Archive for October 2010
If you wanted proof that the area around the Dome is shedding its grim, lifeless persona, then it’s above – a branch of Wagamama is on its way behind Ravensbourne’s new building, breaking the monopoly the O2′s tenants have in the area.
The area around the Dome will, once again, be unrecognisable within a few years – with planning permission given for an enormous hotel to the west of the structure, on some of the last remaining parts of the millennium exhibition site.
If you’ve got a view of the Dome from where you live – enjoy it while it lasts, because after a decade of it dominating the skyline, it’s likely to be hidden behind more big developments in the next 10 years.
“My mum always told me to steer clear of redheads” – Frank Dobson, 20 March 2000
Oh dear – some people don’t learn, do they? Harriet Harman should have remembered her history before she opened her mouth at the Scottish Labour party conference today. When duff London mayoral candidate Frank Dobson – remember him? – made an anti-redhead joke after Chris Evans gave £100,000 to Ken Livingstone’s campaign, Evans turned around and doubled the donation.
So for Harriet Harman to dismiss a political rival as “a ginger rodent” earlier today was a bit bloody stupid.
To do it in Scotland was suicidal. Worse still was the army of sycophants and creeps in her audience, pissing themselves like it was some kind of Wildean gem.
And if she thinks Treasury chief secretary Danny Alexander is a ginger rodent, then what does that make her former colleague and expenses cheat Hazel Blears?
But hey, I know that should I ever end up pursuing a political career, and I come up against the po-faced former equalities minister; she’ll think using my hair colour as an jibe against me will be fine. Of course, the fact that she’s a pasty-faced warmonger whose visage will be gracing my Hallowe’en mask later is neither here nor there, of course. (See, not nice, is it Harriet? See how this kind of crap undermines what you say you’ve been fighting against for most of your career?) But her comments betray a lack of basic respect – hey, if Danny Alexander’s gay predecessor David Laws was still in the job, maybe she could have made a crack about him being in bed with George Osborne? It’s about on that level. I now know that Harriet Harman doesn’t want my vote. Fine, she wasn’t getting it anyway.
It’s anger that makes us say stupid things, though – we’ve all said catastrophically dumb things when the red mist descends. Wiser heads shut up and think before spouting off. But I’ve been taken aback by the raw fury that Labour members feel towards the Liberal Democrats for cosying up with the Tories – as if a party dumping its principles as soon as it gets a sniff of power is something they’ve never been involved with.
Maybe if they stopped, bit their tongues, and thought a bit about why they got kicked out in May – and perhaps even worked out a few policies of their own – maybe Harman wouldn’t have put her foot in it so badly. But instead, it carries on as before, desperately hoping the coalition will implode and they’ll slip back in unnoticed. New generation? Same old crap, more like.
We are in nasty times, though. From Harman’s playground insult to Tories cheering George Osborne to the rafters for throwing half a million people out of work, the atmosphere is getting ever more spiteful, tribal and poisonous. In the real world, protesters have been shutting down Vodafone stores over it getting away with dodging its tax. But in the hermetically sealed world of Westminster politics, insults are easier than answers or meaningful protests. Even David Cameron was at it yesterday, gloating at “delicious” BBC cuts.
It’s not just us gingers that Harman slighted with her comments yesterday, it’s all of us who want to see this coalition properly taken to task for what it’s doing. Her and her cheering sycophants are no better than George Osborne and his cronies applauding job cuts.
This is no distraction from a real story – this is the real story, how politicians have taken to trading witless insults instead of showing any real leadership in troubled times. Shame on the lot of them.
Greenwich Council’s deputy leader Peter Brooks came out fighting when quizzed about Blackheath fireworks last night – claiming he was only given two days by Lewisham Council to make a decision on funding the event, and that the £37,000 saved by cutting cash from the display would save “a job and a bit”.
Cllr Brooks was criticised by Conservative councillor Alex Wilson, whose Blackheath Westcombe ward shares the display with Lewisham borough, for not informing local representatives of the council’s decision to pull out.
Lewisham organises the event, and had given Greenwich two days during August to agree to back the display, Cllr Brooks said.
“I was given two days in a recess to come up with a decision,” he told a full council meeting at Woolwich Town Hall. He apologised for not informing councillors, adding: “I did speak to some of the Labour group, but I couldn’t get through to everybody – even with mobile phones, many people would be away.”
“I could give 65 million reasons why we didn’t pay,” he continued, referring to government cuts in the council’s budget. “£37,000 is equivalent to a job and a bit.”
Cllr Wilson said Greenwich’s attitude to the fireworks, which take place on the borough boundary, “feels like a diner who walks away from a restaurant without paying for a meal”.
Above is the written element to Cllr Brooks’ reply. Unfortunately, Alex Wilson didn’t ask why, despite the “current financial climate”, the council felt the need to spend £30,000 on its lavish private do for the mayor in May – which equates to a job. It also does seem odd that Peter Brooks is complaining about only having two days to decide about an event that’s taken place annually for about the past 20 years, for which he roughly knew what the bill would be.
I’d love to know what Lewisham’s version of events is – even from that written response, it doesn’t look like relations are happy between the two boroughs. This doesn’t bode well as we enter a period when councils may have to start sharing services to save them from even worse cutbacks. It’s sad that one of SE London’s best-known events could well be a victim of what seems to be as much of a falling-out between two Labour councils, who you’d expect to be sticking together, as a need to save funds.
To donate to Lewisham’s Blackheath fireworks fund, visit www.lewisham.gov.uk/fireworks.
More on the Blackheath fireworks story.
It’s all gone fairly quiet on the News Shopper front since the row over it rewarding a homophobe with a nice pen for a nasty rant in its letters page. Since then, web editor Simon Bull, whose combative posts on Twitter defending the paper did enormous damage to its reputation, has departed the paper for a job I believe he had lined up anyway, at rival newspaper group Archant (publishers of The Peninsula and the Bexley Times). So at present, there’s a hole where the paper’s knowledge of the internet should be. And boy, with this story from its Bromley edition, does it show.
Damn bloggers! Actually, it’s a word I avoid using if I can, because it so often seems to be spat out as a term of abuse used by people who don’t know what they’re talking about. So where are these bloggers, then?
Er… they don’t exist. The report refers to the “BeckenhamTown.us blog” – but it’s not a blog. It’s a busy community website that’s well worth a look if you know that area. The story seems to be about an enormous thread on BeckenhamTown.us message board debating the merits or otherwise of Kelsey Park school. There are no “bloggers” there, just local people having a bit of a ding-dong. Commenters, maybe.
To reiterate, it is not a blog, they are not bloggers. It’s like calling the News Shopper a “book”. Perhaps this should be tied to a brick and left in the News Shopper office. But somehow, reporter David Mills seems to have bought into the mentality that “blogger” = “idiot” and any discussion that happens online is somehow worthless or has some poisonous hidden agenda. Strangely, nobody who commented on that thread has been contacted to elaborate on their thoughts, giving the school free rein to shout “damn bloggers!” when perhaps a real investigation of why the school arouses such strong feelings is needed, instead of a weirdly one-sided story which risks being mistaken for advertorial.
Yet the News Shopper, which is starved of investment by greedy parent company Newsquest should be encouraging and promoting local independent sites, not damning them. Damn bloggers!
After all, with its reporters often confined to its Petts Wood HQ (no sign of a Shopper reporter at last night’s Greenwich Council meeting, for example), it may need local websites on its side in the future. As the gaps in local newspaper coverage begin to widen, it’d help if the paper knew what it was talking about when dealing with a website that’s trying to fill that hole.
I’ve just seen BBC London News’s report on the preparations in Greenwich Park for the Olympics, and I’m left scratching my head a little bit. Is it me, or is it just a puff job for Olympics organisers? Have a look at it and see what you think.
Granted, there’s probably a bit of context missing – and this is an important point – that this is the latest in a series of personal films by people whose lives will be affected by the games. Unfortunately, there’s no specific place on BBC London’s website for the 2012 Lives series, but you can find some of the pieces dotted around its London 2012 index.
So the film features the editor of the Westcombe News, a well-regarded community newspaper in Blackheath, giving his broadly positive view about the equestrian events in Greenwich Park; followed by a chap who’s against them, and a woman who’s for them. To say the anti-Olympics campaigner doesn’t get a fair crack of the whip is an understatement – he’s only heard for nine seconds out of the two-minute report.
Now, getting a “local point of view” is fairly innocuous, and I can see what BBC London are trying to do. But opinions remain so polarised, I can’t help thinking this light treatment was the wrong idea, and that it would have been better to have had a proper report into this now the park’s undergoing the “scarification” treatment which has got many people worried, and with concerns about road closures remaining unresolved.
But that’s only me. I’d be interested to know what you think of the report – or are you just bored with all the bickering now?
Riverbus firm Thames Clippers has issued its new timetable, which comes into force on Monday, and there’s a surprise for anyone who uses their boats to come home from the West End in the late evening – they’ve been dropped from the timetable.
At present, the last boats from Embankment are at around midnight – 11.40pm on weekdays, 12.10am at weekends. But from Monday, those last boats to Greenwich, North Greenwich and Woolwich will be cut back to 9.10pm. It looks as if services to and from the Dome will be maintained – O2 owner AEG also owns Thames Clippers – but only on event nights. (A minimum of 100 nights a year, says Greenwich Council.)
To be honest, I can’t say I’m surprised – I’ve turned up at Embankment Pier for late boats to find they’ve departed early. The last time I managed to catch one home, I don’t remember there being any other passengers on board beyond central London. That said, it’ll be a shame to see them go – I’ll definitely miss cruising down the Thames late at night with a drink in hand, but it also provided a civilised alternative to the late “vomit comets” from Charing Cross on Fridays and Saturdays.
But I expect most people barely knew the late service existed – it was stuck under a timetable misleadingly branded with a “commuter” label, and received little promotion.
The news will be a blow for those who see the river as an under-used transport artery – Labour mayoral hopeful Oona King wanted to turn the river into “a new Tube line”, while Greenwich-based journalist Andrew Gilligan teamed up with a Tory thinktank to push for more subsidies for river buses.
Others see river buses as less of a priority – after all, not that many of us live close enough to the river to make full use of them, especially with speed restrictions west of Wapping dragging the full Embankment-Woolwich journey out to an hour.
Indeed, the O2 is now looking to promote Charlton station as a transport hub alongside the Tube and boat services to the venue.
So if you’ve someone to impress, or just fancy a different way home late one night, you’ve not got long. And if the bar’s open, raise a glass to the glory days of the midnight boat to Greenwich.
The drawback to the UK’s newest daily newspaper came to me as I was queueing up in the newsagent, 20p in hand. It was in front of me, buying six cans of Stella, baccy, and Rizlas. At 10:30am, this chap clearly had a good day lined up. But I was getting impatient. And I wasn’t even on my way to work.
Actually, I really like i, the cut-down version of the Independent that hit the streets this morning. Now it and the Evening Standard are under common ownership, this is actually the direction I expected the Standard to take when it went free – crisply laid-out with short, yet authoritative news stories but retaining some of the better columnists. i reminds me of a bulkier version of the international Metros (no relation to our one) or the European 20 Minutes than the fluff-filled UK Metro.
Not that there’s too much wrong with Metro – except when it occasionally lapses into lazy Daily Mail-think – but it’s basically a rehash of what ran on the Press Association wire the previous day with added kittens. But for readers who want a bit more, there’s nothing between that and the “quality” press, which now groans with opinion, waffle, lifestyle and bullshit from every corner.
I gave up buying newspapers because I didn’t want to continue subsidising Polly Filler and her pals lecturing me about their Jimmy Choos and school runs. It’s no coincidence that The Economist, which features a blend of anonymous commentary and dry humour, is seeing sales rise while newspapers remain in freefall. Peter Watts has some thoughts on this at The Great Wen. Indeed, today’s Guardian had a plug for a Doonesbury feature above its masthead – which seemed to be more of an attempt to recapture lapsed Guardian readers than attract anyone new.
Does i fill the gap? It makes a good stab at it, and it feels like something new rather than a cut-down Indepdendent; a proper paper with much of the crap taken out. But we’re now surrounded by free news everywhere – assaulted by it during the not-missed days of the London freesheet wars – I can’t help thinking that 20p is a barrier to success. Granted, that 20p means i gets seen in newsagents across the country, an important thing to note when London’s only evening paper has rarely been seen outside of the centre of the capital since going free.
But it’s not the cost in pennies that’s the deterrent, but the cost in time – if you use North Greenwich Tube, while queue at the world’s worst WH Smiths when you could pick up a Metro for nothing and not miss your train? My regular paper-buying habit weakened when my local newsagent changed hands and was taken over by a man who had to run everything through the till, instead of conducting paper sales with a pile of 10ps on the counter.
That said, I can’t help thinking the end game for i might be that it eventually goes free – driving a further nail into the coffin of the daily printed newspaper. It’ll be an interesting few months ahead – especially for the Independent’s competitors.
It’s six weeks since Lewisham Council launched its appeal for SE Londoners to back the Blackheath fireworks display after Greenwich Council pulled its funding. In that time, Lewisham has been industrious in battling to make up the missing £36,000 – rattling tins around Blackheath boozers (bet that Childline woman’s annoyed with the competition) and hawking “VIP fireworks experiences” on eBay.
In that six weeks, what has Greenwich Council done to explain itself to the people it is supposed to represent? Not a lot. There’s certainly been no mention of the cut that’s been made on our behalf in Greenwich Time, its weekly puff sheet – not even in this week’s BAD NEWS special.
The council’s website claims you can “read all the local news” in GT – but in propaganda, what you leave out is just as important as what you put in.
That said, the news did creep onto the council’s website on Monday morning – scroll down, no, right down, there it is! Talk about burying bad news…
“Greenwich Council has reluctantly taken the decision not to fund the fireworks event on Blackheath this year, having been advised to anticipate up to 40 per cent cuts to its grant following the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review.” That didn’t stop it blowing nearly £30,000 on a private party for its new mayor earlier this year, of course.
“The Council is however supporting Lewisham Council’s appeal to local residents to help cover the costs of the event,” it adds, before packing users off to Lewisham’s website, where locals can find lists of Greenwich borough streets that are closed. Consider Greenwich’s hands duly washed of that, then.
Down the road, Lewisham’s eBay auction has reached £770 for the chance to start all the excitement off, be shown “behind the scenes” of the display and be plied with free food and drink. Better than hanging around by the dips with sparklers and a novelty hipflask. Bidding ends on Hallowe’en – and wouldn’t it be great if someone from this side of the boundary could get the prize?
All this said, the London Fire Brigade dispute may succeed in doing Greenwich Council’s work in doing away with the display, anyway…
To donate to the Lewisham appeal, visit www.lewisham.gov.uk/fireworks. For other local blog comment, see The Greenwich Phantom, Crosswhatfields, Kidbrooke Kite and Brockley Central.
Greenwich Council has confirmed it faces at least £65m in cuts following the coalition government’s spending review. But there are fears it could be worse.
A lengthy statement which looks like it’s been hastily slapped onto the front of this week’s Greenwich Time – yep, very Pravda-like – says that out of an annual budget of £247m, £65m has simply been cut and news of a further £31m – earmarked for child protection and 20 Sure Start nurseries is awaited.
To add to the uncertainty, there’s confusion over a further £18m which was intended for services for the elderly.
The council says it will prioritise services for “children and vulnerable adults, as well as those which underpin the quality of life in the public realm and which support reductions in violent crime“.
Full details of the funding local councils will get next year are not expected to emerge until December.
Is the area around the Dome looking a bit busier today? It should do – it’s the first day of business for Ravensbourne college, which has spent the summer relocating from Chislehurst to its new, £70m home at the tip of the peninsula. This blog was lucky enough to get a tour from the college’s director, Professor Robin Baker, as his staff geared up to accept 1,400 students – ranging from pre-degree learners to undergraduates and postgraduates.
More significantly for Greenwich, today looks like being the day the area immediately around the Dome stopped being a bleak, windswept, lonely corner and started to gain some life.
Contracts have been signed for cafes to open on Peninsula Square, and there’ll be a bit of life around there during the day now, instead of the O2′s security guards and their dogs. By next spring, it’ll be radically different around there. This can only be a good thing…
The impressive exterior – the pattern is a mathematical formula based on “non-periodic tesselation” , where the windows are tiles left out – bucks the trend for contemporary buildings to show off their interiors to the public. “It’s camouflaged, it’s challenges you,” Professor Baker explained. “You can’t look in and see what’s going on.”
Inside are 9 floors and vast open spaces, where students will follow courses encompassing design, broadcasting, fashion, architecture, animation and music production. No rabbit warrens of classrooms, computer rooms and lecture theatres – unlike the exterior, most of the interior is open. It’s almost like a cutting-edge, modern business centre, which isn’t an accident.
Most students will have their own laptops, there’ll be a clean-desk policy, but the building will be open 16 hours a day – with teaching taking place across just six of those. Professor Baker says he’ll have one big message for today’s new students. “We try to treat students as professionals. We’ll say to them, ‘this is the first day of your career’.” One aspect of the new site is what isn’t there – there’s no metalwork and woodwork facilities here, with them either being provided elsewhere or students being encouraged to find their own. It’s “all about using London as a resource,” Prof Baker says – something that wasn’t easy in Chislehurst.
One thing that did strike me as a little odd – their student union bar will be, effectively, one floor of the American Bar at the O2. Granted, they’ll offer a discount, but I’m not sure I’d like to have to walk through a security cordon every time I fancied a cheap beer.
What is provided, though, is state of the art. What’s thought to be the most advanced high-definition television facilities in the country sit alongside a recording studio paid for by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. “When Led Zeppelin played the O2, they turned to Harvey Goldsmith and said, ‘we want to give something back.” The cash is also going towards a course, designed to create entrepreneurs in the music industry. Fibre-optic links connect Ravensbourne with the O2 and the data network being created to support the Olympics. But easily the most impressive thing in the workshops was a 3D scanner, which you could use to create a virtual version of anything – a toy car, or your body.
What does Ravensbourne’s arrival mean for its neighbours? Pre-degree courses already mainly attract students from the boroughs of Greenwich and Lewisham, and Greenwich Council is backing the Greenwich Digital Skills Centre, offering courses for all ages. In the long term, the council wants to see the peninsula become a “digital destination”, and has two floors in nearby Mitre Passage as a “digital enterprise centre” for businesses to showcase what they can do.
But it’s Ravensbourne that’s playing a pivotal role here, providing a role incubating start-up businesses and giving them a space to get going. There’s a track record of success here – one student recently signed a £280,000 contract with Sony to develop a game. There’ll be 40 based in the new building, although only 15 are expected to survive – but those that do will be given help in finding cheap locations in which to base themselves. I hope that the benefits of this will be felt further into Greenwich – it’d be unfortunate if all this new activity was isolated up on the peninsula, and with nearby Deptford having a pedigree for nurturing creative businesses, something special could be created in Greenwich, if the will is there.
So that’s your quick tour of Greenwich’s newest arrival. Thanks to Ravensbourne for inviting me up there, and if you want to take a sly peek at it, their ground floor cafe is open to the public. At last, an alternative to Starbucks on the peninsula!