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

Archive for November 2010

Southeastern: Learning nothing from the snow

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Regular readers will recall the trouble caused by Southeastern’s shutdown of its rail network during January’s cold spell, which brought it complaints from Boris Johnson and a rare and under-reported public lambasting from the boss of Transport for London.

The criticism brought a promise to do better, including the improvement of communication with passengers. One innovation was a Tube-style “good service”/”minor delays” breakdown of the network’s lines for its website – so innovative, in fact, that you’d forget its predecessor company South Eastern Trains (not to be confused with the current firm, franchised by the Labour government in 2006) started using that style of information at its London terminals six years ago.

One point raised by London Assembly transport committee chair Caroline Pidgeon when she wrote to Southeastern boss Charles Horton was the lack of information at stations – this site reported the information boards at Charlton station being turned off back in January, with a generic message replacing information about the next train.

Charles Horton’s response dismissed these concerns:

So, today at Charlton station, the information screens would be working, wouldn’t they?

Charlton station

Of course not. Just at the time when people need information the most, Southeastern’s information system had been switched off. Worse than useless.

Charlton station

Indeed, from all accounts, it looks like Southeastern’s contingency plans failed miserably this afternoon, with little information provided to frustrated passengers about a disrupted service. Gripes on Twitter in the past couple of hours include…

…and so on. With a knackered and fragmented system, delays and glitches during snow are pretty much unavoidable. Indeed, it was a tragedy at Slade Green which closed the Greenwich line this morning, rather than the snow. But how long can Southeastern go on hiding from its customers like this?

I would have contacted Southeastern for a comment on this, but – you guessed it – the train company told me earlier this year it “doesn’t respond to blogs, etc”.

Written by Darryl

30 November, 2010 at 5:56 pm

Southeastern cancels New Year trains after Boris’s cuts

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Expecting to get a train home after seeing in 2011 in style? Check carefully since rail operator Southeastern has cancelled most of its services in the early hours of New Year’s Day.

Sister company Southern has also dropped most of its overnight services, leaving much of SE London without all-night trains.

For the past few years, Southeastern has, along with other London rail operators, run an all-night service on selected lines to help relieve crowding on night buses. But last year London mayor Boris Johnson cut the £100,000 funding for the all-night trains, which enabled the companies to officially run them for free.

Other London rail firms are managing to provide an all-night service, though. South West Trains is running through the night to Kingston, Wimbledon and Richmond. East and north Londoners will get half-hourly trains from Liverpool Street courtesy of National Express.

The last train on any Southeastern route will leave Charing Cross for Dartford via Greenwich at 1.41am.

Hourly Boxing Day services have also been dropped by Southeastern, and Network Rail engineering work means Charing Cross and Waterloo East stations will be closed on 27 December.

Transport for London has yet to announce full details of its Christmas schedule, which has traditionally seen all-night free Tube and DLR travel over New Year, together with a beefed-up night bus service.

I would have contacted Southeastern for a comment on this, but the train company told me earlier this year it “doesn’t respond to blogs, etc”.

Written by Darryl

30 November, 2010 at 12:59 pm

Kicking off in Catford as Lewisham makes cuts

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(video via Hangbitch. More from BBC News, Lewisham Right to Work and Transpontine.)

From The Guardian (at the time of writing – 1am – our supposed local newspaper the News Shopper hadn’t bothered to publish tonight, despite the fact this will be featured on national media breakfast shows on Tuesday morning):

Police tonight arrested several people outside Lewisham town hall in south-east London as demonstrators tried to force their way into a meeting where councillors voted to cut the council budget by £60m.

Officers had to call for help from the Metropolitan police’s Territorial Support Group as about 100 protesters tried to force their way into the building.

“Police have made a number of arrests for criminal damage and public order offences,” the Met said in a statement. “A number of police officers were treated for minor injuries.”

A taste of things to come, perhaps, for those of us on the Greenwich side of the borough boundary. The protesters included a large number of Goldsmiths College students, who’ll no doubt be delighted to know Woolwich Town Hall is a short ride on the 53 or 177 buses from New Cross.

In all seriousness, I imagine Greenwich Labour’s hierarchy will be be looking at the scenes from Catford with a mixture of trepidation and satisfaction. Trepidation, because this scenes like this face every single council in the country as the coalitions cuts slice through their budgets.

But satisfaction, because Greenwich Council has played its hands very close to its chest on the question of cuts, in complete contrast to Lewisham, whose directly-elected mayor Sir Steve Bullock got his axe out almost as soon as he and the Labour council were re-elected in May. The violence seen outside Lewisham Town Hall was the price Sir Steve Bullock paid for that strategy, which included a consultation called “Our Lewisham, Our Say“, the kind of cuddly-sounding scheme that’s unthinkable this side of the border.

Apart from persistent rumours about libraries becoming “self-service” (or closing the lot and having just one in Woolwich), and a cut in voluntary group funding, concrete evidence of Greenwich’s plans is hard to find. Greenwich axed its funding for Blackheath fireworks claiming it was due to cutbacks, but we know this was nonsense – with the council having blown the cash on a mayoral booze-up and Olympics-linked arts projects. It’s easy – too easy, really – to criticise Labour leader Chris Roberts’ iron rule over the council, but it’s saved it from a Bullock-sized ruck as seen in Catford.

There’s also a different political scene in Lewisham – run on a mayoral system, it was a hung borough before the last election, the Socialist Party had two councillors before May, a group called Lewisham People Before Profit are a force in local elections in the north of the borough. Greenwich, meanwhile is a rather stale Labour-Tory ding-dong. A group set up by Socialist Party members, Greenwich Save Our Services, is hoping to marshal any opposition to cuts – although their last demo seemed to me to be a just a small group of grumpy lefties. This will no doubt change, though, as Greenwich’s cuts become clearer.

Will Greenwich will be able to avoid scenes like Monday night’s rows in Catford, or is it storing up more trouble for the future? The answer will be one of several no-doubt unpleasant things we’ll find out next year.

Written by Darryl

30 November, 2010 at 1:31 am

Who should run Greenwich Park?

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Greenwich Park at sunset

Hats off to Peninsula ward councillor Mary Mills – one of a tiny, tiny minority of Greenwich Labour representatives comfortable with speaking publicly to constituents – for letting us know about a meeting she had about Greenwich Park. One of the many topics she raises could be a big issue in the years to come, since City Hall is eyeing up the Royal Parks

Cuts were followed by a report on the move to give the Royal Parks to the London Mayor’s office which is expected to be part of an imminent Parliamentary Bill. To my mind this is crazy since it will involved the recreation of the old GLC Parks Department at vast public expense – and for what reason??? If they have to give them to anyone, the City of London administers other parks in the Greater London area and has pots and pots of cash.

At the moment, Greenwich Park is run by the Royal Parks Agency, which is run by the government. (Until recently, it even had its own police force.) It seems to do a good job, although the row over the Olympics has created lots of bad feeling. It makes much of its money through parking charges and hiring parks out for events, notably Hyde Park concerts.

There’s a precedent for handing these parks over to the mayoralty; Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square were handed over to it in 2000. This has seen great improvements in Trafalgar Square, although plans to pedestrianise Parliament Square were canned by Boris Johnson when he took office. While perhaps London’s most important parks should be run on behalf of all Londoners – Blackheath, Burgess Park and Crystal Palace Park were run by the old GLC, for example – this could submit these parks to political turbulence.

Then again, if local people having a say in running Greenwich Park is important, why not give it to Greenwich Council as a present to mark becoming a royal borough in 2012? Greenwich is one of London’s greenest boroughs, and already looks after important spaces like Plumstead Common and Oxleas Woods.

Or then there’s Mary’s suggestion that the City of London takes it on. The City crest may look out of place around Westminster, but we’re miles away from there and the corporation’s responsibilities already include the lush spaces of Hampstead Heath, Epping Forest and West Wickham Common. It certainly has money – but isn’t exactly democratic.

Anyway, what you reckon? I thought I’d try holding a poll to see what 853 readers think.

Written by Darryl

26 November, 2010 at 8:30 am

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Greenwich to Charing Cross – a two year stay of execution?

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You’ve probably seen elsewhere that the government has finally agreed to back the Thameslink Programme, to boost north-south rail services through London. The major aspect of this which affects south-east London is that London Bridge, possibly the most miserable, frustrating place on the network, will be redeveloped.

As Brockley Central reminds us, changes are happening there anyway as part of the unmissable construction of the Shard, including a new bus station. But the government’s backing now means the mess of platforms 1-6 will finally get sorted out.

Of course, there’s a catch… a two year delay in the works, meaning it won’t be complete until 2018, or 18 years after it was originally meant to be finished. The work will see huge disruption later this decade, of course. But there’s one upside to this – commuters who use the Greenwich line (Westcombe Park, Maze Hill, Greenwich and Deptford), may well hang onto their direct trains to Charing Cross for a bit longer, for under the redevelopment plan, the link between that and the Charing Cross tracks is due to be severed for good.

Written by Darryl

25 November, 2010 at 2:05 pm

Olympics will bring CHAOS!, er, Olympics chiefs warn

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Thanks to Diamond Geezer for his heads-up about Olympics organisers warning that we might as well just all bugger off in summer 2012 is going to be a bit sticky, to say the least.

For those of us south of the river, there’s special maps for “Canary Wharf” (and Greenwich town centre and Deptford), “Greenwich” (but which is really just east Greenwich), Woolwich (and Charlton), Lewisham (and Brockley) and Blackheath. For all the others, head here.

A lot of this is just common sense – Woolwich Arsenal station will be busy. Greenwich, Cutty Sark and Maze Hill stations will also be busy. So will North Greenwich. There’s some sensible things in there, like dates when the stations will be the busiest. But overall, the message is of doom – especially if you live between Greenwich and Woolwich and are thinking of using any sort of rail service. Jubilee Line? Avoid. DLR? Avoid? North Kent line? Essential journeys only.

While I’m fully prepared for things to be a bit sticky at Charlton, it’s surely not going to be much beyond what locals are already used to, after 10 years of Dome/O2 usage and fortnightly usage by thousands of football fans. And I’m a bit concerned that Maze Hill, with its rickety footbridge, will have trouble coping. But Westcombe Park – delays of up to an hour? Really?

They’re even predicting delays at sleepy Ladywell, south of Lewisham and Crofton Park, at the bottom end of Brockley. I imagine LOCOG is merely sharing its worst “just in case” scenarios – so after the summer is over, we can all breathe a sigh of relief and pat them on the back for their excellent work. But by warning great chunks of London to avoid using public transport altogether, they’re adding to the impression that the people of the capital are simply an inconvenience who’ll get in the way of the chief executive of Coca-Cola’s journeys between dinners venues – just like they did when they moved the marathon route out of the East End.

After all, aren’t we meant to be promoting Greenwich as being open for business as (sort of) usual during the games?

In other Olympics news, the protester who damaged course markers in Greenwich Park is claiming a “moral victory” after the CPS dropped charges against him.

Written by Darryl

25 November, 2010 at 1:37 pm

The shambles of the Greenwich Foot Tunnel restoration

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I took a trip out on the borrowed bike yesterday afternoon – through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, up through the Isle of Dogs and up the canal to Hackney. I found riding along the towpath a bit nerve-wracking, but the mutual respect shown by both cyclists and pedestrians there makes it all work nicely. A ride around Victoria Park, a quick break at London Fields, then a speedy trip back along the canal and through the Docklands to the foot tunnel to get home in good time for Charlton’s match against Bristol Rovers.

Fat chance of that. At ten past six in the evening, right in the middle of the rush hour, the Greenwich Foot Tunnel had been closed. No explanation, no apology notice – the contractors looked like they’d locked up and buggered off.

In the place of any notice, there was just a constant stream of cyclists pulling up, together with the odd pedestrian, and discovering the bad news for themselves.

It’s not the first time I’ve been caught out by the foot tunnel being closed – I got caught out one afternoon about six weeks ago. From chatting to some of the fuming cyclists being forced to turn around and ride back up the Isle of Dogs, it seems like a regular occurrence.

I can’t help thinking no tunnel would be better than a tunnel you can’t rely on. The stairs inside the tunnel have been closed for refurbishment for some months, with the lifts – which themselves are due to be replaced – providing the only means of access. So if one of the lifts goes down, the shutters go up. Why the lifts – which themselves are only 18 years old – couldn’t have been replaced first hasn’t been explained, although this approach has gone wrong at the Woolwich Foot Tunnel, closed until March 2011 thanks to “structural weaknesses” in the stairs.

A cyclist I talked to told me he found Thames Clippers often unwilling to take his bike on their boats, despite the service being touted as a replacement for the tunnel when closed. (Thames Clippers’ recent cutbacks have not helped this situation either – the tunnel closes at 9pm on weeknights, 49 minutes before the last north-south boat and after the last south-north boat.) Before he headed off to find a pier, he claimed one of the lift attendants was in the habit of arbitrarily closing the tunnel if he fancied knocking off early.

Obviously this is completely unsubstantiated, but with no sign of any life at the tunnel’s north portal in Island Gardens, we could only wonder what the hell was going on down there.

We were the lucky ones, though.

Just before I set off on my six-mile detour to the Woolwich Ferry, a white sub-contractors’ van pulled up, and a man walked out. As he approached the tunnel entrance, I told him it was closed.

This gentleman wasn’t best pleased. He was due to man the lifts for the evening, having paid a babysitter and driven a long distance to do the job. Nobody had called to tell him not to bother coming in – and this had happened a couple of days before as well.

It’s the 21st century, and Greenwich Council could use contemporary technology to inform people about tunnel closures – such as e-mailing or texting people, or using its excellent Twitter feed. But if it, or contractors Dean & Dyball, can’t even be bothered to tell its own staff about problems in the foot tunnel, then something has seriously gone wrong under the Thames.

Ssssh… it’s a new image of the Cutty Sark

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Blink and you’ll miss it, but a new artists’ impression of what a restored Cutty Sark should look like in 2012 has appeared on its website (or had done, it crashed while I was preparing this post). It’s slightly different from the last image, which appeared on the front of council puff sheet Greenwich Time in February after its restoration had finally been confirmed, indicating that the glass “bubble” structure which will surround the base of the ship, helping it become a hospitality venue, has been refined slightly.

Despite the fact that work is obviously progressing on the ship, I still can’t help feeling it’s more a case of “if” rather than “when” the Cutty Sark reemerges from the fire and restoration process. Maybe it’s the fact that the PR operation on the ship’s restoration has frankly been crap, with little attempt to bring locals onside in all this. (My free advice for their PR team: “Butter up the Greenwich Phantom.”) With Greenwich town centre looking like a building site at the moment, we need to cling on any hope we can get that it’ll all be worth it.

The sense of farce around Greenwich town centre and the area around the Cutty Sark is heightened by a notice still lingering in the foot tunnel entrance detailing the restoration of Cutty Sark Gardens. No, not the plans the council submitted last month, but the last refurb, completed in May 1999 as a millennium project, replacing what was admittedly a hideous grey space. Hopefully the Greenwich which emerges from scaffolding in 2012 will be fit to last longer than that little scheme did.

(Thanks to Brockley Central for the spot.)

Written by Darryl

24 November, 2010 at 1:00 am

A new Greenwich Podcast and a surprise Visitor

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Greenwich PodcastI’m a bit behind in mentioning this, but the third edition of the The Greenwich Podcast is ready for your downloading pleasure.

This month it features some fella called Boris Johnson talking about Ravensbourne College being part of his “digital hub”, me possibly offending Greenwich Millennium Village residents (no change there then), and a cycle tour around Greenwich. Next month there’ll be a guest which the podcast team are very excited about… but you’ll have to listen to it to find out who it is.

You can also download it from the iTunes store, if that’s your kind of thing.

Something else I haven’t got around to mentioning is The Greenwich Visitor, which suddenly made its debut a few weeks ago, being handed out outside Cutty Sark station. It’s a monthly guide to what’s on in the area aimed at tourists and visitors. It looks very good – better than the News Shopper and the Mercury at least – and contains some things which should be interesting to locals as well.

November’s cover stars were Squeeze’s Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook, while East Greenwich History Map author Rich Sylvester also features. With that, the podcast, greenwich.co.uk and the Phantom, it’s good to see fresh and truly local takes on Greenwich that the established media simply can’t provide.

Written by Darryl

24 November, 2010 at 12:08 am

Boris’s river of delusion

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Look! It’s a press release from Transport for London!

True, it is. So what’s in it?

The updated River Bus Guide, prepared in collaboration with Thames Clippers, gives details of the scheduled services that depart from the eight key piers managed by London River Services along the Thames.

These include a frequent service from Embankment to Woolwich Arsenal. Using the River Bus has never been easier with Oyster pay as you go now available on Thames Clippers services.

Except, of course, after 9pm, when using the river bus has never been harder since Thames Clippers axed their evening boats.

What does Mayor Boris Johnson’s transport advisor Kulveer Ranger have to say on this?

Kulveer Ranger, the Mayor of London’s transport advisor, said: ‘Travelling by river is one of the joys of living in the Capital; and the Mayor’s vision is for it to be an integral part of London’s transport network.

‘We are committed to making it easier for Londoners and visitors to make the most of the unique experience of travelling along the Thames and it is great to see passenger numbers increasing all the time.’

Indeed, with policies like scrapping boats after 9pm, what could make life easier?

Andy Griffiths, Head of London River Services, said: ‘The River Thames is fantastic throughout the year, giving visitors and residents an opportunity to see many iconic London landmarks, including the Tower of London and the Houses of Parliament, from a fantastic vantage point.

‘With the introduction of improved signage, clearer ‘Tube style’ river maps and new branding along the river bank it’s never been easier to enjoy the Thames.’

But best get that journey finished by nine o’clock, eh?

Thames Clippers’ decision to drop the loss-making boats doesn’t feature in this news release, funnily enough. It enraged regular users enough to launch a petition against the cuts, while company boss Sean Collins used The Docklands newspaper to drop a not-so-subtle hint to Boris:

But Mr Collins stated without the same subsidies received by operators of London buses and the DLR, he cannot maintain a loss-making service.

“There have been many failures of river services over the years and the key for Thames Clippers is we’ve made the service available at a reasonable fare,” he said.

“What would the reaction be if I said fares would go up across the board because of the late-running service? In the climate today we have to stop the gap widening as much as possible between our fares and Tube fares.”

So, how about it Boris? The mayor told City Hall last week

“We are already subsidising passengers on the river quite considerably. We’re subsidising more for instance than we are passengers on the buses. There is a limit to the amount of taxpayers’ money that you can pour into the River Thames.”

Which doesn’t quite fit in with the “never been easier” guff TfL’s PR department slipped out yesterday. When it comes to subsidising boats used by a tiny (and arguably more affluent) minority of Londoners, the mayor’s got a point; although it’s a little harsh to run these services for years, pull them, and then pretend everything’s okay. “Waterborne Tube line“? I doubt it. Especially now they can’t run under Blackfriars railway bridge at high tide…

Maybe if TfL’s PR department had made more effort to promote those late boats, perhaps those users may not be in the fix they’re in now.

There’s more TfL PR fun and games at Boris Watch, where Kulveer Ranger is talking up the award-winning East Thames Transit bus, the Thamesmead version of which was axed 18 months ago after being branded a Ken Livingstone “vanity project” by one of the mayor’s supporters. Hmmm.

10:45PM UPDATE: What Thames Clippers wants to avoid - a derelict pier from the failed early 1990s riverbus service, still standing on the Isle of Dogs, which I discovered after posting this entry.

Written by Darryl

23 November, 2010 at 11:05 am


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