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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 September 2011

Intermission

 

In a possible over-reaction to the return of Run to the Beat this weekend, I’ve fled. See you in October. Unless I send you a postcard, that is.

(PS. If you use Sainsbury’s in Greenwich, there’s some interesting news over here…)

Written by Darryl

21 September, 2011 at 11:00 am

Posted in housekeeping

Woolwich Grand Theatre gets go-ahead from council

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A rare bit of good news for Woolwich – plans to convert the old cinema/nightclub building on Wellington Street into an arts centre got planning permission from Greenwich Council last night.

The building’s been empty for a few years following the closure of the N’Tyce club there, which succeeded infamous 80s/90s venue Flamingos (or, as we called it, Flaming Joe’s).

The Woolwich Grand Theatre scheme involves using it as a cinema and theatre, with a weekly arts market each Saturday. Founder and director Adrian Green is hoping to open up with a cafeteria first – although may need to sort out a further licence before he can do this.

I’ve been inside and while many of the old fittings were ripped out during its nightclub days, the plan is to restore the building, which was as an ABC cinema until the 1980s, to its 1950s glory. The old projector’s still there, but for now there’ll be small screenings of classic films, like you’ll find at film clubs in Deptford and Brockley.

Woolwich has lacked a performance venue since the 1970s and 1980s heyday of the Tramshed, and its last cinema – the Coronet – closed in the 1990s. There’s already a number of people with their eyes on the stage.

If Woolwich is ever to get back on its feet, it needs an independent focus for the community, and it looks like it’s going to get that. I’m looking forward to following the progress Adrian makes with the project.

Written by Darryl

16 September, 2011 at 1:54 pm

Carry on camping – the Dutch get set to sail into Greenwich

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Champagne and a photocall – this doesn’t look like an event which has just had its licence refused, does it? Peninsula Festival organisers say they still hope to host an event in Greenwich to coincide with the Olympics, even though the council’s licensing board threw out the proposals on Wednesday.

The chaps in the tent, by the way, are Oranjecamping founder Jokko de Wit and Greenwich Council cabinet member for culture John Fahy.

“It’s a process,” festival organiser Frank Dekker said at Thursday’s launch of Sail Royal Greenwich, a sister event which will see around 20 tall ships sail up and down the Thames between Woolwich Arsenal and Tower Bridge. We got taken for a ride around the peninsula on De Wylde Swan, and very nice it was too.

Trips on the ships are mainly aimed at corporates, and there’s no doubt these will go like hot cakes. It’s all based around the hugely popular Sail Amsterdam event, while you can also see what to expect from this gallery of Sail Waterford. Cllr Fahy said he was “blown away” by a trip to Sail Amsterdam, as crowds thronged the quaysides to get a glimpse of the ships.


But the campsite is a big part of these plans – as well as an orange double-decker, which took Dutch fans across South Africa during last summer’s football World Cup, and yesterday took a group of us down to the patch of land just north of Sainsburys where part of the campsite will be.



“This will be the biggest Oranjecamp by far,” said Jokko De Wit. The first one was in Portugal for the Euro 2004, when 1,000 Dutch fans camped out and followed their side.

Now they are expecting 4,000 for Oranjecamping’s first Olympics, in a variety of mostly pre-built tents from luxury en suitetents to dorm-style accomodation, although with a small area (right next to the Southern Way bus lane) where others can pitch their own. “It’s always been our dream to come to an Olympics,” he said, adding he was approached by Greenwich Council a year and a half ago in Rotterdam. Pitches have already gone on sale – despite the licence knockback – and it’s expected up to 80% percent of visitors will be Dutch. They are also hoping to close the roads surrounding the site – which is divided by West Parkside and Peartree Way – while the camp is open.

“We want the world to see how hospitable Greenwich is, and how friendly the Dutch can be when they come to a tournament,” Jokko de Wit said, adding that he hoped to lay grass on the site by the end of the year.

Organisers are not peturbed by the failure of their licence application. “There will be next steps,” Sail Greenwich director Paulus Mooyman told the press, although none of the organisers would be drawn on whether there would be an appeal.

It’s pretty clear that they are determined to get their campsite at a minimum, even if it doesn’t have an alcohol licence. But they also want to make sure campers have something to do nearby – and here’s what the Oranjecampers in South Africa got up to…

Olympics fans won’t be as rowdy as football fans can be. But there’s a big bridge to be crossed between Oranjecamping’s vision of the Peninsula as a party destination next summer, and Greenwich Millennium Village residents who fear their lives will be turned upside down by this. Criticism from police will also have to be addressed.

Meanwhile, a planning application for the beach at Delta Wharf – which also saw its licence refused on Wednesday – has gone in.

The tall ships will definitely come to Greenwich – but as for the rest of the Dutch festival? It’ll be interesting to see what actually does emerge from the Peninsula plans – and the closer you live to the campsite, the closer you’ll probably be watching what happens next.

Peninsula Festival refused licences by Greenwich Council

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In a way, it’s a major shock. But if you were in Woolwich Town Hall yesterday, it’ll come as no surprise at all.

Greenwich Council’s licensing committee has refused permission for the four Peninsula Festival licences – meaning no beach, no 20,000-capacity gigs, no campsite, and no “business lounge” on the Greenwich Peninsula during next summer’s Olympics.

Early publicity for the event had carried the council’s logo, as part of its Greenwich Festivals initiative, and cabinet member for culture John Fahy had been a vocal supporter of the event.

Indeed, festival organiser Frank Dekker is renting space from Greenwich Council in offices it is leasing at Mitre Passage, at the top of the peninsula, and in an interview with this website earlier this year had spoken warmly of the expertise the council had made available to him.

But John Fahy’s colleagues, acting in a strict legal capacity, found the application desperately short of detail. In truth, the whole process was dead ten minutes into yesterday’s six-hour hearing, when counsel for the Metropolitan Police laid into the plans for a 20,000-capacity stage area opposite homes on John Harrison Way, for providing a lack of information on just how this would all work.

When barrister Adam Clemens explained that the Met’s facility for dealing with suspicious vehicles was to be right next to the stage area, you could see the wheels start to fall off this plan. What if the police did intercept a car bomb on the site? How would the crowd be evacuated? Without any answers, he said, there could be no backing from the police.

Proceedings continued in a similiar vein all day. A representative from Peninsula Festival contractor G4S said he couldn’t tell councillors about the security plans for, well, security reasons. As one objector pointed out during the afternoon, they may as well have packed up after the police put their foot down, and saved everyone’s time and money.

Those directly affected, residents of the Greenwich Millennium Village plus their neighbours across the Thames, made their voices known in great numbers – even if most couldn’t make a daytime hearing. The presence of a senior Tower Hamlets councillor – opposition leader Peter Golds – added weight to cross-river objections that may otherwise have been overlooked.

But internal strains in the Peninsula Festival organisation also scuppered the scheme. There were disagreements with the Greenwich Yacht Club which meant it was unclear just what councillors were being asked to approve.

But it was problems with the concert area which seemed to scupper the whole thing. The application for the concert area was originally for a 45,000-capacity arena in the name of Kilimanjaro Live, the firm behind the Sonisphere and Wakestock festivals and a sister company to O2 Arena owner AEG. The idea was to hold gigs while the O2 was out of commission during the Olympics.

But with the drop in capacity, Kilimanjaro boss Stuart Galbraith. pulled out. LOCOG’s representative said he only heard the news at 5.45pm the night before the hearing. That’s the Olympics organisers who were said to be working closely with the Peninsula Festival. They wouldn’t back it either. Nor did Transport for London, worried about making too many demands of the Jubilee Line. With a supposedly neutral sound report making comments about a “once in a lifetime” event, councillors weren’t impressed.

So how did we end up here? Why did the council get tangled up with this? There was a genuine desire to find something to liven up the Greenwich area during an Olympics lockdown that will see many attractions closed, and to capitalise on any feelgood factor generated by the games. With few plans for big screens where people can see the action taking place in a shut-off Greenwich Park and other venues, many people will miss an event that they could have enjoyed while the capital is turned on its head for the Olympics.

It may well be that the authorities simply weren’t willing to countenance anything to put additional strain on a stretched city. But with a flawed plan, and unable to reassure neighbours that they weren’t going to be driven mad by noise, it was always going to fail – even in Greenwich.

So what happens now? Will another plan fill the gap? We may find out more today – as Frank Dekker still has one event up his sleeve, Sail Royal Greenwich, which is being launched today. No noise, little hassle – and, most importantly for him, no licence needed from the council. Keep an eye on the river this lunchtime for a preview of something that’s coming to London next summer which few people can argue about.

11.55am, North Greenwich Pier: Frank Dekker’s remaining optimistic about the future. “It’s a process,” he said at the launch of Sail Royal Greenwich. More soon… (…er, on Friday)

Written by Darryl

15 September, 2011 at 10:17 am

Peninsula Festival plans criticised at licence hearing

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Greenwich Council’s licensing committee is discussing the application to hold next summer’s Peninsula Festival after an day-long meeting at Woolwich Town Hall heard sharp criticism of the plans from police, Olympics chiefs and local residents.

Four different licenses are being applied for, but the Metropolitan Police, Transport for London and Olympics organisers LOCOG lined up to criticise each of them, alongside residents on both sides of the river Thames.

Plans to hold concerts for up to 20,000 people – scaled down from the original plans for 45,000 people – were not backed by the Metropolitan Police, with counsel Adam Clemens condemning a “wholesale lack of engagement” on security matters.

“It’s not for the Met to second guess what security resources should be thrown its way,” he said, criticising a lack of detail from event organisers. He added that talk of a 40-page security document was “news to us”, and that a representative of security firm G4S, speaking for the Peninsula Festival, was “a stranger to us”.

LOCOG said it agreed with the police’s concerns.

Alongside the concerts, organisers want to have a events on a “beach” area at Delta Wharf, and a pre-built campsite for 4,500 people on land north of Greenwich Sainsburys, with further events at Greenwich Yacht Club.

But a sister company of O2 owner AEG has dropped out of the concert plans at the last minute, while Peninsula Festival organiser Frank Dekker (above) admitted to differences with Greenwich Yacht Club over what events should be put on at the venue.

Transport for London’s Tony Matthews noted a “lack of visible planning” for the events, saying there was “no indication” what demand there would be for the beach, which Dekker wants to run for five years.

Residents living across the river Thames objected to the noise from parties at the beach, adding that outside events at the O2 compound were already affecting their lives. Local Tower Hamlets councillor Peter Golds said it would be “absolutely unbearable”.

“Noise travels across water and can be magnified by it,” he said, adding that he could hear small disco boats on the Thames from his home with the windows shut.

LOCOG also said access to the beach would be affected by the Olympic Route Network, which would run up Millennium Way to the Dome.

Frank Dekker said the events would “showcase Greenwich and the Peninsula”, but local councillor Mary Mills said there were a “vast number of people with vast number of objections” to the concert in Greenwich Millennium Village, where many homes had poor soundproofing.

She added that GMV residents were hoping the campsite would be quiet, but were dismayed to find an application for alcohol and music licences. “All sorts of things happen when men come out of licensed premises at night,” she said.

The Greenwich Ecology Park also objected to the campsite and business lounge, with representative Joanne Smith saying they were concerned about the effects of people leaving events late and stumbling into the park.

“We haven’t been consulted,” she added. “We were told this would be the quiet end where people were going to sleep. The business lounge couldn’t be nearer to the ecology park if you tried.”

There was also criticism of Greenwich Council’s role, with Cllr Mills saying some residents had become “distrustful” of the council because of the way they thought it had handled the festival, while Tower Hamlets resident Alan Haughton questioned why publicity for the event carried the council’s logo.

“When you see the Greenwich logo on it, you just feel it will go straight ahead,” he said.

Asked by committee chair Maureen O’Mara if he was surprised by the criticism of the plans, Frank Dekker cited a letter from the Greater London Authority suggesting a outline agreement for how the events could work, adding he and the authorities were “talking quite frequently with each other”.

“I had not expected the strong opposition expressed today,” he added.

A decision is expected this evening – this website will be updated if I get the news, or I’ll post it via Twitter using the #peninsulafest hashtag, where you’ll find further coverage from today’s hearing.

Written by Darryl

14 September, 2011 at 1:03 pm

‘Failing’ Blackheath Bluecoat school faces closure

853 exclusive: England defender Rio Ferdinand’s old secondary school is set to be closed under plans to be discussed by Greenwich councillors next week.

Blackheath Bluecoat could close its doors in summer 2013 after a steady drop in pupil numbers over recent years, with academic standards remaining below local and national averages, according to a report to be presented to cabinet members.

The school is also over £1 million in debt, the report says, with pupil numbers at the Church of England school dropping by a third over the past five years.

Education chiefs at the church’s Southwark diocese have agreed the school, whose history dates back to 1700, is “not sustainable” on current admissions.

It had been planned to move the school to the Greenwich Peninsula, although those plans fell through when the coalition government axed its predecessor’s Building Schools for the Future programme last year.

“Despite being the only C of E secondary school in Greenwich, and the efforts made by the school to promote itself to parents of children attending local C of E primary schools, it has not succeeded in securing a significant share of pupils transferring into Year 7,” the document reads.

“This contrasts with the demand for places in Church of England primary schools in Greenwich which offer 8 forms of entry in total and which are consistently full.”

Blackheath Bluecoat linked up with St Cecilia’s School in Wandsworth in 2009 and was rated “satisfactory” by Ofsted in 2010. It had also been mooted that the school would take over the nearby disused playing field at Hervey Road, Kidbrooke. But despite improving results, the school has continued to suffer from a bad reputation, especially in its immediate neighbourhood, and now only has 481 pupils outside the sixth form – when it has capacity for 900.

Neighbouring John Roan is just 10 short of being full up, while Thomas Tallis is three short of capacity.

“Although the school’s performance has improved, this has not been translated into an improvement in the perceptions of the school in the wider community or the pattern of recruitment,” the report says.

“On current trends, there is no sign that the school’s position is likely to improve substantially in the foreseeable future.”

Pupils from across south-east London have attended the school over the years, with Peckham-raised Rio Ferdinand among its most famous ex-pupils, along with brother Anton. Stephen Lawrence, killed in a racist attack in Eltham in 1993, was also a student.

Many of its pupils are from the Woolwich and Plumstead areas, but significant numbers also come from across both Greenwich and Lewisham boroughs, with some coming from as far afield as Rotherhithe and Peckham. Two-thirds are black, with 18.5% white, with slightly more boys (53%) than girls at the school.

Current pupils can easily be accommodated by other schools in Greenwich and Lewisham, the report says, although it adds a new school will be needed in Greenwich from 2016 – with the council still aiming to build one on the peninsula.

A university technical college in Charlton for 14-19 year-olds, backed by Greenwich University and Lewisham College, is also expected to fill the gap from 2013 along with an extra form at Thomas Tallis in Kidbrooke.

It is planned to accept no more new pupils to Blackheath Bluecoat, with current year 7-9 pupils transferring to new schools in 2012. The remainder are expected to finish their GCSE and A-level courses in 2013.

An 11-week consultation period is due to start on 28 September, with a final decision to be made in January.

The school’s name is derived from the Blue Coat School for Girls, which opened in Greenwich in 1700. In 1959 it became “Blackheath and Bluecoat” school after merging with the Blackheath & Kidbrook [sic] school, which had opened on Old Dover Road in 1911 on land donated by Sir Spencer Maryon Wilson. The current buildings date back to 1973.

If you know Blackheath Bluecoat well as a parent or pupil, I’d be interested to hear your views.

The full documents can be found by scrolling to the end of this page.

Written by Darryl

13 September, 2011 at 7:20 pm

MPs’ boundary changes split east and west Greenwich

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Greenwich faces being represented by two different MPs if new constituencies proposed by the Boundary Commission get the final go-ahead.

Seats across London will be shaken up, with most constituencies crossing borough boundaries. But the most dramatic local changes will be felt in SE10, where west Greenwich and the town centre will join a new “Deptford and Greenwich” seat, along with all of Blackheath, and stretching as far west as Millwall FC’s ground in Bermondsey.

East Greenwich – Peninsula ward – will remain with most parts of Charlton in a new Woolwich seat, extending from the Royal Naval College to the Greenwich borough boundary at Thamesmead.

Southern parts of Charlton remain in Eltham constituency, which expands to take in parts of Sidcup and Welling.

None of this affects the boroughs themselves – just the MPs. The full details follow – maps are courtesy of the Greater London Authority and represent who sits in each council ward.

The new Woolwich seat is the simplest one to describe – it’s most of the riverside parts of Greenwich borough, apart from from the centre of Greenwich itself. Got that?

In council ward terms, that’s Peninsula, Charlton, Woolwich Riverside, Woolwich Common, Plumstead, Glyndon, Abbey Wood and Thamesmead Moorings. From west to east, that’s the side fence of the Royal Naval College down to the borough boundary at Thamesmead.

What’s missing? Half of Greenwich. Blackheath also sailes off into the sunset.
Good for: Labour politicians looking for a super-safe seat.
Bad for: Greenwich borough politicians wondering where the best-known “royal” bit of the borough has gone, anyone who thinks Thamesmead should have a single MP like it does now.

See that Eltham seat? It gets bigger, stretching into Bexley borough to take in bits of Welling, Blackfen and Sidcup. These are true-blue Tory strongholds – one of the Bexley wards used to be in ex-PM Edward Heath’s seat – so what’s a marginal Labour seat now suddenly swings quite a bit the other way.

Or, in council speak, Kidbrooke with Hornfair, Eltham North, Eltham South, Eltham West, Middle Park & Sutcliffe, Coldharbour & New Eltham and Shooters Hill from Greenwich, and Falconwood & Welling and Blackfen & Lamorbey from Bexley. It now stretches awkwardly from the Blackheath Cator estate in the west right across to Welling High Street in the east, as well as from parts of Charlton in the north to the tip of Chislehurst in the south.

What’s perplexing? Just why on earth are bits of Charlton still in a seat called “Eltham”?
Good for: Tories.
Bad for: Bexley council tax payers who hoped they could ignore the lot over the border.

Which leaves us with Deptford and Greenwich – although there’s not very much of the latter in this new concoction. This is basically the current Lewisham Deptford seat, minus some of the Lewisham bit and plus some of Greenwich. But while Greenwich is split between two seats, Deptford will have one MP for the first time in the modern era, and most of Blackheath – save for a chunk of the Cator Estate – will also be united.

In council wards, that’s New Cross, Telegraph Hill, Evelyn, Ladywell, Brockley and Blackheath from Lewisham and Blackheath Westcombe and Greenwich West from Greenwich. Or Millwall FC’s The Den over to Blackheath Standard, heading south almost as far as Nunhead Cemetery and Ladywell Fields.

What’s missing? Half of Greenwich, Lewisham town centre, any connection between the east and west of the seat. Try getting from Brockley to Greenwich or Blackheath by bus.
Good for: Lewisham Labour types, who are probably wetting themselves laughing. Lib Dems and Greens will perk up a bit – there’s votes for them around these parts.
Bad for: Tories – even slimmer pickings here – and Greenwich Labour types, who’ll have to align themselves with a very different local party in Lewisham.

The bulk of the rest of Lewisham borough goes into a new Lewisham & Catford seat, while the area around Forest Hill and Sydenham is packed off to Dulwich & Sydenham. There are also new seats of Erith and Bexleyheath & Sidcup to get your head around.

If the new parliamentary seats look weird – well, that’s because most of them are. But they’re lines on a map – and however you draw it, there’ll always be something odd, mainly because they’re built out of council wards which reflect a need for tidy election planning instead of living, breathing communities. That Deptford and Greenwich seat would look less weird if it included the centre of Lewisham (Lewisham Central) in it, but then something else would have to go and then we’d all be wondering what Hither Green was doing there.

The new divide would mean every time I cycle to the shops at Blackheath Standard, which is less than a mile away, I’ll pass through three constituencies. Dividing Greenwich sounds daft – but in the long term, will Deptford, with the massive Convoys Wharf controversy right on a borough border, benefit from a single MP?

What really matters is who represents you, and if they can do a good job – and once the seats are finalised, those personalities will settle into place in the months and years ahead. Where boundaries really count, though, are in the boroughs – and it makes me wonder what ruthless changes could be unleashed if a change were to come in the future…

Written by Darryl

13 September, 2011 at 12:39 pm

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