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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 January 2011

Greenwich’s next mayor wants to axe £30k ceremony

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The next mayor of Greenwich, Jim Gillman, has asked council officials to cancel a £30,000 inauguration ceremony in his honour as the borough faces up to over £60m in government-enforced cuts.

Cllr Gillman, who represents the Kidbrooke with Hornfair ward for Labour, had been due to be the subject of the “mayor-making” event at Greenwich’s Old Royal Naval College in May.

His wife, Janet Gillman – also a Greenwich councillor – told a residents’ meeting on Monday that he had asked officials to hold the ceremony at Woolwich Town Hall instead.

“It has a touch of ‘let them eat cake’ in these times,” she told the gathering of locals in her Charlton ward.

“It is an awful lot of money, and Jim has submitted that he would like it to be done in the town hall.”

The Gillmans are among Greenwich’s most experienced councillors, with Jim given a merit award by the Labour Party in 2009 for 45 years of service.

“The rewards of giving time and effort to the Labour Party is not for what you can get out of it yourself but the differences you can make for your community,” he said at the time.

All councils which have ceremonial mayors, like Greenwich, hold some kind of ceremony to inaugurate their authority’s figurehead, who chairs meetings and represents the borough.

Most merely have a short “mayor-making” ceremony before a regular council meeting, but Greenwich has been using the Old Royal Naval College for the inauguration event each May to launch the council’s plans for the coming year, with leader Chris Roberts giving a speech. In 2009, this speech was given front-page billing in the council’s weekly newspaper Greenwich Time.

But even members of the council’s ruling Labour group are not keen on the event, and many decline to attend. Opposition Conservatives have also criticised the ceremony. Last year’s event cost taxpayers almost £29,500.

Fellow Charlton ward councillor Allan MacCarthy – himself a mayor two years ago – said the event “was not all councillors sitting eating caviar”, adding that it was “an opportunity to bring people who do a lot of important work in the borough together”.

Much of the meeting, held by the Charlton Central Residents Association, was taken up by discussion of the cuts, with many locals commenting how poorly they felt informed about the changes to come.

Cllr MacCarthy, a member of the council’s overview and scrutiny committee, explained he was preparing for three consecutive nights of meetings where funding for 147 voluntary groups would be assessed.

“Some will be getting good news, but most will be getting bad news,” he said.

Written by Darryl

31 January, 2011 at 11:00 pm

Tory AM calls for more power over Southeastern

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If you’ve been following the Southeastern fiasco over the past couple of months, then you might be interested in this blog entry from James Cleverly, who’s the Conservative assembly member for Bexley and Bromley.

A cursory look at the internet will show you a host of people who feel hugely disappointed and let down by the company, a situation not helped by the company only scraping in above their compensation target by running a skeleton service over those snowy days.

Now, if you can get past this piece of bickering…

Lib Dems tried to make some political capital from the widespread disappointment felt by may commuters by attacking the Mayor about the TOCs performance, they know full well that the Mayor cannot control the actions of the TOCs any more than they can.

…which ignores the fact that as well as a lawmaker, the mayor is a representative of all of London, not just zone 1, and should be speaking out on our behalf. After all, he doesn’t control aviation policy, or Kent, but he’s still banging on about airports in the estuary.

Anyway, once you’ve got past that, you get to these thoughts:

I think that there are two things which should be changed to give London politicians more power to hold the TOCs to account. The first is to give the Transport Committee of the London Assembly the power to call the TOCs in for questioning, at the moment we can invite them but cannot compel them to attend. Being able to make them attend will enable us to put them under the same level of scrutiny that TFL currently enjoy.

The second change would be for the Mayor and Assembly to have a significant say in the awarding of the franchises for the suburban commuter routes which mainly serve Londoners. While having an informal relationship with the TOCs can bring about improvements, the Oysterisation of the surface train stations for example, it is not the same as having some real leverage in the relationship.

All sensible suggestions, and I hope James’s allies in government are listening. Without much power over Southeastern, the franchise can – in a phrase beloved of the current mayoralty – hold Londoners to ransom. Which, effectively, they are by charging London’s highest rates for season tickets.

James’s thoughts are welcome, particularly as London commuters need to be represented – much of the sound and fury over Southeastern has come from deepest Kent, whose needs and interests are different.

But we could go further. The mayor James defends could do so much more. His thoughts were posted the day after TfL released a statement crowing over the success of London Overground – largely created by splitting off the London bit of the Silverlink franchise and throwing money into new trains and station refurbishments, and joining it up with the old East London tube line.

London Overground was a Ken-era creation but Boris’s team is happy to take the credit.

Kulveer Ranger, the Mayor of London’s Transport Advisor, said: ‘These scores illustrate that Londoners have seen real improvements to our Overground services since TfL took responsibility for them.

‘The Mayor knows how important they are to Outer London and that is why he has provided a real focus in that area.”

We could split hairs on how much of London Overground is actually in “outer London” – but if the mayor really knew how important rail services were to outer London, why isn’t he speaking up for those who aren’t lucky enough to live on his own network? For my money, I’d like to see London Overground standards apply to Southeastern’s metro services, which would boost evening and weekend services and make sure stations are staffed while they’re open.

But how do we go about making this happen? Perhaps the mayor should be taking a lead and standing up for SE London, rather than chickening out of it – he might get some unexpected support if he did, and it might even lead him to get a bit more power for TfL. The same applies to the man who wants to replace him – it’s time for a real discussion about what we, in SE London, want to do about our crap train service.

With Southeastern struggling to cope with a broken business model, which depended on high-speed trains to Kent being a roaring success, perhaps now is the chance to really make a push for change.

4.45PM UPDATE: Channel 4 wants your help with an edition of Dispatches on Britain’s railways…

Simply upload your own film to YouTube as a response to the one above, and it may be used.

Written by Darryl

31 January, 2011 at 1:36 pm

Why is Boris taking money for TfL from Iran’s Press TV?

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A little question came to mind when I took a ride on the Tube at the weekend…

It was bloody stupid for Ken Livingstone to get involved with Press TV, a channel backed by the Iranian government. Taking money from stone-throwing bigots isn’t wise when you’re seeking election to the London mayoralty. And as Adam Bienkov points out, it involves associating yourself with some dodgy characters, like cat-chops above, and a disreputable figure associated with SE London – that’s right, disgraced ex-Old Bexley and Sidcup MP Derek Conway.

So why is Boris Johnson taking their money too, in the form of ads on the London Underground network? We know he’s hardly choosy about who TfL gets its money from, but it seems odd to have your campaign team claim an association with Press TV is “embarrassing”, while taking advertising money from them. It may show an admirable commitment to free speech, granted, but I can’t help thinking it’s a bit inconsistent.

Written by Darryl

31 January, 2011 at 12:31 pm

More Southeastern videos

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It’s easy to survive hostility, but it’s more difficult to endure ridicule. The mysterious MeardStreet has struck another YouTube blow against London’s rudest and most expensive train company.
Ah, yes, that’ll be the wait outside London Bridge…

Written by Darryl

29 January, 2011 at 6:22 pm

‘Proud to be different’ Nationwide abandons SE London

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If you’re a Nationwide Building Society customer, you might want to think again about where your money’s kept after the organisation announced plans to close seven branches across south-east London.

Offices at Blackheath, Catford, Greenwich, Lewisham, Peckham, Walworth and Woolwich will close on 27 May, with Nationwide telling customers that staff would be redeployed. (See the letter sent to customers.)

The doomed branches include those inherited from the Portman Building Society in 2007 at Greenwich and Blackheath, which itself took over the Greenwich Building Society in 1997, as well as a relatively new outlet at Woolwich which opened less than four years ago.

Nationwide said the closures were based on “transaction patterns, the ongoing costs of the location, and the number of members and customers actively using the branch”. Which is odd, because the Lewisham branch has always been packed in my experience. It was closed suddenly and with no explanation yesterday afternoon, presumably while staff were told the news.

It added it was “committed to offering a sizeable branch network in London” and claimed there would still be 16 branches remaining in south-east London (Although at present, a quick count-up shows they only have 15 at the moment – see below.). Last year, the mutual warned of branch closures following a drop in profits.

Here’s my five nearest branches at the moment – four will be gone by the end of May. By my reckoning, there’ll be no branches in the 10 miles between the Strand and Eltham, with only eight branches left in south-east London, all in the suburbs (Bexleyheath, Eltham, Sidcup, Orpington, Petts Wood, Bromley, Beckenham and West Wickham).

UPDATE 2PM: Thanks to Brian, who’s knocked up this Google Map of the doomed branches and the alternatives…

A Nationwide spokesman told Docklands 24: “What we are noting in the urban conurbations is a growing use of alternative channels and people who live in the cities using the internet more than those in rural communities.

“We’ve seen these branches with declining usage and pretty much every branch has been unprofitable for a while.”

UPDATE 5:30PM: Lewisham councillor Mike Harris (Labour, Lewisham Central) has called the closure of the Lewisham branch “stupid”, adding it was “the busiest branch I’ve ever been in”.

UPDATE 11:45PM: I’ve discovered another SE London Nationwide branch, in West Wickham. Which takes us up to 15 in SE London – so if Nationwide closes seven, how will there be 16 branches left? (I’m defining SE London as the SE postcodes plus the remainder of Bexley and Bromley boroughs.) The Woolwich branch only opened in April 2007, with Nationwide chief executive Graham Beale calling it “a prime example of the investment and commitment Nationwide has in its branch network”.

Written by Darryl

28 January, 2011 at 1:14 pm

Cable car and cruise terminal get Greenwich’s green light

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Plans for a cable car and cruise liner terminal on the Greenwich peninsula have both been backed by Greenwich Council’s planning board – with the projects’ backers banking on them both being ready by next year’s Olympics.

Both schemes were unanimously approved by a panel of seven councillors – five Labour, two Conservative – at Woolwich town hall on Thursday evening.

Although Transport for London has yet to announce an operator for the proposed cable car, which will run from the current Dome coach park on Edmund Halley Way towards Royal Victoria DLR station, it said the cable car would add “resillience” to the peninsula’s transport connections, which have been blighted in recent years by closures to the Jubilee Line for upgrade works.

The peninsula was a “high priority” for TfL, it added.

But Friends of the Earth said the cable car needed further scrutiny, pointing out its path on the north bank of the Thames passed through a safety zone for London City Airport.

Supporting objector Alan Haughton, FoE’s Jenny Bates said the recent decision to allow the airport’s capacity to expand had meant the safety zone had grown in size. But TfL insisted neither City Airport nor the Civil Aviation Authority had objected to the scheme.

Pressed on fares, Transport for London’s representative would only say they would be “affordable”, and said that while they would accept Oyster cards, any decision to accept Travelcards would need the agreement of the National Rail companies serving London.

Pointing at figures mentioned in the planning document, Kidbrooke with Hornfair Labour councillor Hayley Fletcher criticised the poor service on the Jubilee Line, adding: “I’ve never stood at North Greenwich station waiting for the Jubilee Line thinking, ‘Oh, I must pay £3.50 to go to Royal Victoria instead’.”

There were questions about noise, too, but laughter when it was confirmed the motors power the 34 gondolas will be based on the north side of the Thames, in the borough of Newham.

Greenwich’s decision now means the cable car has been approved by three planning authorities, with Newham Council backing it last week and the London Thames Gateway Development Corporation endorsing it on Wednesday.

But while mayor Boris Johnson has said the cable car could be running by the Olympics in July 2012, his own London Development Agency – which has spent £1.2m on a project which was said to be at no cost to taxpayers – has cast doubt on the timetable.

The bigger scheme to affect Greenwich, however, was the cruise liner terminal, on part of the old Alcatel/STC cable works at Enderby’s Wharf. As well as the terminal – due to be up and running for the Olympics – the development includes 770 homes, a 251 room hotel, gym, skills academy, creche and commercial accommodation, as well as a river bus stop.

Planning board members were clearly excited about the scheme, with the consultation over the project praised. Abbey Wood Labour councillor Denise Hyland calling it a “world class” proposal.

“Coming in on a cruise ship and seeing that would be absolutely brilliant,”
she enthused, before adding, “someone asked if I could afford it – well, I’ll be coming in on a Thames Clipper.”

Eltham North Conservative Dermot Poston said it would be “wonderful to see it transformed in this way”.

But questions remained on the level of affordable housing at the development – which could range between 20% and 29%, depending on the grants available. Greenwich Council’s official policy is 35%, although developers may be able to secure affordable housing elsewhere in the area instead.

With the fiasco over the neighbouring stalled Lovell’s Wharf development in their minds, developers were also pressed on access to the Thames Path – which they say will be improved and joined by a public square under their plans – replying that they would be prepared to meet residents to discuss any issues. The path will be closed for the “minimum period possible,” they added.

Greenwich Council leader and planning board member Chris Roberts, who backed the scheme on television before it had been announced locally, was not present at the meeting.

Another high-profile development in the borough was also approved at Thursday’s meeting, with plans to build housing on the site of Eltham Baths getting unanimous backing.

Written by Darryl

28 January, 2011 at 1:14 am

Plans to stop Greenwich Time in a pickle

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The government’s plans to stop councils like Greenwich producing newspapers like Greenwich Time have hit a hitch, with MPs telling Eric Pickles he should think again

MPs on the communities and local government select committee argue that a revised code drawn up by Pickles to prevent the publication of so-called “town hall Pravdas” should be reconsidered.

In a lengthy report released today on the proposed code of recommended practice on local authority publicity, the committee accuses the minister of failing to provide proof that council-run papers threaten commercial newspapers.

I covered the committee’s meeting on this last month, when the government seemed to have a touching faith in the honesty of local newspaper owners to keep on serving their patch, when in fact many parts of London are effectively news deserts thanks to their proprietors cutting back funds. The continued weekly existence of Greenwich Time – which is showing no signs of stopping – has as much to do with market failure as it does the desire of the council’s Labour leadership to dictate the local news agenda. There remains no dedicated newspaper covering Greenwich borough other than the council’s own paper – our editions of the Streatham-based Mercury and Petts Wood-based News Shopper are shared with Lewisham.

Indeed, newspaper readers in the south of the borough who get the Bexley Times – which covers lots of Greenwich stories, inherited from its old Eltham Times title – may be interested to know that its owners are planning to move some of its production from Sidcup to Ilford. Not so local now, eh?

So, for now, Greenwich Time sails on – still trying to avoid detailing the cuts that are coming to Greenwich, as seen in this week’s edition (above). I’ve a funny feeling they might as well start work on those Olympic Games special editions now, it seems like we’re lumbered with the thing for a while yet.

Written by Darryl

27 January, 2011 at 2:25 pm

Panto time again at Woolwich town hall

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To Woolwich Town Hall last night for the pantomime of a full Greenwich Council meeting. I had some words from Camden New Journal editor Richard Osley in my mind as my bus rolled down the hill into Woolwich – posting after the equivalent meeting at Camden Council, he pointed out the amount of hackneyed, point-scoring old crap that goes on in these events.

Nobody said: ‘This is a terrible time. Let’s work together. Why don’t we do this…’

I took a tally of needless verbal blustering over national policies, and made it 5-4 to Labour (the Lib Dems aren’t represented on Greenwich’s wooden benches) in petty jibes against the Conservatives, thanks to one mention of the “Big Society” that sounded like it deserved a downward volley of spittle beforehand, and an almost theatrical mention of “childrens’ services!” in a debate about trying to save a few quid in dealing with planning matters, before waffling on about the international financial crisis and how it wasn’t… you get my drift. I was moved to ask somebody afterwards if the councillor concerned – West Greenwich’s David Grant – had ever trodden the boards before.

Such bluster would have been forgiveable, were it not for the impression that all the councillors spent more time debating issues surrounding their own jobs than they did anything else. A rent rise for the council’s thousands of tenants of £5.16/week (a direct result of government policy aiming to bring council housing into line with social landlords) with the possibility of extra service charges, went through with few questions asked. The role of planning committees, and whether councillors should have to pass judgement on films which haven’t got BBFC certificates, seemed to take up more time.

Anyhow, so what burning questions were asked in the council chamber? Well, how about a strike on the Tube that hasn’t actually been planned by anyone?

A burning question, of course, in a borough with only one Tube station. Take a bow, Conservative councillor Neil Dickinson, whose ward is about five miles from that Tube station…

Maybe he’ll ask about the tooth fairy next time.

But what of this question, from fellow Tory Eileen Glover?

Actually, this could be read in several ways. Firstly, it could just be a dig at the council’s leader (l’état, c’est moi?). Secondly, it could be a criticism of the way in which the council’s Labour group cowers before its leadership. Thirdly… is there a sly humour in deputy leader Peter Brooks‘ reply? I reckon all three answers are right.

With council leader Chris Roberts absent, Cllr Glover resolved to ask the same question at next month’s meeting. Be sure to tune in again in four weeks. I’m actually looking forward to it.

But when the cat is away, the mice can’t always play. Where was the council leader when there was important business to be discussed? It was only a full meeting of his council, after all. We weren’t told.

So it was all down to his affable deputy. Asked by Conservative councillor Nigel Fletcher about the threat to the Woolwich Crossrail station, Cllr Brooks initially didn’t have much of a clue what he was on about. Nobody had thought to brief him beforehand on a story which could completely derail plans to regenerate Woolwich, easily the council’s most important project over the next decade.

He knew of the meetings, but not a lot besides, he admitted. “If Chris was here, he’d be able to give you chapter and verse,” Cllr Brooks sighed. Wherever the Dear Leader was, hopefully he was concerned with something equally as important as the fate of his borough’s most deprived town centre.

After the meeting, the petty jibes continued online. Well, only a tiny handful of Greenwich councillors have public Twitter accounts, but Nigel Fletcher spoilt his good work asking about Crossrail with this little attack…

Yup, a reference to Cllr Grant’s outburst earlier. I bet he’s quaking at the thought of ordinary people in the street pointing at him and shouting “DEFICIT DENIER!”

Maybe Nigel Fletcher was aiming this at his chums in the wider Conservative party, showing off… but it doesn’t matter. David Grant’s a backbench councillor, not an economist. This is just playground talk, not worthy of someone who’s paid out of our council tax to represent our concerns in that chamber.

Still, he’s on the other side! And not on Twitter to respond! BOO! HISS!

The meeting felt out of time with the real issue hovering over the borough – cuts. Where were the trade unionists? Just a handful of Unite members were outside lobbying councillors. It’s all very well Greenwich Save Our Services telling the News Shopper it’s going to hold a march, but why no awkward questions?

Without pressure from the public gallery, the councillors were able to indulge in their usual game-playing. Which doesn’t bode well for next month’s meeting, when the real issues of cuts will have to be decided.

Things I discovered from last night’s council meeting (mainly, to be fair, from other questions posed by Conservatives – Labour councillors aren’t allowed to scrutinise their betters in public)
Council rents are going up by an average of £5.16/week, with service charges likely to be introduced at a later date.
– Culture and Olympics spokesman John Fahy is confident Boris bikes will come to the borough “in due course” after meeting a Transport for London executive last week.
– He was unable to give an update on Charlton Lido, where the redevelopment scheme has collapsed due to lack of funding, for reasons of “commercial confidentiality”, but seemed confident things were on the move. (Separately, I’ve heard funding is being sought to bring it up to the standard of London Fields Lido.)
– There’s still no news on the broken Heart of East Greenwich development, with the government-backed Homes and Communities Agency still looking for a new developer for the old hospital site.
– The O2 has the highest level of alcohol related crime in the borough, ahead of Woolwich town centre. Despite this, a new licensing policy will still allow new venues to be opened there, instead of declaring it a “saturation zone” where new licences are more difficult to get (like Greenwich, Woolwich, and Eltham town centres, Trafalgar Road and Plumstead High Street).

Tune in again next month for more fun and games… as £27m of cuts are ratified.

Written by Darryl

27 January, 2011 at 1:37 pm

‘Six days to save Woolwich Crossrail’

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According to today’s Financial Times, bureaucracy is threatening the planned Crossrail station at Woolwich, with Berkeley Homes – the company behind the Royal Arsenal development which is building the station – warning that if it doesn’t start work on the site in six days, the project is doomed.

Officials from the Department for Transport and Transport for London are yet to sign off on the project at Woolwich, which was scheduled to open in 2018, and are instead creating what developers are calling a bureaucratic blockade.

“We’ve been working on this project for four years and we’ve been sitting on the start line since September,” said Rob Perrins, chief executive of Berkeley Group, the construction company, which is developing the new station..

“It’s very frustrating, as this piece of much-needed infrastructure is getting bogged down in a mire of red tape and bureaucracy and we simply won’t be able to build it unless we can start by the beginning of February,” Mr Perrins added.

Berkeley Homes – which is also redeveloping Kidbrooke’s Ferrier Estate – struck a deal with Greenwich Council to fund building the shell of the station if it reduced the “affordable housing” element of the Royal Arsenal from 35% to 25%. In return, Greenwich Council would fund the fitting out of the station, seen as vital if plans to regenerate run-down Woolwich are to succeed.

The government said the issue would be resolved “shortly”.

(Thanks to Brockley Central for the spot.)

Written by Darryl

26 January, 2011 at 4:38 pm

Posted in local stuff, transport

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Tour the Dome with the BBC – 11 years on

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I was delighted by the response to yesterday’s post about the threat to the BBC’s internet archive – if slightly perturbed how quickly someone spotted the failed site I was involved in, and how many people clicked through to look at it. I’ll never get a proper job now…

Here’s a bonus treat which mixes both old BBC website content and super south-east London stuff. Presenting BBC News Online’s virtual tour of the Millennium Dome, which I actually dimly remember being made.

I wasn’t involved in that project, but this was A Big Deal then – using all that Apple Quicktime felt daring in those days of dial-up and slow speeds. But it was suitably futuristic for the dawn of the 21st century, eh? There was even a webcast! It doesn’t seem as if the Real Player stuff works any more, so sadly that may be lost for ever, denied to the producers of a future I Love 2000 programme.

For all the slating the place got, it’s worth remembering the vast majority of visitors came away happy, according to a straw poll conducted by the team there. I enjoyed my day there too (free on the famous residents’ Greenwich Card, of course.) Now we can relive all those happy memories again, courtesy of the BBC. Even if we have to squint at the screen a bit. This is why keeping your archives is a good thing.

Written by Darryl

26 January, 2011 at 8:30 am

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