 9 April.

Last chance: Have your say on Greenwich Council’s pavement tax

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Pavement tax demonstratorsI’m very late with this, but this weekend’s your last chance to respond to the consultation on Greenwich Council’s “pavement tax”, the charge on shops and cafes placing items on the pavements outside their premises, which led to people dressing up as fruit and veg outside Woolwich Town Hall last year. (Go via here if the other link doesn’t work.)

I’ve heard a faint rumour that Greenwich Council is trying to find a way to extricate itself from this balls-up of a policy, but at January’s council meeting, cabinet members droned on about mums-and-buggies, while an early email alerting people to the consultation seemed as if it had been sent to just about group who could possibly find fault with chairs, goods or A-boards being placed on pavements.

It’s worth pointing out that the pavement tax fiasco is a direct result of the bullying yet cowardly way Greenwich Council is currently run – slipped in as a line in a budget without consultation or discussion, saving a cabinet member (in this case, Maureen O’Mara) having to justify it. When opposition politicians belatedly realised what was happening, and pointed out it could be illegal, the response was a) the Tories endorsed it when they backed the council’s budget, and b) how very dare you criticise our brave council officers who are implementing this, along with a surreal defence that some traders actually liked the scheme.

It’s also possible the scheme won’t actually make enough money to pay its way – after all, it means employing people to go nosing around shopping parades to check on frontages – so is a complete waste of time. Here’s the discussion from last October’s council meeting.

It’s telling that most other London boroughs operate a similar scheme – but Greenwich still managed to make a mess of it. Plenty of local Labour activists and councillors are also opposing the pavement tax, so who knows? One more push, and this bad policy could be gone.

The consultation closes on Monday, so this is the last chance – fill it in today.

Written by Darryl

23 March, 2014 at 10:37 am

Return of the high-rises: Kidbrooke Village’s 31-storey tower

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Kidbrooke Village phase 3

Thought demolishing the Ferrier Estate would rid Kidbrooke of tower blocks? Think again – these are the first images of the 31-storey tower planned as a new centrepiece for the Kidbrooke Village development, currently being built by Berkeley Homes.

Kidbrooke Village tower proposalThe plans for the third phase of the Kidbrooke Village development were revealed at an exhibition earlier this month, and the information boards have now been published online.

The centrepiece is a 31-storey “landmark residential tower”, surrounded by “pocket towers” of 8 to 15 storeys high. There would be restaurant/cafe and retail space at the foot of the tower, which would provide 143 homes.

Berkeley’s plan would supersede the existing scheme which limits the towers to 15 storeys, which itself replaced a plan keeping them at nine storeys.

The tower replaces plans for a hotel and “is designed to create a vertical community, able to live and enjoy recreation through the provision of well-orientated common areas and amenity spaces”.

It would also be the tallest building for miles around – beaten locally only by Deptford’s Convoys Wharf, which would boast a 40-storey tower.

The Kidbrooke tower would equal the highest tower planned for Greenwich Peninsula, which would have 31 storeys. Berkeley has permission for 21-storey towers in Woolwich, Lewisham’s completed Renaissance Tower is 24 storeys high while Deptford’s Distillery Tower weighs in at 27 storeys.

The presentation also details plans for blocks of eight to 18 storeys on land close to Blackheath’s Cator Estate, a conservation area.

The scheme would add would add a further 877 new homes to Kidbrooke Village, taking the total to over 5,000, making it denser than the original Ferrier Estate. There’s no word on how many of these homes will be “affordable” or for social rent – the scheme was due, overall, to deliver 38% “affordable” housing.

But transport infrastructure changes are minimal – with a new Kidbrooke rail station (but the same old service) and a partial reversal of the bus cuts which took place last summer – with TfL already planning to re-route the B16 bus back into the eastern side of the development. But there’s no sign of any serious upgrades to local transport.

Land Registry entriesEltham-based community magazine SE Nine, which revealed the plans a couple of weeks ago, reports the proposals “could only have been put forward with the tacit approval of senior councillors and officers” at Greenwich Council – although with the final planning board ahead of May’s election due to meet on 9 April, it looks too late to squeeze it through before the poll, Ikea-style, as no planning application has yet been submitted.

But the close links between council leader Chris Roberts and Berkeley Homes can’t be denied – the leader likes its Royal Arsenal development so much, he bought one of the flats in 2009 (see Land Registry record above). Last year, Berkeley helped Roberts’ campaign for a Silvertown Tunnel. And in January this year, the council’s weekly newspaper Greenwich Time published this odd letter about Berkeley’s charitable arm…

Greenwich Time, 7 January 2014

Pleasant and approachable, eh? Clearly this was an attempt to deflect some of the bullying accusations against the leader. Yet Chris Roberts’ exercise in vanity begins to look foolish when you remember how closely his council’s ambitions for Kidbrooke Village depend on Berkeley’s financial position.

According to a confidential report passed to this website, in December 2012, a year before Roberts’ bash, both Greenwich Council and London mayor Boris Johnson agreed to waive their rights to a share of some sales profits from the scheme after Berkeley complained of an £83 million shortfall. In return, the housebuilder would start work on the “village centre” which it said would make the scheme viable.

Cabinet member Denise Hyland – widely thought to be Roberts’ preferred successor if he stands down after May’s poll – backed the move, and a few months, one Sainsbury’s Local and a housing boom later, the place was in rude health once again. If this is the kind of tough decision about a developer your council has to make, it’s not wise to be buddying up with them in public.

As a private firm, Berkeley is only doing its job, getting the best possible return for its shareholders. But is Greenwich Council up to the challenge of doing the same for its residents? We’ll see in the weeks and months to come in the way it deals with the giant tower of Kidbrooke.

Written by Darryl

17 March, 2014 at 7:30 am

Beyond the Silvertown Tunnel: TfL eyes Ringway road revival

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With smog levels high in London this week, you might think that anyone proposing major new road schemes for the capital would be laughed out of town.

But Transport for London is considering reviving long-dead proposals for new orbital roads around the capital – raising the spectre of decades-old plans which threatened Blackheath Village and other parts of SE London.

The transport authority is already planning a new road tunnel under the Thames to feed into the A102 at the Greenwich Peninsula. But the plans don’t stop with the Silvertown Tunnel or possible plans for a bridge at Gallions Reach, near Thamesmead.

City Hall is currently consulting on proposals to change the capital’s planning guidance, The London Plan. These include taking on board the recommendations of the Roads Task Force as planning policy.

London Plan alterations

The Roads Task Force was set up in 2012, after Boris Johnson’s second election win “to tackle the challenges facing London’s streets and roads”. Dubbed an independent body, it includes representatives of haulage, transport and motoring groups as well as the London Cycling Campaign and Living Streets. Its first report was published last summer, and recommended a “feasibility study of tunnelling to remove ‘strategic’ traffic from surface and free-up space for other uses”.

This month, a progress report has appeared, where this has become…

RTF March 2014 report

TfL’s enthusiasm for digging tunnels hasn’t just been sparked by Silvertown – Boris Johnson is backing proposals by Hammersmith & Fulham Council to build a Hammersmith Flyunder, which would replace the existing flyover.

While the plan’s being sold on revitalising Hammersmith town centre, options being pushed by the council involve effectively creating a buried urban motorway from Chiswick to Kensington.

So what’s meant by the “orbital tunnel”?

As both the Silvertown Tunnel and Gallions Reach/ Thames Gateway Bridge are, essentially, revived versions of long-dead transport plans, this could well mean the resurrection of Ringway 1.

Ringway 1

Here’s the leaflet which sold the Blackwall Tunnel Southern Approach to locals when construction started in 1967. (Thanks to The Greenwich Phantom for the scans.) The BTSA was originally planned to be part of Ringway 1, which would have featured an interchange at Kidbrooke, roughly where the current A2 junction is now.

A new road, the South Cross Route, would have continued at Kidbrooke, following the railway line and ploughing through the Blackheath Cator Estate and tunnelling under Blackheath Village, through Lewisham town centre and featuring an interchange roughly where St John’s station is for a slip road to New Cross. It would then have follow the railway line through Brockley, Nunhead and Peckham and on a flyover through Brixton, where the famous “Barrier Block” of flats was built in anticipation of a motorway which, thankfully, never came.

The Ringways project would have been Britain’s biggest ever construction project. They were proposed by Conservative politicians on the Greater London Council and tacitly backed by Labour opponents – sound familiar? The GLC also planned Ringway 2 – which threatened Oxleas Woods, and still does today in the form of the Gallions Reach Bridge proposal.

But the Ringways caused such public outrage that they never happened. It led to an upsurge in local activism, such as this community group in Grove Park, channelled through the Homes Before Roads group. The Tory GLC considered burying the roads to pacify locals. But when Labour won the 1973 GLC election, it scrapped the Ringways – public protest and oil price hikes were too much.

But now the plans are back. In January, Transport for London’s managing director of planning, Michele Dix, gave a presentation to the Institution of Engineering and Technology. She discussed TfL’s plans to extend tolling on London’s roads, and how this may be applied to the Blackwall Tunnel and Silvertown Tunnel (if built).

Whereas the proceeds from Ken Livingstone’s congestion charge went into public transport, these new TfL tolls would pay for… more roads. Which could include, she said, orbital tunnels.

Michele Dix TfL presentation

Looks familiar, doesn’t it?

Ringways compared with orbital tunnel

Essentially, TfL is looking at using the A102 through Greenwich, Charlton and Blackheath – and a Silvertown Tunnel – as part of a resurrected Ringway. And areas such as Blackheath, Lee, Lewisham, Brockley and Catford would be in the firing line for a tunnel.

Even if we bury the damn thing, the traffic has to come off the roads somewhere – and London simply can’t cope with the number of vehicles as it is. Any more would be a disaster. Why a road? Why not an orbital rail line?

New roads fill up as soon as they’re built. The last major road to be built in London, the A12 through Leytonstone, is the UK’s ninth most congested road, 15 years after it opened.

This is why opposing the Silvertown Tunnel is so important. It’s the thin end of a very dirty wedge. And it’s why Greenwich Council’s decision to endorse an Ikea next to the Blackwall Tunnel approach is so dangerous – because the last thing we need is extra traffic, even on grounds of congestion alone.

But it’s on health grounds where this also counts. Paris is also suffering from high pollution at the moment, so is making public transport free to all this weekend. London’s politicians, led by its mayor along with its footsoldiers like Greenwich’s councillors, just seem to want to encourage even more people to get in their cars. Choked, congested and polluted – is this really the sort of city we want to live in?

(I’m indebted to Steve Chambers, who’s researching Homes Before Roads and the Ringways plan, and Tom Barry, who’s been posting about the Hammersmith plans at Boriswatch.)

Written by Darryl

14 March, 2014 at 12:19 pm

Lib Dems endanger Lewisham Hospital – and themselves

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Lewisham Hospital is back in the firing line after parliament voted last night to give the health secretary powers to close local hospitals – a clause inserted after Jeremy Hunt’s failure to close Lewisham Hospital.

Despite talk of concessions, there’ll now be renewed worries for the future of Lewisham, which now forms a joint NHS trust with Queen Elizabeth in Woolwich.

The bill was voted through with support from Liberal Democrat MPs, including Southwark & Bermondsey’s Simon Hughes – a slap in the face for local Lib Dems in south-east London who joined in the battle to save Lewisham Hospital (Lewisham Lib Dem leader Chris Maines is pictured above).

Beckenham’s Conservative MP Bob Stewart was among those who joined Labour MPs and rebelled against the government.

While the Lib Dems were never likely to win seats in Greenwich, they form the opposition on Lewisham Council – and last night’s vote, which comes ahead of elections in May, surely now increases the possibility that they’ll be completely wiped out in nine weeks’ time.

In fact, I’d like to know what the odds are on Labour winning every seat on Lewisham Council. While that result will delight local Labour activists, who see the Lib Dems as worse than dirt, a lack of opposition could prove dangerous in the long run – they don’t have to look far to see what can go wrong when councils are dominated by one party.

So the Lib Dem MPs could have put a lot more than healthcare at risk in SE London last night. If I was one of their council candidates, then this morning I’d seriously be wondering why I was bothering.

Written by Darryl

12 March, 2014 at 8:59 am

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