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

Archive for December 2011

Farewell 2011: Confessions of a hyperlocal scribe

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I don’t know about you, but I’m wading through New Year’s Eve itching to consign the last 12 months to the incinerator. It’s been a pile of crap. My most vivid memory was sitting on my front doorstep in the early hours of 9 August with a beer in hand. I should have been toasting my birthday – instead I was watching looters speed up the road from the Charlton retail park.

I never planned to spend this year spending so much time writing this stuff. Sat in the creaky public gallery at Woolwich Town Hall, backside getting numb, clock approaching nine and considering an escape to the pub; a thought often runs though my mind. How did I end up here? For a multitude of reasons, I’ve had far too much time on my hands and have spent far too much of that reading council documents, inspecting grass in Greenwich Park, talking to people, finding out lots of interesting things, and sharing them with you.

You know what, it’s been fun. I’m proud of the exclusive stuff this site has run over the past year. Working alongside Rob from Greenwich.co.uk, Matt from In the Meantime and Adam Bienkov has been rewarding as well as fun. I hope you’ve found it interesting. Someone was even kind enough to by me a crate of beer last Christmas, and others have sent nice messages, so I know some people enjoy it. More importantly, I hope it’s spurred you to do something – find out more, to spread the word, to complain or compliment somebody.

By the way, thanks to everybody who’s got in touch with tips and information. It’s much appreciated – even the stuff I haven’t used.

The hardest thing about a site like this in an area like this – where the local press is struggling for relevance – is that most of the time, it’s nearly impossible to know how well you are doing. On a foggy night, you can throw a stone into a pond and see it vanish as you throw it. You know it’s hit the water, but you’ve no idea if it’s caused any ripples.

That said, the moment that made me smile the most wasn’t getting recognition from other media, it was discovering (from two separate sources) that Greenwich councillors were getting complaints from constituents over my story about their cutting short a council meeting so they could drink wine. Finding my barber getting news from The Charlton Champion put a spring in my step, too.

Everybody thinks their local council is the barmiest. There’s a telling passage in the excellent Private Eye: the First 50 Years where Rotten Boroughs editor Tim Minogue tells how he only has space for six or seven stories each fortnight – but reckons he gets 60-70 viable stories each week, many of which are getting ignored by local media. To be fair, the News Shopper and Mercury have upped their game a bit in recent months. But the Shopper’s editorial priorities remain in cuckoo-land (or maybe chicken land) while Mercury proprietor Ray Tindle still refuses to give his free paper a proper web presence, shutting it out of the 21st century debate.

(Tindle’s eccentric policy also means you can’t see that you can’t see the South London Press following up my story from a month ago about Southeastern covering up Oyster card readers at Blackheath station and pocketing the excess fare.)

Greenwich’s problem is its insularity, together with a communications strategy based around reputation management (here’s a picture of the council leader with some kids) rather than engaging with people (unless they are “key stakeholders”) or passing on useful information (like when a foot tunnel is closed). Entering a council meeting is like walking into an alternative reality, where the incumbents can do no wrong.

The Woolwich riots – the footage of which still shocks, nearly five months on – was a case in point. Locals’ reactions to a traumatic event got brushed under the carpet by a council more keen on asserting its will than listening to to its people. Don’t just take my word for it – ask local Claire Burlington.

You’d think that after a display of societal breakdown, community feeling would be encouraged and celebrated by the powers that be. Out here it seems that Greenwich Council just want to pretend none of it happened – even the good bits. They even pulled out of attending a public meeting about how to move on after the riots, and just held a private one for local businesses.

Hey ho.

Anyway, even if the council is determined to turn a blind eye to efforts of locals to rally round and build something good, the residents of southeast London are, frankly, so used to being ignored that they’ll just get on and do what they’re going to do anyway.

The close relationship between the council and the police was also disturbing, with Greenwich police following the council’s top-down “do as you’re told” attitude. In Lewisham, shops and businesses were given open letters to display explaining what the police were doing. This side of the border, we never did get an explanation as to why Woolwich and Charlton were left undefended.

At least the Olympics haven’t been derailed. Beyond the born cynics, there’s a strange mix of excitement and apprehension in the air. LOCOG have been a lot more proactive in trying to get their message out, and Greenwich Park has bounced back to normal after July’s test events.

My most baffling moment of 2011 was getting hate mail from NOGOE spokesperson Rachel “Indigo” Mawhood accusing me of “trying to poison the atmosphere and dictate to elected councillors”. “Get a life,” she added.

The full NOGOE charm offensive can be enjoyed here.

For LOCOG, the most important task will be keeping people happy and informed as closures and disruption loom. My own suspicion is that we’ll be fine, but with a couple of last-minute changes of plan and a few surprises on the way. I’m convinced the proposed live site at Blackheath Village will be the biggest attraction of the summer, by the way, but don’t forget the Peninsula Festival or the Dutch campsite

Speaking of Blackheath, the planned music festival unleashed a fascinating (although costly) ding-dong over the use of the heath and its self-styled “guardians”, the Blackheath Society. On Blackheath will finally take place at the end of September, and we’ll see whether south-east London can put on a show on a par with the gigs at Clapham Common or Victoria Park.

It doesn’t take much to realise that 2012 will be a big year. We’ll never get another Olympics in our lifetime, yet the party will contrast with a bleak background of a likely second recession and further austerity measures, another nervous summer of social tension, and what’s likely to be a dismal mayoral election.

Will Greenwich councillors continue to cut with one hand while toasting themselves with the other? Will Southeastern railway finally get its comeuppance? Can the Olympic Route Network last? Will the new-look Cutty Sark be alright? How many NOGOE-rs will lose limbs after supergluing themselves to the Greenwich Park gates? I’ll hopefully have a little less time to answer these questions in 2012. But I’ll try to give it my best shot. Or maybe it’ll be the year I win a Euromillions rollover and set up a decent local newspaper with the loot. Investing in local journalism? Now there’s a revolutionary idea…

Thanks for your support in 2011, and here’s to 2012.

Written by Darryl

31 December, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Merry Christmas from the Royal Borough (and its minicabs)

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One south-east London cab company chose Christmas Eve to let its customers know its new name – one you’ll be hearing a lot more of next year. If you’ve ever booked through Charlton-based Arena Cars (or Station Cars as it used to be known) you might have had this little message from Royal Borough Cars earlier this evening.

Smart change of name – the first to cash in on Greenwich borough’s new status (from February) – and when I’ve used them it’s been a good and reliable company. But unless its customers have explicitly agreed to get marketing texts, the law might have a thing to say in the new year…

Just think, by this time next year, you’ll be able to get your hair cut at the Royal Borough Hairdressers, get tanked up at the Royal Borough Off-Licence, soak it all up at the Royal Borough Curry House, and frown with disapproval at the Royal Borough Massage Parlour. Ah, the joys that await us.

On that note, I’m off out to get, er, Christmassy. And getting the last bus home. Have a good one.

Written by Darryl

24 December, 2011 at 8:36 pm

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Greenwich Law Centre loses judicial review of council cut

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A bit late with this, but Greenwich Community Law Centre lost its judicial review of Greenwich Council’s decision to cut its funding.

You can read the full judgment from Mr Justice Cranston, who concluded:

“It is with considerable regret that I reach the conclusions I do. Greenwich CLC is a long established law centre. Its work is well known to this court. In 2009 it was assessed by the Council as costing the least per case of all the advice providers in the borough. If the law centre does close it will be a sad day, to say the least, for the staff and its clients. Despite the Council’s assumptions it may be that outreach is not the best way of reaching the priority groups.

“It also may be that the type of scoring exercise rampant in decision-making these days measures more the ability to write an application than the quality of the applicant. None of these issues are for me. As a matter of legal analysis I can detect no reviewable flaw in how the Council has behaved in this case. Notwithstanding Mr Manning’s considerable advocacy, and the invaluable assistance Mr Brown provided him before and during the hearing, there is nothing in what they raised before me to cast any shadow of doubt on the lawfulness of the Council’s actions throughout the grant awarding process.”

Thanks to Bill for the heads-up on this.

Written by Darryl

24 December, 2011 at 8:10 pm

Christmas surprise – inside the reopened Woolwich Foot Tunnel

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A Christmas present from Greenwich Council – and no, not the three copies of Greenwich Time that appeared on my doormat on Wednesday. Woolwich Foot Tunnel reopened at 6am yesterday after being completely closed for at least 15 months. The news came out of nowhere – particularly as Greenwich had claimed the tunnel wouldn’t be open until spring 2012, and that its cabinet member in charge of the project didn’t appear to have a clue what was going on.

In fact, the sign on the Woolwich entrance still says the tunnel is closed until spring 2012.

As with Greenwich, there’s still no lifts in place, but serious problems with the stairs forced Woolwich’s complete closure in the autumn of 2011. Finally, they’ve been fixed.

If you’d missed the cut-and-pasted press-releases churned up by news websites yesterday, you’d have no clue it was back in business. It’s still covered in scaffolding, while he south entrance is tucked away next to the back door of the Waterfront Leisure Centre. The north entrance leads straight out onto the North Circular Road instead of to the adjacent bus stop. When I went to have a look, it was eerily deserted. (Although at least one other walker went down there yesterday…)

But what improvements would I find within? Would it be sparkling clean, with a new lighting scheme? Would I, as press reports indicated, I find shiny new stairs? I thought back to when Tube stations had been revamped, and stepped downstairs…

It’s pretty much the same as it was when it closed in September 2010. Maybe filthier. The treads on the stairs are the same – and broken in parts – and the tiles are as dirty as they always were. At the foot of the stairs, you’ll find the same obsolete signage that’s been there for years, and it feels a bit like you’re walking through – well, a tunnel that’s been closed for 15 months.

There is no initial sign of the “substantial refurbishment” promised when the council first talked about the works here and at Greenwich in 2009. There’s still those always-slightly unsettling patches where water has got in. It feels a little like being locked in a disused Tube station – rather than an underground tunnel that’s had half of £11.5m spent on it.

So where has the money gone?

Well, you can see where new cabling’s in for lighting, as well as a CCTV system, speakers and help points – although the latter haven’t yet been commissioned. No sign of the new lifts as yet, though.

Granted, the shabbiness, along with its amazing acoustics, is part of the Woolwich Foot Tunnel’s charm (although I don’t remember it actually being that dirty) along with that of its Greenwich neighbour.

But when the new, passenger-operated, lifts come in, the tunnel isn’t going to feel particularly welcoming without staff in there if it’s still as grimy as it is at the moment. The lack of obvious signs to improve the ambience of the tunnel only raises more questions about what’s been a farcical refurbishment operation.

If Greenwich had been more open about the issues facing the tunnels from the start – hey, how about some before/after pictures of these broken stairs? – perhaps people wouldn’t be annoyed about this long, drawn-out process that should have been finished nine months ago.

It’s good to have the Woolwich tunnel back, though, and at least this saga has taken a happy turn. Despite the lack of lifts, it’s now open 24-hours a day, including throughout Christmas.

There’s some more happy news on the tunnel front, with the Greenwich Foot Tunnel – usually closed weekday evenings – open from now right through to January 3. (Thanks to Greenwich’s communications team for confirming that.) So unlike last year, both tunnels will be open on Christmas Day, when no other transport runs.

Now, will both tunnels both be fully up and running by the Olympics? We have seven months to find out…

Olympic bus changes: What’s planned, what’s not planned (yet)

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A handy document’s just appeared on Transport for London’s website detailing changes to capital’s bus services during the Olympics and Paralympics. The changes aren’t major, mostly a few snips here and there for security reasons and extra buses on a handful of routes, although not in the morning rush hour. If you’ve been following the Olympic road closures closely, they won’t come as a major surprise. They’ve been out to consultation to the boroughs, and now they’re back with us, the great unwashed, to give us warning.

The full document is here, but here’s a rundown of how routes in Greenwich, Woolwich, Charlton, Blackheath and possibly Lewisham could be affected.

Firstly, the gyratory around Greenwich town centre will mean diversions around Norman Road for routes 177, 180, 188, 199, 386 and N1. The 129 and 286 aren’t listed as being affected by this, but there has been talk of some buses using the “pedestrianised” part of Greenwich Church Street to turn around (because Greenwich Council wasn’t happy about it). Here’s a map.

Secondly, much of the area around Woolwich Common – particularly Ha Ha Road – will be closed during the Olympics and Paralympics, meaning a couple of services will have to run into Queen Elizabeth Hospital from Shooters Hill Road, then double back out of it again to cross the common at Academy Road. That could take a while – and there’s also some uncertainty over whether Woolwich Common itself (the South Circular) will be closed; the document only mentions a “possible” closure in regard to route 386. Here’s some maps.

As for individual routes:

Route 53: More buses (10 an hour instead of eight) during the daytime (Olympics only) but is diverted across Blackheath as Charlton Way is closed.
Route 108: More buses – with an extra four double-deckers running between North Greenwich and Lewisham – all day during the Olympics, and in the evening during the Paralympics. That means up to 10 buses an hour.
Route 129: Converted to double-deckers during the Olympics and most of the Paralympics.
Route 161: Diverted away from Queen Elizabeth Hospital to run direct to/from Woolwich.
Route 177: More buses – 10 an hour instead of six – during daytimes and the evening rush hour during the Olympics only.
Route 178: Doubling-back out of Queen Elizabeth Hospital and running up/down Academy Road.
Route 188: Extended to Euston. More buses – up to 10 an hour during the day and four at night during the Olympics, seven-and-a-half buses an hour in the evening and four at night during the Paralympics.
Route 291: Diverted via Woolwich New Road, Academy Road and Shooters Hill Road to reach Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
Route 380: May be diverted away from Hare and Billet Road, Blackheath – not decided yet.
Route 386: Doubling back at Queen Elizabeth Hospital to run via Academy Road, may be further diverted via Herbert Road May also be diverted away from Hare and Billet Road, Blackheath – not decided yet. More buses – six and hour rather than four in the daytime, during the Olympics only.
Route 469: Diverted via Academy Road and Shooters Hill Road to reach Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
Route 486: Diverted in Charlton via Cemetery Lane and Charlton Park Road.

But what seems to be missing from the document are measures to lessen the impact of losing Southeastern commuter rail services at several stations. If you look at TfL’s “travel during he Games” page, there’s very little mention of trains it doesn’t run itself, leading me to wonder if TfL is worrying more about Tube and Overground passengers than us who are stuck with Southeastern and their friends.

We’ll need to be a lot more flexible in our trips around town during the Games. For example, I imagine a lot of people from the Deptford and Greenwich areas will end up using Lewisham station during the Games, so why not put on extra buses on routes 180 or 199? While extra buses on the 108 are a good thing, people who’d use Westcombe Park (cut to 2 trains/hour) might appreciate them in the morning rush hour too so they can use North Greenwich instead. The same applies for Maze Hill and the 188. As for the poor souls stuck without Woolwich Dockyard station, an enhanced 380 service would help them out too.

Unfortunately, there’s no chance for direct public input on this – TfL is “engaging with the London boroughs” instead. If you think your journey needs a hand during the Olympics – tell your local councillors. And hopefully, the message will somehow get through.

Written by Darryl

22 December, 2011 at 6:00 am

The ideal Christmas present for a Southeastern commuter…

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Relive that unforgettable journey! On sale at the London Transport Museum shop in Covent Garden.

Or you could plan ahead for next summer. On sale at John Lewis, Stratford City, and online.

Written by Darryl

16 December, 2011 at 12:50 pm

Eltham DLR bid ‘to challenge TfL’, says council leader

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Greenwich Council’s cabinet has agreed to spend up to £45,000 on further studies into a Docklands Light Railway extension to Eltham, with leader Chris Roberts declaring he wanted to “challenge Transport for London’s mentality” on new transit links.

The council has already spent £25,000 on the report via its Eltham Regeneration Agency, which suggests an eight-station line built on stilts above the A102 and A2 dual carriageways between a new river crossing at North Greenwich and Falconwood, on the borough’s western boundary.

Its director of regeneration, enterprise and skills, John Comber, told councillors on Tuesday that “a great deal of work needs to be done” to establish the viability of the proposal, which is costed at £1 billion and could include rebuilding east Greenwich’s Woolwich Road flyover.

Cllr Roberts said he envisaged costs coming down as “engineering solutions are discovered” for the scheme.

“This is also about changing the mentality of Transport for London, who seem to think that every bus and every railway line should go into central London when in actual fact we’re seeing in Westfield in Stratford, in Canning Town, in Canary Wharf that actually working patterns are changing,” he added.

“TfL needs to get into the 21st century about where jobs are located. It took years to get a bus service from the north to the south of the borough” – the 132 extension to North Greenwich – “and part of this is the ongoing challenge to change that mentality.”

Transport for London’s two most recent projects, however, have run around the edge of central London – the East London Line extension and the Docklands Light Railway link to Stratford International.

Culture cabinet member John Fahy called the proposal “an exciting opportunity for the borough long-term” which would “reduce the continual horror of queuing at the Sun-in-the-Sands and the Blackwall Tunnel”.

“There are cynics among us who would rubbish this and say this is pie-in-the-sky, but they need to recognise that we have a great track record in terms of the Jubilee Line, the DLR, and bringing Crossrail to the borough. I’m enthusiastically in favour of this report.”

Regeneration cabinet member Denise Hyland said: “There will be huge numbers of living at Kidbrooke Village, and this would be actually fantastic if we could actually ensure this is technically feasible. It would improve access to jobs and businesses in the borough.”

The report, compiled by Hyder Consulting, has not been made public by Greenwich Council.

Pie in the sky or not, it’s worth remembering that for this scheme to go ahead, Greenwich Council will have to hope for a Conservative victory at the next mayoral election, as Ken Livingstone has come out against building the tunnel between North Greenwich and Silvertown that this proposal depends on.

To further understand the difficulties with this scheme, it’s also worth picking up a copy of the current issue of train bible Modern Railways, which carries a special feature on the latest thinking for London’s transport. TfL’s current thinking for the DLR is to extend it to Euston, to cope with crowds from High Speed 2. “We could well get a bigger bang for our buck if we head west rather than east,” TfL executive Howard Smith tells the magazine. The other DLR scheme mentioned is Dagenham Dock – nothing about Eltham.

The magazine also carries a lengthy feature on the possibilities of extending the Bakerloo Line further into SE London, written by the author of a recent report for Lewisham Council on the idea. Five options are considered for inner London – one to Charlton, one to Canary Wharf, and three to Lewisham.

Beyond Lewisham, it could take over existing railways to go to Hayes (via Catford) or Slade Green (via Eltham) – both costing between £3.2-£3.6 billion. This scheme is actually on TfL’s radar, but it currently prefers a line to Hayes, but says the idea will be reviewed further.

If you want to find out more about the Bakerloo scheme, the Lewisham Council report is available online.

I still can’t help thinking that Greenwich would be better off junking this bizarrely insular DLR scheme and teaming up with other councils to back a Bakerloo Line link, properly plugging SE London into the tube network and giving access to a wider range of destinations than just North Greenwich. It’s bad enough trying to get the short distance from Blackheath or Charlton to North Greenwich in the mornings – surely the council should be trying to fix these relatively simple problems before thinking about a technically difficult scheme that still leaves Eltham relatively isolated, in London-wide terms.

All things considered, even after £75,000 is spent on a feasibility study, it’s still likely that the DLR on stilts to Eltham will join the King’s Cross Aerodrome and the Regent Street monorail in the long list of London’s canned transport schemes.


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