Archive for May 2011
Gone off on one of these to enjoy some of these. I’ve cancelled the milk. See you in June.
(The last clip is priceless, by the way.)
(PS. Keep an eye on this, if it’s not been announced already…)
Dear Antic Ltd,
I see from a trip to Lewisham that you’re opening a new pub there soon, the Ravensbourne Arms. Good idea – the old place, the Coach and Horses, looked like a right old pit. I’m sure it’ll be a roaring success, like Jam Circus in Brockley, the Royal Albert in New Cross, and your other pubs across south London and beyond.
But we in Greenwich can only look on in envy. Our pubs are largely crap. Between the Greenwich Union and Richard I in the west and the Pelton Arms and Plume of Feathers in the east, central Greenwich is almost bereft of decent boozers. Yes, there’s the wonderful Old Brewery, but the popularity of that shows just how dire the competition is. And there’s almost nowhere good left in SE10 to watch football.
You know Greenwich exists, because you’ve bought some old brewing kit from Meantime. So, please, come and save us from the crap chain pubs, bland and badly-managed boozers, and tourist traps that Greenwich has to endure. In return, we’ll come and drink your beer, eat your food, play your board games and win your quiz nights. And we’ll rave on about you to last orders and beyond, and bring all our friends down.
Imagine how good, say, the Kings Arms would be with you in charge, eh? Or the rotten old Coach and Horses, which contained just two punters and a barman almost rocking with boredom when I walked past the other night. So, please, consider our plea. Come and buy a Greenwich pub. You won’t regret it.
The pub-goers of Greenwich.
Greenwich Council suggested cutting the frequency of one of the borough’s few north-south bus links to help pay for its plans to pedestrianise Greenwich town centre, according to documents released by Transport for London.
The scheme was shelved after objections from Transport for London, and the documents outline TfL’s worries – including its estimate that the scheme could have cost up to £1.5m in maintaining bus services through the town centre area.
In response, council consultant Brian Hanson suggested in a briefing on 4 February 2011 that it could cut the frequency of route 286, which runs from Greenwich through Blackheath and Kidbrooke to Eltham and Sidcup – despite the fact that the council has long said north-south public transport links in the borough need to be improved.
At its most frequent, the 286 runs every 12 minutes, with single-deck buses between Greenwich and Blackheath often packed to capacity at rush hour. It also provides a link to shops at Eltham and the University of Greenwich campus at Avery Hill, as well as Queen Mary’s Hospital at Sidcup, outside of the borough.
Hanson also suggested cutting the frequency of the 129, which runs from the town centre, through east Greenwich and on to North Greenwich station.
Route 199, which runs from Bellingham to Canada Water station, would not be able to serve Greenwich town centre at all heading northbound, which TfL estimated would cost it up to £713,000 in lost revenue alone.
The plans would have seen College Approach and part of King William Walk pedestrianised, and a gyratory system installed running clockwise from Greenwich High Road, Norman Road, Creek Road to Greenwich Church Street. It was proposed to extend routes 129 and 286 to a new terminus at the Norman Road/ Creek Road junction, which TfL said would involve running extra buses.
TfL said this alone would cost it £392,000 a year. But Greenwich disputed the cost, with Hyder Consulting‘s Hanson – who is contracted to the council to work on transport schemes – stating “there is sufficient capacity on these routes to reschedule both services to run at a reduced frequency”. “This should be investigated in more detail,” he added.
Passengers would have to “accept extra waiting times”, Hanson said in a table outlining how the costs of rerouting routes 129 and 286 could be reduced to nil.
The documents also show that Greenwich Council had not yet produced a final business case for the project by the time it was shelved in March, despite initial plans to have a trial scheme up and running by then, with an eye to getting it completed by the Olympics.
An e-mail from Transport for London’s senior borough programme officer Tim Williams to Brian Hanson dated 9 March warned the council’s assumptions that trips to Greenwich town centre would double following pedestrianisation would need to be justified, and said claims that it would lead to a cut in accidents ignored areas where traffic would increase if the scheme was put in place.
He added: “The cost of extending bus routes 129 and 286 plus the lost revenue to buses generally in Greenwich Town Centre resulting from increased journey times are actual costs (as opposed to notional values of time etc…) which someone will need to meet.
“This is obviously an issue which will need to be discussed further.”
Hyder has been employed by Greenwich Council to work with it on transport projects including the ill-fated Greenwich scheme.
However, the study has yet to appear, and an Eltham route did not appear on a map of proposed DLR extensions unveiled by TfL earlier this month.
Greenwich Council has refused to answer how much Hyder is being paid for its work. However, figures published under new transparency regulations state that Hyder Consulting (UK) Ltd was paid £657,147 between December 2010 and March 2011, the most recent figures available.
Frank Dekker walks along the riverside path, and gestures towards Canary Wharf. He’s sketching out a scheme for his planned beach on the Greenwich Peninsula. Why not get a sponsor to fund a water flume on the beach?
“It’s limited only by our imaginations and what we can make happen commercially. The cost of a water flume and splash pool at the end of it is about £200,000,” he explains. If a sponsor got naming rights, and free entry for its customers – “job done”.
“You’ll be sitting up there in your Citibank tower and there’s this blue thing – the water flume splash pool – and…” There’s laughter as we picture frustrated bankers distracted by the sight of toned, frolicking bodies across the Thames.
“We’re limited by our own imagination.”
Frank Dekker laughs a lot. We’re wandering around the peninsula on an unseasonably warm day, and he’s chuckling at children playing in the fountains in Peninsula Square.
The Peninsula Festival aims to give those children – and adults – something bigger to do, by making use of undeveloped land on the peninsula in 2012 and in the years after. But plans to launch the beach have hit a hitch, with concerns over the stability of the land at Delta Wharf – river defences were damaged when the warehouses were demolished – meaning the site won’t be ready this summer. But beach fans may still get their chance nearby.
“We’re trying to do the beach on another location on the peninsula for a shorter period of time, to test all the systems and communications so when we go live in 2012, we have proven systems so everything works.
“We can showcase what it’s about – and people from Greenwich Millennium Village can have a look at it.”
The whole idea for the festival, Frank explains, came out of a plan to provide somewhere for Dutch fans to stay during the Olympics. He is working alongside Arjen Korpel, whose Oranje Camping firm specialises in building campsites.
“We needed a council that was forward thinking, that had spare space, and was close to London. We’d done the tour of various places, a couple north of the river, but none of the other councils are as forward thinking. They can see the vision. What we have been able to do is harness that vision into something that is becoming a reality.”
The festival has been a year in the making – but has been kept deliberately low key.
“Until we knew there was a good chance of pulling it off, we were just crazy guys with crazy ideas,” Frank says. “And there’s plenty of those walking around London. If you hear some of the things people were planning for the Olympics two years ago, even a year go, you’d just go – lunatics. And we were in the same basket. It wasn’t until we’d figured out a lot of this suff, and got through some of the initial hurdles, that we progressed from crazy idea to planned reality, and I have to stress that until we have our licences, it is still a planned reality.”
Frank’s company is letting space from Greenwich Council in its Mitre Passage offices alongside the Dome. He insist there are no favours from the council, and he is paying a commercial rent.
“The council have been very clear from the start – ‘we haven’t got money for this kind of thing’.
“We have accepted that, and said if you haven’t got money, help us in whichever way you can, with guidance through the licensing process, dealing with certain communities, what are the points we need to address, and they’ve been quite good – particularly the licensing dept, very professional and helpful.
“And when tapping into wider London authorities, through TfL and the mayor’s office, [council leader] Chris Roberts and [chief executive] Mary Ney carry more clout than Frank Dekker does. For the time being,” he chuckles.
“Sometimes we get a slap on the wrist for being too cheeky, but they’re more supportive than anywhere else.”
As well as the beach, 2012’s festival will include a stage area (now planned for the area of empty land opposite Millennium Primary School), tall ships sailing up and down the Thames, a marina at Greenwich Yacht Club, and the germ of Frank’s original idea, the campsite, now to be located in another patch of empty land, between the Millennium Village and Peartree Way.
Wouldn’t the campsite be disturbed by noise from the aggregates yard close by?
“It’s a residential space,” Frank explains. “People who come to London for three or four days aren’t going to sit in front of their tent on the peninsula for more than a couple of hours.
“They’ll come to London at the most exciting time – and London is the most exciting city at the best of times – so we don’t expect them to sit in front of their tents and go ‘oooh, it’s a bit noisy here’. That’s where they sleep, and then the works won’t be operating, and the rest of the time we want them to go to Olympic things, tourist things, spend lots of money, and then they come back to the campsite, go to sleep and then do the whole thing again the next day.”
He admits that “campsite” doesn’t quite sum up what’s on offer, though.
“It’s not a travellers’ site, it’s a prebuilt village of high quality tented structures. We really need to figure out a new name for the campsite. The ‘glampsite’? The peninsula village? So if you guys have got some good ideas, we’d love to hear them. “
What would residents from the Millennium Village think of a ‘glampsite’ on their doorstep, though?
“We’re selling some pretty expensive campsite spaces. We’re not going to be making an awful lot of noise at sleep time, because we want people to do what they’ve come for – which is to sleep. Closer to here [the top of the peninsula] you want to party – but at other times, the campsite is a residential village for two and a half weeks.
“I’m pleased the residents’ association and management company are supportive. Everyone has the right to an opinion in the licensing process, and we’ve committed to litter patrols, stewarding, and it’ll be fenced.”
The licensing process is one of a number of complicated aspects Frank and his team are dealing with – another is transport, with Peninsula Festival events having to dovetail with the Olympic timetable. But with a background in retail consultancy, isn’t he a bit inexperienced to be doing all this?
“We haven’t done this before – but Oranje Camping has done this many times before. They take fields, turn them into campsites, then back into fields again. We don’t need to know how to build a campsite, we know people who do. We don’t need to know how to organise tall ships, because we know people who do.
All of which leaves Frank to concentrate on the ideas. The beach remains a long-term project – the land won’t be developed for at least five years, giving him time to establish what he hopes will be a major London attraction. “You come here only because you know it’s here. Like the O2, we have to generate traffic, to get people coming to the beach.
“So whether it’s a comedy night, or a live poker night, or beach volleyball, or what ever it maybe – something that drives excitement. Once it’s established itself in year two and year three, hopefully, it’ll be ‘London’s got a beach, wow!'”
While the riverside path will separate the beach from the dangerous tides of the Thames, Frank hopes having people around will mean the path is looked after and the area becomes safer – as we talk, we spot where cable thieves have taken away some of the railings.
“We need to protect this space. If you pedestrianise a high street, crime goes up because there’s no traffic there. There’s an argument for keeping the beach open for longer, to generate traffic.
“When you look down from the 10th floor, you think ‘is that all?’ but it’s a big piece of land. It’s 10,000 square metres. I couldn’t even kick a ball from one end to the other. You can bring a football, frisbees – we’ll have a beach bar, some spaces where you can sit down, and particularly in weather like this, a cold beer or an ice cream or a milkshake – but we’re really looking at getting a couple of attractions to come to the beach and drive traffic in its own right.”
Which takes us back to the water flume, and giving Canary Wharf bankers even more to look at.
“We’ve already been in contact with the UK beach volleyball team to ask what specification a court needs to be. There’s a beach volleyball tour which goes around the world where you can get semi-pros and pros dong exhibition matches.
Frank laughs, as if another idea has come into his head. “Imagine the Brazilian women’s beach volleyball team here! That’ll drive traffic!”
How much of Frank Dekker’s imagination comes to reality next year remains to be seen – there’s still plenty of hurdles to cross. But summer 2012 in Greenwich could be very interesting if he gets his way.
I spent last night in Walthamstow, as local campaigners won an important victory in their battle to stop the disused EMD cinema from being turned into a church. Sat outside a Hoe Street pub, I watched as E17 residents, from lifelong locals to recent arrivals, celebrated, still not quite believing what they had achieved. New community bonds were being formed, and the party was still going strong when I made my excuses and left at midnight.
What struck me was the lavish praise being heaped upon local Labour MP Stella Creasy, and her colleagues on the council. Inside the Rose and Crown, local councillor Clare Coghill was being congratulated on a powerful speech accusing the church of showing “contempt” for local people. Elected representatives in tune with their constituents? Perish the thought.
I remarked that I couldn’t imagine such warm feelings for most Greenwich Labour councillors, with their planned mayoral bash at the Royal Naval College, despite them being in the same party. They could learn a lot from their Waltham Forest colleagues.
Though the grass certainly isn’t always greener on the other side, the thought stayed with me. On the way home, I tweeted that thought. At eight o’clock, I got my response.
Oh dear. And there it went personal. Sadly, culture and olympics cabinet member John Fahy’s Twitter account is locked down to private, so only a selected few people saw this.
But why would Cllr Fahy go personal like that? Yesterday, he did a piece for Greenwich.co.uk, in which he stoutly defended the mayor-making ceremony, comparing it to the City of London‘s Lord Mayor’s banquet. Whether an archaic fiefdom funded by taxes on the world’s richest companies is comparable with a London borough containing some of the country’s poorest wards is another matter. Anyhow, the Prime Minister shows up at the City’s party. Greenwich’s party gets council leader Chris Roberts.
“I have not had a single constituent complain about this event,” he wrote, ignoring the children’s posters up outside Thorntree School, a few feet outside his Woolwich Riverside ward, comparing the £30,000 cost of last year’s event with the £43,000 the council is withdrawing from the Maryon Wilson Park animal centre.
I put this to Cllr Fahy, and he responded that the costs of the event have been cut to £10,000. “Darryl complaint a bit late in the Day. [sic] Costs of event reduced to £10,000 and yes I have seen the Thorntree Posters.”
Now, you may think that a mayoral party at one of London’s most prestigious venues still sends out the wrong message. But others might take a kinder view of the event now that its costs are down by two thirds.
So how did Greenwich Council’s leadership manage to blow this chance of softening criticism? Part of the reason is its press office has stopped answering my questions. I e-mailed the council’s head of press twice to see if there was a statement for my original story about the mayoral party – once before publication, once a few days after. No response. I e-mailed about another story a few days later – again, no response.
It’s a common tactic among some PR people – don’t answer the question and hopefully they’ll go away. I’ve encountered it loads of times before. It’d be much easier if there was an honest dialogue between local media outlets and the council – because if there isn’t one, bad feeling will only fill the vacuum.
Mind you, it wasn’t just me – when the News Shopper’s Mark Chandler followed the story up yesterday, he wasn’t given the £10,000 figure either, although he did get a statement – leading to the Shopper estimating the cost at £30,000, and listing a load of things that are being cut while the councillors party. The statement described this year’s mayor-making as “poignant”.
You may think the mayor-making bash may not be such a waste of money after all. You may still think it’s £10,000 too much at a time of cutbacks and austerity. But if it’s now costing £10,000, why didn’t it cost £10,000 last year? There are still questions to be asked. It’s just a shame that Greenwich won’t engage with the debate, and one of its leading councillors sticks his fingers in his ears and shouts “BORING!” instead.
You might like to e-mail your local councillor and ask if they’re going, and what they think of the whole thing.
Incidentally, while on value for money, local residents might like to know that Greenwich employs an assistant chief executive in charge of communications, who takes home at least £100,000 a year for running the council’s press office, website, Greenwich Time, and “community engagement“.
Basically, it’s all about making sure the council communicates its messages effectively. With councillors now facing a demonstration outside next Wednesday’s ceremony thanks to the mayor-making row, I’ll leave you to decide whether the people of Greenwich are getting value out of that £100,000 a year.
From Michele O’Brien at the Blackheath Bugle, and as mentioned here a couple of weeks back, news that the planned On Blackheath festival is set to be abandoned for this year as a consequence of the lengthy court battle over Lewisham granting it a licence.
However, the organisers have said they’ll reapply for a new licence for next year if the court rules against them – and will simply go ahead with the event next year if the court rules in their favour and against the Blackheath Society, which is taking the action against Lewisham Council.
I dealt at length with Lewisham’s failings in dealing with the original application earlier this month, and it’s telling that the council is reviewing its policy on events in its parks. I expect any future application to hold an event on Blackheath will get more publicity than a single note tied to a single lamp post.
The consequence of this flawed process has been a legal battle which is estimated to be costing all parties involved – the organisers, Lewisham Council and the Blackheath Society – around £200,000.
In a month that will see the closure of Blackheath Village Library, it’s worth noting that £200,000 would have kept that building running (excluding staffing costs) for a further 20 months. The same sum would have kept New Cross Library running for seven years*.
While Lewisham could certainly have done things differently, I wonder if the self-styled “guardians of the heath” (“the public voice of Blackheath“, no less) are starting to regret taking out such a costly, and possibly ruinous legal action?
(* Figures from p506 of this document presented to Lewisham Council’s cabinet.)
Council staff and anti-cuts campaigners are planning to picket Greenwich’s controversial mayor-making ceremony at the Old Royal Naval College next week.
The Greenwich Save Our Services group says it will demonstrate outside the event on 25 May, which the council is going ahead with despite cutting £48m from this year’s budget, including cuts to funding for youth, children’s and voluntary services, as well as the Blackheath fireworks and Maryon Wilson animal park in Charlton.
A similar ceremony in the Painted Hall last year cost council taxpayers £30,000, although this year’s costs are not confirmed.
Other boroughs – such as fellow Labour borough Camden – hold their ceremonies at their town halls at minimal cost.
The Unite union’s Greenwich branch secretary, Onay Kasab, said: “This is a disgusting waste of money at a time when the council claims that it hasn’t got enough money to fund jobs and services. While members of my branch don’t know if they will be able to put food on the table the councillors will be living it up and we’ll be paying for it. That money should used to fund services like libraries, care for the sick and elderly, schools and parks.
“Council workers will rightly see this as a slap in the face. We will be protesting to tell the council that we will not accept these cuts and to demand that they stop wasting our money.”
Greenwich Save Our Services spokesperson Paul Callanan added: “This is an absolute travesty. We have seen the biggest attacks on education in generation and the council wants throw a party. And to rub salt into the wound they are holding at a campus that faces the closure of a popular philosophy course.
“While youth unemployment stands at almost one million and graduate unemployment is at 20%, the councillors will be gorging themselves on food and drink. This shows just how out of touch they are.”
Politicians from across the political divide have condemned the ceremony – except for the 40 councillors which make up Greenwich’s ruling Labour group.
Former Liberal Democrat leader Brian Woodcraft said he had returned his invite to the ceremony, with a note reading “I do not see how it is justified to hold this event… this amount could be better spent elsewhere”.
Greenwich Council has not responded to requests to comment on the ceremony, although cabinet member for culture John Fahy said via Twitter on Tuesday morning that he thought the “decision of the Council to hold the inaguration of the Mayor at the Painted Hall is the right one”.