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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

Archive for September 2009

Cinema fans take on church plans

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There’s not much cinema heritage left in this part of south-east London – the great Odeons of Deptford and Lewisham became rubble decades ago, their sister cinema in Eltham lies derelict and unloved, and while Woolwich’s picture house gleams, it is only as a tribute to the money-making abilities of the religious group which now runs it.

In other parts of the capital, though, the battle is still on to preserve and protect old movie theatres – and in both cases, actually give locals a place to go and see a film instead of trekking to some soulless multiplex. Time is running out for both venues, which face redevelopment into places of worship.

Not a million miles from here, down in Crystal Palace, the Picture Palace Campaign wants to see the old Rialto (more recently a bingo hall) returned to cinema use after City Screen – which runs the Greenwich Picturehouse – was outbid by the Kingsway International Christian Centre. Objectors have until Thursday to get their observations in to Bromley Council.

Up in Walthamstow, Waltham Forest Council is accepting late objections to plans to convert the old EMD cinema on Hoe Street into a church by the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, who bought the old Catford ABC some years back. (Lewisham and Waltham Forest are the only London boroughs without open cinemas within their borders.) Campaigners say a number of operators would like to get their hands on the cinema, which has a glorious past as a music venue as well as a cinema.

It’s pretty much fair to say that independently-run cinemas can be jewels in their community – the presence of the Picturehouse has lifted Greenwich over the past few years while Brixton’s Ritzy is a local landmark. It’s also fair to say that Catford looks drabber than before without its cinema, and a gleaming evangelical church is in no way going to help Woolwich back on its feet again. So I hope these two campaigns succeed – because if these areas get their cinemas back, then maybe it might inspire other parts of London too.

Written by Darryl

30 September, 2009 at 2:06 am

Thamesmead campaigners sue over City Airport

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London City Airport sees the launch of a direct executive service to New York on Tuesday, which will no doubt delight many of its neighbours in some of London’s poorest districts, both north and south of the Thames. Don’t believe me? You ask the Telegraph’s Lucy Fitzgeorge-Parker, who penned this admiring piece on the Silvertown airport’s expansion plans:

The fact that there are no vocal lobby groups campaigning against the expansion of London City is partly thanks to a policy of recruiting in the area. More than 70pc of the airport’s 2,000 staff live less than five miles away, and the site is the biggest private sector employer in the borough of Newham. (more)

I wonder what Lucy Fitzgeorge-Parker will make of this, then?

Handy for the airportNewham council is being taken to court today [28 September 2009] by local residents over its decision to allow a 50 per cent increase in flights at London City Airport without considering changes to Government policy on climate change or consulting local people.

Fight The Flights, a community group represented by lawyers at Friends of the Earth‘s Rights & Justice Centre, says that before approving the airport’s expansion in July this year, the council should have considered the Government’s intention to reduce aviation emissions to below 2005 levels by 2050 – part of its effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions under the Climate Change Act.

Fight The Flights said Newham council had also failed to consult neighbouring boroughs such as Waltham Forest, even though they will be significantly affected as a result of changes to flight paths since July.

Fight The Flights’ Anne-Marie Griffin said: “Increasing flights at London City Airport is completely wrong – it will bump up carbon emissions and add to the misery of local people who are already suffering from poor air quality and noise disturbance. There are much better ways to bring jobs to this area.

“We appeal to members of the public who care about the environment and about our community to help us fight this decision by donating to help fund our legal challenge.” (more)

No vocal lobby groups? Really? Fight the Flights, based in Thamesmead, is probably the most vocal lobby group I’ve ever come across, with a Twitter feed constantly pumping out arguments against expanding the airport, whose flightpath runs right across the blighted developments of west Thamesmead.

Newham Council will be in for a very hard fight – and this won’t be good news for City Airport fan Boris Johnson, either. This story will be one to watch. Especially if you work for the Telegraph…

Woolwich, the town that dare not speak its name

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woolwich_lie
Developers, estate agents, chancers, and liars have a long history of trying to pass off Deptford as “Greenwich”. There’s a cycle shop in Creek Road which defies its SE8 postcode to bill itself as being in its more glamorous neighbour, while something called “Greenwich Creekside” is rising up on the Deptford side of the creek, next to the Laban centre. Greenwich’s boundaries are unusually well-defined – a big river, a small river, a big railway line, a little railway line and a park wall form most of it. The only ambiguity is at the top of Blackheath Hill, where a bit of SE10 slips into the borough of Lewisham, faces out onto Blackheath, and messes with everyone’s heads.

Trying to pass off Woolwich as Greenwich, though, isn’t as common. Trying to pass it off as “the heart of Greenwich” is downright deception. So it’s a big, fat raspberry to New Life Living for trying to pretend this pile of bricks on Sandy Hill Road, SE18, is three miles to the west of where it really is. Is this being petty? Not one bit. More than Deptford, Woolwich badly, desperately needs a boost.

It needs to have good things associated with it, so people don’t hear “Woolwich” and think “bloody hell, not there”. Developers like New Life Living just make things worse by having the brass neck to claim that somewhere just off Woolwich town centre is “the heart of Greenwich”.

woolwich_lie2

I doubt many who pass the hoarding will be fooled, mind – especially as the little sign in front of it reads “WELCOME TO WOOLWICH TOWN CENTRE”.

New Life Living aren’t the first to deny the existence of Woolwich, though, In the late 1990s, a block of old Army flats on Baker Road, Woolwich Common were revamped under the dubious title of Greenwich Heights. In those days, with no Jubilee Line or DLR, it was a little out on a limb, with just one bus (terminating at the old military hospital) serving the site, linking it to Woolwich Arsenal station. I remember seeing Greenwich Heights promoted in an estate agent with a map claiming its nearest rail stations were Charlton and Westcombe Park. One word was missing from the map – “Woolwich”.

Written by Darryl

27 September, 2009 at 2:00 pm

Run to the Beat all-purpose moaning and information post

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This was written in 2009. Click here for more recent Run to the Beat stories/info.

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It feels like the last knockings of summer this weekend, so it looks like the organisers of Sunday’s Run to the Beat half-marathon have struck it lucky with the weather. However, their handling of publicity for the event, which is going to disrupt travel around Greenwich, Charlton, Blackheath and Woolwich for much of the day, hasn’t been so good. Some 27,000 letters were meant to have thumped onto doormats last month to warn us about it – for many people, that doesn’t seem to have happened, though. Other publicity’s been carried out via council propaganda weekly Greenwich Time, but that depends on whether you recieve it. Which at the moment for me, is intermittently.

The route has apparently been redesigned to allow car drivers access to all roads. Part of the result is the strange dog-leg via tiny Craigerne Road and Banchory Road in Blackheath pictured in this post. If you’re intending to get a bus on Sunday, forget it. Unless you want to get a 177 for a scenic trip to the top of Shooters Hill, that is. Oh, and there’s no Docklands Light Railway between Canary Wharf and Lewisham this weekend, either. Good planning, lads. Rail and Tube services will run normally.

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Other things you might need to know:

* The race starts at the Dome at 9.45am.
* The organisers have a contact number for residents: 020 8233 5900
* The council can also deal with queries on 020 8854 8888
* The event is being filmed for television, due to be aired on Channel 4 in two weeks
* Greenwich Council is keen to hear residents’ feedback on the event – the senior officer in charge is Matthew Norwell (firstname.surname@greenwich.gov.uk).

The residents’ leaflet (572K, PDF)
Where the music stages are (493K, PDF)
Road closures map (881K, PDF)
Letter for residents (91K, Word doc)

Come back on Sunday for photos and… oh, perhaps not.

Written by Darryl

26 September, 2009 at 8:00 am

Greenwich Park 2012 closure cut to four weeks

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Greenwich Park will now be closed for four weeks in summer 2012 to accomodate the Olympics, organisers confirmed tonight.

It had been planned to close the entire park for between six and eight weeks to allow equestrian events to take place. But organising body LOCOG now says the restrictions will now run from 6 July to 3 August 2012.

The children’s playground and most of the flower garden will remain open throughout, it added, except for the day of the cross-country event, due to be held on 31 July

LOCOG’s announcement follows a closed meeting it held with local amenity societies on Wednesday.

It has already said a far lengthier closure of part of the park beneath the Royal Observatory, to construct a stadium, would be needed from April to November 2012.

LOCOG added that Circus Field on Blackheath would be used as an operational compound, meaning construction vehicles could access the park from the A2, which it hoped would mean less disruption locally, while it was not planning to close any residential streets.

Ways of upgrading the childrens playground and other parts of the park were also being discussed as a legacy after the games, while LOCOG was also in talks with Royal Parks about measures to protect the park’s trees.

“No trees will have to be cut down,” the statement added.

“We believe that Greenwich Park will be a stunning venue in 2012 but we understand the concerns that local residents may have about usage of the park during the games,” said LOCOG chief executive Paul Deighton.

“We are grateful to the Greenwich societies for organising the meeting and giving us a chance to listen to their concerns and explain our plans in more detail. This is an ongoing process of dialogue; we want to work with local residents so we can address concerns and make the games a fantastic experience for everyone.”

LOCOG said a “formal consultation” would take place in October and November, ahead of its application to Greenwich Council for planning permission.

UPDATED Saturday 2pm: Pressure group NOGOE, which wants the equestrian events moved away from Greenwich Park, said the park was “the only green space in a congested urban location” and the “unacceptable” closure would still deprive locals of “a vital public amenity”.

“There are thousands of people living in council flats within a 5 minute walk of the Park for whom it is a green lung,” it added in a statement.

“Moving to an existing equestrian venue wouldn’t lead to such a level of social deprivation.”

Greenwich Park

So, what do you think? For my money, I think this is good news, and if the A2 is going to be used for Olympic traffic, that’s good for locals, although car commuters will no doubt complain (they do have nearly 3 years’ notice, though). But I still wish LOCOG would not mistake speaking to the likes of the Westcombe Society for “consultation”, enabling them to escape the scrutiny of the vast majority of local people.

Yes, they have been holding stalls in Greenwich Park (and LOCOG staff have been giving up their weekends to staff them), but nothing beats being able to ask the boss a question. Is it time Greenwich Council stepped in and hosted another public meeting? However, a specific website is being set up to host documents and information about the Olympics – a long overdue and very welcome measure.

Eltham North Conservative councillor Nigel Fletcher has shared his thoughts on his blog.

Written by Darryl

25 September, 2009 at 6:59 pm

Societies’ secrecy hides Olympics good news

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This post could have brought you news of Wednesday night’s meeting between the organisers of 2012’s London Olympics and local societies in Blackheath and Greenwich, about the planned equestrian events in Greenwich Park and their ramifications. Unfortunately, the Blackheath Society did not respond to a request for access to the meeting, and I was told in no uncertain terms that I was not welcome to attend by the Westcombe Society’s chairman, Gordon Baker, because I was not a member.

So, I took my press card, and went to my neighbouring residents’ association’s AGM instead, where there was beer and crisps and a warm welcome. And a news story too. I’m not a member there, either. So, instead of the welcome news that 2012 organising body LOCOG announced at the meeting, here’s a photograph of Blackheath Halls, where the event took place. Nice, isn’t it?

Blackheath Halls, 23 September 2009

To be honest, I should have got myself organised for this meeting a while back, and I was prepared for a friendly knock-back. But I didn’t realise it was a ticketed event until recently, and so dropped the Blackheath Society a line on Monday, asking if I could come along to observe. The meeting was organised by them in conjunction with the Westcombe Society and the Greenwich Society as well as the Friends of Greenwich Park for their members. Clearly, with the massive interest in the Olympics around here, and huge fears about 2012, I hoped a request for access would be looked upon kindly. No chance. No reply, to be exact.

On Wednesday afternoon, I fired off a note to LOCOG mentioning this, and asking if they had any plans for any more public meetings in the area, since I was mulling over a post on the subject. After all, anti-equestrian body NOGOE have ramped up their PR offensive lately, are claiming 13,000 signatures on an petition, and are planning a “hands around the park” event on 11 October. The Olympics’ organisers, meanwhile, haven’t been seen much since the public meeting at the O2 arena in December – save for a couple of sessions with a stall in the park itself, and appeared to me to be starting to lose ground in the battle for Greenwich Park. LOCOG told me to contact the Greenwich Society (by then it was too late in the day) and said they’d get back to me on the meetings. Fair enough on the last point.

I’m lucky enough to have done enough professionally to have a press card, so I thought I’d wander up to Blackheath Halls and see if I could pop in. NOGOE-rs waiting outside, smiles for me on the door, best suits everywhere, then stopped because I didn’t have a ticket, directed to a gentleman over there, was knocked back, explained I was a journalist who’d been following events and pointed out that others might like to know of what went on at the meeting. I was politely asked to wait for the chair of the Westcombe Society. Fair enough.

But the hostility I received from Gordon Baker was quite unlike anything I’ve encountered before. He didn’t even try to listen to me. I was made to feel like I was challenging corruption at at a croquet club, not trying to squeeze my way into a residents’ meeting. Towards the end, it became quite comic. Mr Baker speaks very well, but looked straight past me as he repeated: “No, it’s a members’ meeting. You can’t come in.” Was any other media there? “No, it’s a members’ meeting.”

“There are going to be other LOCOG consulation issues,” a younger gentleman with him said. “It’s not like it’s unique…” (Well, it was the first time LOCOG representatives have stood on stage south of the river and spoken to the public for nine months, but that’s by the by.)

It was time for Mr Baker to start up again: “There are LOCOG members here, and there are NOGOE people outside, and some of them will come in because they’re members.”

– “So why can’t other…”

Gordon Baker: “I have explained to you – this is a members’ meeting, there’s nothing more to say. I’m sorry, you can’t come in.”

- “Gordon Baker, wasn’t it?”

“Yes! Put it in your headlines!”

I thanked him and shook his hand.

“I don’t know why you can’t accept my word that it’s a members’ meeting. It’s a perfectly simple proposition – it’s not something that’s negotiable, it’s a members’ meeting. Right?”

I was getting a bit tired of being spoken down to here, and asked – “It’s a very good attitude that the members of these societies have to their neighbours, isn’t it?”

Mr Baker spoke slowly. “People pay their subscriptions to come to events like this.”

- “Should journalists be able to come and see what happens?”

“It’s a members’ meeting, I’m sorry, that’s all there is to it.”

Ah, all the local democracy money can buy… I knew it was a bit of a gamble rocking up on the night, but I really didn’t expect to be spoken to as if I was some errant member of the lower orders. I’ve never lived in the catchment area of any of the amenity societies, and, like the vast majority of the people of the Greenwich area, have had very little to do with them. I actually had a fairly high opinion of the Westcombe Society before I encountered Mr Baker, having grown up just outside its catchment (literally the wrong side of the tracks) and seen its newsletters, and had no opinion of the others.

But… is this all we’re going to get from LOCOG? A meeting that’s only open to a very select, very unrepresentative group of people – most of them over 60 – who’ve basically paid to be there? And who won’t allow journalists in? Is this how much the people of the Greenwich area’s views matter to LOCOG? I really hope not. Clearly I’m only Nobby the blogger, but this website aside, as a journalist that is looking to follow the effects of 2012 on my community, I thought Gordon Baker’s behaviour was shocking. All I was trying to do was sit in on an event about something of massive public interest. Are these the people LOCOG think represent us?

Andrew Gilligan issued one of his regular beatings to the Greenwich Society on greenwich.co.uk earlier this week – I’m no expert on that particular argument, but I think the row masks the wider danger of using these societies as a substitute for actually talking to local people, who are worried about what day to day life will be like in the summer of 2012, and want to know if they’ll get their park back safe and sound. Wednesday’s meeting at Blackheath Halls shows LOCOG seems to have fallen right into that trap.

One bit of news did sneak out of the meeting, though, courtesy of Lorraine Turton, chair of the East Greenwich Traders’ Association via her Twitter feed:

locogtweet

This sounds like very good news for Greenwich – the Olympic Route Network would have put “no stopping” restrictions on one of the area’s main shopping streets. However, because – according to Mr Baker – no journalists were allowed into the event, that’s all we know. Hopefully more will emerge during Thursday.

Charlton residents’ group demands flytipping action

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*If you live in Victoria Way, keep on reading below the photo because there’s some news you might be interested in…*

Local police should be taking more action against flytipping in Charlton, the chairman of a local residents’ association said last night.

Dave Picton spoke after the Charlton Central Residents’ Association‘s annual general meeting heard allegations of organised flytipping in Elliscombe Road and Wellington Gardens.

He said an incident when flytipped matresses were set alight in Wellington Gardens, causing damage to a nearby home, had helped inspire the founding of the two-year-old association, which covers a block of streets immediately south of Charlton station.

“I’d like to see someone in the police take this on and make it their top priority,” he told Greenwich Borough Commander Richard Wood, another of the evening’s speakers.

“That’s the sort of issue that’s of real importance to the community. These are really serious matters. There must be a way of pinning these people down and taking action.

“When you have a clean-up day, it’s demoralising to have something dumped there the next week.”

There was a call from the floor for mobile CCTV to be used to catch flytippers in the act.

Recalling to the original incident, he said: “We were told by the police and the fire brigade that it must have been kids – but there’s no way kids could have set those on fire.”

The meeting also heard claims of tyres being dumped in Combe Lodge, off Elliscombe Road, and a “spate of lorries” dumping goods in the area.

Commander Wood said he wanted to make his officers more visible,saying he was “the biggest fan of safer neighbourhood teams out there” and asked for more feedback from local residents, adding that otherwise “everything looks lovely from my office in Plumstead”.

Charlton Ward Sergeant Adrian Musgrave said he and his team of two constables and three support officers “walked their feet off every day”, and at all times of day and night.

Ward councillor Janet Gillman said she and fellow Charlton councillors Gary Parker and Allan MacCarthy were pressing for a review of Greenwich Council’s policy of charging £12 to remove bulk waste, fearing that it encouraged flytipping, and that the revenue brought into the council would be outweighed by the cost of clearing dumped items up.

Results from the CCRA's residents' survey

Other things from the Charlton Central Residents Association annual general meeting…

* Firstly – Victoria Way residents could be brought in from the cold and be represented by the association. The CCRA is open to expanding its boundaries slightly if there’s enough interest. So, if you want to join, contact me (details on about 853) or the association direct, and we’ll see what can be done.

* Incredibly, and this is the first I’d heard of this – planning permission has been given to build a two-storey extension on top of the post office in Charlton Church Lane, the only branch left in SE7 following the recent cutbacks. Local councillor Janet Gillman said she and her ward colleagues had pressed for planning officers to visit the site before a decision was made… but it was ignored. CCRA chair Dave Picton said he doubted the building, the front of which contains a large wooden frame containing a huge plate glass window, could stand the extra weight without extensive works – so what would happen to the post office?

* The association now has 190 members, and has plenty of sub-groups, and is looking to start gardening and local history groups. Over 50 people took part in July’s clean-up day – not all of them members, and the group is hoping to hold a similar exercise next year.

* Police commander Richard Wood said the force was holding “presence days” to make itself known in communities – he took part in one “and got two Australian tourists lost in Greenwich town centre”. He said he was trying to make sure police were seen in areas such as town centres and railway stations, and neighbourhood teams were door-knocking to introduce themselves. All Greenwich borough officers will soon be based in a central patrol unit in Warspite Road, Woolwich – a move he said “worked really well” in his previous borough, Haringey.

* Greenwich Council’s planning chair, Alex Grant, was also there, talking about how the borough has to plan for an extra 25,000 households by 2030, and the pressures of trying to cram those in alongside the need for bigger households. There was a call from the floor for action to be taking on the building site in Floyd Road, which has been a mess ever since subsidence hit, taking out a cafe, launderette, flats and a furniture yard. Some people talked about not being informed about planning applications near them, while permission has been given for flats on the site of the Valley pub, Elliscombe Road.

* The deal to turn Charlton Lido into a diving centre (while keeping it as a lido) has finally been signed by Greenwich Council and private firm Open Waters. The lido was closed for the duration of the summer holidays while negotiations took place. “They took longer than everyone thought,” Alex Grant said. The council retains the freehold of the site.

* Finally, I should thank the association for making me feel welcome – more than they’ve probably got any right to bearing in mind I’ve had a few digs in the past. But one of the over-riding themes of this blog is that it pays to belong in Greenwich borough – and if you’re one of my neighbours in Victoria Way, then we’ve got the chance to come under the CCRA’s umbrella in trying to get this area sorted out. So if you’re up for joining me in pushing for inclusion, please get in touch.

Written by Darryl

24 September, 2009 at 12:57 am

Deptford Tory struggles to keep up with news

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It must be a busy life if you’re wanting to become the Conservative MP for Deptford, as Gemma Townsend is doing. Indeed, it must be especially difficult to keep up with the big issues of the day. Especially when a party founded by Hitler admirers is invited to appear on the BBC’s best-known topical discussion show.

Clearly as a potential representative of such diverse districts as Deptford, New Cross, Brockley, and Lewisham, you’d think Ms Townsend would have a view on how far the media should go to acommodate those whose opinions many would find inflammatory and offensive, if at all.

But what’s this?

gemma

What cover of Private Eye? Oh, this one

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Oh dear. Thanks to Twitterers @tomroyal and @sarahluv81 for the spot.

Written by Darryl

23 September, 2009 at 2:54 pm

Could a car-free London start in Charlton?

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Did you know yesterday (Tuesday) was World Car Free Day? Bet you didn’t. The idiot over the road whose car alarm has just gone off certainly didn’t. If you live in or near Greenwich, though, you’ll have probably noticed one offshoot from it, Greenwich Car Free Day:

Every year, Greenwich celebrates a Car Free Day, where residents leave their cars at home and enjoy a day of fun activities and entertainment. (more)

Except it doesn’t seem to be happening this year, and what really happened was that cars were simply diverted away from a couple of streets in the centre of SE10 for a few hours on a Sunday. Still, it was a good thing for Greenwich Council to do, and it’s disappointing to see it’s apparently been canned this year – I imagine Run to the Beat (which necessitates another closure) and seemingly endless and unpredictable roadworks have seen to that.

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But now the car-free movement has inspired a new group – London Carfree. I went up to Islington last week to hear more. It wants to wants to create London’s first car-free community, partly inspired by a new district of Freiburg, southern Germany, called Vauban.

Cars aren’t actually banned from Vauban, it’s stellplatzfrei – “free from parking spaces”. If you drive, you have to go at walking pace, and you can only stop to pick up or drop off, parking is officially banned. If you do own a car, you’re obliged to use a parking space which costs €17,500 to rent – thought to be the subsidy that car owners get from their use of public roads. Car club vehicles are in plentiful supply, though.

The result, Vauban’s backers say, is a more pleasant place to live, where children can play in the streets and people take up cycling as a means to get around. Other forms of car-free community are possible – some ban cars altogether, others bar through journeys.

There was an interesting discussion afterwards – one gentleman voiced fears about losing the “passive surveillance” supposedly provided by motorists, another asked how people without cars did their weekly shop. You can probably imagine the reponse the second question got.

But how could this work in London? Developers have always wrestled with cars here – from the great motorway schemes of the 1960s (of which the Blackwall Tunnel approach is a result) to the disastrous seperation of cars from people in Thamesmead’s earlier phases. The 1980s pedestrianisation of Woolwich town centre made it a scary place to be at night, more recent developments such as Greenwich Shopping Park just made congestion worse. Other schemes have just paid lip-service to the ideal – the Greenwich Millennium Village is touted as being “low-car”, but why has it got a great big traffic jam through its centre each morning?

Carfree London’s response to that is to develop homes with the huge number of Londoners who do not own a car in mind – at least 1.5 million, and a majority of residents in most inner London boroughs. (At least 40% of Greenwich and Lewisham residents do not own a vehicle.) So where could such a community be? I thought locally – most of the Greenwich Peninsula is pretty much answered for now, as are spots in Woolwich, Lewisham and Deptford, and the Kidbrooke regeneration (which could have been an ideal site) is now under way. And, to be frank, with the contempt London’s politicians have for it, a carfree Thamesmead sounds like a punishment than an opportunity.

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Then I realised a solution could be on my doorstep (almost literally), in an area that’s clogged with traffic. Let me introduce you to what’s technically called Land To The Rear Of 40 Victoria Way, otherwise known as “the old Thorn Lighting plant” – which is actually right at the back of the site. It’s a long, long story, and as far as I know it’s not merited any local coverage before.

These days based in Borehamwood and Spennymoor, County Durham, Thorn was (and still is) one of the country’s leading specialist lamp manufacturers, and maintained its London operation at what was the Victoria Trading Estate from 1961, advertising its Atlas and Mazda brands on the side facing the Blackwall Tunnel approach. But the Charlton branch was wound up in the mid-1980s, and the site never found a permanent occupier in the years after – its side entrance on Dupree Road bricked up, the back gates on Fairthorn Road left rusting to this day.

The front of the old trading estate, on Victoria Way, remains in use – it’s currently used by Squirrel Storage, while another occupier, Kerry Logistics, recently moved to Dartford. Some of the land has been used as a car park when Charlton Athletic play at The Valley, 10 minutes’ walk away. The Squirrel site is the last bit of “industry” left on Victoria Way, the lower stretches of which used to be dominated by the Johnson and Phillips/ Delta cable works.

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History lesson over. In 2005, Galliard Homes applied to build homes and offices on the Thorn site, outraging neighbours in Dupree Road, Gurdon Road and Fairthorn Road, who understandably didn’t want a huge development looming over their neat terraces. Another bone of contention was Galliard’s plan to use tiny Fairthorn Road as an access point for the development – not the brightest of ideas when the road’s been a sleepy backwater since the day it was built (traffic used to enter Thorn via Victoria Way). Greenwich Council refused planning permission, after advice from then-mayor Ken Livingstone, and finally, so did the government (291KB PDF) after a planning inspector was brought in on appeal.

In 2007, Galliard came back with a modified scheme. They’ve already pre-sold properties under the name “The Constellation”, without actually obtaining permission to do anything – apparently early publicity for the proposal didn’t actually mention the word “Charlton”, with its website currently implying the site is on the Greenwich Peninsula. And that’s where the trail goes cold. Two years on, the application has not been progressed any further.

A whole swathe of local addresses, in Blackheath, Charlton and Greenwich, are listed as being involved in a consultation in October 2008. My address is on there, and I hadn’t heard anything, although Greenwich Council’s planning department says I should have done. I certainly hadn’t seen any notices on lamp posts, the usual sign something’s happening. It’s not the first time I’ve not heard anything about a big planning application on my doorstep, and I don’t think it’ll be the last. (While this is probably a Royal Mail issue, it does highlight once again how poor communication is between the council and the people who pay for it.)

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Anyhow, here’s what’s proposed, according to Greenwich planning:

Demolition of existing warehouse building (9,625 sq.m.) and the erection of a part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5 and part 6 storey building comprising 209 flats (99 x 1-beds; 63 x 2-beds; 44 x 3-beds and 3 x 4-beds), three live/work units (299.3 sq.m.) together with offices (469.1 sq.m.) and associated basement car-parking for 169 vehicles and the provision of external landscaping.

That’s parking for 169 vehicles, all meant to use Fairthorn Road. Which, I repeat, is tiny. Because the Thorn site will be separated from the Victoria Way side of the old trading estate, there’ll be no access there. A ramp would be built to link Fairthorn Road with the new development, risking the character of this quiet corner of Charlton. All in all it’s a very closed-off corner of the world, surrounded by an industrial estate, two railway lines, the Blackwall Tunnel approach and the backs of houses, with only one way in or out. On its own, it’s hard to see the Thorn site looking like a desirable place to live.

The present economic climate means it may be a while before we see movement on this land. It’s likely, however, that sooner or later, this old industrial land will fall to redevelopment. So perhaps we should be a little more proactive with this? Can’t this site become London’s first car-free community? If the whole Victoria Trading Estate becomes available – and that would involve moving Squirrel Storage to somewhere suitable – this could become a serious option.

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The full site is fantastically located for public transport – midway between Charlton and Westcombe Park rail stations and with a whole heap of bus services nearby. Opening up the whole site for redevelopment also means Victoria Way can also be used for access, taking pressure off Fairthorn Road. It’d double the number of homes that could be built – but would also mean the site would be big enough for a proper community where people took precedence over cars, giving them – and their neighbours – a more peaceful lifestyle.

What do you think? Clearly it’s only an initial thought, and one that’s partly borne out of bafflement with what’s going on at the old Thorn site. If you know any more about the comings and goings there, I’d be grateful to hear it. One day, though, that land is likely to see homes built on it – and it’s time we seriously thought about the kind of thing we want to see there, and how we’re going to achieve it, instead of leaving it to developers with their eyes on making a quick killing.

If you want further details of Galliard Homes’ proposals for the Thorn site in Charlton, use use the Greenwich planning department’s search page and look for reference 07/1725/F.

Signs of the times in Charlton

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You know when you go away for a few days, and when you return something has changed about your neighbourhood? Suddenly, that building site starts to look like a building, or next door’s given a lick of paint to their porch?

With me, it was the disappearance of a sign opposite my house, telling people about the flats behind. On Monday, Charlton Triangle Housing – which took control of a chunk of SE7’s council housing a decade ago – put up its replacement. I can see it from the seat I’m sat in now. (Well, during the day.) And I can see its slogan too, in big letters…

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Catchy, eh? And to be fair, Charlton Triangle’s done a decent job with what was a collection of dismal, crumbling estates, that had been badly run down for at least a decade and a half. It also looks after the land around its flats, which makes Greenwich Council’s lack of care for the streets surrounding them even more apparent. But “a community where people want to live because of the quality of life it offers”?

That community also includes Charlton Triangle’s neighbours, and we don’t hear anything from them – I remember when the new housing on Victoria Way went through the planning process, and CTH claimed it’d gone through an extensive consultation with residents about their plans. Except they’d done nothing of the sort – outside the Charlton Triangle estates, those who lived opposite the planned properties were shut out the process. So while I understand what they mean by “community where people want to live because…” – they probably should ponder the definition of “community” a little bit.

It’s a reflection of the same old problem with life in Charlton (and Greenwich borough as a whole), though – it pays to belong to some kind of interest group, and if you’re not, you’re shut out. I’ve Charlton Triangle opposite me, with various groups and access to neighbourhood policing information, but I’m not a tenant. I’ve the Charlton Central Residents Association a few yards away, but I live in the wrong street.

(Incidentally, the CCRA’s got its annual general meeting at St Richard’s church hall, Swallowfield Road, on Wednesday, should you want to see what they’re about – which, in a disaster for local busybodies, coincides with a meeting about the Olympics in Blackheath. What to do? Who’ll have me that night?)

Anyhow, my trivial grumpiness about having to look at this slogan pales into rightful insignificance compared with a sign erected a few minutes’ walk away, at the end of Bramshot Avenue, which can be seen from many a bedroom window in Westcombe Hill, Blackheath.

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Uh-oh. I mean, seriously, would you really want to have this as the last thing you looked at before you went to bed? Or the first thing you saw after pulling the curtains in the morning?

And that’s just for those sleeping alone…

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Maybe I’m getting old and crotchety, but… seriously, putting that kind of stuff where people live and have no choice but to look at it? I’m not sure that’s the best of ideas. I wonder if the doughty guardians of Blackheath and Westcombe Park’s morals have been roused to complain about the poster. It’s too late now, but part of me hopes they have been…

Written by Darryl

22 September, 2009 at 12:16 am

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