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

Archive for June 2012

Greenwich cable car: A brief report, and a future worry

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So, at about 7pm, I thought I’d have a look at the cable car since I was passing by. Having seen lots of publicity about “boarding passes“, I saw a couple of ticket machines with Oyster readers on, topped mine up, and tried to find where I could get one. I couldn’t, except at the tourist rate of over four quid.

“Can I buy a ticket with Oyster on these machines?”, I asked a staffer. “No,” she said.

I took a look at the queue for the kiosk, remembered I had an appointment in the pub in a couple of hours, thought better of it, and went to get my bike to ride home.

A couple of hours later, I met my chum in the pub. She’d taken a ride just after I left. “Oh, you can just touch in and it’s fine – heaven knows what it’s taken off my Oyster though…”

As a vertigo sufferer (though one that’s been fine with cable cars in Lisbon – which is what I think London’s is based on – and Barcelona) I might have had a lucky escape, mind. The wind whipped up when I was getting my bike, and the gondolas stopped, swaying slightly in the air. Turns out this is what they do when it gets windy. It gets windy a lot on the Greenwich Peninsula – that could be interesting…

Still, despite it being a multi-million pound drain on a public transport budget, it seemed to have a steady stream of customers, if not the crowds predicted by TfL. It’ll be interesting to see how many people are using it during Friday’s morning rush hour. Probably not a lot, but I’ll keep an open mind.

(Here’s Diamond Geezer‘s Arabfly Dangleway photos, if you really want to see what it’s like.)

But there’s an ominous warning for the future in this week’s Greenwich Council propaganda rag Greenwich Time, where council – sorry, royal borough leader Chris Roberts came out in favour of building a third Blackwall Tunnel underneath the cable car site, having fudged the question at a council meeting during the mayoral election after Labour candidate Ken Livingstone criticised the project.

So, with the Greenwich Labour party in support of clogging up the area with more traffic – if there’s any opposition to the Silvertown Tunnel – 88% of 853 readers were against it in a poll five months ago – then perhaps it needs to get organised sooner rather than later.

Greenwich borough’s NHS PFI disaster – who’ll take responsibility?

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You may well have already seen the news that South London NHS Trust – which runs Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich – is on the brink of collapse after being warned it faces dissolution by the health secretary, Andrew Lansley. With debts of £69m recorded in April, the government has warned an administrator could be brought in within weeks, which could see the trust split up and parcelled off to other healthcare providers – including private operators.

It’s the beginning of the end of a misconceived disaster which has cost taxpayers – directly and indirectly – countless millions of pounds. QEH opened in 2001, replacing the old Brook Hospital on Shooters Hill Road and Greenwich District Hospital. GDH was to stand empty for five years before being demolished, and then the site was left empty for a further six years, blighting the community it once served.

As another example of an indirect cost, the re-routing of buses to serve QEH, a former military hospital on Woolwich Common, costs Transport for London £1 million each year.

Under the Private Finance Initiative – introduced by John Major’s Conservatives and continued by Tony Blair’s Labour government – the building was refurbished, and remains maintained by a little-known private sector firm, Meridian Hospital Company, which receives payments from the NHS Trust. This year, MHC is due to get £66.8m under the deal, negotiated in July 1998.

The sums didn’t add up, though. By late 2005, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital NHS trust was declared insolvent. The solution was to merge it with NHS trusts in Bexley and Bromley boroughs – the latter also struggling with PFI debt from the Princess Royal Hospital at Locks Bottom.

From the off, the new, debt-riddled South London NHS Trust struggled. Services at Queen Mary’s Hospital in Sidcup were cut back, with patients packed off into Kent. Finally, it seems the whole edifice has sunk. A merged Dartford-Medway NHS trust is already licking its lips and looking at services in Bexley. As for services in Bromley and Greenwich, they face an uncertain future.

An email sent to staff last night from South London NHS Trust chief executive Chris Streather reads:

We are very sorry that by the time that most of you will read this tomorrow morning, you will have heard media reports about the future of the Trust in the news. We were not told of this decision until late today (Monday) and there are certainly issues about the timing and appropriateness of telling staff before the media which we will be taking up.

In spite of the massive improvements in the quality of care – among the lowest mortality and infection rates now in England – it is true that the financial challenges facing the Trust remain significant. Our Trust, our Commissioners and the Department of Health are all in agreement that this needs to be tackled and in a way which is clear and ends uncertainty which I think has been unhelpful for a long time.

For this reason, we are now in discussions with the Department of Health and NHS London to look at the best way forward. One of those options could be the introduction of the Unsustainable Provider Regime, which would involve the appointment of a special administrator to manage the organisation and produce a report on the best way to deliver financially and clinically sustainable services to local patients.

We expect those discussions to come to a conclusion in the second week in July when a decision will be taken by the Secretary of State. In the meantime, I would like to assure you all that we are here to protect the services for patients, we have all fought hard to improve them and that is what we will continue to do.

A carefully handled intervention which maintains the improvements to safety and quality, while sorting out the long standing financial issues which have beset us and the S E London health sector may well be helpful.

Of course, PFI is a failure of our entire political class. Both Labour and Conservative are beholden to PFI, so nobody will call this out for the disaster that it is.

But I can’t help reflecting that this came a week after the Greenwich Labour Party launched a front campaign, The Greenwich People’s NHS Charter – despite their party’s government leaving our own local hospital in a perilously weak state, and facing the very real threat of private firms coming into pick up the pieces.

Nobody knows quite what will happen to the stricken, ill-conceived mess that is Queen Elizabeth Hospital. But there’s a few people, some enriched by these deals, others still holding public office, who owe its hard-working staff, patients, and the rest of us, an apology. Who’ll be big enough to step forward?

PS. I’m told one large organisation in this borough opposed the closure of Greenwich District Hospital and its relocation to Woolwich Common – Greenwich Council. See, not always wrong, you know.

Written by Darryl

26 June, 2012 at 7:30 am

Boris’s Dutch cycling mystery in Greenwich

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A funny thing happened at City Hall a month ago. Boris Johnson said he wanted to do something in Greenwich. It’ll be more significant to more people than his baffling cable car, yet nobody knows quite what he was on about.

During Mayor’s Question Time, he was asked about his commitment during the election, after pressure from the London Cycling Campaign, to introduce Dutch-style measures in London to assist cyclists and pedestrians.

In response to Lib Dem assembly member Caroline Pidgeon, he said

“These are early days, but I can give you an indication of where we want to go on two schemes. We are looking particularly at Vauxhall Cross and Greenwich and obviously these are still plans that are being developed very fast.”

Vauxhall Cross is specific enough, but Greenwich? Did he mean the town centre? Somewhere else in SE10? Or somewhere in the wider borough? I asked around, but nobody knew. And nothing more’s been said since.

Some people thought they knew. The London Cycling Campaign jumped to the conclusion that he meant Greenwich town centre. Greenwich Liberal picked up the ball and ran with it, declaring Greenwich would be a “flagship Go Dutch area”.

But, in reality, nobody knows. It would take an earthquake to shake Greenwich Council out of its institutional inertia and to create and promote something like this, instead of hiding behind dusty old bye-laws – the Cutty Sark Gardens farrago is proof of that. That’s not to say it won’t ever happen – Waltham Forest Council, once notorious for its lack of interest in promoting cyclist, recently did an about-turn and has launched a cycling action plan. See, it can be done.

So, if we rule the council out, the biggest influence TfL will have are on the roads it controls, and on its plans for a cycle superhighway along the A206 (CS4 to Woolwich, due by 2015). This could mean Greenwich town centre and its one-way system, but I suspect not – traffic moves so slowly around the market that even a scaredy-cat like me can navigate it without much bother.

For my own money, I reckon this is about changing the Woolwich Road flyover. Even in the dead of night this is a terrifying junction. It’s a king-size deterrent to seeing cycling in Greenwich as something practical and achievable for most people, for good reason.

Two years ago, Adrianna Skryzpiec died here after a collision with a lorry, and tributes to her remain there. Not far north of the river, the shortcomings of the cycle superhighway scheme were exposed in the most tragic manner after two deaths at the Bow flyover, with TfL belatedly attempting to make things safer with special traffic lights for cyclists.

Since the Woolwich Road flyover’s construction in the late 1960s, it’s been redesigned twice – until the late 70s, it was a traffic-signalled junction; and it was a free-flowing roundabout until about 1999. After the Bow flyover deaths, TfL simply could not get away with using the current design for a cycle superhighway, a battered and discredited scheme which needs a relaunch.

Add that to the fact that Vauxhall Cross is also earmarked for a cycle superhighway (CS5 to Lewisham, due next year), and that makes me think the flyover is what Boris is talking about.

So to go with a Dutch festival at the top of the peninsula, there might well be a Dutch traffic system at the bottom of it.

Of course, my hunch could be wrong. It could be somewhere else in Greenwich, or somewhere in the wider borough – Kidbrooke Park Road springs to mind, where the new Thomas Tallis School has loads of cycle racks, but nothing’s been done to make cycling there safer.

What do you think could be done to persuade more people to walk or cycle? Do you know any more about what Boris meant? Share your views below – and the London Cycling Campaign is looking for your ideas, too.

No Travelcards on the two-speed Thames Cable Car

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So London’s most baffling piece of public transport will open to the public a week on Thursday, with many unanswered questions about quite what it’s there for. London Reconnections has done a sparkling job on bringing together all the info on the Thames Cable Car, and last night the station was proudly displaying its EMIRATES GREENWICH PENINSULA signage.

But why, and what on earth is it for? Here’s some discussions you’ll be hearing more of over the next couple of weeks.

The fares. £3.20 with an Oyster card, £4.20 in cash (£1.60 and £2.20 for children); Travelcards and Freedom Passes not valid. If it doesn’t accept Travelcards, then it isn’t part of the London public transport network, surely? But then there’s also a 10-journey “frequent flyer” rate at £16. It’s clear this is like the river buses – not quite part of the public transport system, but somehow fudged into it. But unlike the Thames Clippers river buses, this is owned and run by Transport for London. So why are we paying for its construction, then paying a premium rate to use it?

The operating hours. Last journeys are at 9pm – with “extended hours” promised when there are “events at the local venues”. Does that mean all O2 shows or just high-profile ones? What about busy Friday nights when there’s just something on in the smaller Indigo2 venue? Or when an O2 act stays on stage well beyond time?

Two speeds. Journeys will take five minutes in the mornings and evenings – but 10 during the daytime. Sorry, shift workers, you’re stuck on the slow tourist special. Tourist wanting to see a leisurely sunrise or sunset? Forget it. So here’s the baffling thing…

Public transport or tourist attraction? It’s clear TfL is trying to have its cake and eat it. It’s obviously going to be a big hit for the first year or so, as public curiosity tempts the masses into having a go. But as a piece of public transport? This remains a journey that very few people actually need to make – myself, I’ve only had to visit ExCeL twice, and one of those was for a cable car press event.

Sure, the Thames Clippers are reasonably successful, but they span a wider area and attract a different clientele – people who both live and work near the piers who are happy to trade in the speed of rail or Tube for a higher level of comfort (and a drink at the bar) for a price. The cable car offers a view – but so do other forms of public transport, and they don’t demand a surcharge on your Oyster card.

The website. Just for a laugh, take a look at its official website – www.emiratesairline.co.uk. South London attractions include, er, Brixton, Hampton Court Palace and the London Eye, none of which are anywhere near Greenwich. As for the “North London” attractions – Little Venice, the Albert Hall, and, er, the Millennium Bridge. Not that the cable car even goes to north London. All this on a website which carries the TfL roundel.

Anyhow, what do you think? Time for a couple of polls – I’d be interested to see what you think of the cable car and its split personality.

PS. As ever, Diamond Geezer has nailed it.

Hong Kong billionaire moves in on Greenwich peninsula

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A billionaire developer from Hong Kong is to pour £500m into the firm developing the Greenwich Peninsula, taking a majority stake in the company. (It doesn’t affect the Greenwich Millennium Village project, pictured above.)

Dr Henry Cheng’s Knight Dragon outfit is taking 60% of the company, with regeneration firm Quintain holding onto the other 40%. Its previous partner, Lend Lease, has sold up for £100m, making £25m profit which it plans to put into a scheme at the Elephant and Castle.

There’s more in the Guardian, and you can also see the original press release.

It’s expected to kickstart the redevelopment of the remaining stages of the peninsula, which has been sluggish over the past few years, much to the frustration of Greenwich Council. But it also sees the fate of the peninsula lie largely in the hands of one man – Dr Cheng – and Hong Kong shareholders who are going to want returns. Is this healthy? For better or for worse, we’ll find out in the coming years.

Written by Darryl

19 June, 2012 at 7:00 am

‘Stop moaning’ – Greenwich Council welcomes Bike Week

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You probably won’t notice, but it’s Bike Week this week, the UK’s “largest mass participation cycling event”. There’s some events run by Eltham-based Limited Edition Cycling, and if that whets your appetite, then you could always look in on Greenwich Cyclists and Lewisham Cyclists for more.

Indeed, it’s a great opportunity to encourage you to “become more active, reduce emissions, and explore our local cycling routes”. Don’t just take my word for it, those are the words from Harry Singh, cabinet member for “Greener Greenwich”, in a plug buried away on page 10 of this week’s Greenwich Time. No word on what the good councillor is doing to actually make it easier to do this, though.

I wonder, however, if the far more prominent star letter on page two of the propaganda weekly really reflects the council’s attitude to cyclists? After all, there’s been a fair few complaints about the decidedly cycle-unfriendly new Cutty Sark Gardens lately.

“Stop moaning” – is it too late to change the royal borough’s new motto?

PS. If you’re a cyclist, the London Assembly wants your views on riding in the capital.

PPS. Here’s two other London boroughs actively promoting cycling – the new Cycle Camden Facebook page, and Lambeth’s fantastic Bike (and Hike) The Borough, which I did last year.

Written by Darryl

18 June, 2012 at 8:23 pm

Oranjecamping pulls out of Greenwich Olympic campsite

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853 exclusive: Plans for an Olympic campsite on Greenwich Peninsula are being scaled back after Dutch firm Oranjecamping pulled out of the project just weeks before its planned opening date.

Tickets are still being sold for Oranjecamping London, but the firm will now no longer be operating the site, whose backers hoped to attract 4,000 campers to plots of land close to Greenwich Millennium Village.

Only one of the three plots of land originally earmarked for the site will now be used, and there has been little sign of work on building the campsite, due to open on Wednesday 25 July. Only the plot nearest GMV – which has been home to the Meantime Nursery – will be used.

It is not known why Oranjecamping has pulled out of running the project, which is part of the Peninsula Festival which is due to run alongside the Games.

Peninsula Festival boss Frank Dekker confirmed the news to this website, adding “we are working hard to minimise the impact of this change for the residents, wider community and the festival”.

“We are continuing to run the Peninsula Festival with a community big screen showing live Olympics, live music performances, entertainment in the fan zone and VIP treatments and business seminars in the Connect Village.

“Our guests will have the opportunity to stay at the campsite on the Peninsula, and we continue our close working relationships with The Beach London and Sail Royal Greenwich.”

Oranjecamping has run campsites for Dutch sports fans at past international football tournaments, and has been playing host to supporters at Kharkiv, Ukraine, ahead of the Netherlands’ elimination from Euro 2012 last night.

It was due to have been Oranjecamping’s first Olympic Games, with founder Jokko De Wit posing with Greenwich Council cabinet member John Fahy in a tent when it was launched last September. The Oranjecamping site had been planned to complement the Dutch team base across London at Alexandra Palace, which will be known as “Heineken House”.

However, while the company won’t be running the site, a message on its Facebook page reads: “We hope you have enjoyed Oranjecamping. See you in London.”

Other Peninsula Festival events are still due to go ahead. The beach is scheduled to be open by Saturday 20 July, when the London Soul and Blues Festival, featuring Jools Holland and Bill Wyman, opens.

However, on Sunday evening the site at Delta Wharf was still vacant and empty, even down to an empty security cabin at its front entrance.

The festival’s concert area, which is on the other side of Greenwich Millennium Village by John Harrison Way, also shows no sign of any work taking place. Three events are confirmed as taking place there so far, of Dutch house music, the Eastern Electrics dance festival, and Turkish musician Beduk, with an I Love Jamaica Day event also planned.

Seminars and business networking events are also planned, while Greenwich Council has given £50,000 towards a big screen showing Olympic events along with other community activities.

A separate Dutch enterprise, Sail Royal Greenwich, is also gearing up to launch, selling cruises on tall ships up and down the Thames. It recently opened up to individual bookings (at £59 each) after initially aiming at corporate customers.

Monday 3.30pm update More on Sail Royal Greenwich – while it’s understood sales have been sluggish, its backers remain confident the event will sell well, and the say the event will definitely happen, with ships under contract to take part in it. I guess the ships themselves, when they arrive, might be the best ad for it…

See past Peninsula Festival stories.


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