Archive for February 2012
Rum goings-on up at Blackheath’s Old Dover Road, where Greenwich Council is “consulting” on a plan to make people pay for their parking by mobile phone. It’s the kind of shopping street many would rhapsodise about and cherish, with lots of little independent retailers. But not in the “royal” borough of Greenwich, which is the landlord to those independent shopkeepers, many of whom complain about steep rent increases.
That same landlord is also whacking up parking charges. You might have noticed this website isn’t particularly sympathetic to car drivers. But the real problem on Old Dover Road isn’t traffic, as such – it’s the idiots who double-park or wait in the middle of the road to avoid parking charges.
The real sting in the plan, though, is to trial paying for parking by mobile phone – doing away with the need to maintain pay-and-display machines. Unfortunately, many of those who drive up to Old Dover Road are elderly. These aren’t the sort of people who’ll have mobile phones. Yet some bright spark in Woolwich has decided to trial this scheme here. Of course, this has gone down like a cup of cold sick, with a 1,400-strong petition against the plan.
Anyway, the whole thing has now gone out to consultation. Except it hasn’t. Because where the consultation had gone online earlier this week…
…it has now vanished again. Another proposal, for Eltham, has also gone west.
Information about the consultation is also difficult to come across. I’m told by a local that “Blackheath Library is devoid of information”, despite being directly affected by the scheme, while this week’s issue of propaganda rag Royal Greenwich Time (seriously, that’s what they’re calling it now) contains no news at all about this.
It’s usually easier to point to cock-up rather than conspiracy. But this website understands that local Labour councillors – including the party’s sole Blackheath Westcombe representative Alex Grant – are openly rebelling against the plan. There’s trouble in the usually docile Greenwich Labour ranks. Could the battle over Old Dover Road be the start of something bigger? Watch this space.
11.10am update: Greenwich Council has backed down on the pay-by-mobile proposal, It’s just been announced. (Thank you to the Westcombe Society for letting me know by email.) A new set of proposals will go out at a later date.
A belated victory for people power, or a last-ditch attempt to pacify mutinous Labour councillors?
3.15pm update One observer has written to say how Greenwich mayor Jim Gillman – effectively leader Chris Roberts’ stooge – shut down discussion of the now-canned proposal a month ago. “There was a big delegation at the last council meeting. There was a discussion on parking and Alex Grant tried to get in on it – presumably to respond to some of what his constituents had been saying – and the Mayor cut him off and did he usual “We’ve had a long debate on this, would you mind if we left it that”.
1pm Saturday update: Greenwich issued a press release just after 5pm on Friday (ensuring it’d miss the deadlines for the local papers – a regular practice) confirming the plans for Old Dover Road and Eltham had been withdrawn. No mention of the pay-by-mobile plan, but a good mention for government cuts – the cuts that still don’t stop councillors living it up at our expense.
This website understands the pay-per-mobile plan has been withdrawn completely, and the consultation was withdrawn because the pay-by-mobile plan hasn’t even been approved by councillors. If you look at page 24 of this document, approved by the council’s cabinet in December 2010, you’ll see it doesn’t even mention pay-by-mobile, just pay and display.
So Greenwich Council’s leadership was caught trying to push through something its own cabinet hadn’t even agreed to. You can see why there’s some pretty tense feelings in the Labour camp right. If you see them out campaigning this weekend (there’s big pro-Ken push today) – why not smile and ask them about it?
Yeah, yeah, last with the news, but here it is from the horse’s mouth.
Sad news, but it can’t just be the demands on Blackheath this Olympic year – it’s already going to be a packed summer for events in London (the Blur/ Specials / New Order closing ceremony gig looks something very special) and it’d be hard to get a decent profile for the festival.
But come 2013, and the post-Olympics malaise… and it could shine. Hope to see you next year, chaps.
The latest communiques from NOGOE, the always open-minded opponents of the Olympics in Greenwich Park. If they’re trying to work out why nobody’s listening to their claims that the rebuilding of the Blackheath gates (and the remodelling of an iffy junction) is “Olympic vandalism”, then these might provide an answer…
9pm update: I’ve tidied the original, mobile-uploaded, post up and swapped the image for a one showing four of this morning’s tweets from the NOGOE account, run by activist Rachel “Indigo” Mawhood, who sent me this charming missive last summer. Most have since been deleted, but not before they were widely seen, and also captured by tweeter @pekingspring.
NOGOE’s patrons include historian Dr David Starkey, who who caused outrage following last summer’s London riots when he said “the whites have become black”, author Blake Morrison and recently-appointed Supreme Court judge Lord Sumption.
Thank you to the kind person who managed to sneakily snap this for me…
Every Greenwich councillor was given one of these last week – a commemorative certificate, with a seal, to mark the fact that they are part of a council serving a royal borough. It’s worth remembering it’s the borough – which contains 230,000 of us – that’s been declared royal, not the actual council, which is 51 of them. Still, they got these certificates anyway.
The certificates are signed by mayor Jim Gillman, leader Chris Roberts, and chief executive Mary Ney.
After I was sent this, I asked around – was this normal? Do councillors usually get a certificate to mark their entry into the council?
It appears they don’t – yet somehow, the 51 current councillors have been deemed worthy enough to have been given these expensive-looking certificates which, presumably, we’re paying for.
With councillors due to vote on another round of cuts soon, it’s good to know where the council’s priorities lie. Maybe they really do think it’s them being honoured.
Greenwich – sorry, “Royal Greenwich” – has managed to dodge questions so far about the costs of the changeover from dowdy old London Borough of Greenwich to snazzy Royal Borough of Greenwich. I like fireworks and think councils should put on big public parties every now and then, so I wasn’t that bothered, but after seeing these certificates and hearing other tales of cash being blown on the royal borough bandwagon, I’m hoping to get some proper answers soon.
One thing I do know is that councillors have been told to bin their old “Greenwich Council” notepaper and start using new “Royal Borough of Greenwich” stationery immediately. Peninsula ward councillor Mary Mills has given this short shrift, declaring in her blog: “I have told staff that I will continue to use old notepaper and visiting cards until they run out. I have not been to any of the social events run by the council over the past month – not to any of the fireworks displays, or any of the parties.”
It’s good to know that at least one of them has a sense of embarrassment at all this. But what of the others?
As for mayor Jim Gillman, who signed each of the certificates celebrating royal status, I’ve been alerted to a passage in a book called The Politics of Local Socialism by John Gyford. Published in 1985, it quotes Greenwich’s mayor speaking to the Evening Standard on 11 November 1982…
Jim Gillman, chair of Greenwich’s Personnel and Industrial Relations Committee, welcomed job applicants ‘who are sympathetic to the socialist cause and the aims of this council – that is the creation and furtherance of a socialist society’.
From creating a “socialist society” to accepting a free booze-up in his honour on council taxpayers’ cash, and signing certificates endorsing a “royal favour” as little presents from council taxpayers to their representatives. Interesting how people’s views change with time.
The News Shopper did something unexpected last week. It published a story bemoaning the secrecy which surrounds Greenwich Council. All very good stuff. Of course, they’re entirely correct – huge decisions are being taken by senior councillors with very few checks and balances in place.
What they’re not saying, though, is how the ailing local press is exacerbating this. The News Shopper bleated on about Greenwich being “the most undemocratic local authority in the country”, but couldn’t be bothered to send a reporter up from distant Petts Wood to last month’s council meeting. missing a curious incident involving leader Chris Roberts. The Shopper might be complaining now, but it’ll surely soon be back to cutting and pasting 14-paragraph-long quotes from the Dear Leader himself before long. It’s cheaper than doing any proper reporting.
The News Shopper isn’t the only place where good reporters are being shafted by idiot owners. Last month, all editorial and production staff at the Mercury and South London Press were offered voluntary redundancy, sparking fresh fears for the Mercury’s future. It takes a special kind of fool to try to slim down London media outlets in the capital’s most newsworthy year for decades, but that’s the Mercury’s octogenarian proprietor Ray Tindle for you. The poor old Mercury probably doesn’t have long left, leaving us to be hectored at from the suburbs by the News Shopper, and patronised by Greenwich Time.
The brazenness of Greenwich’s – sorry, Royal Greenwich’s (cough) – media strategy can be seen on the front of last week’s Greenwich Time, with a sinister-looking shot of the Dear Leader, MPs Nick Raynsford and Clive Efford, council chief executive Mary Ney and Greenwich borough commander Richard Wood overseeing a parade of the King’s Troop. Looks familiar, doesn’t it?
Actually, Conservative councillor Nigel Fletcher was also up there – but got cropped out of shot. Funny, that.
In short, forget the local press in scrutinising what goes on around here. It’s dying from greed, short-sightedness, and stupidity. What about local blogs? Well, yes, but some of us have to be elsewhere and earn a crust, you know. That said, I’m proud that while I’ve now got a bit less time to spend with the blogs, the page views and comments, both here and at the Charlton Champion, seem to be holding up fine. Thank you for your continued interest.
But there’s something we can all do to hold the council to account. We can all, if we live in the borough, ask a question at council meetings. You don’t even have to turn up, but if you do, you get to ask a supplementary question if you want, and get handed a microphone by the council’s ever-patient committee manager. Strangely, the page explaining what to do seems to have disappeared from the new council website, but here’s the info from the old one:
Members of the public can ask questions at Full Council meetings.
You can also send your question in writing by post or email to:
The Committee Section,
Chief Executive’s Department,
Woolwich SE18 6PW.
Notice of questions should be with the Committee Section by no later than 12 noon, five working days before the Council meeting.
The notice must contain your name and address.
You can ask up to a maximum of two questions, with each question consisting of no more than one part. All questions must relate to issues in which the Council has powers or duties.
The Chief Executive will identify the appropriate Cabinet Member to respond to each question.
The Mayor may disallow any questions that he or she feels to be improper. If your request is refused, we will send you a letter explaining why.
The next council meeting is on Wednesday 29 February – so if you’ve got a question, submit it by noon this Wednesday. The best and most searching questions at council meetings come from the public – and I’d like to think that this site’s readership could make a few councillors sweat. If you do, I’d love to know what you’re asking about – and I’ll keep an eye out for your questions, and the answers you get, at the town hall next week.
If you want to see a good example of local people turning up the heat on councillors and others, take a look at the West Greenwich CARA website (particularly their scathing account of a council meeting). But you could ask about big issues, like how much is being spent on the royal borough fandango? What does the council think about Boris’s proposed Silvertown tunnel? Why is Floyd Road in Charlton always a mess? When will work start on the Heart of East Greenwich? It’s your right to know, and their responsibility to tell you.
After all, if you don’t ask difficult questions of the council – who else is going to do it?
Thought one concert arena was enough for the Greenwich Peninsula? Plans released by Greenwich Council reveal it’s giving serious consideration to a second, open-air, arena on the west side of the peninsula.
The idea is floated in a new masterplan for Greenwich Peninsula West, designed to set out how the area could look in 15 years or so.
On the site of the former Tunnel Refineries/Syral plant, it suggests a “multi-purpose complex”. “Designed specifically to hold large outdoor concert events the form of the complex could be configured to offer picturesque views westward to Canary Wharf and beyond,” it says.
“The complex could be developed in phases, as demand & uses change. Configured to primarily to hold concerts and other similar events, the complex should ideally be flexible enough to also host sports fixtures.”
It adds that a university or sports training centre could be located at the venue, with photos of a Rolling Stones gig and baseball stadia in St Louis, Missouri and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
As well as being just half a mile from the 20,000-capacity O2 arena, the proposed site is just a couple of miles from The Valley, which holds 27,000 people. Any new sporting venue is likely to need a tenant, but Charlton Athletic have twice rejected plans to move to the peninsula since the 1980s, most recently passing on a proposal which would have seen them take over the Millennium Dome.
Any proposal for an open-air concert venue is likely to cause uproar on the Isle of Dogs, with noise likely to cross the river towards Cubitt Town. A leading Tower Hamlets councillor joined residents last year petitioning against the Peninsula Festival, which has since been given the go-ahead.
The report also acknowledges that transport links will need to be improved, and proposes a new bus station on the west side of the peninsula as well as a Docklands Light Railway extension “from Canning Town or Royal Victoria” (about which there’ll be more on this site in the coming weeks).
The masterplan is part of a package of proposals for various areas of the borough put forward by Greenwich Council. Plans for the Charlton riverside envisage a “Charlton Garden City” with space for creative industries close to the Thames Barrier. They’ve already stirred up debate at the Charlton Champion.
Another masterplan, for Woolwich town centre, suggests demolishing the Waterfront Leisure Centre, replacing it with a new facility in the town centre and extending Hare Street towards the riverside.
All the proposals can be inspected online, with the Greenwich Peninsula proposals to be exhibited at the Forum on Trafalgar Road on Thursday 23 and Saturday 25 February. The Charlton and Woolwich schemes can be seen at The Valley on Monday 20 February, and Woolwich Library on Saturday 3 and Monday 5 March.
(Friday update: There’s also a plan for Eltham town centre, which is discussed at London Masala and Chips.)
Tonight, Greenwich Council’s cabinet will vote to hive off its library service to Greenwich Leisure Limited. If you’ve no Valentine’s Day date, you could always pop along to watch proceedings (7pm, Woolwich Town Hall). Don’t go expecting heated debate or considered arguments, though – this is a decision that Greenwich resolved to come to long ago.
The Unite union, which represents library staff who face being transfered to GLL, is furious, accusing the council of a “sham consultation” and will be lobbying councillors from 6pm. (See its lengthy response to the council’s proposals here.)
Indeed, whether or not the decision is a wise one is not for this blog to determine. What can be said, though, is that once again a big decision is being forced through without much in the way of input from the public or, indeed, other councillors. Not, of course, that the Tories would object or that any Labour members would even mutter a murmur of dissent in public. Apparently there were some public meetings about this – well, I didn’t see anything, but one kind correspondent did get in touch at the weekend…
Around 25 people attended a “public information” meeting about the proposed transfer of Greenwich Libraries to Greenwich Leisure Ltd last night at West Greenwich Library. Surprising there were so many as it was barely advertised – a line or 2 in “Greenwich Time” (sorry “Royal Greenwich Time”) this week and a notice in the library a few days earlier. Apparently as there will be “no material change” in the library service, no public consultation is required. Apart from 2 “Friends” meetings, other library users have had no information. The audience were generally angry and suspicious at the lack of consultation.
It’s fair to say we have a problem in Greenwich. Sorry, “Royal Greenwich”. The council can force through more or less what it likes with only the slightest veneer of any scrutiny. Even if the Tories were to refer the decision through a formal scrutiny process, it’d get rejected by a Labour-dominated panel anyway. All the Tories can do is slightly embarrass the leadership in meetings that are barely reported outside. They don’t say prayers at Woolwich Town Hall – but we all know they’re on their knees to the Labour leadership, anyway.
Any opposition or scrutiny, therefore, has to come from outside the council. But even that’s faltered.
Councillors merrily shut down meetings to go and toast themselves, ignoring demonstrators and pressing local issues. Local newspapers ignore council meetings, while even pain-in-the-arse bloggers can’t spend all week sat in the town hall without earning a crust.
Last year’s council cuts passed without a murmur of protest, while trade union demos tend to appear motivated more by self-interest (which, of course is their job, to represent members) than by a desire to see the borough’s people served well.
Which is why I’m finding the establishment of Greenwich People Before Profit an interesting development. PBP’s long had a fairly high profile in Lewisham borough politics, including standing candidates in elections.
It even runs a cafe, Come The Revolution, at the Deptford end of New Cross Road.
Now it’s moving east, with a meeting tomorrow at Rose’s pub on Hare Street, Woolwich (7.30pm). It is “dedicated to combatting the privatisation of public services through actively involving people in opposing the Con-Dem coalition’s policies and the Labour lackeys in the council chamber who implement them in Greenwich”. Ouch.
In 2010, when I was involved in the Green Party, I did a bit of delivering around the Telegraph Hill/ Nunhead boundary and was struck by the number of PBP posters in windows. It’s fair to say the other parties aren’t particularly fond of them, and there was a bit of a squabble between them and the Greens for the lefty-we-don’t-really-like-Labour vote.
Indeed, PBP’s best known as a thorn in the side of established parties, and particularly Lewisham’s elected mayor Sir Steve Bullock. Last year I went to a Ken Livingstone campaign event in Deptford, and watched a PBP representative take great pleasure in asking wannabe London mayor Ken questions that would compliment him but condemn Lewisham mayor Steve, who was sat right in front of me. The mostly-Labour audience shuffled uncomfortably in their seats as housing sales and library closures were criticised from the floor.
PBP’s also involved in direct action – yesterday squatting five Lewisham Council houses in Deptford and Lee Green that were due to be sold at auction – and offering to do them up themselves, using local labour to provide homes for local people.
Lewisham’s long had a tradition of more diverse politics than Greenwich, and spikier protests – although that doesn’t always go down too well, as the activist who took over a public meeting at Blackheath Bluecoat school last autumn found.
But the boroughs are largely similar in nature (Greenwich is a tad more suburban) and while Lewisham has an all-powerful elected mayor in Steve Bullock, I don’t think anyone would dispute that Chris Roberts holds at least as much power as his neighbour.
Can PBP make an impact in Greenwich, where others have failed? It’ll be interesting to watch. If they get their way, though, local politics could become a bit more interesting. Whether or not you agree with them, something that whips up a bit of debate might not be such a bad thing.
1. Isn’t the Jubilee Line meant to be fixed by now?
2. Why does over-running engineering work at the north end of the line, in Middlesex, screw up the whole line, particularly its depot is in Stratford and it’d run perfectly well without that other bit over the weekend?
3. Why don’t the line controllers reverse more trains at North Greenwich when things go wrong? That’d mop up some of the crowds and get things moving at the very least.
4. Isn’t the Jubilee Line meant to be fixed by now?
5. Why don’t more passengers take a bit of responsibility and cross the platform and go via Canning Town, West Ham or Stratford instead? It’d free up a bit of room for people who need to get to Canary Wharf. The delay’s not massive, trains heading that way were largely empty, and unless you take a c2c train at West Ham to Fenchurch Street, you won’t get charged for entering zone 3.
6. This is going to happen during the Olympics, isn’t it?
7. Who’s in charge, Boris?
8. Isn’t the Jubilee Line meant to be fixed by now?
A pal of mine used to live near Brixton Academy, and used to have to negotiate crowds of ticket touts on gig nights. But every now and then, he’d turn up at 9pm, and get into gigs for a fiver because the touts couldn’t shift their wares for full price.
I can’t help wondering if we’re about to get the same opportunities at the Dome, with the opening of “secondary ticketing” company Seatwave’s first shop just around the corner. It’s tucked away in Pier Walk, just behind Wagamana, so isn’t exactly in a prime spot, but bosses at the O2 aren’t impressed…
The O2 distanced itself from the firm and encouraged people “wanting to attend gigs to buy tickets through the official O2 website”.
The venue said it did “not allow third party sellers or touts on the premises” and that it policed the Peninsular Square area outside the O2 to stop the practice.
I peered through the window on Sunday afternoon and tickets for last night’s Snow Patrol show looked to be selling for about £6 below face value. I don’t know what hours the shop will keep, but if you’re passing through on an event night soon, it might be worth taking a look to see if there are any bargains.