Archive for November 2011
Warning: post contains mild terror.
A nice surprise at the weekend was to discover that most of the Thames Path along the west side of the Greenwich Peninsula has re-opened once again.
From what I could tell, it looks like the river wall at the site of the old Tunnel Refineries plant has been shored up with concrete.
The path’s now open from Banning Street right the way up to Delta Wharf, although it’s not exactly difficult to slip past the barriers at either end and do a complete run all the way up the peninsula.
One catch, though, is that most of the street lights remain switched off. Lighting’s a problem on all the path, but it looks like some of the lamps have either broken or become disconnected throughout the lengthy closures of the path.
Of course, not all of it is lit anyway, if you pass through the aggregates yard by the Blackwall Tunnel then you’re relying on the lights from Canary Wharf.
It makes for an eerie journey – and one which was downright terrifying when I did the same ride again in the fog on Sunday. Needless to say, bring a torch if you think you’ll be caught out by nightfall if you’re walking round this way.
Here’s some views from Sunday’s fog – I gave up halfway along the path out of a genuine worry that I’d end up cycling into the river…
And here’s some views from Saturday:
So that means the only closed bits of the path now are the short stretch at Lovell’s Wharf (destroyed by London and Regional Properties), Delta Wharf (safety works) and just south of North Greenwich Pier (cable car works). Add to that list a short closure of the path around the Thames Barrier, starting today for a fortnight, to complete security works by the Environment Agency.
One thing the reopened section of path betrays, though – no sign of any work at all on the cruise liner terminal at Enderby’s Wharf, approved by planners nearly 10 months ago. What is going on there?
PS. For an overview of the entire Thames Path, take a look at this website by Leigh Hatts.
The first thing I remember from yesterday is lying in bed, hearing a ship’s foghorn on the Thames. Usually you just get a blast or two, but this one kept on and on for half-an-hour. Yup, it was a right old gaw’blimey pea-souper out there.
There’s not many places which look as good when you can’t see them properly, I’d suggest. But the drifting fog made for an unusually eerie experience cycling across Blackheath, where the entire world seemed to vanish at one point, except for a group of lads playing football…
With the fog drifting eastwards, it was time to take in the famous view from Greenwich Park…
Riding down the hill, the drop in temperature was clear as more fog hung around the bottom of the park. Down by the old naval college, a small child shouted out: “I’m scared!” Can’t think why…
Along the riverside, where the fog was so thick, the Thames vanished at the Cutty Sark pub. Hardened drinkers stood in the beer garden peering out at nothing.
Further on, along the unlit Thames Path (more about which later), even the tops of switched-off lamp posts vanished into a gloom that was impossible to capture with a mobile phone. I turned off the path at the old Victoria Deep Water Terminal, concerned that the gloom would lead me into deep water.
The south side of the Dome was fairly clear, but upon returning to the riverside path, streaks of fog stretched out along the water. A minute or so later, the lights from the north side of the Thames vanished, as did the river itself.
The river was closed to traffic, leaving tennis fans lining up at the pier waiting for the fog to lift. A roar overhead confirmed some traffic was getting in and out of City Airport – just a little disconcerting.
Into Charlton, and the fog lifted a little. But the Thames Barrier was mostly closed, with just one floodlit lane available for shipping, highlighting the lingering mist.
If you’re disconcerted by this early taste of winter – remember one thing. We’re a week off the first anniversary of last winter’s big snowfall…
To the High Court yesterday, where a judge backed a case brought by Greenwich Community Law Centre for a judicial review into the tendering process that led to it losing its grants.
The centre, on Trafalgar Road, lost its funding on 11 November following a vote taken by the council’s cabinet last month.
But the centre is challenging the way the decision was taken, arguing the timetable put in place by the council meant it was not possible to hand over cases to other agencies. It also says the decision was made without an assessment on equality in the borough, or the risks involved.
It lost its funding after failing to meet a deadline set by the council for submitting bids. However, it argues that council officers gave conflicting dates as when that deadline actually was.
The hearing largely relied on bundles of evidence presented to Deputy High Court Judge Ingrid Simler QC, with counsel for the law centre and for Greenwich briefly arguing their cases before a short judgment was made.
Tellingly, though, Greenwich wanted the case struck out because the decision not to fund the law centre was made by officers on in early August, and not by cabinet members in September (and again in October during a “call-in” hearing), arguing that the law centre’s claim was now “out of time” as it was over three months since the officers’ decision had been made.
But the law centre had argued that it had been told that proceedings could not have been brought until a final decision was made by the cabinet or the call-in process – and even Mrs Justice Simler said that Greenwich’s counsel “appeared to submit that the call-in process was a foregone conclusion”.
It doesn’t seem particularly encouraging for democracy in Greenwich when the council’s own barrister argues that its cabinet members’ decisions can be predicted in advance.
One bright spot for the council – and its taxpayers – was that the judge did not order Greenwich to continue funding the centre, whose counsel said it could continue in operation until the end of the year. It is apparently still receiving referrals from other centres, which are struggling to adapt to the new arrangements.
It’s thought the judicial review could set the council back £30,000, as well as the cost of seeing what appears to have been a poorly-run process laid open before the courts. Unless a settlement is agreed before then, a two-day hearing is due to take place by the end of December.
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.
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…
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…
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.
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.
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…