Archive for December 2010
Another day, and as I type, the Southeastern service through Charlton is wrecked thanks to a fire way down the line at Erith, as well as signal problems at London Bridge. I need to get to Covent Garden in a while – that looks like fun. Neither the lack of resilience on the Greenwich line, nor the knackered signals on the way into Charing Cross can really be blamed on Southeastern, but it’s an apt way for the hapless private operator, which has spent most of 2010 hiding from angry passengers, to spend the last weekday before it jacks up fares for many of its users.
With the backing of Ken Livingstone, the recently-retired TfL executive oversaw the process which led to the crappy old North London Line being prized out of the privatised network, and run on TfL’s behalf by a franchisee instead of the model the rest of London has to endure. Slowly, but surely, the North London Line is getting better; the stations are staffed all the time, the trains have got longer, and 2010 saw the East London Line join the Overground family, much to the delight of the people of Brockley.
So where did Mr Brown get this crazy idea that London’s rail services were broken and drastic action was needed to fix them? Turns out the answer lies closer to home than you’d think…
Turns out Ian Brown CBE hails from Greenwich. Which means years of struggling with Southeastern, and Connex before it, may well have been the inspiration for London’s whizzy new train set. It’s just a shame that Greenwich doesn’t really get to benefit from an idea which looks like it was dreamt up in SE10.
After it was revealed the Greenwich Foot Tunnel was closed without warning 16 times in a month, what is Greenwich Council doing to make sure people know about any problems while it’s being refurbished?
There’s clearly the will in the press office, which runs its Twitter feed and has been using it to update people since my original post in November – but how closely is the rest of the council monitoring what’s going on beneath the Thames?
Thursday lunchtime, and someone tries – and fails – to use the tunnel…
A short while later, the council pops up:
Which prompted these responses…
Ooops. The council’s press office responded…
It was also closed around 1pm, it appears. So what happened?
On one level – and I can’t emphasise this enough – this exchange is a good thing, because the council is engaging with the public and through that, it’s discovering something has gone wrong. If nobody had done that, the council may well have been none the wiser.
On another level, though – just what control does Greenwich Council have over what is going on in that foot tunnel? If the council’s highways department doesn’t even know when it’s closed, how is everyone else meant to find out? It also makes me think back to that closure in November, when one lift operator turned up only to discover he wasn’t needed, and a cyclist told me he was sure other lift operators were in the habit of shutting it down early.
These sudden closures will hopefully not last long into the new year – work on the stairwells is due to finish during January, when work will begin on replacing those lifts. But between now and then, tunnel users will just have to take their chances…
Official information on the foot tunnel closures can be found on the Greenwich Council website. A recorded status message is also available on 020 8853 2988, although this has not been updated for three weeks.
Recovered from Christmas yet? I’m waiting for my festive lurgy to clear off… Anyhow, this caught my eye a couple of days ago – not sure it’s a great idea but a response to it made me sit up and think.
A plan to allow popular online petitions to be debated in Parliament within a year has been given the go-ahead by the government.
Ministers will seek agreement with the authorities, including the House of Commons Procedure Committee, to give the petitions parliamentary time.
Those receiving most support – probably 100,000 signatures – would be debated, with some possibly becoming bills.
But Labour said the plans would mean “crazy ideas” being discussed by MPs.
Feels like a big risk of MPs being encouraged to debate the results of lame television talent shows here – and what about topics which are touchstones for many, but unpalatable for others, like far-right stances on the death penalty or immigration? And even if you did, say, manage to get a petition calling for the nationalisation of public utilities through for discussion, what would be the point when all three main parties’ whips would get their MPs firmly in line?
But it’s an interesting idea – maybe I just don’t have much faith in the House of Commons having much of an ability to discuss anything openly and honestly. Labour’s line stuck out, though – what was that about crazy ideas?
Labour MP Paul Flynn, a member of the Commons public administration committee, criticised the government’s proposal, telling BBC Radio 4′s Today programme: “This seems to be an attractive idea to those who haven’t seen how useless this has been in other parts of the world when it’s tried.
“If you ask people the question ‘do you want to pay less tax?’, they vote yes. If we get the e-petitions in there will be some asking for Jeremy Clarkson to be prime minister, for Jedi and Darth Vader to be the religions of the country.
“The blogosphere is not an area that is open to sensible debate; it is dominated by the obsessed and the fanatical and we will get crazy ideas coming forward.”
Huh? If that wasn’t the official Labour response, I didn’t hear anyone more senior come forward. What’s an online petition site got to do with “the blogosphere”?
Strange. It’s funny for a party who were booted out of office to be running away from public opinion instead of embracing it. I can’t help but be reminded of dealings with Labour locally, where Greenwich councillors generally maintain a vow of silence online (and in the print media, too) and the leadership has been wary of online media ever since they were given a torrid time by the scurrilous Greenwich Watch blog a few years back. It’s much easier to write off criticism as being the work of lying fantasists than to actually get off your backside and address it.
Obviously, there are risks when elected representatives pile in on online debates – witness a Lewisham councillor’s clumsy intervention on the News Shopper homophobia row, and a Lambeth councillor being censured for implying a resident was racist. But as our use of online forums evolve, people are going to want to communicate with elected representatives, and anyone who wants to stand for public office needs to be aware of that – and have a hide thick enough to deal with criticism of anything they say which doesn’t go down well.
(On a related point – in the coming year, I suspect we’ll see pressure put on councils to allow people to record council meetings – it’s cheaper than webcasting them, but which councils will be brave enough to allow casual viewers to see what the people they elect get up to? One first-time attendee of a Greenwich Council meeting was horrified to discover even members of the public were expected to stand up for the mayor…)
As The Third Estate points out, it’s dumb to paint blog-land as being full of nutters when it’s so big – no more clever than condemning the national press because The Sun lies. If Paul Flynn and others have something to hide – fine, condemn blog-land as being full of “the obsessed and the fanatical”. If they’ve nothing to hide – why aren’t they coming in and joining us?
There’s unlikely to be any Jubilee Line service through North Greenwich on Boxing Day following Thursday’s High Court ruling that a strike by rail union Aslef can go ahead as planned.
London Underground says the line will only run to a reduced frequency between Wembley Park and Green Park, leaving no service at all through east and south-east London.
The dispute – which does not involve the RMT or TSSA unions involved in other recent strikes – centres on pay for working this Boxing Day.
Southeastern has withdrawn its limited Boxing Day service this year, although buses and the Docklands Light Railway will run as planned.
London Underground managing director Mike Brown said of the union: “By holding Londoners to ransom in this way they are showing complete disdain for all who want to visit family and friends or hunt a good bargain during what is one of the busiest shopping days of the year.”
Without getting into the whys and wherefores of the dispute, I wonder if he’d accuse Southeastern and other mainline train companies (including TfL’s own London Overground) of “holding Londoners to ransom” by also refusing to work on Boxing Day?
853 exclusive: Greenwich Foot Tunnel was closed without warning 16 times in a month earlier this year as council contractors worked on revamping the cross-river link, figures released by Greenwich Council reveal.
The multiple failures blocked access for walkers and cyclists for 39 hours during October, with individual closures lasting up to five-and-a-half hours. Pedestrians had to pay to use the Docklands Light Railway while cyclists were forced to take lengthy diversions to either Rotherhithe Tunnel, Tower Bridge or Woolwich Ferry.
Both Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels are currently undergoing major renovation works which are due to be completed by April 2011. The Woolwich tunnel has already had to close completely because of problems with its stairwells while the lifts are being replaced.
At Greenwich, walkers and cyclists are having to use the lifts while contractors are working on the stairwells. But a series of mechanical failures with the lifts – installed in 1992 – have played havoc with journeys between east and south-east London.
But the tunnel was closed 16 times during October, mostly because of mechanical failures but with one closure during the morning rush hour caused by a dust cloud.
A further five closures are listed as having taken place during November, although the list provided to 853 contradicts an answer given in a Greenwich Council meeting last week, when cabinet member for regeneration Cllr Denise Hyland said the tunnel had closed on six occasions.
While the list provided to 853 is should cover closures up to 24 November, Cllr Hyland’s list covered the entire month but did not include closures on 11 and 15 November.
Neither list featured the closure on 23 November which prompted the Freedom of Information request.
Greenwich Council said it had recently upgraded the way it publicised sudden tunnel closures, including using its Twitter feed and employing “local signage, which is publicised immediately the failure has occurred”. It also said recorded updates on the foot tunnel were available on 020 8853 2988, a number not publicised on the council’s website.
“The work to both stairwells is due to be completed in January 2011 and as soon as the stairwell is opened to the public work will begin on removing and replacing the lifts. The new lift motors and control machinery are ready for installation,” Jan Goldsmith, assistant policy officer at the council’s regeneration department, said.
London mayor Boris Johnson has asked Transport for London to raise the issue of foot tunnel closures with Greenwich Council, following questions from London Assembly members Caroline Pidgeon and Val Shawcross.
But it was revealed last week that Greenwich Foot Tunnel will be closed on Christmas Day, meaning there would be no river crossings at all for non-drivers east of the Rotherhithe Tunnel on 25 December.
The second instalment of new Greenwich borough podcast In The Meantime is up, featuring someone rescued from wandering across Woolwich Common in Monday night’s snow harping on about the rights and wrongs of council propaganda rag Greenwich Time.
Actually, it was lots of fun to do. It’s run out of the Meridian Radio studios at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, and is doing just what a community radio facility should be doing – providing a space for reflecting the community it’s based in, and then sharing it with that community. I last set foot in a hospital radio studio in the 90s, when I had a little spell at the now-gone Bromley Hospital station – great fun, but now technology has leapt forward it’s good to see Meridian Radio moving on with it and giving this project a go.
ITM’s different from the Greenwich Podcast in that it’s studio-based and covers the whole borough, so it’s got a different feel to its slightly older neighbour. It’s got loads of potential – and I hope it attracts some good guests to chew over the issues that affect 200,000 people in this splodge of south-east London.
I’m a bit surprised this hasn’t had more attention – Inc Group boss Frank Dowling, whose company has a strangehold on eating and drinking in Greenwich Market, has publicly backed controversial plans to build a boutique hotel in the market.
I guess it’s a bit “dog bites man”, but considering Frank rarely speaks on the record, this does at least confirm plenty of long-held suspicions.
He made the comments in an interview with the Greenwich Podcast. He told presenter Nick Baker:
“I’m very much in favour of it. Greenwich Hospital are good poeple – as a landlord, sometimes decisions aren’t easy. In the market redevelopment, that’s a corrigated plastic roof. That’s conduct unbecoming of a world heritage site. Greenwich needs 2,000 hotel rooms – the Ibis is horrible, the Novotel not much better.
“This is a Unesco world heritage site – we’re in a different type of status, and you don’t have any overnight accomodation in Greenwich. You don’t. There’s no way that Greenwich will ever became a Cambridge, an Oxford, a York, a Bath – a good market town without some good places where people can stay. You can’t see Greenwich in one day – there is a better experience if you can stay overnight in Greenwich.”
“We need to keep on moving. This anti-progressive bloc that’s… – there’s a small amount of people with a big voice. You do get a local bloc, especially west Greenwich, and you have 20 or 30 people who have the voice of thousands. And that’s dangerous.”
He also revealed plans to turn Inc’s offices on Nelson Road into a 20-room boutique hotel in time for the Olympics, and reaffirmed his ambition to build a 150-room hotel on the site of the Trident Hall in Park Row, next to the Trafalgar Tavern.
It’s interesting listening, and if you ever spend some time in Greenwich or fret about the future of the place it’s a must-listen. For my money, I think part of what winds people up about Inc Group is its lack of respect for what came before it – it’s all very well banging on about a “world heritage site”, but if you’re going to convert a much-loved old pub into a fish and chip shop via spells as a gay bar and tiki bar, then there’s no point in complaining about an “anti-progressive bloc”.
Some of Inc’s woes are inherited – the reputation for poor service comes from the Trafalgar Tavern’s previous management, for example.
But you can fix what’s been broken – when the management of Greenwich’s leading gay pub the Gloucester decided to turn it into a mainstream pub, it killed the place stone dead. When Inc took it on, it became the Greenwich Park Bar and Grill. It’s just had another name change… maybe it’s now time to revive the Gloucester, now the gay crowd has moved to the Rose & Crown and a generation has moved on?
Nah, it’s now the Greenwich Tavern. Just in case anyone had stepped out of Greenwich Park and believed they had arrived in Bromley. (About as clever as renaming a pub The Prince of Greenwich.) Now, do you see why people worry about the likes of Inc Group turning Greenwich into a crappy tourist trap?
You may have seen this elsewhere already – credit where credit’s due, the News Shopper has made a decent fist of covering the cuts in Greenwich here and here, actually – but if not, then here’s what the new blog from campaigning group Greenwich Save Our Services (essentially members of the Unite union and The Socialist Party) is saying…
Greenwich Council recently agreed to begin making £27m of cuts as part of a cuts package that could eventually top £90m. What Councillors failed to mention was that the Directorate of Culture and Community Services is to be disbanded and that services such as libraries will be transferred out of the Council. While no firm proposals have emerged yet, the options include setting up a “trust”, transferring to an established trust or to charities. Their is a real danger to the library services as a result. Previous attempts to cut libraries have been met with huge opposition. When previous plans to close libraries were leaked, the Council were forced into a u-turn following a union led campaign.
This is intriguing because there’s a precedent for this – in the early 1990s, faced with ratecapping, Greenwich spun off its leisure centres into a social enterprise called Greenwich Leisure Limited. Now GLL runs leisure centres across London and beyond, and from a business perspective has become a roaring success.
So could we see a Greenwich Libraries Limited taking on libraries in the borough, and maybe beyond? A pan-London library card to match the pan-London leisure card GLL could offer? What would this mean for quieter libraries? It’s an interesting possibility – but clearly staff will be concerned about leaving the protective umbrella of council employment. Greenwich Council hasn’t commented on the claim, but it’s one to watch.
Meanwhile, former Liberal Democrat councillor Paul Webbewood suggests his own cut – Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts could trim his salary.
UPDATE 12.45PM: Greenwich.co.uk looks at the steep rises in car parking charges due in SE10, which will also affect drivers in Blackheath, Charlton, Woolwich and Eltham.