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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 September 2012

‘Contractual issues’ now delaying Greenwich foot tunnels

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Problems with contractors are the latest delay holding up refurbishment of the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels, it was revealed at a council meeting earlier this week.

An £11.5m programme to revamp the two tunnels, which began in April 2010, was supposed to be finished well before this summer’s Olympic Games, but visitors instead found the two tunnels filthy, covered in hoardings, and with an unreliable lift service (with none at all at Woolwich).

Asked at Tuesday’s meeting whether the money had run out, cabinet member Denise Hyland said the budget was “considered sufficient to complete the project, subject to the contractual issues being resolved with the contractors involved in the first phase of the works”.

However, her written answer did not elaborate on the contractual issues involved.

Original contractors Dean & Dyball, part of Balfour Beatty, were replaced late last year with Lakehouse, the council’s regular contractor for construction works.

Currently the Greenwich Foot Tunnel is open with lifts – which regularly break – and the Woolwich tunnel is open without lifts, although access to it is very hard to find.

Click here for Denise Hyland’s full answer and the written public questions and answers from Tuesday’s meeting, which I couldn’t make. Neither of the borough’s newspapers bothered to attend either, but a full report should appear on greenwich.co.uk soon.

Greenwich Council muzzles its own councillors’ probe

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Greenwich Council has withdrawn a public survey on transport issues being carried out by its own councillors, breaking its own code of conduct.

A scrutiny panel of councillors – which is supposed to act independently of leader Chris Roberts or council officers – published a survey last month to find out what the public thought of Transport for London and Southeastern services ahead of a meeting with the two organisations.

However, the survey was not promoted in either Greenwich Time, the council’s weekly newspaper, or on the authority’s website. Despite this, it was promoted by some local groups, on Twitter by committee chair Hayley Fletcher, and on this site, where it was clicked-through to 89 times.

But the survey was quietly dropped earlier this month, without explanation or, this website understands, consulting the scrutiny panel’s members.

In a written response to a question at Tuesday night’s Greenwich Council meeting, cabinet member Denise Hyland branded it as containing “weaknesses and errors”, and said it would be reissued. However, time is tight ahead of the meeting, due on 1 November. It’s not known what’ll happen to the responses already received.

However, this breaks the council’s own code of conduct, its constitution, which states scrutiny panels are free to conduct their own “research, community and other consultation in the analysis of policy issues and possible options”.

Even if the council’s leaders and officers had the power to overrule those who are supposed to be scrutinising their work, apart from the omission of a couple of Docklands Light Railway stations, it’s hard to know quite what “weaknesses and errors” were in the surveys.

In the past, council scrutiny panels – dominated and led by the council’s heavily-whipped Labour group – have been tame and unwilling to criticise cabinet members or council officers. Proof of this can be found in the scrutiny panels’ annual report, praises the “council’s progress in modernising services”.

In many places, it reads like a child’s homework project.

Under past committee chair Gary Parker – paid an extra £9,800 for his work – the sustainable communities and transport panel had found, according to the report, that “due to the salt, fat and saturated fat content of most fast food, it should ideally only be consumed occasionally” and that “scrutiny of the Council’s policy on trees showed that protecting and maintaining the borough’s 80,000 trees was a complex matter”.

However, new chair Hayley Fletcher, who regularly comments on this site, had wanted to open up the panel’s work to the wider public – something which seems to have been a step too far for the council’s leadership.

Written by Darryl

27 September, 2012 at 10:14 am

How you can help Woolwich get a decent pub

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I’ve been delighted to see such huge interest in Monday’s post about Greenwich Council refusing an upmarket pub in Woolwich a licence. It’s a reminder that, although it may not be immediately obvious, people care about battered old Woolwich as much as they worry about the tourist traps of Greenwich.

It got a huge response on Twitter (if you use it and are in SE18, you really should follow @TOWIWoolwich), which drew this illuminating response from Antic, the firm behind the plan to build a pub in Equitable House.

The square in Brixton is Windrush Square – here’s some pictures of people being encouraged to write on plywood in the square (not allowed in Woolwich) and part of a debate over whether it is becoming too gentrified thanks to the Ritzy’s agreement with Lambeth Council. It’s fair to say that’s not a worry anyone’s going to have in Woolwich the way it’s being run now.

So, how can you help Antic with its second application? Well, you can write to the firm with your support; or email fi@antic-ltd.com with your observations.

It may also be worth petitioning Greenwich Council once a second application is made – details can be found on the council website.

Woolwich Riverside councillor John Fahy is also looking to talk to people about their aspirations for the centre of Woolwich. Get in touch with him on john.fahy@greenwich.gov.uk

Written by Darryl

26 September, 2012 at 9:46 am

Has Greenwich Council blown a chance to transform Woolwich?

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Something strange happened in Woolwich during the Olympics and Paralympics. The town centre – well, General Gordon Square – became a nice place to be in, far removed from the days when council staff used to have to fish turds out of the fountain each morning.

Much of the credit has to come down to Greenwich Council’s remodelling of the square. Now it’s no longer an underwhelming traffic island, it’s becoming a genuine focal point. One night during the Paralympics, I came home via Woolwich on a balmy night to find the atmosphere almost Mediterranean – it was long past 11pm, but with people out in the square, and the fantastic artworks that have appeared on shop shutters – I felt a hint of Barcelona about it. Or maybe it was the skateboarders that reminded me of Plaça de Catalunya…

All it needs, though, is something worthwhile to pop up in the old Woolwich Equitable headquarters. Largely abandoned since the now-defunct building society shipped out to Bexleyheath in the 1990s (to an HQ closed when it was bought by Barclays in 2000, although now to become the new civic centre for Bexley Council), it’s been refurbished and is being slowly let out to new businesses. A small health centre aside, though, what’s turned up hasn’t been impressive – two bookies and a convenience store, with the corner site facing Greens End remaining empty.

Enter a firm called Antic, which runs a shedload of London pubs, and has specialised in turning around troubled sites. Its best known venue is the
Dogstar in Brixton, but it also revamped the old Paradise Bar in New Cross into the fine Royal Albert pub.

Most recently, it’s transformed Catford’s miserable Copperfield into the Catford Bridge Tavern, while Lewisham’s crappy old Coach and Horses has been reinvented into the Ravensbourne Arms, arguably one of the best pubs in south-east London. Antic’s recipe is simple – get some decent beers in, serve some good food, and put on a few events every now and then. I’d love for Antic to open a pub in Greenwich, but instead it went for somewhere a bit tougher…

Antic had its eye on the old Woolwich Equitable site – and put a licensing application in to turn part of it into a new pub, The Woolwich. The full details are available here. Woolwich isn’t exactly awash with quality pubs, and lost one of the few decent ones in the town centre when the Director General closed to make way for the council’s new HQ. In addition, another pub facing General Gordon Square, The Pullman, went a few years back so the Docklands Light Railway could be built.

What did Antic want to offer?

“Good quality pub and restaurant located on the main square in Woolwich. The pub will have a premium offer with a high quality British menu served throughout but with a restaurant area on the mezzanine level. The pub will have extended hours in common with the other pubs within Antic, allowing it to be fully utilised as an asset to the local area.”

Those late hours were to 2am at weekends, by the way – which compares with the 3am and 4am licences dished out by the council elsewhere in Woolwich.

So, a new firm to the area, with a good track record of turning round dodgy boozers into prime public houses – surely this would be right up the council’s street?

Nope – they turned it down.

“The Sub-Committee agreed that while the applicant had good intentions there would be a negative cumulative impact on the Woolwich Town Centre Saturation Zone which the applicant had neither addressed or put forward representations to show how there would be no impact. The Sub-Committee found that the prevention of crime and disorder licensing objective could not be met and was likely to increase instances of crime and anti-social behaviour in the Town Centre, and in particular in General Gordon Square. The Sub-Committee therefore refused the application.”

In short, both the council and the police think there are too many licensed premises in Woolwich, even though there are two fewer than there were a decade ago. Here’s the police’s objection, delivered in Comic Sans:

What I don’t understand is – how on earth does Greenwich Council, or the police, expect to attract people into Woolwich in the evening if it doesn’t have anywhere decent to go? Antic’s pubs succeed in pulling in visitors from well beyond their neighbourhoods; options for a decent night in Woolwich are pitiful to say the least. It should have been clear that this place wouldn’t be competing with the likes of the The Great Harry or the Earl of Chatham (and its mystifying 4am licence), yet somehow both police and council seem to see all pubs as potential dens of evil, instead of as community hubs.

Towns aren’t regenerated by expecting people to be in bed by midnight, yet the refusal of the licence for The Woolwich coincided with signs being slapped everywhere for a “dispersal zone” targeting groups of youths.

If a more diverse range of people were attracted into Woolwich for a more diverse set of nights out, perhaps those groups wouldn’t gather in the first place – more eyes on the street will keep the streets safer than any authoritarian threat from police.

Hopefully Antic will be back with another application, because Woolwich needs somewhere like this badly. The Dial Arch, behind the walls of the Arsenal, showed that if you open a decent-ish pub, you can pull a crowd in. A good pub at the Equitable House site would really transform Woolwich. Instead, though, I fear a small-minded council has blown it once again.

Written by Darryl

24 September, 2012 at 7:31 am

Does Greenwich Labour back free schools?

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One of the strange things about local politics in this area is that nobody knows what the party in charge actually stands for, apart from in elections every four years. Unlike their colleagues in, say, Southwark, where they hold conferences and talk to people, Greenwich Labour gets more inward by the year. For example, there’s lots about Nick Raynsford on its website, but precious little about the council it’s run for 41 years. Wonder why that is?

Which is why this tweet from Labour big gun Lord Adonis raised an eyebrow. He’d been to a do for the Greenwich Free School – based in these portable buildings at the foot of Shooters Hill – and emerged impressed.

Backed by the council? Since when did our Labour council decide to back one of the coalition’s most controversial schemes? I imagine a few local members won’t be happy about that.

At least healthcare cabinet member John Fahy, was quick to wash his hands of it.

As for the rest of them, heaven knows. Maybe there’ll be some answers at tomorrow night’s council meeting (Woolwich Town Hall, 7pm, should you fancy it).

Back on the Shooters Hill Road, though, and the Greenwich Free School is planning to refurbish the old nurses’ home at Adair House for next year. In the meantime, take another look at that banner at the front – it seems that teaching spelling might be a bit of a challenge.

Written by Darryl

24 September, 2012 at 7:29 am

At last! A reason to use the cable car: Inside The Crystal

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Well, there’s a reason to take the cable car from North Greenwich now London 2012’s over – The Crystal was launched this week, right next door to the north terminal at the Royal Docks. It opens to the public on 29 September, but I got a peek last night.

Backed by Siemens, it’s a visitor centre dedicated to promoting urban sustainability, and it’s full of exhibitions and touch-screen displays exploring how cities, buildings and people can make less of an impact on the world around them.

The Crystal’s developed with business partly in mind, so it’s probably not one for the kids (unless they’re studying this sort of thing) but it’ll leave most people with something to think about.

But for me, the exhibition only touched on the kind of changes cities need to make – there was lots about sustainability, but little on liveability and nothing on how congestion and the poor design of our cities affects our day-to-day lives.

Curiously, the Crystal was opened on Wednesday by Boris Johnson – who cancelled sustainability and public transport measures when he took office, and plans to build a new road tunnel close by. Copies of a Siemens magazine containing a sycophantic feature on the mayor were everywhere. Indeed, considering Boris’s record and comparing them with the fine ideas on display, the whole thing seemed nauseatingly hypocritical.

Last night was an event held by the UN Habitat programme, with a guest appearance from An Inconvenient Truth director Davis Guggenheim, and showcasing short films made as part of a Siemens-backed project.

As the booze flowed, the MC struggled to make herself heard as she introduced the movies. Maybe the message that sustainability is also about consuming less hadn’t quite got through. As planes from City Airport roared overhead, I left for a lonely ride on a chilly cable car home. Lovely idea and worth a visit if you’re into this sort of thing, but with the current shower in charge of London, its ideas remain a long way from reality.

Written by Darryl

21 September, 2012 at 8:57 am

Apple Maps welcomes you to Greenwich

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You may have seen this already, and of course Google Maps still has its foul-ups, but… blimey.

Rumours that Greenwich Council used Apple Maps when deciding where on the meridian line to site Olympia’s statue of Nike couldn’t be confirmed this evening.

Written by Darryl

20 September, 2012 at 10:19 pm

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