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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 November 2011

Could a council strike windfall save Maryon Wilson animals?

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Unless you’re hiding under a rock, you’ll already know that millions of public sector staff around the country are on strike today in a dispute over pensions.

Greenwich Council staff will be no exception, with a rally at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich from noon. Most schools are shut and if your bins are due to be collected today, hold onto your rubbish until next week. You’ll find more details of disruption here.

Whatever you think about the dispute – and this is not a post about the rights or wrongs of the strike – what’s not arguable is that hundreds of council staff will be giving up a day’s pay today. Which, theoretically, should mean a tidy windfall for authorities across the country.

So if 1,000 staff lose £80 each, at a very conservative estimate, then that’s £80,000 staying in the council coffers. That could go some way to reversing the effects of some cuts. In Newcastle, the city council has volunteered to give the savings to local voluntary groups.

With a sizeable chunk of the council’s staff losing a day’s pay, there’ll be a little bit more in Greenwich Council’s coffers too. So, why doesn’t Greenwich do something good with it, to mitigate some of the effect of the cuts? That idea isn’t coming straight from me, by the way, it’s from Greenwich West Labour councillor Matt Pennycook, who used Twitter to endorse this opinion piece about it on the Labour List website. He’s right, and I hope his Labour colleagues listen and do something.

But what to spend the cash on? Readers of this site’s less-opinionated sister blog the Charlton Champion will be well aware of the campaign to save Maryon Wilson animal park from Greenwich Council’s cuts.

Things are looking hopeful, with Greenwich looking to set up a trust to run the park, and apparently getting a good response. But setting up a trust will merely take the park off the council’s books – it’ll still need to raise some money to make up for the £43,000 the council has cut.

So, why doesn’t Greenwich get the Maryon Wilson Animal Park Trust going with some of the money saved in wages from the strike? It’ll help protect a much-loved institution – and atone for the clumsy way Greenwich Council has tried to get shot of it. Perhaps something good can emerge out of what’s going to be a difficult day for many people, whether on strike or not.

Late Thursday update: The idea was given short shrift by council leader Chris Roberts at tonight’s Greenwich Council meeting. Listen in from 1 minute, 10 seconds, when opposition leader Spencer Drury mentions “a blog site I occasionally glance at”. (cough)

Written by Darryl

30 November, 2011 at 7:00 am

Foot tunnels latest: Those ‘hidden structures’ revealed (sort of)

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You might remember my post a month ago about the continuing fiasco of the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels, whose refurbishment has turned into a long-running saga. Asked by Greenwich Cyclists’ Anthony Austin, cabinet member for regeneration, enterprise and skills Denise Hyland put the delay down to the discovery of “hidden structures”.

None of this made much sense, so I put in a Freedom of Information request to find out just what these “hidden structures” were. Here’s the response – which isn’t actually about hidden structures at all, but about issues with the stairs not picked up in initial surveys.

I’ve edited it slightly for sense – the original is here. Stringers support the stairs, treads are the bits you tread on and a soffit is the underside.

The comment related to the stairs in both locations. In all four shafts, these have corrosion of the load bearing faces and ends of the cast iron treads and corrosion hidden behind the stair stringers that could not be detected until the stringers were removed. In addition, many of the individual treads have been found to be completely fractured and these have been replaced with specially-cast replacements.

This hairline-fracture damage was not detectable until the holding bolts on the stair soffits had been removed.

Removal of chequer-plate flooring to the machine rooms has revealed structural repairs required to the structural members before the re-installation of the lifts and motors, and at high level on the Greenwich cupolas. Fractured and broken cast iron elements have been removed and re-cast or repaired ready for replacement.

Again, these problems were not apparent to the pre-contract survey and inspection either because the structures and components were inaccessible or they only revealed themselves as components were accessed for conservation.

So, the problems are less about “hidden structures”, which bring to mind all sorts of riverbed horrors (remember, there’s World War II bomb damage on the north side) but more about hairline cracks on the steps and in the machine rooms. Which was perhaps the answer Denise Hyland should have given to Mr Austin last month. Or maybe it would make a feature to fill up the pages of council weekly Greenwich Time instead of another photo-op for the council leader. But never mind. We know now.

There are some positive signs at Greenwich – the scaffolding is down at Cutty Sark Gardens and in Island Gardens, although the last time I passed Woolwich, it looked as if the site had been abandoned. Whatever is going on down there, hopefully we’re nearing the end of this saga.

A warm welcome for Betfred in Greenwich? Don’t bet on it…

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When I get two emails about the same issue, it’s a sign there’s a fair bit of unhappiness about it. So I’d be interested to know what you think of Greenwich’s latest retail opportunity…

Ankur was kind enough to get in touch, and asked:

Why is no one talking about the opening of another betting shop (Betfred) on Trafalgar Road? Lewisham Council recently denied planning permission to Betfred on Deptford High Street on the premise that it will have a detrimental effect on the area and the viability of the high street. Does Greenwich Council have no such concerns? Did they consult with residents on this? What is the case for allowing Betfred to open on a stretch that already has Coral and Ladbrokes? This can’t be good for attracting families to HoEG and other developments springing up around the area? Have Greenwich Council given up on revitalising this part of Greenwich?

Gordon Cooper was also good enough to drop me a line. He adds:

What about raising the issue of another giant bookies in East Greenwich? A giant Betfred is opening within close proximity to two other large betting shops.

I had thought there’s wasn’t actually very much Greenwich Council could do about it – the horse, sadly, I guessed had bolted when the site became an amusement arcade five or six years back. I hadn’t heard of a planning application going in, so I assumed Betfred had merely taken over the old planning permission. But no… for a planning application was submitted and approved in March, submitted by a “Pacemanor Limited” to convert the site into premises offering “financial and professional services”.

If 197-199 Trafalgar Road had been a bank – which it was until Barclays closed the Woolwich branch there in the mid-2000s – then Betfred wouldn’t even have needed the planning permission, thanks to a loophole in current legislation surrounding this “financial and professional services” classification.

So who was consulted over the scheme? The three Peninsula Ward councillors and 13 immediate neighbours, but that was all. Otherwise, you would have had to have kept a very close eye on weekly council propaganda paper Greenwich Time, or studied the planning permission lists on the council’s website every week.

Lewisham rejected the Deptford High Street Betfred because of an “over-concentration of betting office uses in the vicinity”. In east Greenwich, there’s been a Corals and Ladbrokes close by for about a decade, but a branch of Coomes closed further down Trafalgar Road about four years ago, and another on Woolwich Road shut earlier this year. So perhaps it would be hard to argue an “over-proliferation” of bookies.

But then again, isn’t three in 100 yards an excess? Until the mid-1990s, there were three banks on that same 100-yard stretch, now there are none. The betting industry’s changing, and neighbourhood bookies like Coomes are going in favour of cluster of betting shops-cum-amusement arcades on high streets.

A similar issue occurred in Blackheath a few months ago, when a McDonnells branch, with an ugly bright red frontage, suddenly appeared a couple of doors up from the Ladbrokes on Westcombe Hill – and across the green from a Coomes/Jennings outlet. Whenever the bookmakers start swooping on a high street, the perception is that the parade must be in decline.

Deptford Dame and Crosswhatfields have extensively covered the issues in SE8, and are essential reading for anyone concerned about this issue. Charity Living Streets has launched a campaign, The Local Joke, to force bookmakers to get planning permission before they can convert premises into betting shops. Although that wouldn’t have helped on this occasion, with Greenwich nodding it through anyway.

Still, if Greenwich Council had its way, we would have a casino in the Dome by now. But that’s another story

Written by Darryl

29 November, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Boris makes his mark on the Greenwich peninsula again

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Oh dear. Late mayors aside, the tennis brought a good buzz to the Dome last week. It wasn’t well-publicised, but you could wander in and watch action on the practice courts for free if you wanted to. So long as you got there on time. Adam at The Scoop has more about the mayor’s recent confusion in south London. I just hope he took the Jubilee Line there and back.

I completely forgot about Saturday’s “open day” (three hours) at the cable car site – but Diamond Geezer didn’t, thankfully, and brings news that we’ll be seeing the towers within a couple of weeks. If you went, I’d be interested to hear what you thought of what you saw.

Written by Darryl

28 November, 2011 at 12:06 pm

‘Have you tried your local bike shop?’

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A few weeks ago I had a minor, but irritating problem with my bike – a puncture. I’m not much cop yet at the whole palaver of getting wheels and tyres off, so I looked at ways to save myself a bit of bother. My eureka! moment came when I remembered there’s a Halfords only about half a mile away from me, in Charlton’s Stone Lake Retail Park.

So I took the bike down, and the young guy said it’d be fine… until he realised they didn’t have my size of tube in stock.

“Have you tried your local bike shop?” he asked.

You are my local bike shop, I replied.

And off I trudged. Eventually, I killed several birds with one stone by taking it into The Bike Shop on Lee High Road, Lewisham for a full service.

My bike came back as as good as new with a few parts replaced, and the advice that I should consider getting my tyre changed in a month or two as it was wearing out. Unfortunately, that should have been “in a day or two” – it barely lasted 36 hours. But The Bike Shop happily put things right for me without complaint, and I’ve been riding happily ever since.

There’s a couple of nearer places – the venerable Harry Perry Cycles in Woolwich, and Cycle Warehouse in Greenwich, both of which have given me friendly service in the past, and Cycles UK in Deptford is probably a similar distance away.

But the geography of this bit of London means it’s simpler and more pleasant to ride to/from Lee High Road – a zip through Blackheath Village or a meander through the Cator Estate (although I blame a pothole there for my service being a bit costlier than I planned for) instead of the dual carriageways or steep hills of my immediate neighbourhood.

The Bike Shop’s staff have been pretty good to me in the past, and I get a London Cycling Campaign member discount. So I’ve adopted them to get bits and bobs, although hauling a stricken bike from Charlton for fixing is awkward, as I’ve discovered.

Even though I’ve been cycling for year now, bike shops still have an amazing capacity to both baffle and fascinate me in equal measure – I wish I’d visited Deptford’s famous Whitcomb Cycles before it moved, but the nearby Union Cycle Works co-operative will still build you one if you want.

But, fellow cycling reader, is there any other local bike shop I should be aware of? I also know of Compton in Catford and the Sidcup Cycle Centre, and I’ve heard Brockley Bikes are very highly regarded. Any tips, or any experiences of the shops I’ve mentioned you can share,

Written by Darryl

25 November, 2011 at 1:03 pm

Meet Bernard*: Your chance to quiz the Met’s new boss

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If you’re free in a couple of weeks’ time and you’re interested in policing issues, then you’re in luck. New Metropolitan Police commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe is holding an event for residents of Greenwich, Lewisham and Southwark boroughs on 7 December….

“Residents of the three south-east boroughs will have the opportunity to hear Commissioner Hogan-Howe speak about his vision for London and share their thoughts and ideas with him.

Places for the event which will be held at Lewisham College, Lewisham Way, SE4 1UT are limited, so residents are encouraged to register their interest as soon as possible.”

I’m sure topics on the agenda will include the cuts to safer neighbourhood teams, many of which have lost their sergeants, and the aftermath of the summer’s riots in Woolwich, Lewisham and Peckham. More details from the Met Police website.

(* as opposed to Meet Bernard, of course.)

Written by Darryl

23 November, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Posted in local stuff

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Did Southeastern overcharge your Oyster at Blackheath fireworks?

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An e-mail from Carys, who visited Blackheath fireworks with her partner two weeks ago – but found that, thanks to our favourite rail company, it cost them more than they bargained for…

Not sure if this is something you would cover and might be a bit after the event now but on Guy Fawkes my partner and I travelled to Blackheath from London Bridge for the firework display.

Apart from the shoddy service from Southeastern that saw far too short trains used for the event – resulting in small children getting crushed at London Bridge as people fought to get on trains – they also managed to con lots of Londoners out of cash.

I have Oyster PAYG. I touched in at London Bridge and tried to touch out at Blackheath, however the readers were taped over and marshals were stopping people using the readers claiming we would be charged a standard fee. Naively we didn’t argue but as you can imagine we have been charged for an incomplete journey.

I know a lot of people do not check their cards but I imagine a high number of people were also affected.

Not sure if it is something you would cover but thought I would let you know as I have read a number of articles of yours on Southeastern in the past.

Oh dear. So even if just 1,000 people were waved through at Blackheath a fortnight ago, that’s a cool £4,500 profit for Southeastern on this (the “maximum fare” is £6.50, and it’s £2 single from London Bridge to Blackheath).

Oyster overcharging’s been a hot political topic – in the year after the little blue cards became valid on mainline trains, the private companies which run them netted £26 million from people who either forgot to touch out, were unable to, or were caught in a delay which meant a maximum fare was unavailable. (My own tip – never touch in until you’re absolutely sure the train is coming.)

There is a system which allows for big events, so if you travel to station X and can’t touch out, but return via station X and touch in, it’ll simply auto-complete your journey so you don’t get overcharged. It’s used for big football matches – but seems not to have been used for an event which attracts 100,000 people.

But what was going on at Blackheath? Why were the Oyster readers taped over? Whose marshals were they at the station? (Southeastern? Lewisham Council?) And will Carys get her money back?

Now, of course, I could ring Southeastern to get their side of the story, but remember, they don’t “respond to blogs, etc”, so we’ll have to go without that. In the meantime, the best I can advise is to ring the Oyster helpline 0845 330 9876 to get it refunded, ask them to send you a statement of your recent Oyster usage, and then make your feelings very clear to Southeastern, London Travelwatch, the London Assembly member of your choice (who can raise it with the mayor) and Lewisham Council, which runs the display.

And, of course, let me know how you get on…

Written by Darryl

22 November, 2011 at 7:00 am

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