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

Archive for August 2011

Woolwich wall: Now Greenwich Council mounts a cover-up

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Attention drones! Your council has replaced your “graffiti” with educational messages! Remember: “Greenwich will be a royal borough from January 2012. A third of Olympic and Paralympic events…”

Puts Greenwich Council’s distancing itself from the painting-over of the wall in a different light, doesn’t it? Instead of talking to and listening to Woolwich residents, still shocked from seeing their town centre burn three weeks ago, Greenwich Council chooses to hide behind slogans.

As for “back to business”, it’s anything but at one of Woolwich’s oldest businesses, just yards from the wall, still shut because of riot damage:

Where were the police that night? What is the council doing to make people feel safer? Where are the skilled jobs and affordable housing people will need instead of jobs stacking Tesco shelves and “investment opportunities” behind brick walls? Never mind. You don’t need to know. Say after me: “Greenwich will be a royal borough from January 2012. A third of Olympic and Paralympic events…”

Still, according to this letter in this week’s Greenwich Time, we know who to thank

(Full coverage of events in Woolwich since the riot.)

Dismount corner: The Thames Barrier’s cycle path folly

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Now the rain’s starting to clear, how about a bank holiday bike ride? In the year I’ve been cycling, I’ve discovered two words which no cyclist obeys. “Cyclists dismount”. Nine times out of ten, it’s usually there instead of a more sensible instruction like “slow down” and “pedestrians take priority”.

I saw this at the Thames Barrier last night. One of the footpaths there has been inexplicably closed off for a couple of weeks, with pedestrians directed to the cycle path. No big deal, pedestrians usually use the cycle path anyway. At a tight corner…

What’s behind it? A big trench that make the path impassable? No, another sign. Which reads…

So cyclists on a designated cycle path are supposed to get off, walk four metres, and then get back on again, instead of being instructed to slow down and watch for people on foot.

Did the person at the Environment Agency who installed these signs really expect this to happen? Did they really expect normal cyclists to do this, never mind the idiots and children it’s presumably aimed at? No wonder why “cyclists dismount” is the most ignored street sign that I know of.

(See also the plan to create a permanent anti-cycle chicane at Deptford.)

Written by Darryl

28 August, 2011 at 12:12 pm

Woolwich foot tunnel now closed until 2012

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(For later readers: The tunnel reopened – without lifts – just before Christmas 2011. The signs still said it was closed though. Read on for a tale of woe and secrecy, if you like.) (Hello LFGSS forum.)

Woolwich Foot Tunnel will now be closed until spring 2012, pushing its reopening a year beyond schedule, according to notices placed at the shut-down river crossing by Greenwich Council.

Work began in April 2009 on both the Woolwich tunnel and its sister crossing at Greenwich as part of a refurbishment programme originally costed at £11.5 million, with the job due to be finished within two years.

But the work at both tunnels, which is being carried by contractors Balfour Beatty, has been beset by problems and delays.

While both tunnels were meant to stay open while work was taking place, the Woolwich tunnel closed altogether last autumn, firstly because of problems with its stairs, and later because of “additional works to the crown of the tunnel”, according to Greenwich cabinet member Denise Hyland, who said in March that the tunnel would re-open in June.

Pedestrians and cyclists at Woolwich are able to use the Woolwich Ferry during daytimes, with walkers also able to pay to use the Docklands Light Railway as an alternative.

The council’s website still claims the Woolwich tunnel will reopen in August 2011, and no news of the delay has been published in its weekly newspaper, Greenwich Time.

Greenwich Foot Tunnel has been closed at night since February while its lifts are being replaced, following a period of regular sudden closures and a period when it was shut altogether because the old lifts kept breaking down while the stairs were out of service. There is no alternative for cyclists at Greenwich, although pedestrians can pay to use the Docklands Light Railway or a limited river boat service.

There is no news at the moment on whether delays have also affected work at Greenwich.

Meanwhile, the London Assembly’s transport committee chair has formally complained to Greenwich Council after it failed to respond to her questions on the foot tunnel repairs.

Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon first contacted leader Chris Roberts in 2009 on the issue, only to receive a reply refusing to answer, and telling her to ask her Labour colleague Len Duvall for information.

A further letter in February 2011 received no response, and nor did a letter to council chief executive Mary Ney – whose £190,000 job is supposed to be apolitical – in April 2011.

She said: “The record of Greenwich Council in upgrading these tunnels and keeping users updated has been appalling.

“The situation over Greenwich Foot Tunnel has been bad enough, but they have taken incompetence to new heights over the Woolwich Foot Tunnel.

“How can a council say on its website that a public highway will finally be re-opened by the end of this month and then have signage at the entrance to the tunnel saying it will be another six months before it is actually open to the public?

“There would be uproar if motorists were treated like this. The fact that Greenwich Council think they can treat pedestrians and cyclists in such a poor manner says everything about the low priority they give to walking and cycling.”

She added that she was “appalled” that her own enquiries into the issue had been ignored, and was prepared to take her complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman.

New tower blocks for Woolwich riverside

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The last undeveloped section of Woolwich riverside looks finally set to be built upon. Greenwich’s planning board gave permission last night for the completion of the Mast Pond Wharf development on Woolwich Church Street, by the ferry terminal.

Walkers and cyclists who use the Thames Path will be familiar with the two existing towers, which have been in use for five years and are built on stilts because of the lack of flood defences on that stretch of river.

Now they are due to be joined by two more towers, providing 204 homes, a restaurant and office space. Developers will have to allow an archeological dig on the site first, since this land used to be part of the Woolwich royal dockyard.

The board voted 4-2 to allow the development, with Conservatives Dermot Poston and Geoff Brighty voting against because of concerns the towers would block the view of St Mary’s church from the river.

Written by Darryl

26 August, 2011 at 11:13 am

Posted in local stuff

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On Blackheath planning 2012 date change

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A bit late with this, but the organisers of next year’s On Blackheath festival are planning to hold the event on 22 and 23 September, a little later than the weekend they’d usually aim to hold it on. It’s all down to the Olympics and Paralympics, with the police planning to use the Territorial Army building at Hollyhedge House as a base, and On Blackheath wanting to use it too.

An application has gone into Lewisham Council, which needs to approve the date change, with responses due in tomorrow. Lewisham’s certainly learned a lesson from being criticised in the court case surrounding the festival’s licence – with the site of the event covered in notices for what’s only a minor change. Even the side of Shooters Hill Road without a pavement is festooned with notices.

While on the heath, what’s with the fence surrounding the bank holiday funfair? Apparently there was one there for May’s fair (I was away then) as well, which dispels my notion that it’s some kind of post-riot measure. But it doesn’t look particularly welcoming with a steel fence around it…

Written by Darryl

25 August, 2011 at 12:29 pm

Why the News Shopper’s Woolwich witch-hunt is all wrong

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The News Shopper’s got its knickers in a twist…

SHOULD the man in charge of tourism in Greenwich be telling the world he has to hide his wallet before visiting Woolwich?

News Shopper is calling for the resignation of Neil McCollum after he posted the following message on social media website Twitter: “Guest Appearance in Woolwich today. Wonder if it has changed. Mental note, make sure wallet is not visible.”

The Petts Wood-based newspaper has discovered an old and unflattering tweet by Greenwich Council’s tourism boss. Fair enough, it was a bloody stupid thing to type. But something to resign over? Really? Who in this area hasn’t cracked a joke about Woolwich being a bit of a tip over the past few years?

I’ve seen Neil’s account a few times, and nowhere has he mentioned his employers – there’s been a couple of tongue-in-cheek references to being a tourism supremo or something like that. The first time I saw his account, I didn’t know he was a council employee although I thought the name was familiar. I scoured for proof, couldn’t find it, and left none the wiser.

So while he was stupid to have tweeted this, and it’s a clear case of how not to use social media, all this surely deserves is a firm-telling off. Not a call for resignation from a newspaper which isn’t even based locally.

There’s a reason why the Shopper smells blood – earlier this year, a Labour council candidate in Gravesend, which is even further away from Petts Wood than Woolwich is, resigned after the paper revealed even older tweets containing bad jokes and a thirst for red wine.

But Shopper reporter Nina Massey, who wrote the story, doesn’t seem so keen on SE London either….

There’s serious problems with the way Greenwich Council conducts itself, and its reaction to the riot in Woolwich neatly demonstrates many of them. But someone who works for the council saying something stupid on the internet isn’t one of them.

What really worries me about all this is that an already-secretive council will close ranks even further as a result of this. Communication with the public is already funnelled through a weekly propaganda paper, Labour councillors are discouraged from speaking independently on even the most trivial of matters, although thankfully some disregard this.

But councillors and their staff should be free to speak in public, and talk to the people who pay their allowances and wages. If they use social media to do this, then that’s good. The odd furore over a stupid comment is a small price to pay for greater openness. If anything, it shows the need for some kind of code of social media conduct in people’s contracts. After all, leading councillors can already say stupid things without having to take to Twitter or Facebook.

It would be a tragedy if the Greenwich Council went even further into its shell, just because a newspaper based outside its borders hung, drew and quartered someone for a moment of stupidity. For if that happened, we’d all lose out. Woolwich is still recovering after the worst civil disorder for decades. It’d be far better if the News Shopper called for pride in the place, rather than someone’s head.

1.30pm update: Just spotted something which shows the News Shopper’s knowledge of Woolwich’s tourist hotspots possibly isn’t what it thinks it is.

The story contains a list of “things to see in Woolwich” which neglects its two fine old military academy buildings, but includes the “big screen in Beresford Square”.

That’s only been there since the weekend, and is there to show images of alleged looters. Bleak humour about Woolwich? Never!

Written by Darryl

24 August, 2011 at 12:06 pm

Woolwich wall ‘like old flowers on lamp posts’, says council chief

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Greenwich Council’s deputy leader has compared Woolwich’s “wall of hope” to having “flowers on lamp posts for years”, a day after the cherished landmark was painted over by contractors.

Locals were outraged when the wall on the side of the burnt-out Great Harry pub, created in the aftermath of the riot on 8 August, was painted over by building owners Powis Street Estates on Monday morning.

The wall contained messages of both hope and despair following the disturbances, but the messages were described as “graffiti” by both Powis Street Estates and Greenwich Council in press statements.

Asked by News Shopper reporter Mark Chandler to comment on the wall’s destruction, Brooks said today: “The only thing I can say is Powis Street Estates wanted to paint over it.

“I can understand why people would be upset but we have to move on. It’s like when you have flowers on lamp posts for years and years.”

A wall of Post-It notes in Peckham is being preserved by Southwark Council, and while another one at Clapham Junction is also being saved. There had been moves to preserve the Woolwich wall before its sudden destruction.

Brooks’ comment comes a day after council leader Chris Roberts said Woolwich did not need “a fixation with burnt-out buildings“.

He spoke as London mayor Boris Johnson visited Woolwich, saying he was “sorry” to hear of the wall’s destruction. He also visited the burnt-out Poundmart shop on Woolwich New Road.

Just when you thought the council leadership couldn’t come up with anything more boneheaded and oafish – one of them has to open their mouths again. Credit to Mark Chandler and the News Shopper for putting the question to Peter Brooks. Even if you think the wall should have been painted over, it could all have been handled so differently. People wanted to express their pride in Woolwich – but the council wanted to cover these sentiments up. Apparently photographs were taken first – but will any use be made of them? (How about an exhibition of photos of the wall taken by us all, not just the council?)

How on earth did Greenwich Council get into this mess? There’s plenty there fretting about this right now. The lack of public meetings and the painting over of the wall paints a picture of a council uncomfortable about dealing with real people. Chris Roberts’ barely-edited rant against the media in Greenwich Time pretty much destroys any recent argument that the weekly paper isn’t misused as a propaganda sheet. I’ve made the point here several times before that the council doesn’t like listening to people. But the council leadership seems intent on daily demonstrations that it’s more interested in governing and less bothered about serving.

Others, however, do seem alert to the anger felt over the wall.

It’s worth pointing out that while dissent is usually not tolerated inside Greenwich Labour – sycophancy is preferred – several councillors have quietly used social media to speak out about the wall’s destruction, whether in public or in closed accounts. That’s very rare, and hints that the leader and his deputy aren’t even speaking for their own party here. All this could rebound on them, because they face a re-election contest within the Labour group on the council in May 2012.

The Woolwich wall may have gone, but the consequences of its destruction, in their small way, might just be as much a turning point as the riot it sought to commemorate.

5:10pm update: One of the people behind the wall speaks out… (via Jellyfielders)

Written by Darryl

23 August, 2011 at 4:41 pm


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