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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 October 2012

Mayor Boris proposes slapping tolls on Blackwall Tunnel

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Monday’s confirmation that Lewisham Hospital A&E may close made it a very good day to bury news in SE London that some people might not want to hear.

So, on Monday, Transport for London launched its consultation into building a third Blackwall Tunnel – the Silvertown Tunnel. I’ve dealt at length before about why sending more traffic down the A102 will only move the tunnel bottleneck further south as more traffic seeks to use it.

Naturally, Bexley Council, from whose borough much of the traffic will come, backs this – it shoves the problem out of the Conservative council’s backyard, after all. But so does Greenwich Labour, with both council leader Chris Roberts and Eltham MP Clive Efford speaking up in favour of sending more traffic through Greenwich, Charlton and Blackheath.

But there’s a shock in store for some of those supporters – TfL, which doesn’t have the money to start digging, proposes tolling the Blackwall Tunnel to pay for it:

There is currently no funding set aside in TfL’s budget for the major infrastructure projects outlined in this consultation. This means that in order to deliver them we would need to identify a means of paying for them.

We believe that the most appropriate way to fund the projects would be to charge a toll for using the Silvertown Tunnel and any new crossing linking Thamesmead and Beckton. Tolling would provide a new revenue stream to pay for the crossings, and would ensure that those who benefit most from these new projects – by using them – help to pay for them in return.

Because the Silvertown Tunnel and the Blackwall Tunnel are located so close to one another and share common approach roads, if the Silvertown Tunnel is built and subject to tolling, the Blackwall Tunnel would also need to be tolled – otherwise there would be serious delays at the Blackwall Tunnel as so much traffic would wish to use it.

The charges are likely to be similar to the tolls charged on the Dartford crossing (which are now £2 for cars £2.50 for two-axle goods vehicles, and £5 for HGVs). Charges at around these levels should help to manage traffic while not constraining economic activity and growth.

That wasn’t in Boris Johnson’s election manifesto in May, and won’t go down very well in Bexley, many of whose residents think it’s unfair they have to pay to use the Dartford crossing. (To be fair, if they got it for free, it might take some of the load off Blackwall.) Maybe he should have kept the congestion charge in Kensington and Chelsea after all. The consultation also makes it clear the Thames Gateway Bridge at Thamesmead isn’t dead, either.

Sneakily, there’s no indication in the consultation of the huge construction work that’d be needed on the Greenwich Peninsula, effectively cutting off the O2 from the rest of the peninsula. Check out the size of the planned approaches on the Canning Town side.

Of course, we’ve been here before – the last politician to suggest charging at the Blackwall Tunnel was none other than… Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts, five years ago, when proposing a congestion charge for SE10, a bizarre idea which seemed to have died a death when Boris Johnson was elected.

Now it’s back – but would a toll make the Silvertown tunnel any more palatable? You can contribute to the consultation here.

PS. Some of this stuff might be on the agenda at a meeting of Greenwich Council’s transport scrutiny committee on Thursday (6.30pm, Woolwich Town Hall) where representatives of TfL and Southeastern will be quizzed by councillors. It’s open to the public.

Written by Darryl

30 October, 2012 at 7:30 am

No medals for Greenwich or Lewisham on TfL’s map

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I was in the London Transport Museum shop the other day, admiring the Tube map of Team GB’s Olympic medallists – yours for a mere fifty quid. But then it was pointed out to me – something was missing…


Yup, the DLR’s retreated north of the river for the first time in 13 years. Still, it’s not like they held any Olympic events around here, is it? Oops.

Written by Darryl

23 October, 2012 at 7:30 am

Foot tunnels fiasco on BBC London News

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If you saw BBC London News cover the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels fiasco today, here’s how this site has followed the issue over the past couple of years.

(The story’s also on the BBC News website.)

No new answers on Greenwich & Woolwich foot tunnels (18 October 2012 – now with meeting audio)
Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels: Unanswered questions (15 October 2012)
Foot tunnels fiasco: Greenwich Council launches inquiry (12 October 2012)
‘Contractual issues’ now delaying foot tunnels (27 September 2012)
A strange smell at the Greenwich Foot Tunnel (27 August 2012)
Lifts breaking, lights flickering in ‘revamped’ Greenwich foot tunnel (16 April 2012)
Christmas surprise – inside reopened Woolwich foot tunnel (22 December 2011)
Those ‘hidden structures’ revealed (sort of) (29 November 2011)
The mystery of the ‘hidden structures’ (28 October 2011)
Woolwich Foot Tunnel now closed until 2012 (26 August 2011)
Yet more delays for Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels (8 June 2011)
Foot tunnel closures drag on until June (31 March 2011)
Greenwich Foot Tunnel closed (17 February 2011)
Nick Raynsford on Greenwich Foot Tunnel fiasco (2 February 2011)
Greenwich Foot Tunnel shambles continues (31 December 2010)
Exclusive: Greenwich Foot Tunnel closed 16 times in one month (23 December 2010)
The shambles of the Greenwich Foot Tunnel restoration (24 November 2010)
Woolwich Foot Tunnel closed until March 2011 (4 November 2010)
More woe for Woolwich Foot Tunnel users (19 October 2010)
Trouble on, and under the water at Woolwich (6 June 2010)

… and, of course: Greenwich Council spin chief bags 25% pay rise.

Greenwich Council spin chief bags 25% pay rise

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As trade unionists and Labour Party members march to protest against the government’s cuts, it’s emerged one of Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts’ most loyal lieutenants has been given a 25% pay rise.

Communications boss Katrina Delaney has been given her reward for years of keeping him and the council out of trouble by being promoted to a new role as “director of culture, media and sport”. The position was not advertised to the public, and the decision has not yet been published on the council’s website.

Delaney, who as assistant chief executive (communications and community engagement) oversaw the council’s rebranding as “Royal Greenwich” earlier this year, sees her annual pay go up from £100,000 to £125,000. You can see the job ad here, as well as the job description.

I’m told from within the town hall that taxpayers will ultimately save money, as her new role is part of a restructuring which does away with other positions.

But it’s ultimately a recognition of the work put in protecting Greenwich Council’s reputation, while other councils – particularly neighbouring Bexley, the yardstick many in the council test themselves against – have been bogged down in rows with the public.

Greenwich has managed to avoid this by simply ignoring people – whether they are members of the public, journalists, its own councillors or other elected London bodies – and pressing on with its own agenda, regardless of what others may say.

A good example came earlier this week. According to opposition leader Spencer Drury, councillors have been told Greenwich is continuing refusing to fund the Blackheath fireworks because “we have not been asked” – despite the fact Lewisham Council has just launched another appeal for funds. Greenwich always does things its own way, and doesn’t reach out.

Indeed, it even sets its own agenda by publishing its own weekly newspaper, Greenwich Time, putting a glossy spin on the council’s achievements before other media outlets can get to them. Aided by an feeble local media – and the fact that many outlets would rather chase after Conservative councils’ wrong-doings – it largely works.

Of course, all this breeds resentment on the ground, particularly in less high-profile parts of the borough – there’s some gems in this News Shopper story about Abbey Wood.

On a professional level, she’s saved the council’s hides a few times. Journalists like to get two sides of the story – so when one side of the story takes days to get back to you, some are often deterred from pursuing the story.

But such a strategy can only go on for so long – as we’ve seen in the foot tunnels fiasco, which the council has ignored for months, only for it to blow up in its face. Releasing a bland press release on a Friday night also failed to hide the story – even the Evening Standard covered it – and BBC London News is covering the story in its bulletins today, featuring some bigmouth from Charlton.

And perhaps if people stick around to follow the foot tunnel story, they might find more to dig around. Who knows what “hidden structures” might be found beneath the council?

Written by Darryl

20 October, 2012 at 1:07 pm

Woolwich Common: Then, now, and the future?

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Remember the Olympics and Paralympics on Woolwich Common?


The big shooting halls are starting to come down this week. Hey, some idiot’s already pulled up the cycle path across there, long before Circular Way reopens. But the common’s felt different for the past few weeks anyway – bleaker, sadder.


The north side of Woolwich Common is a terrific piece of wild land, a real slice of the country in the city. But the rest of it’s always felt sad and neglected to me. It deserves to be treated better than being part of a miserable rat-run between Charlton and Plumstead.


Yet the Olympics showed that so much more could be done with the common. There’s a whole chunk of land the Army keeps to itself, which the Games used too (it made a terrific archery venue during the Paralympics, too) – is it time they gave it up, and allowed it to be used for sport?

The transformation of Ha Ha Road from sad rat-run to a parade of food stalls was most striking for me. Last year, at a community meeting about the On Blackheath festival, a woman piped up: “Why don’t you put it on Woolwich Common instead?” I wrote this off as some NIMBY nonsense, but seeing how well Woolwich Common worked as an small-capacity Olympic venue… why couldn’t it hold some kind of community festival?

As before, all the attention will be on Greenwich Park, but there’ll also have to be a bit of work – and a lot of tree-planting – to go before the common’s ship-shape again. But once the grass is growing again, and it’s starting to look green once more, is it time to think of a new future for Woolwich Common?

Written by Darryl

19 October, 2012 at 7:30 am

No new answers on Greenwich & Woolwich tunnels

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Leader Chris Roberts declined to answer questions last night as Greenwich Council’s cabinet met to discuss the collapse of the scheme to refurbish Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels.

The cabinet met to agree on a course of legal action to recover funds from the three contractors involved in the £11m project, who were kicked off the job in December last year.

Conservative leader Spencer Drury criticised a report into the failure, saying it lacked “clarity about what had and hadn’t been done” in the tunnels since work began early in 2010.

He pointed to the frequent breakdowns of the new lifts at Greenwich, installed at the beginning of this year.

“I got the implication you thought the lifts were furnished, but that’s not the experience of tunnel users,” he said.

However, Cllr Roberts said he would ask officers to write to him with answers, adding he did not want to discuss what would be in a new contract to complete the work.

“We will publish full figures when they’re agreed, but I don’t to big the contract up,” he added.

Chief executive Mary Ney said the identity of who will lead the council’s review of the project should be known by the end of the week.

Under questioning from cabinet member John Fahy, she added the council’s role in the fiasco will be thoroughly examined.

Saturday update: Apologies for the lateness of this, but here a recording of the discussion, chaired by Chris Roberts, featuring assistant chief executive John Comber, Conservative leader Spencer Drury, chief executive Mary Ney, and cabinet member John Fahy.

Council defied Greenwich Labour party over Run to the Beat

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Greenwich Council ignored the members of its own governing party to give half-marathon Run To The Beat the go-ahead, it has emerged.

The race – branded “an imposition” by one councillor – will take place for the fifth year running on 28 October, closing roads and forcing diversions to bus services in Greenwich, Blackheath, Charlton and Woolwich for much of the day, and placing 14 sound systems at various locations.

Heavily backed by Nike, the event is run commercially by leisure conglomerate IMG, “a global leader in sports, fashion and film”. As well as the disruption, the event has also been criticised for poor information.

Now it’s emerged senior councillors ignored members of their own party to give the race the go-ahead.

Both the Greenwich & Woolwich Labour Party and its Local Government Committee – which acts as a link between the party’s councillors and its rank and file members – had agreed a policy that any repeat of Run To The Beat be subject to a full public consultation. It also said it needed to follow a route which minimised transport disruption.

But no consultation was undertaken on whether the event should continue, and the council has approved a traffic management order to shut main roads across the north of the borough. No details of who approved it, or any conditions placed upon organisers, have been made available.

The senior councillor in charge is Denise Hyland – a close ally of council leader Chris Roberts, who is also in charge of the deteriorating situation at Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels. (Later information is that it’s actually environment cabinet member Maureen O’Mara in charge of this one, rather oddly.)

Other Greenwich councillors have spoken out about the event on this website – with health cabinet member John Fahy calling it “an imposition on borough residents” and Peninsula councillor Mary Mills complaining that organisers “seem to be able to carry on regardless”.

The row over Run To The Beat is likely to exacerbate tensions between Roberts and local party bigwigs, who are growing increasingly frustrated at the way the council is being run, and the tight control he has over councillors.

Indeed, neither the Greenwich & Woolwich party website nor its Eltham counterpart even promote the activities of the council their parties have run for 41 years.

An attempt to usurp Roberts failed in March when those councillors rejected a challenge from John Fahy by 24 votes to 15.

Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels: Unanswered questions

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It’s Greenwich Foot Tunnel that gets all the attention, but if you want a graphic example of the chaos that’s surrounded Greenwich Council’s handling of the foot tunnels fiasco, now to be the subject of an independent inquiry, you need to head to Woolwich. For months after the tunnel was reopened, it still bore a sign claiming it was closed. It’s finally been replaced, with the quality of information that you’d expect of an authority with a generously-funded communications department.

See, the government’s beastly cutbacks meant the felt tip ran out before they could colour in the arrow properly.

But there are several questions left unanswered by the unusually damning report into the botched refurbishment programme. I’ve a few, have you got any more?

Why didn’t council officers undertake “intensive scrutiny” of the project fron the start? After all, the report makes clear this was a “uniquely complex and specialist project”, yet “intense scrutiny” only took place 17 months into the scheme, when it was clear things were going wrong. Why was this?

Has the £11 million from the government run out? The funding came from a government programme. Last month, the cabinet member in charge, Denise Hyland, was asked in a council meeting if the money had run out. Her answer was that 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” – the first, tiny hint of a problem. Yet this didn’t answer the question – has the money run out?

Did cabinet member Denise Hyland knowingly mislead the public? On 26 October 2011, Denise Hyland blamed the delays on “hidden structures” in an answer to the co-ordinator of Greenwich Cyclists. We now know this answer was nonsense. This was at least a month after council officers started “much more intense scrutiny” of the project. As someone that’s a full-time cabinet member with a big portfolio (“regeneration, enterprise and skills”) she must have known what was going on. If not, why not?

Will heads roll as a consequence of this inquiry? Again, as the politician in charge, and the one that should be giving direction to council staff, what exactly was Denise Hyland’s role? After all, big projects in other parts of the council (such as schools) have gone smoothly, once work has begun. Her lead council officer, John Comber, who earns £155,000 per year, also surely has questions to answer.

Will we ever get to see the results of this inquiry? Will the report be published? The two foot tunnels are important crossings used by hundreds of thousands of people from across London and far beyond. Will Greenwich Council try to cover up the findings?

The issues surrounding the foot tunnels fiasco go to the heart of the way the council is run. This isn’t a party political issue – the opposition Conservatives have also failed to ask questions in council meetings about this. (Away from the council benches, local Lib Dems* and Greens have also failed to apply pressure.) The failure of the foot tunnels project should shame every Greenwich councillor. But what are they going to do to put things right?

(* I should acknowledge that Lib Dem assembly member Caroline Pidgeon has pursued the issue from City Hall.)

Foot tunnels fiasco: Greenwich Council launches inquiry

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Greenwich Council is to launch an independent inquiry after the collapse of a £11m project to refurbish the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels, it has been revealed.

Both tunnels have been left uncompleted and in a poor condition following the failure of the scheme, which began in April 2010.

Now Greenwich Council is taking legal action against three contractors, after it was forced to step in and run the scheme itself.

It is also commissioning an independent inquiry into the way it handles major projects, a report to be presented to the council’s cabinet on Tuesday says. (see the report here)

The report says the two tunnels provide “an unacceptable and deteriorating environment for users”.

Both tunnels should have been refurbished, with new lifts, lighting and security measures, by April 2011.

However, the project ran late and over-budget. Two and a half years after it started, both tunnels are in a poor condition, with no lift at the Woolwich tunnel – which appears closed to passers-by – and unreliable new lifts in its Greenwich counterpart.

The report reveals contractors Dean & Dyball Civil Engineering, Hyder Consulting and Sweett were sacked on December 2011, three months after council officers began “intense scrutiny” of their performance.

Hyder already has a sorry record in Greenwich town centre, having been behind botched proposals to pedestrianise it in time for the Olympics which were shelved in 2011.

Council contractor Lakehouse was drafted in to get the tunnels into a usable condition in time for the royal re-opening of the Cutty Sark, but no work has been carried out since then.

The council is to take legal action against the three sacked firms to recover its costs in clearing up the mess – but just how much these costs are is being kept secret.

While the report says the council has “a good track record in managing large scale projects”, an “independent person” is to review the council’s management of such schemes, reporting to chief executive Mary Ney.

It adds that any further work should take just four months to complete.

The report is the latest twist in a saga, but is also Greenwich Council’s most open admission to date of failures in the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels project.

Already, a damage-limitation exercise has begun, with the extremely rare step of the council issuing a press statement drawing attention to the report – albeit on a Friday night, after the deadlines of the local newspapers, but in time for its own propaganda weekly Greenwich Time.

Even before the refurbishment started, rumours spread in 2009 of lengthy closures. When she tried to investigate, council leader Chris Roberts told London Assembly transport chair Caroline Pidgeon she should ask a Labour member of the assembly instead. The council later “lost” further correspondence from her on the topic.

During 2010 and early 2011 the Greenwich tunnel was plagued by sudden closures as the old lifts broke, while the Woolwich tunnel was closed altogether due to problems with the stairs. Its reopening in December 2011 demonstrated the difficulty the project was in, but there was no word from Greenwich Council explaining what was going on.

Indeed, a hint at the chaos came last year when Denise Hyland, the cabinet member in charge of the project, blamed the delays on “hidden structures“. This comment was later revealed to be nonsense after a Freedom of Information request put in by this site.

New lifts appeared in Greenwich in 2012, but remain plagued by breakdowns. In August, seven people were treated by medics after an “unusual smell” at the tunnel – but the council dismissed it as “a false alarm”.

Finally, last month Denise Hyland referred only to “contractual issues”, but added there was still government funding available to complete the project.

Run To The Beat’s baffling road closure leaflet

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(8 September 2013: This is about 2012′s race. For details of 2013′s route, click here.)


It’s that time of year again – well, actually, it’s later than normal – as the Run to the Beat half-marathon gets set to take to the streets of Greenwich, Charlton, Woolwich and Blackheath. What do you mean, you hadn’t heard about it? Ah…

It’s the fifth year of RTTB, and while it’s certainly become a bit of a fixture for runners – 18,500 are due to be doing it this year, to music from 14 sound stages – it still feels an imposition, a huge amount of disruption for an event that’s much less fun (but causes more hassle) than the London Marathon. Maybe it goes back to that first year, which seemed by all accounts to be a bit of a weather-hit fiasco, and it’s just never managed to recover; but it’s always seemed an event which takes its hosts for granted.

I hate being a nay-sayer about this. I’d be gutted if I ever missed the marathon, but when I realised I’d be abroad during last year’s RTTB, I actually did a little jig of joy. I’m not sure I missed all that much, although you’re welcome to tell me it was great and I should stop being an old misery-guts.

That said, the organisers have at least sent some letters out explaining what’s happening, which much of the area locked in on Sunday 28 October. (If you’ve not had one, here’s a scanned-in version.) If you’ve had your copy, can you actually decipher it? It’s six pages of text attempting to describe a raft of road closures and diversions. I can’t work out which ones apply to me. The one thing missing is a map, which would make the whole thing understandable.

You know, a map like… this.

If you want the map which makes the letter make sense, you’ll find it in Greenwich Council’s propaganda weekly Greenwich Time. (Here’s a full PDF of it.) To get the full picture, you’ll need to have received both this week’s Greenwich Time and the letter from the organisers. Got that? And as for details of where the sound stages are? You’re out of luck there…

The RTTB website currently contains no residents’ information whatsoever, although you’ll find an information leaflet for competitors (“thanks to the Royal Borough of Greenwich whose streets we close”) with some clues about what’s happening, including the sound stage locations.

It all just feels half-arsed, as ever. Even if there was just a “thank you for putting up with us for a day”, I’d feel a lot more well-disposed to this corporate jog-fest. Instead, it’s just “here we are, you’ve got to lump it”. It was one of LOCOG’s biggest mistakes in the early days of Olympics planning – but Run To The Beat still seems to be falling into the trap of taking people for granted. It’s probably to be expected when you’ve been “working closely with Greenwich Council”, another body reluctant to deal with actual, real people.

I dunno, maybe it’ll be a lovely day full of community good spirit and everything will go sweetly. Or I might just creep out of town or stay in bed. Thankfully, I’ll be a bit of a way from the sound stages, whatever I do…

Written by Darryl

9 October, 2012 at 7:30 am

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