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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

Olympic timetable: No Southeastern refund for reduced services

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Passengers at four SE London rail stations which will suffer a reduced service during the Olympic Games will not get a refund on their season tickets, Southeastern has revealed today.

The government has approved the company’s plans to cut services to some stations to enable trains to spend longer at stops close to Games venues in Greenwich and Woolwich.

Passengers who use Woolwich Dockyard – which will see no trains stop for the duration of the Olympics – will be compensated for the inconvenience.

But those who use Deptford, Maze Hill, Westcombe Park and Kidbrooke will not be entitled to any compensation from the company. Deptford and Westcombe Park will see services cut by two-thirds during the Games, and will have just a half-hourly service, even during rush hour. Maze Hill will see trains stop in only one direction for most of the day, while Kidbrooke will lose a third of its services.

Instead, “ticket holders affected by service reductions will be able to use their tickets on local buses to access nearby stations,” Southeastern claims. However, those same local buses will be affected by traffic restrictions in Greenwich town centre, while open stations such as Greenwich, Blackheath, Charlton and Woolwich Arsenal will also be used by crowds attending events at Greenwich Park, the Dome and the Royal Artillery Barracks.

The plans, first revealed on this website in April, have been drawn up by Southeastern and the Olympic Delivery Authority. An early proposal to cut services at Charlton – despite it being a designated station for gymnastics and basketball at the Dome – was axed after pressure from the station’s rail users’ group and local MP Nick Raynsford.

The full timetable can be found here. It will see…

- Trains at Deptford and Westcombe Park cut from six to two per hour, even during peak times.
- Trains at Kidbrooke cut from six to four per hour.
- No eastbound service from Maze Hill in the mornings, no service towards central London in the afternoon and evenings.
- Later trains on all three lines to Dartford, with a last Greenwich line train leaving Cannon Street at 00.56.
- Earlier trains on Sundays.

Written by Darryl

18 November, 2011 at 10:49 am

What Greenwich’s councillors forgot when they rushed for wine…

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Hopefully this’ll be the last time I write a post about the meeting where Greenwich councillors ignored pupils from a school set for closure, as well as a heap of other matters, and hurried up a meeting so they could go over the road and drink some wine. You know, this meeting…

(I should point out that Peninsula councillor Mary Mills was one of the handful who didn’t head off for the £1,400 booze up. You can find out if your representatives went on the council website.)

The reason I’m dredging this up again? In their haste for wine, Greenwich’s councillors forgot something rather important, I’m told. The boundary changes, which will see south-east London’s constituencies torn up and replaced with new ones. The deadline for responses to the Boundary Commission’s plans, which (among other things) will see Greenwich itself split between two new seats is 5 December.

The next council meeting was due to be some time after that. So, because Greenwich’s councillors were too thirsty to remember to do the job at the end of October, they’ve moved the next meeting forward to 1 December to make sure they get it on time. That meeting is likely to involve endorsing a Labour Party proposal which will, among other things, keep SE10 with just one MP.

Some eyeballs have rolled at this. “Other boroughs have managed to pass motions on this without moving a meeting,” grumps my agenda-thumbing informant, who adds the last time Greenwich played around with meeting dates, it was when one Labour councillor returned from Australia after nearly six months away, before flying off again. Cynics – oh, nasty cynics – maintained it was to avoid a difficult by-election.

That said, I reckon the good councillors will be right to reject a daft plan which will split SE10 up and endorse something a bit more sensible. I wrote about the Boundary Commission’s plans when they were revealed, which include a Greenwich and Deptford seat slicing right through SE10 but uniting Deptford, a Woolwich seat stretching up to the Royal Naval College, and an Eltham constituency probing deep into Sidcup.

Labour’s alternative includes keeping the current Greenwich and Woolwich seat, and adding Kidbrooke with Hornfair and Lewisham’s Blackheath wards – which has the happy spin-off of uniting all of Greenwich, all of Charlton and most of Blackheath under a single MP. Makes sense to me. It also includes a new Eltham and Plumstead seat which Conservatives say is there just to make sure Eltham keeps a Labour MP – but that feels no more dodgy than an Eltham seat which has some Tory wards in Bexley bunged on the end. Thamesmead would also keep one MP under the plan, which retains Erith & Thamesmead, while there would also be seats for Deptford & Nunhead, Lewisham & Catford and Chislehurst & Sidcup under Labour’s ideas. Unfortunately, I don’t have a publicly-available list I can give you, but that’s what they’re suggesting.

It’s not just councils and political parties that can take part in the consultation – you can too, by getting in touch with the Boundary Commission by 5 December. Just like the council has to. I just hope they remember this time, instead of being distracted by a booze-up.

If you want some other views on this, here’s what current Greenwich & Woolwich MP Nick Raynsford thinks, and here’s the thoughts of the local Conservatives.

Incidentally, if this sort of thing excites you, or you just like brain-bendingly tough puzzles, take a look at Boundary Assistant – you can build your own constituencies and see if you can do a better job than the Boundary Commission or the Labour Party. It’s a little difficult to fathom out. But after a while, it feels less like an exercise in democracy, and more like a strangely-addictive game…

Written by Darryl

18 November, 2011 at 9:16 am

No public inquiry into Shooters Hill equestrian centre

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Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has decided not to get involved in Greenwich Council’s controversial decision to grant planning permission to an equestrian centre on open land at Shooters Hill, reports e-Shooters Hill.

Woodlands Farm trust chair Barry Gray had asked the government to look into the matter, pointing out that Greenwich’s planning officers’ report into the scheme contained “a significant number of inaccuracies” and calling the decision – which was split down party lines – was “ill informed” and “irrational”.

The response seems to come down to the government’s much-talked-about “localism” agenda…

The Government is committed to give more power to councils and communities to make their own decisions on planning issues, and believes planning decisions should be made at the local level wherever possible. The Secretary of State has carefully considered the impact of the proposal and the key policy issues, which this case raises. In his opinion, the proposals do not: involve a conflict with national policies on important matters; have significant effects beyond their immediate locality; give rise to substantial regional or national controversy; raise significant architectural and urban design issues; or involve the interests of national security or of Foreign Governments. Nor does he consider that there is any other sufficient reason to call the application in for his own determination.

I wonder what veteran Conservative councillor Dermot Poston, who called the application the worst he’d ever heard when the planning board met a month ago, makes of all that? On the other hand, that shambolic planning meeting aside, it’s worth reading Daily Telegraph equestrian correspondent Pippa Cuckson’s largely positive view of the proposed centre.

The Blackheath donkeys that currently live on the site of the proposed centre are also due to find a new home at Abbey Wood, according to e-Shooters Hill, although their owner is unhappy with the idea of moving there.

Written by Darryl

15 November, 2011 at 11:58 pm

Ken: ‘I’d give Transport for London Southeastern’s metro trains’

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London mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone says he wants to see south east London’s rail network run by Transport for London – and says he’d agreed a deal to do just that before he was voted out of office in 2008.

Speaking to local residents and activists in Deptford last night, he said all London’s mainline rail services should be run along the lines of London Overground, the network he created in 2007 to take over run-down services in north London.

The Labour challenger’s comments follow current mayor Boris Johnson declaring last month that he also wanted to see all London’s railways taken over by TfL.

At present, Southeastern, along with other privately-run services, is free to set fares, acquire trains and decides on the level of service it wants to provide.

But under the model used for London Overground, TfL decides which services, trains and fares to offer – and keeps 90% of the revenue, leaving operator LOROL with the rest. Trains, stations and track have been upgraded, and the service linked with the old East London Tube line – and punctuality has shot up, along with passenger numbers.

Mr Livingstone told the audience:

If people can remember how bad the North London Line was – it was absolutely the worst railway line. We took it over, merged it with the East London Line, and it’s now Britain’s best railway. That cost one and a quarter billion pounds. It’s a lot of money, but it’s peanuts in terms of most major public investment projects.

If we ran all overland trains in London on that basis – if we can run a service that’s as reliable on our overground, why can’t South East Trains? [sic] They don’t give a damn. They’ve got a monopoly, they run a minimum service at the maximum fare.

One of the tragedies about my losing last time was that the Labour government had agreed to start transferring control of London’s overland train franchising to the mayor. They passed a law that allowed two people from outside London to on the TfL board to oversee it, and I was in negotiations with [transport secretary] Ruth Kelly to just take them over and run them like we do the Overground. And [Boris] Johnson just dropped all of that.

That’s something I want to come back to. It’s a power I want from the government, to become the franchising authority and set the same standard for south east trains as you’d expect from the London Overground. There’s absolutely no reason why it couldn’t be done.

With both the main challengers for next May’s election backing TfL taking over the rest of the capital’s mainline trains, and with TfL having commissioned a report into how this might work, it looks as if time could well be running out for the likes of Southeastern, whose franchise expires in March 2014.

It’s fair to say Southeastern won’t be missed, after recent fiascos with snow, the current saga of trains being mysteriously short of coaches and a continuing inability to communicate with passengers. Furthermore, recently-submitted planning documents show the company still plans to cut train services at many Greenwich line stations during next summer’s Olympics.

While some aspects of Southeastern’s service could be fixed relatively easily – such as staffing and customer service – it’s not clear where the sums needed to transform the train service would come from. On the down side, it could see the withdrawal of rail-only tickets in favour of travelcards and the more expensive, but more flexible fares that Tube and DLR users pay. But would this be a small price to pay for a much-improved service?

One thing is for sure – the political will is there, from both Ken and Boris. If you’re a hacked-off Southeastern commuter, it’s worth making sure both men – and their parties, the ones that created this mess in the first place – are well aware you want to see change.

With the coalition government considering longer train franchises for the rest of the country, we in south-east London might not get this chance again for many years.

8pm update: If you use Lewisham station, and find the locked exit on platform 4 (the one towards Blackheath) as annoying as I do, this petition may be right up your street

Written by Darryl

15 November, 2011 at 3:25 pm

Ken Livingstone ‘rejected Boris’s cable car scheme’

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To Deptford last night, where mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone held a question and answer session with locals and activists at the Lady Margaret Hall. He spoke a little on local trains, which I’ll post about later, but he said a few interesting things about the cable car under construction on the Greenwich Peninsula.

We know past schemes for cable cars there have been considered and dropped over the years, including one to East India DLR station for the millennium, and another plan for one to Canary Wharf. But the former mayor said he and O2 arena boss Philip Anschutz considered the same proposal as is now under construction by the Thames – and it was rejected because it was financially unviable.

Using a question about the cable car to close the session, he told his audience:

We looked at a cable car when Philip Anschutz bought the O2 – [it was] one of the things we looked at, as well as running that fleet of boats he’s got. It was exactly the same scheme, running from the O2 to the ExCeL centre. Philip Anschutz is one of the richest men in the world – but we decided the money just didn’t stack up. It’s a nice tourist attraction, but it’s not mass transit, and it’s a luxury you couldn’t afford.

Boris has this idea it’ll be a triumph, it’ll be open in time for the Olympics – at the moment it’s clearly not going to be open for the Olympics, and it’s now the most expensive cable car in human history.

We’ll have to finish it – but get a mayor who actually pays attention to the bottom line and the detail, because these things go wrong if you just do a grand gesture and not the day job.

While TfL chiefs have been at pains to dampen down the suggestion that the service will be open by the Olympics, the project has been criticised for its cost, currently estimated at £60m, which Boris Johnson is trying to recoup through commercial sponsorship and an application for European funds. Any money he doesn’t get back, though, comes out of TfL’s rail budget – and this is from something which originally was meant to be entirely privately funded.

Folly or not, it’s worth mentioning again that you can take a closer look at the works that are going on at an open morning at the site of what will be “Emirates Greenwich Peninsula” station, on Saturday 26 November from 10am-1pm.

Written by Darryl

15 November, 2011 at 8:00 am

Could Woolwich’s Star shine again?

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North London pub landlord Mike Smith has a message for you. He posted this comment on an old post at the weekend, but it struck a chord with me so I thought I’d give it a bit more prominence. Here’s what he has to say.

I’m interested in restoring The Star pub into a community pub for Woolwich. I have a pub in North London [The Three Compasses in Hornsey] and I want to do the same for Woolwich, which Is where I come from (I now live in Lewisham). I understand the property is owned by the New Wine Church and that they have plans to develop the property into residential apartments. Does anyone have any tips on where I might start regarding getting things going? Cheers, Mike

I used to drink in The Star in the early 1990s. Some pals drank in there, so I drank with them. It was friendlier than its tacky interior would suggest – I’ve struggled and failed to remember the name of the couple that ran it at the time – and did the whole loud music thing before the Earl of Chatham down the road took it on a few years later. As one of the nearest pubs to Woolwich barracks, a few squaddies used to drink there too.

But those were the last days of The Star, and it shut about 15 years ago, and has been decaying ever since – an ad for Labatt’s Canadian Lager betraying the era when pints were last pulled there.

I’ve no idea who owns the land now, but New Wine does have some big property holdings in the area. I suspect Mike is a brave man wanting to take that on, but yes, Woolwich is short of a decent pub or two. Especially since the rioters burned down The Great Harry, and the Director-General was knocked down for the new Greenwich Council HQ. Although Rose’s, off Hare Street, is a little gem.

So, can you help Mike? Could The Star ever shine again?

Written by Darryl

15 November, 2011 at 7:00 am

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Greenwich moves closer to hiving off libraries

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Greenwich Council will move closer to transferring its libraries to a trust tomorrow when councillors agree to consider a report into the proposal.

Tuesday’s cabinet meeting is likely to rubber-stamp a new contract for Greenwich Leisure Limited to carry on running its leisure centres, which includes provision for GLL to take on the borough’s libraries as well as its swimming baths and gyms.

Councillors will be hoping the proposal will preserve Greenwich’s library service. Neighbours Bexley and Bromley are merging theirs, while five of Lewisham’s outlets are now “community libraries” run by volunteers.

But unions are nervous – while GLL is a social enterprise, they say there is little union recognition there, and they fear jobs could be put at risk. GLL was set up to take over Greenwich’s leisure centres during cuts in the early 1990s, and has expanded across London and beyond.

GLL hasn’t wasted any time – it’s expressed an interest in running Croydon Council’s libraries, but clearly the “home” contract of Greenwich will be close to their hearts. The company has already set up a new libraries division, to be headed by Diana Edmonds. Ms Edmonds ran a company called Instant Libraries, which used to run Haringey’s libraries.

“GLL has demonstrated the capability to manage the borough’s library services,” a report to be presented to Greenwich’s cabinet on Tuesday declares. “The new contract enables library services to integrate into a single contract if the council wishes to pursue this option.”

The council will ask GLL to “clarify and fine tune” the proposals before bringing them back to the cabinet at a later date.

GLL saw off competition from Fusion Leisure (which runs Lewisham’s pools) and Sport and Leisure Management Ltd (which run Sutton and Havering’s centres) to be selected for the 15-year contract, which is worth £1.96m a year.

The new contract is set to see GLL also take on the council’s adventure playgrounds, its sports development service, Charlton Lido, Hornfair Park BMX track and Southmere Boating Centre in Thamesmead.

This is the sight that Greenwich councillors want to avoid – while Greenwich’s recently-revamped Blackheath Library (top) is thriving, Lewisham’s Blackheath Village Library (above and right), a mile across the heath, is closed and deserted.

While Greenwich kept 12 of its 13 libraries (Ferrier Library is due to close soon as part of the Kidbrooke Village redevelopment, without replacement), Lewisham opted to shut five of its 12 branches. With Blackheath Village costing an eye-watering £75,000 a year in rent, it was always going to be first in line to go.

But five months after it shut, books are still gathering dust in the old library. With Lewisham presumably still paying rent, they’ll surely have to be cleared out soon.

Wander around the corner, though, and there’s a new, much smaller library, at the rear of the Age Exchange centre (which, curiously, is actually in the borough of Greenwich), whose volunteers staff the new service.

The Blackheath Village Community Library is tiny – possibly even smaller than Charlton’s minuscule library – and there seemed to be more volunteers than borrowers when I popped in one afternoon. It’s a work in progress, though, with the full project not due to be finished until next summer.

The other four libraries have also reopened as volunteer-run centres to a mixed reception, although New Cross People’s Library seems to doing very well for itself at the moment.

Greenwich isn’t totally averse to handing things over to volunteers – but the fiasco of the St Alfege Park gravestones shows how such an approach can go badly wrong. Will hiving off the library service save it from Lewisham-style cuts, though? We’ll have to wait and see.

Greenwich Law Centre hopes for judicial review over council cut

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A bit late with this, and there’s not very much else to say at the moment, but Greenwich Community Law Centre has applied for a judicial review of the council’s decision to withdraw its funding from this month.

They lost their funding after Greenwich decided to change the way it funded legal services, asking local centres to compete to cover specific areas of expertise instead of acting together as a consortium. Critics say the decision will leave the west of the borough without legal advice services.

The team there are expecting to hear if they’ve been successful later this week – if they are, you’ll no doubt hear a lot more about this in the weeks and months to come.

Written by Darryl

14 November, 2011 at 12:36 pm

The cost of cutting short a Greenwich Council meeting? £1,459

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I’ve had a mixed reaction to my story here a couple of weeks back about Greenwich councillors cutting short their first full meeting in three months to drink wine at a ceremony to honour one of their own. On 26 October, a full council meeting was chopped back to an hour, with no questions asked of the council leader, so former Conservative leader Peter King could be awarded the freedom of the borough to mark his 32 years on the council.

This was in full sight of Blackheath Bluecoat pupils – whose school faces closure – and other campaigners, who had gathered to raise issues that had built up in the three months since the councillors had last met, a period which saw the worst civil disturbances in the borough’s history as well as further concerns about job cuts among council staff. Not a single elected representative, neither Labour nor Conservative, tabled a verbal question of the council’s leadership, as the mayor worked to keep the meeting short, with the exception of a couple of queries about finance and polling stations.

Councillors were greeted by demonstrators as they entered the meeting, and once again as they left for what was, to all intents and purposes, a private bash in the new Woolwich Centre across the road.

Everyone I’ve spoken to outside the council finds this whole tale outrageous. A few inside the council are embarrassed – although I wouldn’t expect a public apology soon.

A couple of councillors have raised complaints. Culture cabinet member John Fahy said my post was “totally mischievous and distorted” – well, I only reported what happened. That said, I’m glad he responded.

The other morning, there was a little discussion with Greenwich West Labour councillor Matt Pennycook on Twitter. Again, good to talk to him about all this.

I responded that shutting down debate to head over the road to drink wine was indefensible.

Which is actually true – but the formal consultation only started this week. Even if a councillor stood up to make a show of concern about events, to raise a question about the consultation, it would have been better than nothing, especially with a load of schoolkids watching.

But anyway, I asked, weren’t there other things happening that should have been discussed?

I can think of many people who devote their lives to their communities, but they don’t have parties held in their honour at the expense of democratic debate. Could the council have not held their bash on another night, to allow for a free and open debate about the issues that affect a quarter of a million people? However, by the time I asked the question, the good Cllr Pennycook was evidently occupied with something more pressing, for he didn’t respond.

One question remains – how much did this revelry cost? I’ve got the answer£1,459 for the catering. No word on staffing costs.

So, if there were 120 guests (councillors and their guests, council officers, plus Mr King’s family and friends) what’s that, £12 each spent on them? And this was on an evening when the councillors should have been representing us in a public meeting.

Anyway, this shouldn’t be about what I think, this should be about what you think. So here’s a poll. If any 853 readers who live in the borough of Greenwich have been in touch with their councillors and asked if they went, and if they can justify this outlay, I’d be interested to know what their response was.

Friday update: A full list of councillors who went is on the council’s website.

Written by Darryl

10 November, 2011 at 2:26 pm

Faint pulse detected at Heart of East Greenwich

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It’ll be 11 years next March since Greenwich District Hospital closed, and six years since work began on demolishing the old building.

Back in the heady days of 2006, when young people were commissioned to paint a mural on the site (right) as the old hospital came down, the future looked promising. Then the housing market fell to bits, and the Heart of East Greenwich project stalled.

The overall plan was to build 645 homes (170 of them for rent, 144 for shared ownership) along with what Greenwich Council calls the Greenwich Centre, to provide access to council services along with a new library and leisure centre, replacing the current facilities on Woolwich Road and at the Arches, as well as a health centre including GP practices.

While the council’s a big partner in the scheme, the delays have been down to the site owner, the Homes and Communities Agency, which booted out initial developer First Base in summer 2010, and appointed a new firm, Hadley Mace to do it instead. (Incidentally, one of the partners in Hadley Mace is responsible for building the new cable car.) But a lack of clear information about what’s happening has not helped matters.

Finally, after many false starts, things may be about to change. A report to be presented to councillors this Thursday states that work is due to start on the site “early in 2012″, and that the centre should be ready in 2014, at a cost of £30.4million.

A good idea of what to expect can be found if you travel to Eltham, where the Eltham Centre includes a library, pool, and council services, and is acclaimed by all as a success.

But the question marks are over what happens next to the library and Arches sites.

East Greenwich Library has been neglected for years in anticipation of the move down the road – recent remedial works to fix a leaking roof went wrong when, I’m told, the lead was nicked. It’s a Grade II listed building, donated to the community by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in 1905, and any attempt to sell it on for private use is likely to cause an outcry.

I’m not sure whether the Arches, built in the 1920s and renovated in the 1980s, commands so much affection, but its site at the foot of Greenwich Park has to be a prime one for redevelopment.

In any case, the council says it will hold onto both buildings until the Greenwich Centre is finished, and is funding the cost by selling the Greenwich Industrial Estate at Norman Road as well as land on Blackwall Lane and Commerell Street, opposite the HoEG site.

So, what could be some decent news from the council. Who’d have thought it?

Written by Darryl

8 November, 2011 at 2:20 pm

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