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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 June 2010

Ye Olde Greenwich Mystery: Safer Neighbourhood Teams

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I don’t know if you saw the row yesterday about cuts to police budgets, including the scrapping of something called the Policing Pledge brought in by the last government. Did you know much about it? I didn’t, I remember seeing ads for it but never being inspired to find out more.

One of the big worries about policing cuts, particularly in London, is that they will result in the scrapping of safer neighbourhood teams. Across the capital, each council ward has a team of officers and community support officers dedicated to nailing crime in those areas. And while council wards are fairly unwieldy areas themselves, the strategy is considered a success – people get to see a uniformed presence on the street, and the police get to concentrate their efforts on a relatively small patch. Unsurprisingly, Ken Livingstone’s stuck his face on a campaign to save them.

But what does Ken’s party, Labour, do to help support safer neighbourhood teams, and encourage us to get involved with them? From what I can see here in Greenwich borough, not a lot.

One of the features in the now-binned Policing Pledge was that safer neighbourhood teams should hold monthly meetings with residents. Did you know that? I didn’t know that. I never hear from my team of officers in Charlton ward, but there’s a reason for that. Those officers get no help at all in promoting their presence. If they want to deliver a newsletter to people, they have to do it themselves instead of patrolling the streets or chasing up reports of crime. There is actually a Charlton ward newsletter – but it’s buried away on an unseen corner of the Met website.

Of course, there’s an organisation in this borough with a weekly publication with a distribution network the envy of its rivals; with unrivalled reach and a responsibility to promote community good deeds. But when does Greenwich Council use Greenwich Time to regularly inform us about the work of the SNTs? It doesn’t. A single, easily-forgotten pullout in an issue last month was only a token effort. Why aren’t contact details in there each week? It could even just slip the Met’s newsletters inside Greenwich Time – but doesn’t. If Labour is so serious about keeping safer neighbourhood teams, why aren’t councils like Greenwich shouting from the rooftops about them, and how we can get involved?

(When I stood for election earlier this year, I remember getting worked up about the “fact” that the Greenwich Millennium Village – which strikes me as one of the safest places in the area – had its own police surgery, but places like the Caletock Estate, where people were regularly complaining about crime, didn’t. Of course, other places did have these meetings, but the Millennium Village was the only place in the ward where these police surgeries were promoted.)

Not only do the safer neighbourhood teams hold monthly meetings, but they also hold street briefings too. There’s one in August in my road. All of which is good. But without wider promotion and support, these innovations could be the first to be whittled away. Greenwich Labour should realise this – but seems too complacent and too concerned with promoting itself to notice.

I actually found out about these monthly meetings via a political party – the Greenwich Conservatives. Yup, those evil Tories are doing a better job at telling people about police teams they apparently want to get rid of, than the Labour politicians who claim to want to protect them. It’s a funny old world sometimes, isn’t it?

Written by Darryl

30 June, 2010 at 11:45 am

After the flags, the mud-slinging

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How was your weekend? For me, it was the high-point of the year; but for all the flag-waving, the singing, and excitement, there’s a predictable conclusion. With all those resources and talent, there should be a golden outcome – but instead complacency, some horribly laboured contributions and a worship of brittle celebrity over subtle teamwork meant disappointment and bemusement.

Yep, the BBC’s TV coverage of Glastonbury was a bit rubbish again this year, eh? I’m always amazed as to how live coverage of such a fabulous, fascinating event should always consistently underwhelm. Maybe it’s the effect of watching it in combination with the World Cup and Wimbledon, and expecting the same live coverage. But this year’s contribution seemed all over the place – no real signposting of where to go to watch (or listen) to who, too much old guff in the middle, and too much Florence and the bloody Machine.

I declare an interest here – I had a non-festival-going bit part in the BBC News website‘s coverage of Glastonbury for many years. Their coverage is still brilliant. And so was 6 Music‘s. Perhaps this reflects my journalism background – and there’s some horrible clashes between journalists/other creative types in that organisation – but what made 6 Music’s coverage work for me was treating it as a mixture of massive live event and massive news story.

Whenever I switched on, reporter Matt Everitt was painting a far more vivid picture of the atmosphere and the mood at Worthy Farm than his colleagues with television cameras managed to, whether it be morning banter with Shaun Keaveney or evening conversations with Gideon Coe. All coming out of answering the simple question: “What’s happening?” Mix that with uninterrupted live coverage from the stages, plus a wider selection of live sets to draw upon, and you have a weekend 6 Music’s team can be really proud of. And remember, this is the station the BBC wants to bin.

But on TV, the coverage was more about entertaining people than informing them. So there was no real sense of what was going on beyond the BBC’s compound, other than the usual fall-back habit of digging out that old footage from the Points West archive of the 1970 festival (with the long-haired bloke in a white smock swaying around and all that). The TV Glastonbury coverage even managed to scoop the Peter O’Hanra-Hanrahan Prize For Missing The News, ignoring the surprise appearance by Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead at the Park stage, presumably because there were no cameras to record the event. Yet 6 Music had microphones there, and as I type on Monday lunchtime, are revelling in playing excellent sets from that stage.

The TV coverage’s other mistake was believing its presenters were more important than the acts – low points being when the awful Reggie Yates started talking about suffering from wind, and when Zane Lowe disclosed to a rapt nation that he’d watched the England match. (You can see an element of this on Radio 1’s Glastonbury page, where its picture gallery is stuffed full of photos of Jo Whiley.)

Obviously TV is more difficult and labour-intensive than radio – anyone who tells you television is a quick medium is a fool – and this weekend suffered from capacity constraints with the World Cup and Wimbledon being on. Plus there’s the technical challenges of broadcasting from a field in Somerset and contractual issues with covering artists.

But with BBC2, BBC3, BBC4, BBC HD and a red button stream all being available (five separate channels!), it’s hard to see why the schedules on all those networks were not just simply cleared for a weekend-long revel of live music (sport notwithstanding). A particularly teeth-gnashing moment came on Friday night, when Gorillaz were fawned over for what felt like hours (although it wasn’t even live coverage), but second stage headliners The Flaming Lips were only covered with a single song.

Here’s a few ideas I’d like to put forward to make the BBC’s TV Glastonbury sing, rather than stink:

  • Try to broadcast as much of the event live as you can. Especially after watching live sport all day, it jars to be spoon-fed recorded dollops in place of uninterrupted, as-it-happens coverage. Highlights, interviews and bespoke live sets can be shown in the dead time between bands.
  • Use the full range of channels intelligently – repeats of Family Guy on BBC3 can wait a week, can’t they? Maybe base BBC3 around the Pyramid Stage, BBC4 for the Other Stage and stick smaller stage highlights on the red button instead of yet more bloody Florence. And when BBC2’s picking up live coverage from one of the main stages, let BBC3 and BBC4 show other stages too. Don’t be afraid to ask viewers to change channels if this happens – we survive when watching Wimbledon, after all.
  • BBC3 – a great big pink logo over the top of the Pet Shop Boys? Don’t patronise us, we’re not thick.
  • Cut back on “celebrity” presenters. What the hell was Craig Charles doing in a cardboard TV? Did someone tell Reggie Yates he wasn’t at T4 on the Beach? Lauren Laverne and Mark Radcliffe can get away with quips and banter because they use them intelligently and don’t hog the limelight. The others were leaden.
  • I know it was 40 years since the first festival (although it didn’t actually run for most of the 1970s) – but the old clips of old stuff (which usually ignore the 1980s and early 1990s, when there was no TV coverage at all) and reminiscence stuff has been done to death. Tell us what’s happening now. Get a reporter out there in the field to show us things. Like… who cleans the toilets?
  • Film some more stages. Even if you don’t do them live. I’d love to see what the Park stage is like, it’s where it’s all happening but it’s rarely seen on TV.
  • Use high-definition coverage intelligently – and don’t have it blindly following BBC2’s coverage. Let it use the best of BBC3 and BBC4’s coverage too. Glastonbury looks amazing in HD, with the twinkly lights at night… but HD seemed an afterthought in the BBC’s line-up.
  • How about promoting what the rest of the BBC is doing there? How many people were swearing at the TV for showing Gorillaz, but were unaware that 6 Music were broadcasting the Flaming Lips? And what about the BBC’s Glasto website? The lack of signposting – even between TV channels – made watching Glastonbury from home a confusing experience.
  • Relax. Please, don’t try to be the coolest kid at school. We’ve turned our TVs on to see bands, not you. Please remember this.

Finally – remember when Channel 4 showed Glastonbury in 1994 and 1995? The BBC woke up to festivals in the late 1990s, and now holds the rights to Glastonbury, T In The Park, and Reading/Leeds. So how about Channel 4 picking up the rights to another UK festival? Channel 4 at Latitude, perhaps? (Or even a European one? My own favourite, Primavera Sound, is covered by TV3 Catalunya – how about splitting the costs with a host broadcaster and going abroad?) Because it looks like the BBC needs a bit of creative competition in covering festivals. And it’d be a wonderful to have a reminder that just like there’s more to the World Cup than England games, there’s more to festivals than just Glastonbury.

Written by Darryl

28 June, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Posted in media, music

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Is the clock really ticking for Greenwich Time?

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What ho, it’s the Telegraph

Town halls are to be banned from their own publishing weekly freesheets which are threatening to put local newspapers out of business, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.

Eric Pickles, the Local Government secretary, said he wanted to axe “the weekly town hall Pravdas” to ensure a healthy independent local press can scrutinise councils.

Campaigners said the move would save councils tens of millions of pounds a year, and also help local news organisations by removing a taxpayer-funded local rival.

Oh really? Trouble is, nowhere in the copy is there a quote from Mr Pickles explicitly saying he will actually get rid of them. But what he does say is

“Councils should spend less time and money on weekly town hall Pravdas that end up in the bin, and focus more on frontline services like providing regular rubbish collections.

“The previous Government’s weakening of the rules on town hall publicity not only wasted taxpayers’ money and added to the wave of junk mail, but has undermined a free press.”

Which isn’t the same as actually taking an axe to them. We’ve been here before – a year ago the old government pondered restrictions on them. And while Labour-run Greenwich Council finds Greenwich Time a useful tool to control the local news agenda, Conservative-run Hammersmith & Fulham finds H&F News just as handy. So it’s actually unclear quite what he means. (And, indeed, an hour after I published this, I heard London Assembly Tory and Barnet councillor Brian Coleman on LBC, referring to Pickles’ comments as “another diktat” from government onto local councils.)

But some kind of action on them is likely. Down at Woolwich Town Hall, a change in the air has already been noted. Greenwich Time readers may have noticed the post-election issues have yet to feature a front page shot of the council leader or any other member of his cabinet, and some of the overt propaganda – on crime, the environment and housing – has been toned down. But stories unflattering to local institutions – like the campaign to save the music college at East Greenwich Library – still won’t feature, and none of this stops the council arranging its media relations to favour Greenwich Time over real local newspapers or other outlets.

Eric Pickles’ attack on “town hall Pravdas” isn’t going to do much to help the likes of the Mercury and News Shopper either. Council newspapers are an easy scapegoat for years of failings caused by cutbacks at those titles which will be very hard to reverse. Dan Sabbagh at Beehive City hits the nail on the head.

The easy part is to agree that council owned newspapers are a bad idea. A council owned title is always going to struggle to fearlessly interrogate what the council is up to. But if the Pickles plan actually bites, it won’t solve most of the problems faced by the local press.

For years local newspapers were run unashamedly for profit, generating margins in some cases of in excess of 30 per cent. Investment in journalism was reduced in the good times (for those who remember the 1990s)… the situation is serious now. Advertising, on which so many local titles now rely, remains subdued. Locality, which was once the principle defining feature of community, is no longer so relevant in the era of Facebook, Twitter and virtual community.

Against such a bleak background, and this bluster from the new government, there’s little incentive for local newspapers to raise their game, as I’ve argued is so desperately needed in this area. The next few months will probably see further developments, but somehow I doubt we’ll be seeing a “Save your Greenwich Time” campaign. Spool forward to a year from now, and I suspect we’ll be in much the same situation as now.

Written by Darryl

26 June, 2010 at 10:14 am

Greenwich pedestrianisation update

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Ahead of Saturday’s exhibition, which runs through to Tuesday at Devonport House, the consultation documents for the Greenwich pedestrianisation scheme, and the plan to regenerate Cutty Sark Gardens can finally be seen on Greenwich Council’s website.

The full consultation document about Greenwich pedestrianisation can be seen here as a PDF.

Thanks to Marmoset at Crosswhatfields for the tip-off on what he’s calling a “nonsultation” – alas, the council is still using out-of-date maps, but some of the details seem seem a bit vague. We shall find out more at the weekend, hopefully.

Written by Darryl

25 June, 2010 at 6:26 pm

A tale of two pubs: Greenwich Council blocks Hardys hotel

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Something to drink to this Friday evening – the controversial plan to build a towering hotel on top of Hardys Free House on Trafalgar Road, Greenwich, has been thrown out by Greenwich Council.

Planners received 144 objections to the scheme from local residents. Unsurprisingly, they decided it was too big, too ugly, and… didn’t have enough cycle parking spaces.

Or, in other words: “The proposed development by reason of its design, scale, bulk and massing in this prominent location, would result in a dominant and obtrusive form of development bearing a negative relationship to the host building and its immediate surroundings.”

I think it’s fair to say that there won’t be many people sorry to see the application refused. What this means for the future of a pub that’s had a rocky time since it was sold three years ago, heaven alone knows. Hopefully the owners will now concentrate on developing it as a decent pub. Or sell it onto someone who wants to do that.

You don’t have to look far for proof of how to turn around a failing bar – five minutes’ walk from Hardys, the Pelton Arms was once a dusty, unloved boozer. Now it’s doing a roaring trade thanks to live bands and other events. It’s now planning to expand upstairs to include a first floor dining area. It took time, some brute force and a lot of effort to turn the Pelton around, but its success shows it can be done.

Written by Darryl

25 June, 2010 at 5:12 pm

Ken v Oona v Boris – and why Labour still doesn’t get it

with 3 comments

Dear London Labour Party member,

Hello! Remember me? I was one of those people who used to vote for you lot once. Actually, I’m surprised you’re still going after your party took us into an illegal war, and completely buggered up the economy. But even a misery like me knows you’re not going to go away. Like faded Catholics at Christmas, us vaguely-lefty types have to pause occasionally and see what you’re up to.

So it’s with some concern that I read your shortlist for the 2012 London mayoral election. Let me see now - Ken Livingstone, Oona King, a bloke in north London, and an artist. Is that the best you can do? With all your councillors, MPs, and local party members – is that it?

I like Ken. I’d happily vote for Ken. I fear he’s now tainted goods, now, after spending too much time sucking up to Hugo Chavez and an unpleasant bigot when he should have been keeping his ear to the ground and hearing that the London suburbs were getting angsty. I’m not certain he’s learned those lessons.

But he achieved a great deal for London, creating a pair of mayoral boots that Boris Johnson has sometimes struggled to fill. The mayoralty’s only a decade old, but it feels as if it’s been with us forever. Tony Blair envisaged smooth business types running the capital – but in both Ken and Boris, it’s attracted free-thinking, cocky characters who are happy to ignore party lines and stand up for what they believe in. Politics aside, both men’s personalities make them good representatives of a city which doesn’t like being told what to do.

But therein lies the problem, my Labour friend. You lot spent years trying to tell London what to do. A decade ago, you rigged your own internal election for a mayoral candidate – and London rightly told you to get stuffed. (Poor old Frank Dobson – mind you, he never liked gingers like me anyway.) And, despite a campaign predicting disaster, Ken Livingstone made the right calls that the Labour Party didn’t – on the congestion charge, opposing the Iraq war, and on challenging the disastrous Tube part-privatisation imposed on London by Labour without our permission. I really don’t think that any other mayor would have helped London win the Olympics, either.

But what exactly has Labour done for London when you discount Ken’s contribution? Not a lot, apart from making life hard for us. That Tube part-privatisation has cost us billions – hey, next time Alistair Campbell does one of his funny fund-raising turns for you, perhaps you lot could start paying the cash back. Or maybe you could just say sorry.

And which party came up with the genius PFI that left our hospitals bankrupt? And how long did it take to allow the building of new council houses to ease our city’s housing shortage? When Ken was in charge, even in his second term, it felt like he was from another party to Labour. After all, when you listen to some of Labour’s northern MPs, you get the feeling the party as a whole doesn’t actually like us.

The genius of Ken Livingstone was that he was well aware that Labour – his own party – was part of the problem. He knew he could wield great power over the Labour government because he’d proved he was no patsy. He’s unafraid to take on the London boroughs – the uninspiring little fiefdoms which your party takes for granted – even wanting to cut them from 32 to five. Do you have the guts to say goodbye to cosy little boltholes like Greenwich, Newham and Hackney, and look afresh at how London is run? He was unafraid to take on the rail franchises the Labour party created. He was unafraid to take on the institutions and the interests that hold London back.

But who else in your party has the vision, passion, and love for London that Ken does? Nobody else of any clout has stepped forward.

Well, apart from Oona. Let’s check that voting record from her days as an MP again, shall we?

Voted strongly for introducing student top-up fees.
Voted against laws to stop climate change.
Voted very strongly for introducing ID cards.
Voted very strongly for the Iraq war.
Voted very strongly against an investigation into the Iraq war.

Not exactly a free spirit in the vein of Ken – or Boris, for that matter. And on Radio 4 yesterday morning, when Ken was pointing out Boris’s lack of long-term vision for infrastructure projects “to stop London seizing up”, Oona said: “I think one of the biggest issues with London is that it could just be a much more fantastic place to live.” So, that’ll protect London for the years ahead, won’t it? Nobody’s interested. Only the Guardian turned up to her housing policy launch. She’s lost the press before she’s even begun.

The tragedy is, London needs a strong challenger against Boris, whose performance in the State of London debate yesterday was woeful. And Ken Livingstone needs a strong challenge against him. He’s not getting it. If Ken fails in 2012, who’ll carry the torch for Labour then? There’s no sign. Labour simply doesn’t get it.

Unless, you, as a London Labour Party member, can prove me wrong. You’ve already failed us by not even ensuring Ken Livingstone has a decent challenger in your own election. But your party needs people like me to give you at least their second choice votes. Please, show us you care. Because after four years of Boris bumbling around, London’s going to need it.

Lots of love, Darryl.

Written by Darryl

25 June, 2010 at 1:08 pm

Another Greenwich pedestrianisation exhibition

with 14 comments

All of a sudden, Greenwich Council has announced another exhibition of plans to part-pedestrianise Greenwich town centre, this time starting on Saturday and running through to Tuesday at Devonport House. It’s classic Greenwich “consultation” once again – announced five days in advance, on a Monday night when local newspapers are going to press, but handed straight to propaganda rag Greenwich Time instead.

An earlier display in December showcased a number of different schemes, which looked interesting but lacked an overall vision – what kind of place do we want Greenwich to be? There wasn’t much of a clue as to what the council wanted to do with the space, or what would happen to any displaced traffic or the bus services which terminate in Greenwich. Indeed, the council kept the results of the consultation close to its chest, only revealing it when a Conservative candidate for the area in the local elections, Ryan Acty, put in a Freedom of Information Act request, which he put he published as a comment at the foot of this Andrew Gilligan column on greenwich.co.uk in March.

The initial consultation process has confirmed that almost 90% of those who replied support the principle of improving the town centre environment.

Further, nearly 80 % agree that pedestrianisation of College Approach, King William Walk (part) and Greenwich Church Street (part) is an appropriate way forward.

Of those who support pedestrianisation around 70% prefer the gyratory concept to the idea of a T junction at Nelson Road/Greenwich Church Street.

Following these returns officers are developing more detailed plans about how best to design a gyratory scheme incorporating the views and opinions expressed, it is anticipated that a further consultation will take place on this more detailed proposal in the summer of this year.

The council’s website outlines that “gyratory concept”.

We have now produced a more detailed set of plans, which aim to reflect the concerns and suggestions made by local people.

The key features of the Council’s ‘preferred scheme’ are:

* One-way clockwise gyratory on Creek Road, Greenwich Church Street, Greenwich High Road (east of Greenwich South Street) and Norman Road.
* Greenwich High Road west of Greenwich South Street will remain two-way.

We believe the scheme will address the needs of local residents and visitors whether on foot, on bicycle, or on public transport. At the same time, the scheme should ensure a good traffic flow and reduce congestion.

That’s quite a haul if you’re heading to/from Greenwich South Street – and bad news for some bus passengers. It’ll be interesting to see if the effects on public transport have been considered, as well as the effects on cyclists. The maps used in the last consultation were out of date as well – missing off the decade-old Ha’penny Hatch footbridge linking Norman Road with Creekside in Deptford, also used by many cyclists. Norman Road itself is likely to see its industrial units replaced by new developments over the next few years – have these been factored into the proposals?

I think pedestrianisation could be a good thing – but only if done properly and with a real vision for what the area would be like when it’s done. At the moment, that vision is lacking. Maybe we’ll find out more at the weekend. I hope so – because this is too important a scheme to rush and botch up.

Written by Darryl

23 June, 2010 at 8:00 am

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