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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 January 2013

Greenwich Council dodges public Silvertown Tunnel questions

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Bridge The Gap relaunch

Senior Greenwich councillor Denise Hyland last night ignored worried residents’ worries about the Silvertown Tunnel – and even refused to accept two offers of meetings with independent air quality experts.

The council received 27 written questions on the Silvertown Tunnel from members of the public – most meetings usually only get about 10 or so on anything – yet none of them were answered straight.

As far as spoken questions went, Hyland claimed promoting the Silvertown Tunnel was the responsibility of Transport for London – despite the fact the council has launched an “all out” campaign to promote the tunnel, and a bridge at Gallions Reach, Thamesmead. (She can listen to evidence here, of course.)

She also refused to meet independent air quality experts about the proposals – despite proposals from myself and Conservative councillor Nigel Fletcher, playing devil’s advocate since his party backs the Silvertown proposal. (Note for non-local readers: only two parties are represented in Greenwich borough.)

In reply to the public question from myself, she suggested the experts meet TfL instead.

When Fletcher pressed Hyland on why the council had not carried out any studies to back its Bridge The Gap campaign, she replied: “These are a Conservative mayor’s plans… we are a stakeholder. You would be the first to accuse me of spending public money when actually the duty of doing these studies firmly rests with TfL.”

That’s despite the fact the council launched an “all-out” campaign to back that Conservative mayor’s proposals, as pictured above.

Indeed, the Conservatives pushed Hyland into a series of bizarre answers, which included her comparing the council’s backing of mayor Boris Johnson’s campaign to photocopy hire.

A bundle of 13 questions asking a variety of questions, including why Greenwich Council had not commissioned any studies into the effects Silvertown would have, received this reply:

“The council is responding to the Mayor of London’s high level consultation on river crossings. Once a specific package of crossings is formulated, it will be for the Mayor to undertake the necessary economic, environmental and traffic management assessments. These will need to be undertaken holistically, taking into account all the proposals, not individual transport solutions in isolation and should look at the implications of a one-crossing solution, both fixed link crossings, and the implications of doing nothing.”

Questions about why Greenwich Council’s strategic transport planner had called the plans “conjecture” were dodged, but not denied, as were questions about why the council had used “the full strength of its communications department”, while a written answer from Hyland said it would be “inappropriate to comment” on the possibility of demolition of homes for a possible widening of the A102.

A further question, about whether Greenwich would be happy just to see a Silvertown Tunnel built, was dodged with the answer that the council believes “a package of vehicular crossings [is needed] to complement the non-vehicular crossings”.

I don’t have the written answers available in a format to upload yet, but I do have audio of the public questions and the debate with the Conservatives.

10.20pm update: Here’s the written answers to the 28 (not 27) questions the public asked.

Public questions – 20 minutes long, includes non-Silvertown questions (incl foot tunnel stuff) (download)

Conservative questions from Nigel Fletcher and Spencer Drury – 7 minutes long, well worth a listen (download)

Hyland’s performance was so surreal, I can’t quite take it in. The audio quality’s the best I can get it, but please, take a listen and let me know what you think.

To take part in the TfL consultation which ends on Friday, go to www.tfl.gov.uk/rivercrossings. To sign the No To Silvertown Tunnel petition, visit www.silvertowntunnel.co.uk.

Written by Darryl

31 January, 2013 at 1:55 am

Bridge The Gap: Greenwich Council keeping evidence secret

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Bridge The Gap press launch, 4 January 2013
Greenwich Council has refused to release the evidence it used when deciding to launch its Bridge The Gap campaign for new Thames road crossings at Greenwich and Thamesmead.

Nearly eight weeks after it was submitted, the council has refused to answer a Freedom of Information request submitted by this website asking for the evidence seen by council leader Chris Roberts and shown to the borough’s ruling Labour group at a behind-closed-doors meeting.

The council says:

Internal papers have been provided for the Council’s Executive and Labour
Group. These were essentially briefing and discussion documents. The
purpose of these documents was to begin to develop the Council’s final
response to TFL’s consultation. It is the Council’s view that to release
discussion documents such as these would fetter the Council’s ability to
develop policy out of the public gaze.

However, these discussions led to a policy decision which resulted in a campaign being launched which has so far included an online petition, face-to-face campaigning with members of the public in Woolwich, two press photocalls, an attempt to launch a social media campaign and seven articles in the council’s weekly newspaper, Greenwich Time.

It is believed the council has no hard evidence, while cabinet member Denise Hyland has admitted no studies have been commissioned.

Meanwhile, Mayor Boris Johnson said today at City Hall he was still committed to building a Silvertown Tunnel, despite evidence that it risks making both congestion and pollution worse.

He also ruled out building a Gallions Reach Bridge at Thamesmead during his mayoralty, but in a testy exchange with Conservative assembly member and senior Bexley councillor Gareth Bacon, refused to rule out one ever being built there. TfL currently favours a ferry there, which would replace the one at Woolwich.

To take part in the TfL consultation, go to www.tfl.gov.uk/rivercrossings. To sign the No To Silvertown Tunnel petition, visit www.silvertowntunnel.co.uk.

You can also watch Greenwich councillors take public questions on Silvertown at their next full meeting, TONIGHT at 7pm at Woolwich Town Hall. Here’s some tips on what to expect.

Written by Darryl

30 January, 2013 at 2:50 pm

Silvertown Tunnel: Trouble in the council message centre

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As the end of TfL’s consultation on river crossings looms (please, fill in www.tfl.gov.uk/rivercrossings by Friday), Greenwich Council’s Bridge The Gap publicity push to build a road tunnel between Greenwich and Silvertown, as well as a road bridge between Thamesmead and Beckton, has fallen into even more disarray.

After all, nothing else can explain this response to a letter from an anxious punter in this week’s edition of council propaganda weekly Greenwich Time.

Greenwich Time, 29 January 2013

(I should point out that the council press office did arrange space for a letter after a press release responding to the last load of nonsense was sent to an old email address – strangely, GT now uses a Gmail account. Criticism of GT’s coverage and a call for people to sign the anti-Silvertown petition was edited out of the letter.)

Nothing in this reply addresses the issues with Silvertown – indeed, it doesn’t mention it by name – all it says is “we’ll back it now and worry about the facts later”. I fully expected that attempt to divert the focus downstream.

But let’s see that opening line again. “The Bridge The Gap campaign seeks to ensure that local residents are effectively aware of the proposal to effectively move the Woolwich Ferry to Thamesmead. That reply is the first time in the seven issues of the council’s main publicity organ which have relentlessly plugged Bridge The Gap that the closure of the Woolwich Ferry has actually been mentioned. Is that the sound of grasping at straws coming from Woolwich Town Hall?

It must be, because it has no evidence in the Silvertown Tunnel’s favour.

Moving onto page 13, it’s the inevitable…

Greenwich Time, 29 January 2013

Forget the Woolwich Ferry, it’s back to a picture of a packed A102 and bigging up the lethal Silvertown proposal, as well as the whopper about “community leaders” and the deceitful implication that this campaign is supported by anyone other than Greenwich Council and its developer friends.

And it still has no evidence.

Actually, we know another set of supporters – the Eltham Labour Party, which rejected a motion from its Shooters Hill ward party condemning the campaign last Friday. I’m told council leader Chris Roberts admitted he had no evidence to support the campaign – this is disputed by cabinet member John Fahy, who chaired the meeting, although the councillor in charge of public health hasn’t exactly been forthcoming with any evidence of Silvertown’s benefits himself.

On 7 December, I emailed the council to ask for the evidence submitted to Chris Roberts, and that presented to the ruling Labour group, that influenced their decision to launch the Bridge The Gap campaign. Nearly eight weeks later, I’ve no response.

It’s because they had no evidence in the first place, no doubt.

But we have evidence of how wrong they are. On Monday, 50 people crammed into the Christchurch Forum, Greenwich to hear about research which shows how the Silvertown and Gallions Reach proposals are so dangerous.

I don’t have most the visual presentation, but you can hear traffic expert John Elliott (a former GLC transport chief) and pollution expert Dr Ian Mudway (part of the team behind the London Air website) discuss why new roads generate new traffic, why tolling won’t work, and how traffic pollution kills by clicking the play button below. (Or you can download an MP3 file of the two-hour meeting from this link – the second hour is questions from the audience. The first voice you hear is Jenny Bates of Friends of the Earth.)

(Here’s John Elliott’s slides on the traffic growth at Westway and the second Blackwall Tunnel.)

Among the audience there was the aforementioned John Fahy, once so bullishly in favour of Silvertown, who left with a worried look on his face. Now one of the council’s cabinet, and the man in charge of public health, has heard the evidence, will some sense start to emerge? Here’s hoping.

To take part in the TfL consultation, go to www.tfl.gov.uk/rivercrossings. To sign the No To Silvertown Tunnel petition, visit www.silvertowntunnel.co.uk.

You can also watch Greenwich councillors take public questions on Silvertown at their next full meeting, TONIGHT at 7pm at Woolwich Town Hall. Here’s some tips on what to expect.

Greenwich Council’s Tories in Facebook face-off

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This website doesn’t feature Greenwich borough’s Conservatives very often for two very simple reasons. Firstly, they’re not in power, and unlikely to get into power any day soon, so whatever they do doesn’t mean very much. Secondly, and more pertinently, most of them represent seats in and around Eltham, while this site rarely ventures beyond the South Circular.

(Which isn’t to say that Eltham’s not newsworthy – on the contrary, the area would make for a fascinating local blog; indeed, as this tale will prove, there be gold in SE9; but it’s not my patch and deserves someone knows it well and can do it justice.)

But even for those of us with photographs of George Osborne imprinted on our toilet roll, it’s important that Greenwich borough’s ruling Labour clique faces a decent opposition. Unfortunately, the Eltham Popular Front seem to be turning their guns on each other.

If you ever go to a council meeting, the best performers are always the two older Tories. There’s the fabulously erudite Dermot Poston – a councillor, on and off, since 1968 – who brooks no nonsense yet is happy to send himself up; one time having the council chamber in stitches by referring to his days as a rollerskater.

And there’s Eileen Glover, who doesn’t have Dermot’s long years of service, but packs a mean punch beneath her senior citizen demeanour. With a withering turn of phrase and a dedication to serving her Eltham South constituents, she’s ace at exposing the hypocrisy of the council’s leadership.

At the last meeting, just before Christmas, she asked about the retail offer in Eltham High Street, as she’d noticed shops offering less and less. Could the council talk to retailers about offering more? Into the Glover trap walked Denise “Bridge The Gap” Hyland, who blethered on about how it wasn’t the council’s job to tell retailers what to sell, despite the council very much endorsing the huge new Tesco in Woolwich; before going into a weird spiel about how much she loved the borough’s three town centres, as if they were errant children.

Sadly for the Eltham Tories, nobody’s there to report their tactical victories in making the ruling Labour clique look stupid.

Which may be why last week, Eileen Glover found herself deselected by her local party. Should she be tubthumping for privatising everything in sight and sending the unemployed to work in Tesco for nothing instead of sticking up for her residents? Was she not male enough for the Tories? In the mind of the average Conservative Party member in Eltham (you don’t see them show their faces at council meetings, that’s for sure), her work’s not good enough.

Word quickly got out. But curiously, fellow councillor Neil Dickinson was moved to post his support for her on the Facebook page for Greenwich.co.uk. And then he made digs at colleagues Matt Clare and local party leader Spencer Drury, and ex-party leader Peter King. Whoops.

Greenwich.co.uk Facebook page

While the Greenwich Tories generally seem more left-wing than their economy-wrecking national counterparts – leader Spencer Drury is well-liked and is the only Conservative politician I’ve ever heard express concern for the welfare of council tenants – it seems they share the same tendency to have their rows in public.

A Greenwich Conservatives statement says:

In our opinion, it is unfortunate that this issue has come become the subject of discussion in the week that the Labour Council’s Financial Strategy for the next two years is to be decided. As Conservatives we would wish to focus upon our alternative, which attempts to decentralise power to areas such as New Eltham and support local businesses in an attempt to improve employment and prosperity in our area.

With Greenwich Labour fumbling towards the self-destruct button over the ruling clique’s Bridge The Gap fiasco, the Tories might be better off focusing on scrutinising the current sorry shambles rather than bickering among each other, if only to improve their own chances of employment and prosperity next year.

Written by Darryl

28 January, 2013 at 7:25 am

Greenwich Labour members reject council’s Silvertown campaign

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Rank-and-file Greenwich Labour members have rebuked their own council for launching its campaign to build a third Blackwall Tunnel.

Greenwich Labour officesGreenwich and Woolwich Labour Party members voted in favour of a motion criticising their councillors’ decision to launch the Bridge The Gap campaign, to press for a tunnel between Greenwich Peninsula and Silvertown and a road bridge between Thamesmead and Beckton. The council claims it will relieve congestion and bring economic benefits.

But air quality and traffic experts believe the Silvertown Tunnel will lead to an increase in pollution and will only exacerbate traffic congestion at the existing Blackwall Tunnel. A 300-strong petition is currently running against the scheme.

Party members are angry they were not consulted about the campaign, with many first reading about it in council newspaper Greenwich Time.

Furthermore, it’s emerged some of those councillors believe they were misled by their leadership into voting for the Bridge The Gap drive at a behind-closed-doors meeting in November.

They say they thought they were approving the idea of backing more river crossings in general, and not the specific proposals unveiled by leader Chris Roberts a week after their vote.

Greenwich Time, 4 December 2012The local ward party in Roberts’ own seat of Glyndon – which suffers from some of the worst air pollution in the borough – is one of three which have rejected his plan, and whose motions were put before the constituency party on Thursday.

Roberts did not attend Thursday’s meeting, but regeneration cabinet member Denise Hyland did, according to party members who were there – but she left before the vote, which called for more research into the proposals.

MP Nick Raynsford and London Assembly member Len Duvall spoke in favour of the council’s campaign for a Silvertown Tunnel.

Transport for London is currently consulting on the Silvertown Tunnel and an alternative proposal for a ferry at Gallions Reach, Thamesmead, which would replace the Woolwich Ferry. While the bridge is an option, mayor Boris Johnson has made it clear he is against that proposal.

The Bridge The Gap campaign, launched in association with Newham Council, has been beset by problems since its launch nearly nine weeks ago. An attempt to use social media was abandoned when pranksters hijacked the council’s Twitter feed, while a press launch a month later was derailed by protesters.

The council’s own transport planner has admitted the campaign is based on “conjecture”, while Hyland herself has said the council has not carried out any traffic or pollution studies.

It’s unclear quite where the members’ motion leaves the council’s campaign, but ensures it will be difficult for the council to simply return to it when a new round of consultations start later this year.

The vote could have wider ramifications, though, for the council itself.

The anger against Roberts comes as local members begin to select who will stand for them in the 2014 council elections. If TfL push ahead with their Silvertown proposal, the issue could put councillors in marginal wards under threat if Greenwich continues its backing.

Indeed, with Roberts facing strong criticism from his own ward party, he may have to find a new seat for a second election in a row.

Saturday 9am update: Despite losing the support of her own party members, Denise Hyland defied them to appear on Saturday morning’s LBC radio breakfast show to plug the council’s campaign.

Friends of the Earth is holding a public meeting on Silvertown and the Gallions Reach proposal at the Forum, Trafalgar Road, Greenwich from 6.30pm. You can also watch Greenwich councillors take public questions at their next full meeting, on Wednesday at 7pm at Woolwich Town Hall.

To take part in the TfL consultation, go to www.tfl.gov.uk/rivercrossings. To sign the No To Silvertown Tunnel petition, visit www.silvertowntunnel.co.uk.

Written by Darryl

26 January, 2013 at 7:30 am

Silvertown Tunnel: Greenwich public meeting, Mon 28 Jan

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108 in Blackwall Tunnel

Plenty happening in the battle against Mayor Boris Johnson’s plans – endorsed by Greenwich Council – to build a third Blackwall Tunnel, adding extra traffic to the A102 and A2 through Greenwich, Blackheath, Charlton, Kidbrooke and Eltham.

Firstly, there’s a public meeting this Monday, 28th January, at the Forum on Trafalgar Road, Greenwich; to hear arguments against the crossing. It starts at 6.30pm, even if you can’t make the start, please come along. Speakers will include Dr Ian Mudgrave of King’s College, which runs the London Air Quality network of pollution monitors.

I went to the east London meeting on the Monday just gone, sliding along an icy Poplar High Street to get there. Dr Mudgrave’s been doing some work north of the river with schools in Tower Hamlets and Hackney boroughs, and his evidence of how pollution affects the area around Poplar – where he’s following childrens’ routes to school – is hair-raising. The air on the Blackwall Tunnel Northern Approach is so bad, clean white sheets put out to dry at the flats there quickly turn grey.

The Guardian’s environment editor, John Vidal, was also there.

Dr Mudgrave has been researching the effects of air pollution on hundreds of children in three schools in the Tower Hamlets area for several years and has found that their lung capacity is reduced significantly by the age of eight or nine. He himself walks the streets of the borough to measure the pollution and says there is nowhere in Tower Hamlets within the legal limit set by the EU, largely because no one is less than 500m from a busy road.

“Did you know that if you live in a polluted area you will have smaller lungs? They will not reach capacity and will be stunted. When, or if, people move to a cleaner environment they still do not recover the function they lost. We have good evidence that every child born in Tower Hamlets will have a reduction in the volume of their lungs by the age of eight. The point is, people die of lung disease later on. You store up a problem that will affect you later.”

Between the A2, A206, A207 (Shooters Hill Road) and A102, much the same will apply through Greenwich, Blackheath and Charlton. Dr Mudgrave will be able to say more about this on Monday. Hopefully Greenwich cabinet member for public health John Fahy will be able to make it, after his views earlier this month…

As for the transport side of things, ex-GLC transport engineer John Elliott also spoke in Poplar, and he’ll be speaking in Greenwich too.

Far from clearing congestion, his calculations suggested this proposed new tunnel would worsen traffic jams and pollution, increase journey lengths, and encourage more trips from outside London.

“TfL says it will be able to design tolls to manage the traffic [through the tunnel]. Well, they could toll everything out which would make it pointless building the tunnel. Or they could have no tolls which would probably increase traffic by 100%, and lead to widespread congestion throughout east London and beyond. Or they could go for something in the middle which would result in, possibly an extra 2,000 vehicles per hour which would significantly worsen congestion throughout east London and beyond.”

Again, hopefully Greenwich councillors will be able to make it along – the evidence from these two experts is much more compelling than the demands from the council leader’s friends to be able to make more money.

I asked John Elliott at the meeting why sensible people – like these councillors – would back an insane plan like the Silvertown Tunnel. His theory’s somewhat complicated to explain, but rests on the fact that the private transport route through the Blackwall Tunnel has been improved throughout the years, but the public transport has not been.

Which rings true – the Blackwall Tunnel was doubled and gained the motorway through to Homerton in the late 60s, which was widened in the 1990s as well as being extended to meet the M11. But public transport through the tunnel has remained the same – the 108 bus, almost a century old, has been the only route through the tunnel since 1970, and doesn’t offer the same kind of choice. So in their minds, the idea of public transport is a non-runner because it has been degraded so much, even though it’s actually their responsibility to push for improvements.

Monday’s meeting is orgaised by Friends of the Earth, which is against both Silvertown and Gallions Reach crossings, but the Poplar meeting concentrated on Silvertown and there’s no reason to expect the Greenwich one won’t do the same (especially if lots of people against Silvertown turn up).

Secondly, I’m hearing all kinds of reports of local Labour parties rebelling against the council leadership’s backing of Silvertown; and there’s even more evidence of Newham Council backing away. In a head-to-head piece with environmental campaigner Alan Haughton in the Newham Recorder, Newham’s executive member for regeneration Conor McAuley says: “A new road crossing at Gallions Reach would… relieve pressure on a new Silvertown Tunnel, helping the local road network so traffic flows more freely.”

We already know Newham Council thinks a Silvertown Tunnel on its own is a bad idea, and McAuley makes no other reference to it in his piece. Yet a Silvertown Tunnel on its own is just what Greenwich and Newham are likely to get, considering Boris’s opposition to a road crossing a Gallions Reach. Conor McAuley’s comments highlight what a disaster Greenwich Council risks blundering into.

Finally, the consultation ends a week today, so please take part at www.tfl.gov.uk/rivercrossings and sign the petition at www.silvertowntunnel.co.uk. Your lungs might thank you for it.

Written by Darryl

25 January, 2013 at 8:59 am

March again for Lewisham Hospital on Saturday

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Save Lewisham Hospital poster
A little late with this, but you might know about it anyway – the second march to save Lewisham Hospital’s A&E (and by extension, its maternity unit) takes place at noon on Saturday, after the administrator of the PFI-wrecked South London Healthcare Trust decided not to listen to overwhelming evidence and opposition and recommend its closure anyway. There’s a good roundup of recent events in the battle at Transpontine.

I’ve been disturbed at some of the sectarian comments flying around the ether about this debacle – particularly since the media has jumped on the bandwagon. Yes, as the excellent Dr Phil Hammond put it, Lewisham is “collateral damage in a war it didn’t start”, not being part of the PFI disaster which began at Woolwich’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital and spread to Princess Royal in Farnborough and Queen Mary’s in Sidcup.

But this isn’t “Lewisham against the world”. Nobody on the Greenwich side of the border asked New Labour to wreck our local hospital with a PFI deal, and nobody sane this side of the border wants the Tories to wreck someone else’s local hospital to save ours.

This affects all of SE London, from St Thomas’s at Lambeth and King’s in Camberwell, right out to Darent Valley in Kent. It’s not just Lewisham’s battle, it’s all of SE London’s fight. More broadly, it’s a battle for the NHS as we all know it.

And if you are stupid enough to look at this parochially, then news that a 76-year-old woman waited in Queen Elizabeth’s A&E for 18 hours should chill you, and make you wonder how it’d cope if Lewisham goes.

Actually, this has brought out the best in SE London’s politicans (with the possible exception of Harriet Harman, seemingly focused on King’s as Camberwell & Peckham MP to the exclusion of all else) – read the Commons debate on the south London NHS fiasco.

I’ll be there on Saturday, as I was last time – will you?

(Read past coverage, and patients’ testimonies, of Lewisham Hospital.)

Written by Darryl

24 January, 2013 at 9:02 pm

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