Archive for February 2011
Six Greenwich councillors have joined forces to object to September’s planned On Blackheath music festival going ahead.
The two Conservative and four Labour representatives, from Blackheath Westcombe and Greenwich West wards, are sending a submission to Bromley Magistrates Court in support of action being taken by the Blackheath Society, which says the event will cause “substantial noise and nuisance”.
On Blackheath is due to attract 25,000 people each day over the weekend of 10 and 11 September, with organisers planning to put on a bill of new and left-field acts.
Lewisham Council’s licensing panel approved the event last October, but the society has taken the issue to magistrates, appealling to members for funds to help pay for their legal costs. One bone of contention is that Greenwich was not consulted by Lewisham over the original application for the festival, whose site at Hare and Billet Road is close to the boundary between the two boroughs.
Two councillors, Labour’s Maureen O’Mara and Conservative Geoff Brighty, are planning to attend the hearing, which begins on Thursday.
Earlier this month one of the festival’s organisers, Chislehurst-based businessman Tom Wates, told this website the event could bring up to £1m of custom for local firms.
News from West Greenwich CARA, the residents’ group fighting plans to pedestrianise Greenwich town centre by creating a gyratory to the west of it via Greenwich High Road, Norman Road and Creek Road. The scheme is dependent on £2.4m of money from Transport for London – “local implementation plan” funds which each of the capital’s 32 boroughs bid for each year. This money has survived City Hall’s cost cutting, and has contributed to schemes like the redevelopment of Woolwich’s General Gordon Square (£1.4m from TfL), and the installation of electric car charging points (£20,000).
However, these schemes need TfL’s backing to get its money – and what’s not in favour at City Hall is gyratories. Last year, the New Cross one-way system was the latest to be taken apart, returning New Cross Road and Queen’s Road to two way traffic.
So this was TfL’s response to Greenwich’s plans to create a new gyratory, according to CARA…
TfL cannot approve the scheme as currently proposed, as we have significant concerns about its impact on bus passengers and operations, as well as other matters such as the performance of the network, safety, severance and urban realm.
The point about buses should have been obvious to Greenwich Council and its contractor, Hyder Consulting. Buses on routes 180, 199 and 386 will face long diversions heading north – with the 199 unable to serve Greenwich town centre – while routes 129 and 286 will have nowhere to terminate. It’s not clear whether “the network” is the bus network or the road network, but it’s pretty clear that TfL thinks the scheme, as it stands, is a crock.
Even more worryingly, if Greenwich Council/ Hyder Consulting can’t come up with a scheme TfL approves of by June, that £2.4m will simply be allocated elsewhere in London. (At a time when Greenwich is trying to boost cycling, just think of what £2.4m could have done there…)
Indeed, contrary to local Labour councillor Matt Pennycook’s promises that the council will listen to local concerns, CARA members claim they have been deliberately obstructed, with chief exective Mary Ney deciding that pedestrianising the borough’s best-known town centre is not a “key decision”, making it harder for residents to scrutinise decision-making. This is a story I’ve neglected in recent months, but I hope to return to it soon, because it’s a sorry example of how poorly Greenwich Council interacts with those who pay for it.
“We are tightening up the rules on council publicity, so that taxpayers’ money cannot be wasted on town hall Pravdas – the likes of Labour’s Greenwich Time and East End Life – which have been unfairly putting the squeeze on independent local papers.” – Eric Pickles, Conservative Home, 24 February.
Greenwich Time is dismal propaganda – in that, the communities secretary is right. But its existence has as much to do with market failure as the desire of Greenwich Council to control the news agenda. The owners of the two freesheets which claim to serve the borough are doing a good enough job of strangling their titles without any help from anyone else.
Exhibit A – this week’s Greenwich Time, and this week’s Greenwich edition of the News Shopper.
On your left, a cheery photo of Plumstead boy Tinie Tempah doing good at the Brit Awards alongside (potentially) good news about a local rail project. On your right, a grisly story (bought from elsewhere) about a murder in Charlton that happened nine months ago but has only just gone to trial. I expect the News Shopper isn’t hoping for an interview with the poor victim’s family once the trial is over.
Which is the most appealling front page, the good news or the gruesome crime porn?
It’s worth pointing out that the lead stories on pages 2, 3 and 7 of the News Shopper are also about murders or murder inquiries, in Downham, Sydenham and Catford, none of which are in the borough of Greenwich, but appear in a paper with “Greenwich Borough News Shopper” on its masthead. Clearly if it bleeds in Lewisham or Greenwich, it leads. There’s a letter inside from Lewisham’s deputy mayor complaining about Nationwide’s branch closures – but only referring to those in Lewisham and Catford. It’s easy to see why Greenwich’s leadership might want to redress the balance a little, both in terms of positive reporting and in coverage relevant to their borough.
But what about Greenwich borough’s other newspaper, the Mercury?
Exhibit B: The Greenwich edition of the Mercury.
The front of the Mercury – an ad for a BMW dealer. Not as appealing as a beaming Tinie Tempah.
Those who haven’t tossed the paper in the bin, though, will get what’s probably the week’s most important story in Greenwich borough, the GPs who will be taking over the area’s £500m health budget under government reforms. The story is also in Greenwich Time, but isn’t in the News Shopper at all.
But the wraparound ad makes the paper look cheap and nasty – even though the reporting in it far, far outstrips its rivals. Media commentators like Roy Greenslade fawn all over Mercury owner Sir Ray Tindle for his supposed commitment to local journalism, but he’s done nothing of the sort in south London, where the Mercury publishes what’s effectively a single edition across three boroughs, save for differing front pages (hence no mention of the Lewisham cuts row in the Greenwich edition) and the odd inner page. In reality he’s killing the Mercury by allowing it to look so cheap and crap, and by running it on a shoestring.
As for distribution, I haven’t had a regular delivery of the Mercury or the News Shopper in about eight or nine years. I picked up the Mercury while in Blackheath Village Library (a Lewisham borough library with a pile of Greenwich borough papers, so no news of that library’s closure…) yesterday. There was a great untouched pile of News Shoppers in the lobby of a mate’s block of flats last night, so I nabbed one.
Meanwhile, I get Greenwich Time most weeks (in fact, me and my upstairs neighbour get three copies between the two of us – lucky us).
So, propaganda aside… can you really blame Greenwich Council for having its own weekly paper, if this is the state of the printed media in its borough?
The Plumstead Make Merry festival, which takes place each June on Plumstead Common, is under threat of cancellation this year after losing its £2,000 grant from Greenwich Council.
The Make Merry has been running for 33 years and is billed as a celebration of Plumstead’s history and diversity, and depends on the council’s small handout and a few local sponsors. Without that council money, its future is in the balance.
I’m hoping to grab a chat with one of the organisers at some point soon, but a committee member tells me: “We are currently scrambling round trying to beg, borrow and steal anything we can that will allow us to put on some kind of event.”
So, before anything else, can you help the Make Merry gang make merry this summer?
This is what they’re short of:
- Two marquees - “one small (3mx3m or bigger), one big (last year’s one was 20’x40′, it doesn’t need to be quite as big but that’s a guide)”
- PA system – “last year’s was 12 kw. For health and safety (lost child and ‘help there’s a fire’ announcements) we have to have something about as powerful.”
- Electricity generator (they currently have an estimate of £120 for one)
- Some staging, or an alternative
- Fire extinguishers.
The cut to Plumstead Make Merry does seem to continue a policy where Greenwich Council has prioritised high-profile events over small community events.
This week’s edition of Greenwich Council’s weekly newspaper Greenwich Time thumped onto my doormat this morning – bearing the urgent news that Tinie Tempah, Plumstead’s finest musical export since Shampoo, won two Brit Awards last week. Marvellous.
But inside there’s the first stirrings of a campaign. Yes, the paper that “campaigns for a greater Greenwich” is now campaigning for its future. Eric Pickles’ new rules could “spell the end of GT features like Charlton Athletic match reports in a move to ensure councils just publicise stories relating to council functions”.
Despite the weakness of the borough’s local media, it’s debatable whether I need the council to tell me how crap the Addicks were on Saturday (I saw it for myself, thanks), and while “local boy done good” stories are true local paper staples, it’s a bit cheeky of the council to jump on the Tinie Tempah bandwagon by using an agency photo of him at the Brits together with a half-arsed review of an event everyone will have already read about in other papers or on the web. No interview with the ex-Abbey Wood School pupil? What’s the point?
Council leader Chris Roberts puts the case for keeping one of Britain’s two council weeklies succinctly – using the argument the council’s always used, that by attracting third party advertising – and competing with the local freesheets – the paper effectively pays for itself.
“Greenwich Time provides the council with a cheap and effective way to communicate with residents and keep them informed about local services.
The cost of Greenwich Time is a moot point – many council staff will deal with the paper as part of their jobs dealing with other matters. For example, GT’s overseen by the council’s communications department. Is the, say, 15 hours a week someone might spend on GT as part of a wider job accounted for? What about the council’s legal department – if an in-house lawyer has to spend two hours a week checking each issue through, is that accounted for? It’s also well known that each issue of Greenwich Time is checked by one Chris Roberts before it gets signed off. How much of his £62,800 allowance goes on him sitting in his office overseeing what’s effectively his own propaganda?
“The council is also required by law to advertise issues like planning applications and changes to traffic schemes. If these were placed in other main local papers it would increase costs by about £1m a year. This is equivalent to a council tax increase of about one per cent yet the other local papers still wouldn’t provide the borough-wide coverage that Greenwich Time does.”
If public notices are such an issue, then why not strike a deal with the Mercury or the News Shopper? Or explore a different model, as is happening in Thurrock or Lambeth? As for coverage, the only “borough-wide coverage” Greenwich Time offers is in distribution, not in editorial, where stories which are inconvenient for the council are missed out altogether.
“Greenwich Council has always supported local newspaper groups, who have been paid to print our paper and at times have delivered it as well.”
This is misleading, since it has nothing to do with the situation now. Greenwich Time’s printing is contracted to Trinity Mirror, which sold the Mercury to Tindle Newspapers in August 2007, nine months before the current weekly incarnation of Greenwich Time was launched. As for deliveries – it is currently delivered by a specialist firm called Letterbox Distribution – which is why it reaches far more homes than other newspapers.
So what’s in this week’s GT which proves it does such a good job in informing the people of the borough of what their council is up to?
Well, on cuts, there’s nothing. Not a word, apart from a passing reference in the “save GT” story.
On the go-ahead for Woolwich Crossrail, it makes the front page, but neglects to mention that while private sector funding for the shell of the station is secure, cash for actually fitting it out is to be confirmed. Berkeley Homes boss Rob Perrins said in the government statement confirming this, which somehow did not make it into Greenwich Time’s story: “There is still much to do to raise funds to ensure it is fully fitted out as an operational station at no net cost to the public purse. I have every hope that this can be achieved.”
And on the closure of the Greenwich Foot Tunnel?
The tunnel did actually reopen at 1pm this afternoon, after a 19-day closure which had gone unreported by the weekly’s two previous editions. The tunnel saga provides a perfect example of how Greenwich Time presents only the news the council wants people to read.
As the only paper with “borough-wide coverage” (thanks to Tindle and Newsquest not delivering the Mercury or the News Shopper properly), it gives the council free reign to promote only its own viewpoint with little in the way for any opposing opinions. That’s a dangerous situation, for despite the success this site and others have had lately (and moves to open up council meetings to the likes of me), our reach is still small compared to the council-backed juggernaut that thunders through the Greenwich news agenda each week.
Still, I imagine the next stage in this will be a page full of grateful GT readers complimenting it on TV listings, match reports, and being cheerier than its rival papers, with maybe a token grumble to make it look balanced. Of course, if the local newspaper owners raised their game, and invested in editorial and distribution, maybe we wouldn’t be in this situation after all. Instead, we’re still lumbered with a propaganda paper and bluster from a government minister. Greenwich Time won’t be going away just yet.
Hundreds of book-lovers lost their local library last week – but didn’t have a say in the decisions that led up to it. One side-effect of Lewisham Council’s library cuts is that hundreds of Greenwich borough residents have lost out thanks to the decision to shut the doors on Blackheath Village Library – run by Lewisham, but sat right on the borough border. The map above was in the documents prepared for Lewisham’s cabinet members, showing where the library’s users live. Greenwich council tax payers make up 48% of Blackheath Village Library’s users, but have lost out in a process where they will have had very little input, and didn’t vote for the mayor making the decision.
The sums were always stacked against the library, sadly. It was the second-most expensive in Lewisham borough to run, thanks to a costly lease that it could prove tricky for the council to get out of even though it has now decided to close it from May. Its restricted opening hours means it costs £73/ hour to run – a stonking great sum as it is, but presumably an easy cut when half of that is funding the reading habits of people who aren’t even paying council tax to you.
Many of those borrowers will lose an alternative later this year when Greenwich closes the Ferrier Library. There’s still no word on the future of Greenwich borough’s other lending outlets.
Blackheath Village is leafy and nice, but being on a border means a double dose of cutbacks. Of course, it’d be lovely if Lewisham and Greenwich could work together. You know, they’re both Labour councils, showing the mature alternative to the national administration by, oh, falling out over some fireworks.
In Lewisham, the procedure’s been relatively open… but have been met with big protests, including hundreds banging pots and pans in the rain on Saturday. In Greenwich, the process has been anything but open, keeping the public in the dark. This means public protest largely limited to council staff fearing for their jobs, with 80 or so people protesting in Woolwich the other weekend.
But while Lewisham went for the libraries first, Greenwich decided to slash funding for voluntary groups and other community bodies. Among them is another organisation in a building right on the borough border – Blackheath Halls. Its community programmes depend on £65,000 a year from Lewisham, which lasts until September, and £70,000 from Greenwich, which lasts until April. Greenwich has proposed to cut its grant altogether.
The British Theatre Guide’s Gill Stoker asked community and education officer Rose Ballantyne what effect the loss of Greenwich’s grant would have on its community programmes.
“Either the whole programme will fold, or we will need to take a more commercial view of everything we promote and have to considerably increase our charges both for tickets and subscriptions to community projects. This may mean that local people won’t be able to afford them.”
So Blackheath Halls bosses will be trooping down to Woolwich Town Hall tonight to plead their case. They’ll have 15 minutes to convince councillors of the worth of their work at a behind-closed-doors meeting.
They won’t be alone. Over the next three nights (and again on 1 March) all kinds of organisations – children’s services, domestic violence help groups, legal services, groups for the elderly and arts groups – will be pleading with councillors for a slice of a vastly-reduced budget.
Many of those groups’ concerns seem a long way from swish Blackheath Village. But it’s there where the cuts are being noticed first, with a doomed library and an arts venue getting set to fight for its life. Sooner or later, positions may be reversed, and Lewisham could be looking at voluntary groups and Greenwich may be chopping libraries. But this is where we are now, with a government cutting and boroughs squabbling. If the villagers of Blackheath are crying out now, heaven knows what pain’s about to hit their neighbours.
What’s all this about, then?
With backing from Greenwich Council, and hoping to attract some big name sponsors, there’s plans for a three-month-long festival each summer – for the next 15 years – on the Greenwich peninsula. From what I’ve seen, it’s a festival in the loosest sense, using various bits of land on the peninsula.
The most eye-catching idea is to build a beach at Delta Wharf – the land on the west of the peninsula immediately south of the Dome that currently looks a bit like a lunar landscape (not quite right – see update below) after the warehouses there were demolished a couple of years back.
Other plans include an “upmarket campsite” for 4,000 tourists (it can get windy up there, you know…), tall ships travelling between Woolwich and central London, and a live performance area. Beyond all that – it’s all a bit unclear. The aim is to attract up to 20,000 people each day.
The whole thing is meant to tie in with the Greenwich Festivals series that the council’s been pushing for the past couple of years as part of a policy of supporting big, headline-grabbing arts and entertainment events. Looking around the area now, it seems a bit far-fetched – particularly as that area’s as remote as it was pre-Dome, with heavy lorries thundering up and down the pothole-scarred last leg of Tunnel Avenue.
But remember there’ll be a cruise terminal a few hundred yards south of there next summer with housing and hotel developments to come; plus the huge hotel planned for the west side of the Dome site, just to the north, so the area is changing. Who knows, they might even re-open the whole riverside path within that 15 years.
Indeed, if you looked up the firm behind it on LinkedIn, you’d think it was under way already…
Curious. There’s talk of big corporate sponsors, which is interesting as I’m wondering where the money’s coming from at a time of cutbacks. I’m sure more will appear in a council newspaper near you soon, or you can sign up for updates on its website.
UPDATE 9:30PM: Here’s a couple of photos of Delta Wharf, the site of the proposed beach:
This is the land immediately to the south – which is what I had in mind with the “lunar landscape” comment – showing just how bad access is between here and the rest of Greenwich.
There’s a lot of work to be done…