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

Archive for March 2011

Blackheath newsagent bans an entire school

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Spotted in the window of the Blackheath Village branch of Martin McColl newsagents…

Justified reaction to trouble or the thin end of a nasty wedge? I’ve no idea what the students at Thomas Tallis School in Kidbrooke have done, but is it fair to punish an entire school for the misdemeanours of a few? Is this even enforceable? Your considered thoughts would be appreciated.

One thing’s for sure – whoever wrote the sign might like to return to school to correct their grammar…

Written by Darryl

31 March, 2011 at 6:54 pm

Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnel closures drag on to June

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Works to renovate the foot tunnels at Greenwich and Woolwich are running behind schedule, with the Woolwich Foot Tunnel staying closed until June, it was revealed at Wednesday night’s Greenwich Council meeting.

Currently, the Greenwich tunnel is closed overnight on weekdays with no lifts, while the Woolwich tunnel has been closed altogether since September 2010, as part of a scheme to refurbish both river crossings.

Work on the Greenwich tunnel was blighted by lift failures while the stairs were closed, resulting in 20 unscheduled closures in the month of January alone. (See this document supplied under the Freedom of Information Act.)

Meanwhile, problems with the stairs in the Woolwich tunnel meant it had to be closed altogether shortly after engineers began replacing the lifts.

With only a narrow stairwell available at Greenwich, the foot tunnel will be closed altogether** only be open northbound from 10am-noon on London Marathon day, 17 April.

The £11.5m scheme was due to be finished this month, but a written answer from Greenwich Council cabinet member Denise Hyland revealed that it will continue at least to June.

In response to a question from Greenwich Cyclists‘ Anthony Austin, she said: “The main works at Greenwich Foot Tunnel will be concluded in June 2011. The tunnel will then be open 24 hours a day. Commissioning of the lifts and incorporating the CCTV system into the monitoring room will continue to the end of July 2011.

“The delay beyond March 2011 has been caused by additional works to the crown of the tunnel, uncovered by the removal of the tunnel roof vent which in turn has impacted on the re-cabling and associated CCTV, lighting and public address systems.

“The Woolwich Foot Tunnel will re-open to the public in June 2011, with extensive replacement of stair elements currently in progress. Scaffolding has also been required within both lift shafts to enable strengthening works at the junction of stairs and lift shafts to be carried out.

“This has had a knock-on effect on the installation of the lifts and electrical installation on the stairs.”

When the work is finally finished, both tunnels will be served by unstaffed lifts which will be open all day and all night, and monitored by CCTV cameras.

**(UPDATE 8 APRIL: Despite contradictory information on Transport for London’s website, Greenwich Council has asked me to make clear the tunnel will be open for northbound users only, and that a free boat service will be provided from Greenwich Pier to Canary Wharf between 10.30am-1pm.)

The Wellington Street tapes: Listen to Greenwich Council meet

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I thought I’d test out the new guidelines from the government last night and record some extracts from a Greenwich Council meeting. Well, it’s something to do on a Wednesday night.

The result is what I believe is the first news story about the council’s affairs to feature audio from a council meeting – confirmation of new plans for Charlton Lido. I’d heard of a couple of attempts by others to formalise a deal with the council to record meetings, but with no real movement either way on the issue, I thought getting on and doing it anyway would be the best plan.

Why do it? I’ve always thought the council should be more open about its dealings – its regular meetings are open to the public, but regular attendees can be counted in single figures. Being able to listen to the meetings will at least give people an idea of what goes on in their name – and might even spark a bit of interest. I also think that – as elected representatives – councillors can only benefit from being heard as widely as possible.

How did I do it? I used an iPhone – which records in near-broadcast quality – and Audioboo, which I’ve used for a few years now. With Audioboo, it’s easy to make short recordings of up to five minutes and upload them instantly. With its domed, glazed roof, the council chamber has very good reception on O2, which meant it was an easy job. Anyone following my Twitter feed would have seen the recordings appear first.

What are the difficulties? The sound quality isn’t brilliant. It depends on how much councillors get picked up by the microphones in the chamber, and how loudly they speak. (Council meetings are recorded for minute taking reasons anyway – but these never get released to the public. Just releasing this as a podcast, together with uploading the full meeting documentation to the council website, would be a start.) Yes, a big fluffy microphone would be better, but this is a cheap and easy way to do it. It’s also difficult to follow meetings from the public gallery, as there’s often a lack of documentation – lists of members’ questions, and so on – which meant at a couple of points last night I was flying blind.

Using Audioboo and Twitter means there’s a risk of things appearing out of context – the Blackheath Bugle blog leapt on one of the recordings but didn’t explain what was going on, which is a tad unfortunate. But that’s a risk in any media coverage of any event – there’s nothing holy or sacred about a council meeting. And just one person recording and uploading at the same time means some questions will get missed.

(2.35PM UPDATE – It looks like the News Shopper, which as far as I’m aware wasn’t represented last night, has also been listening in. Reporter Kelly Smale certainly wasn’t at Woolwich Town Hall last night, and their Charlton Lido story’s not exactly accurate either – in fact, it completely misses what’s actually a good news story. This is what happens when you base a newspaper miles way from the area it purports to cover. Now, shall I invoice the lazy so-and-sos?)

So, here is what was recorded last night on Wellington Street. I hope you find it useful and interesting. The female voice you hear between questions is mayor Barbara Barwick. It’s very rare for Labour members to ask questions, so most of the questioners are Conservative councillors.

Ferrier Estate resident Nick Russell asks the council to stop threatening residents of the doomed estate with eviction. He also asks questions about the maintenance of the remaining parts of the estate, claiming some fire exits have been blocked. Cabinet member for housing Steve Offord responds.

Culture and Olympics cabinet member John Fahy reveals Greenwich Leisure Limited has taken on the lease to Charlton Lido, which is now in line to get a 50m heated pool. Conservative leader Spencer Drury asks the question.

Deputy Conservative leader Nigel Fletcher quizzes regeneration and enterprise cabinet member Denise Hyland on the shelved Greenwich gyratory. She says some of the work put into the failed scheme will be useful in future.

Conservative Adam Thomas asks Denise Hyland what she thinks of Berkeley Homes selling Kidbrooke Village homes off-plan in Asia.

Blackheath Westcombe councillor Geoff Brighty asks what effect the row between LOCOG and the British Olympic Association could have on London 2012′s events in Greenwich Park. John Fahy responds.

Two representatives from Blackheath Halls address the council on its (as far as I know, unreported) decision to axe its £70,000 annual grant to the venue.

John Fahy responds to the Blackheath Halls representatives:

Deputy leader Peter Brooks on a suggestion that the number of cabinet members be reduced to fund apprenticeships.

There, that wasn’t the end of the world, was it?

Two things I wished I’d recorded but didn’t – a stirring plea from environment cabinet member Maureen O’Mara to the public to help report flytipping, and Charlton councillor Allan MacCarthy condemning the Nationwide’s branch closures (the council will write to the society to protest).

I did record a member of the public comparing a senior council officer to Colonel Gadaffi…. but deleted it. Probably for the best.

Written by Darryl

31 March, 2011 at 12:25 pm

Woolwich gains from Greenwich gyratory loss

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Some of the cash which was due to fund doomed plans to create a gyratory system in west Greenwich has been reallocated to Woolwich town centre, according to mayor Boris Johnson.

London Assembly member Darren Johnson asked the mayor about the scheme’s funding, as it appeared delays to the project would mean Greenwich Council losing a grant from Transport for London to fund the scheme, which was due to create a pedestrianised area at College Approach and King William Walk. The Green Party member posed the question before the scheme was shelved last week.

In a written response, the mayor said the council had planned to use part of two years of funding under TfL’s Local Investment Plan – money distributed to boroughs every year for their own schemes.

With the current financial year about to run out, it had been agreed that the money could be used to fund reconstruction of General Gordon Square in Woolwich, instead.

The full answer reads:

The London Borough of Greenwich proposed to use 2010/11 and 2011/12 Local Implementation Plan (LIP) funding from TfL for the design and implementation of its Greenwich Town Centre (GTC) improvement scheme. Greenwich is currently working with TfL and other stakeholders, which include local residents, to develop a scheme that is acceptable to all parties. Whilst these discussions continue, it has been agreed between Greenwich and TfL to reallocate the 2010/11 GTC LIP funding to the Woolwich Town Centre public realm improvements – this ensures the funding is not lost and enables Woolwich Town Centre to be completed ahead of schedule.

So, at first sight, it looks as if the money may not be lost after all. The gyratory scheme was shelved after TfL objected to it because of “significant concerns about its impact on bus passengers and operations”.

New SE London blog: From The Murky Depths

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Who’d live in a town like this? Where is it? Head over to new(ish) south-east London blog From The Murky Depths – which is dealing with architecture and the built environment in this area – to find out. It’s a cracking read, and fills a niche – for with so many developments taking place, we actually know very little about most of them because they go under-reported.

(For example – the News Shopper taking 10 days to report on a new hotel/shopping development in Eltham getting the go-ahead. I was the only journalist at that meeting, on 17 March, looking out for something else – if anyone in Eltham wants to start a hyperlocal blog, they’d do that area a service…)

FTMD is trying to fill this gap – and has some harsh words to say about plans for Woolwich…

Written by Darryl

29 March, 2011 at 7:00 am

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Knife incident at Westcombe Park station

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It’s not clear exactly what happened, and I’m sure others will fill in the story later, but as I type the Kent-bound platform at Westcombe Park is closed, and about half-an-hour ago I saw a policeman retrieve a kitchen knife from the track. Hopefully it isn’t a serious incident.

All of which prompts me to ask – when was the last time you saw police or security guards on a Southeastern train after 8pm? Maybe twice in the past year, for me – and one of those was New Year’s Eve.

11:05PM UPDATE: Thanks to Michael Ephraim, who tells me via Twitter: “I was on the train. A gang of youths were fighting and one of them a big kitchen knife. not what I was expecting on the way home.”

Written by Darryl

28 March, 2011 at 10:47 pm

Council ‘suspends’ Greenwich gyratory scheme

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There’ll be cheers in west Greenwich this weekend as the hated plans to create a huge gyratory system have been “suspended” by Greenwich Council – you can read the full story over at greenwich.co.uk, along with an exchange of e-mails between the three local councillors and leader Chris Roberts.

It’s good news, if not entirely unexpected – the plan was effectively dead the moment a senior TfL official wrote to Greenwich indicating it could not support the scheme, intended to create a pedestrian area along King William Walk and College Approach. The scheme was due to be funded with TfL money – and affected its “strategic routes” – so needed its approval.

In fact, the fatal blow came when it moved from “pedestrianisation” to “gyratory”, as the council and its contractor, Hyder Consulting, inexplicably chose an option which involved creating a one-way system around Greenwich High Road, Norman Road, Creek Road and Greenwich Church Street.

Transport for London has been steadily ripping out gyratories over the past decade, starting in Shoreditch in 2001 and continuing last year with the scrapping of the New Cross one-way system. It was very unlikely to approve going back on this policy for Greenwich, particularly with a scheme which still hadn’t taken into consideration the effects on the bus network.

The whole affair raises more questions than answers, though. Here’s a few I’d like to see answered.

- What happens to the £2.5m in TfL money earmarked for this scheme? Does it get reallocated to other schemes within Greenwich borough? Or does it find its way to another London borough instead?

- Will any of the other schemes be looked at? The gyratory wasn’t the only idea kicking around to improve Greenwich town centre’s environment.

- How much has Hyder Consulting been paid for its work on a scheme which has delivered precisely nothing? Hyder is working with Greenwich on other schemes in the borough, but this will have been by far the most high-profile. Last year, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to discover how much Hyder’s contract was worth. The council refused to answer, citing commercial confidentiality. There’s a bigger question here – on a day when Labour leader Ed Miliband is addressing hundreds of thousands of people opposed to cuts in public services, how much did one of his party’s councils blow on this failed scheme when the money could have gone elsewhere?

- Why does Chris Roberts dismiss TfL’s head of borough projects David Rowe as “junior staff”? Is it because he put the mockers on the gyratory proposal?

- However, Roberts does refer to a meeting with Boris Johnson’s deputy Richard Barnes and “senior TfL officials”. There’s a vague reference to traffic proposals which will “affect areas of the borough to the east of the town centre“. It’s unclear what this means. (A wild guess – something to do with the run of traffic lights around Maze Hill?) Some clarity from Greenwich Council or TfL would be handy.

Greenwich will no doubt return to the pedestrianisation idea in coming years – which is a good thing. But I suspect the gyratory is dead. By the time the council gets to look at it again, Norman Road will be home to big developments, and won’t be a street where you can hide a racetrack.

But the questions surrounding the council’s doomed scheme, and the costs, will echo for a long while to come yet.

(UPDATE 1.35PM MONDAY: A council statement fails to mention the gyratory proposal, further suggesting the scheme is almost certainly dead.)

Written by Darryl

26 March, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Free tickets – but what’s with Greenwich’s Olympics secrecy?

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Games bosses woo Greenwich with free tickets,” yells today’s Evening Standard, with news that Greenwich Council has been given “thousands of tickets” for “a top-class horse-riding event in the park”.

Actually, news about the Olympic test events in early July was all announced three weeks ago, but then news of south-east London has traditionally reached the Standard in a similar way to a dispatch from the deepest, remotest jungle. That said, it didn’t get a huge amount of coverage back then. (I was laid up with a cold and couldn’t make the launch, unfortunately, although it wasn’t as if I’d been invited…)

Confirmation on just how Greenwich Council will dish out these tickets is awaited, and I’m sure the park’s neighbours will be watching closely.

But how are things going preparing Greenwich Park for the Olympics, and how can you feed into the discussions about how we’ll cope with a huge global sporting event on our doorstep? How can you find out what’s being said?

It’s not as easy as you’d hope. Local consultation is being conducted through the Local Societies Consultative Group, a body set up by Greenwich Council after the equestrian events got planning permission twelve months ago. The group is solely for “local societies” – that’d be the Friends of Greenwich Park, the Greenwich Society, the Westcombe Society, and the Blackheath Society. If you don’t pay to be a member of any of these bodies, you’re shut out of these meetings.

You can find out bits of what happened at these meetings if you dig into the Friends of Greenwich Park website, but there’s no minutes published anywhere, even though this is a group set up by Greenwich Council about an event of huge public significance.

Well, until now, that is. After putting in a Freedom of Information Act request, I can present to you…

Local Societies Consultative Group minutes, 11th November 2010 (Word document)
Local Societies Consultative Group minutes, 17th January 2011 (Word document)

I should warn you that there isn’t any real scandal in these documents, unless you can find something I can’t see. But what surprises me is that none of the nine Greenwich councillors who represent the wards adjacent to the parks are involved in this process – yet these are the people who really represent us, not the societies. Why is this? After all, as I found 18 months ago when I was barred access to a meeting put on by LOCOG for these self-selecting groups, they’re not exactly the most open of bodies.

According to Greenwich Council, there have been no meetings since, and there are no plans to publish the minutes of these meetings on the council’s website.

So, the next time this group meets, and if someone wants to find out what happens, the council will have to go through the cost and aggravation of answering a Freedom of Information request to publish something which really should be in the public domain anyway.

Why all the secrecy? If there’s nothing to hide, why not just publish these minutes on the council website, and be as open about the Olympics as possible?

Written by Darryl

24 March, 2011 at 2:07 pm

Revealed: Why TfL doesn’t want a gyratory in Greenwich

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Last month this blog reported on Transport for London’s objections to Greenwich Council’s plans to create a massive one-way system in west Greenwich to enable it to pedestrianise a small part of the town centre, following revelations from a local residents’ group, West Greenwich CARA.

Now the full objections can be revealed, with the release of TfL documents detailing those objections. Without TfL backing, the scheme fails – and puts at risk nearly £2.5m of funding which will simply be allocated to traffic improvement schemes in other London boroughs.

To refresh your memory, this is what is planned. College Approach and the northern part of King William Walk would be pedestrianised, with Nelson Road becoming a two-way street. As part of this, a gyratory system is planned running clockwise around Greenwich High Road, Norman Road, Creek Road and Greenwich Church Street. The upside is gaining a car-free zone between the market and the river. The downsides, though, are numerous – TfL is ripping out gyratories all over London, there’s nowhere for buses to terminate and some routes would be severely delayed, and gyratories are considered dangerous for cyclists.

Here’s the documents – a letter from TfL to Greenwich Council outlining its objections, and partially-redacted minutes from a meeting of TfL’s Network Management Group from November 2010.

The minutes refer to concerns about the “ambitious timescale” of the scheme – particularly a plan to have a trial scheme up and running by March. This should be well under way by now.

But nothing has happened, and so far nothing looks like happening. Enquiries from locals are being met with silence from Greenwich Council. The Greenwich Society has proposed an alternative scheme, involving improving pavements. There’s another idea kicking around about covering over the railway cutting between Stockwell Street and King William Walk to free up some pedestrian space. But still, nothing from the council. There’s also been no formal contact with Lewisham Council, whose roads will also be affected by this scheme.

So, with 16 months to go until the Olympics, will this, or any other scheme to improve Greenwich’s streets actually happen?

UPDATE 3.35PM: London Assembly member Darren Johnson has also tabled a formal question to Boris Johnson about the issue.

Greenwich Council welcomes the first day of spring

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Clear skies, birds singing in the air… yes, it’s the first day of spring. A lovely day to go out for a walk…

…or maybe not.

Written by Darryl

21 March, 2011 at 11:56 am


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