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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 February 2013

Lewisham Hospital: How you can help the legal challenge

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Lewisham Hospital demo, 2012
Lewisham Council decided last night to apply for a judicial review into the Government’s decision to downgrade the accident and emergency unit at Lewisham Hospital. You can listen to councillors debate and approve the decision at Clare’s blog – which, I think, is incidentally the first time a blog’s covered goings-on at Lewisham Town Hall.

If you’re not in Lewisham borough but want to help, particularly if you live in a borough that’s staying weirdly quiet over the affair, you can donate to the Save Lewisham Hospital Legal Challenge Fund, to help offset the possible £200,000 costs of this appeal. It could be a small price to pay to ensure Greenwich, Lewisham and Bexley boroughs don’t have to rely on one, already-overloaded, A&E unit.

Written by Darryl

28 February, 2013 at 10:39 am

Greenwich Council gets the robes out again

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If you get the chance, take a look at the best thing written about the cable car yet, by Owen Hatherley for the Guardian website. In it, he says Boris Johnson has run London like a “twee nostalgia theme park” – a description that could arguably apply to the “royal” borough of Greenwich, in all its forelock-tugging glory.

After all, next week, it’s going to vote on buying a new set of robes. What is the council spending £1,500 on? Why, only giving us a Recorder of Greenwich

The Council is requested to -

Appoint His Honour Judge Hilliard QC as the Honorary Recorder for the Royal Borough of Greenwich for the duration of tenure as the Resident Judge at Woolwich Crown Court pursuant to Section 54 of the Courts Act, 1971.

Nicholas HillardA borough or city has the power to appoint the senior judge at the court which serves it to the position of “honorary recorder”, with the aim of preserving ancient links between cities and the judiciary which existed before the old assizes system was abolished in 1972.

They’re rare in London, where the boroughs don’t have much heritage as institutions – the City has one, who still has a formal role within the square mile’s governance, who sits at the Old Bailey. The others are in Croydon, Kensington & Chelsea, Redbridge, Southwark and Westminster.

The appointment means Judge Nicholas Hillard QC can wear red robes in court and be addressed as “my lord”, rather than “your honour”. But what’s in it for us? According to the council…

The Honorary Recorder is an honorific position and provides a bridge between the judiciary and local government and thus the wider community. One of the roles of the Honorary Recorder would be to attend the inauguration of the Mayor and to be invited to other meetings and civic functions as appropriate, this could include civic receptions, freedom of the borough ceremonies and civic week.

As we all know, it’s local government and the “wider community” which really needs linking up – after all, we don’t get invited to any civic receptions. This has the potential to be a massive waste of time, doesn’t it?

Well, yes, it does. But hopefully Judge Hillard can prove this sceptical post wrong. His colleague, Judge Roger Chapple, has been striking out to do good things in Southwark, where’s he’s borough recorder.

According to the excellent London SE1 site, the Inner London Crown Court judge has been speaking of the need to reconnect the courts with the community.

“Daily I and my fellow judges see the ghastly, corrosive effect of local crime – much of it knife crime, much of it gang related.

“I can’t help thinking that my court could do something more to help in the fight against crime.

“Soon after arriving at Inner London Crown Court, I tried to start an initiative by writing to the local schools and inviting them to send groups for visits: to watch a case in action, meet a judge, to sit in the dock.

“Very, very few replies were received – sadly none of them positive.”

“I’m going to try again; with the additional clout that you have given me as the honorary recorder of Southwark I might achieve more than I did last time around.”

With Woolwich Crown Court these days located in the Belmarsh Prison complex in west Thamesmead, and better known for staging high-profile terrorism cases, the court has the additional disadvantage of being physically isolated from its community.

So hopefully Judge Hillard will use his position to break down a few walls between us and them. Otherwise, he’ll just be another trinket to be wheeled out whenever the council wants to wine and dine a selected few. With council budgets still being cut, spending time and money on another heritage adventure risks leaving a bad taste in the mouth.

If you’re quick, you can put a public question into next Wednesday’s council meeting (which will approve the appointment) to be answered by cabinet members or the leader. (Here’s what happened last time.) Drop a line to committees@greenwich.gov.uk by noon today.

Written by Darryl

27 February, 2013 at 7:30 am

See plans for new Greenwich Peninsula towers

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It’s funny what you find in the pub, isn’t it?

Greenwich Peninsula 'consultation''

A single sheet left in The Pilot yesterday evening, revealing plans to build to the west of the Dome, on land west of Millennium Way (the road that leads up to the Dome) and across Tunnel Avenue. Street signs already bear a “Peninsula Quays” legend, and this is why. The riverfront there is already being shored up – it’s the patch of land between Frank Dekker‘s ill-fated beach site and the Dome.

Oh yes, they look like skyscrapers. (Although it’s hard to tell just how tall they are.) And oh look, more car parking, because the area needs more traffic, doesn’t it? Nothing on the Greenwich Peninsula website (“in partnership with the Greater London Authority and the Royal Borough of Greenwich” – nothing on either of those, either) so it looks like you’ll just have to pay them a visit in one of those squat buildings between Peninsula Square and the O2’s minicab rank from 4-7pm on Friday 1 March and 10am-2pm on Saturday 2 March.

Written by Darryl

22 February, 2013 at 7:30 am

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Praise Greenwich Time, win £30 of shopping!

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Greenwich Time, 19 February 2013
Skint? Need a few quid for the week’s shopping? Why not send a missive to the council’s propaganda weekly, Greenwich Time, opining on how great it is? Note the voucher can only be spent in Sainsbury’s in Woolwich – mustn’t been seen to be crawling too much to Tesco – so if you were hoping to use the stores in Greenwich, Eltham or Lee Green, then tough.

There are those who think that the council could be doing more to promote small businesses. West Greenwich hardware shop Bert & Betty will be shutting its doors next month, longstanding Greenwich Market games store Compedia packed it in last month, and nearby clothes shop Belle shut on Christmas Eve.

Local councillor Matt Pennycook responded with a typically thoughtful tweet.

He’s right, they do. Unfortunately, the council doesn’t seem to be listening. Here’s the front page of this week’s Greenwich Time.

Greenwich Time, 19 February 2013

Indeed, the council helped whip up a retail frenzy by plugging the opening on its Twitter feed. Such a shame it doesn’t do this for non-multinationals, except when the council needs to promote itself. It neatly sums up the gulf between many in the local Labour party and the council leadership which supposedly represents them.

Of course, it hasn’t always been this way – the admirable Greenwich Card scheme was launched in the 1990s and helped pushed trade towards local businesses who were prepared to offer a small discount. So it’s not as if the tools aren’t there. But under the Chris Roberts regime, though, it’s been largely forgotten about.

Under the current leadership, the will just isn’t there. But will the next leader listen? There’ll be scores of small businesses across Greenwich borough who’ll be hoping so.

Written by Darryl

20 February, 2013 at 7:30 am

The Crossrail conundrum towering over Woolwich

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Royal Arsenal Gardens, 16 February 2013

You might not know it, but the park above’s days are numbered. Opened in 2000, Royal Arsenal Gardens in Woolwich, which sits on the site of the old power station, has always been a temporary park, but since 2008 Berkeley Homes, which is developing the old Royal Arsenal site, has planned to build tower blocks on the site.

It’s currently applying for planning permission for the latest alteration to its plans – which will, if approved, dramatically change the shape of Woolwich, and the riverside. It wants to build a series of tower blocks between 14 and 21 stories high, blocking Woolwich town centre off from the river, and reducing Royal Arsenal Gardens to a narrow strip between the towers.

Royal Arsenal scheme

Berkeley is holding an exhibition of its plans today from 3pm-8pm at Royal Carriage Mews, on Duke of Wellington Avenue in the Arsenal site. You can also view the plans online. It really only seems aimed at current Arsenal residents, though, despite the huge consequences of this scheme. I went along on Saturday and was taken by how confident the Berkeley reps were.

As is the way in the borough of Greenwich, this is hardly brand new news, but few people are really aware of the ramifications of all this – the debate seems to have taken place behind the walls of the Arsenal, and not in the open. Only here could a debate about a scheme to add 10,000 new residents go completely unnoticed in the wider community.

Of course, this all suits developers like Berkeley, largely operating outside public scrutiny. At the exhibition, a flyer was pressed into my hand with details of “how to support the scheme”. Support? Huge tower blocks replacing a park and looming over Woolwich? It’s made my mind up to oppose it. There’s a campaign against it from Royal Arsenal residents – and if you want to join them, your objection needs to be with the council by tomorrow (Tuesday).

Land Registry entriesOf course, the real interest will be in seeing whether the Labour councillors who make up a majority of the planning board will vote against a scheme from the council’s closest redevelopment partner – Berkeley is also redeveloping the Ferrier Estate as Kidbrooke Village, of course, and joined the council in its Bridge The Gap campaign to build a third Blackwall Tunnel. Council leader Chris Roberts, who sits on the board, bought a home in the Arsenal from Berkeley in 2009. Will he sit this one out?

To further highlight the close links between the council and the scheme, architects Allies and Morrison put together the wider masterplan for Woolwich town centre – which envisages demolishing the Waterfront leisure centre (and opening a new one further into Woolwich) and extending Hare Street to the river – as well as one for the Charlton riverside.

There’s one big elephant in the room, though, which could scupper all of this – Crossrail. The “box” which will contain the station, which Berkeley has paid for, has been finished, and the developer’s rightly making a big song and dance about it, holding an open day and fun run inside the box next Wednesday. It’ll make the money back by building homes on top of the station.

But at present, Berkeley’s not paying for the £100m station to be fitted out – meaning that it could just stand empty when Crossrail opens in 2018.

Crossrail site, WoolwichWithout that Crossrail station, the viability of the whole Royal Arsenal project would be put into doubt – so you have to detect a certain amount of bluffing from the developer. Negotiations are ongoing between the government, Greenwich Council, Berkeley and Transport for London on finding the cash.

Ideas have included a levy on local businesses or Greenwich Council, which has well over £100m in cash reserves, borrowing the money on the markets and then taking a proportion of the fares at the new station. So far, though, there has been no joy – and if the station is to open when Crossrail does, work will have to start soon.

A similar situation occurred with the extension of the East London Line to Clapham Junction, when Lewisham Council wanted to see a station at Surrey Canal Road, close to Millwall’s ground, to help kickstart redevelopment there. Despite backing from the mayor, the government refused to cough up and there’s a space where a station should be. The stakes are higher in Woolwich, and nobody wants to see the same situation repeated.

Does the Crossrail conundrum put Berkeley Homes in a prime position to get its tower blocks approved? Would these too tall, too dense blocks end up being the price to pay for securing Woolwich’s stop on the line? A refusal isn’t going to help the case for Berkeley to cough up for Crossrail, after all.

All this is conjecture, of course. Such thoughts are not meant to enter councillors’ minds – but the Olympics proved deadlines can put shotguns to their heads, and the very real consequences of failing to get the station built are inescapable. Unless a rabbit is pulled out of the hat very quickly, you wouldn’t want to be in their shoes when the matter comes up in a month or two.

To see the plans, visit www.waterfrontmasterplan.co.uk. To see neighbours’ objections, go to royalarsenalplan.wordpress.com/. More at From The Murky Depths.

Written by Darryl

18 February, 2013 at 7:30 am

Sunday smog from Greenwich Park

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Greenwich Park, 17 February 2013
Yuck. Still, what Greenwich needs is even more traffic, eh?

Written by Darryl

17 February, 2013 at 10:38 pm

Go Dutch in Greenwich: Boris bats it back to the council

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TfL plans for Stratford High Street

Hot off the press from the London Assembly, a written answer from mayor Boris Johnson.

A little recap. In May 2012, the mayor announced plans for a Dutch-style road scheme in Greenwich, to assist cyclists and pedestrians. Except he hadn’t told the council, nor had the council picked up the phone to ask what he was on about.

Seven months later, a TfL executive said it was waiting for plans from Greenwich Council. A couple of weeks later, Greenwich’s cabinet member for bins and cycling said there were “no definitive plans”.

Clear as mud, then.

And now…

Go Dutch development of Greenwich town centre
Question No: 8 / 2013
Caroline Pidgeon

There have been a number of contradictory statements about who is responsible for bringing forward the flagship walking and cycling development in Greenwich that you announced shortly after your re-election. Will you clarify your promise to create a flagship walking and cycling development in Greenwich?

Written response from the Mayor

I am encouraged by the Royal Borough of Greenwich’s statement that they are taking forward an “ambitious action plan” for cycling in the Borough. My Cycling Commissioner, Andrew Gilligan, himself a Greenwich resident, is arranging meetings with the Council to discuss its vision and how this can fit into our own equally ambitious plans for cycling in London. We do not wish to pre-empt the Royal Borough’s plans.

TfL is also working closely with the Royal Borough of Greenwich to plan and deliver a new Cycle Superhighway through Greenwich. Building on the lessons learned from the first Cycle Superhighways, and from the ongoing Better Junctions review, CS4 will be built to ambitious new standards.

TfL is also keen to work with RB Greenwich to explore how major new development areas such as the Greenwich peninsular [sic] and Charlton could be developed with the ‘Go Dutch’ cycling principles’ approach in mind.

You’ll see that nothing in his answer specifically mentions Greenwich town centre – just the woolly answer about Greenwich Council’s borough-wide “ambitious action plan”.

But the mention of his new cycling commissioner, Andrew Gilligan, is intriguing. When the west Greenwich-based journalist’s controversial appointment was revealed last month, I wondered just how he’d cope negotiating with those he’s aimed brickbats at in the past. I’m barely one to talk here, but had he burned too many bridges locally?

It seems not. So it’s good to hear he’s going to take on cycling in Greenwich – which will involve dealing with councillors he’s branded as “forty-watt burghers”.

What’s even better is that I hear those same burghers are more than happy to meet him – with the council’s transport scrutiny committee looking at ways to get him involved. If he comes along for a meeting, be sure to bring some popcorn.

It’s also good to see another commitment to build Cycle Superhighway 4 (from London Bridge to Woolwich) through the borough – despite the neighbouring route being chopped short at New Cross. It may be a challenge through Greenwich, probably the narrowest section of CS4, but as the road widens through Charlton and Woolwich, will we see proper segregated lanes like the one above, planned for Stratford?

The mention of getting involved in plans for the peninsula and Charlton riverfront is also promising – but none of this should distract from the original promise to sort something out in Greenwich town centre.

Written by Darryl

13 February, 2013 at 7:30 am

A real river crossing campaign – run the 108 to the Olympic Park

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108 bus

Amid the row over Greenwich Council’s dumb Bridge The Gap campaign, a little opportunity to improve cross-river links is looking set to be squandered. Ever one to leap on board a passing bandwagon, this website is today launching an “all-out” campaign to extend the 108 bus to the Olympic Park.

You what? I’ll explain. Transport for London’s launched a consultation on which buses should run into the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park when people start moving in later this year. It suggests seven services, including a night bus, should run into the park.

All well and good. But one’s missing. Why can’t we have a bus from south of the river to the Olympic Stadium?

General bus map, 1930The 108 is one of London’s oldest bus routes – it’ll celebrate its centenary in March next year. In 1930, it schlepped all the way from Clapton to Crystal Palace, charging a shilling if you were mad enough to want to ride all the way, but there was never long to wait – double-decker buses ran every three and a half minutes through the Blackwall Tunnel back in those days.

The route’s shrunk, grown, shrunk again, gone 24-hours (a lifesaver) and been tweaked since – the double deckers vanished in the late 1960s, but the Stratford to Lewisham service has been the sole bus service through the tunnel for decades. For many years, it was the only public transport link across the Thames east of Rotherhithe. Back then, it actually wasn’t a bad service, if the tunnel was behaving itself – in the mid-90s, when I lived in Greenwich and went to college in Clerkenwell, it only took 20 minutes or so to get me to Bromley-by-Bow station so I could get a Tube to Farringdon; making it pretty much the equal of taking the train.

But while other transport links have got better, the poor old 108’s been left in the shadows – an enforced diversion around the Millennium Dome building site months before North Greenwich station opened ruined it as a commuting route to anywhere but North Greenwich, but despite the idiotic transport arrangements around the Dome, it still carries healthy numbers through the tunnel each day. Remember, it’s a damn sight cheaper than the Tube.

I’ve heard loads of horror stories of endless waits for people in Blackheath who depend on it for travel to North Greenwich – they desperately need extra buses, but instead those get thrown into the schedule late at night for chucking out time at the O2. It’s time for someone with felt pens and a bus map to get to work and rearrange matters – but so far, there’s no sign of progress.

But there’s one change to the 108 that could gives us a real – yes – Olympic legacy, and might also improve the service. Tweaking the end point so it ran into the Olympic Park, rather than Stratford bus station, would still enable it to serve Westfield and the massive transport interchange there; but would also get it away from the awful traffic in Stratford, bring a 24-hour bus service from south of the river to the Olympic Park, and help us get to and from events there.

It’s a change that’d cost very little, but would make the regenerated Olympic Park feel a bit closer to us in an area that’s not been left with many physical reminders of the Olympics (especially once the mud goes).

Obviously, I’ll now be arranging a photoshoot with various pub landlords, kebab house magnates and the Stratford Westfield Massage Angels as part of my “all out” campaign to bridge this gap, but in the meantime, if you want to suggest it to TfL, head to its consultation page – it closes on 22 February.

Written by Darryl

12 February, 2013 at 7:30 am

Talking about cycling on Greenwich’s Thames Path

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Thames Path, Charlton, 9 February 2013
It hasn’t been the best of weekends to enjoy it, but the Thames Path is one of the best things about this part of London. If you take the borough as a whole, Greenwich borough has the longest riverfront in London, and as well as a walking route, it’s a designated cycle route too.

A scrutiny panel of councillors has been looking into ways of improving it as a cycle route, and officers have come up with a report – you can read it here (4MB PDF). It features some good ideas, such as sorting out the irritating cobbles at Greenwich Millennium Village, changing signs so they read “North Greenwich” rather than “Blackwall Point”, and (yes!) installing cycle stands outside the Pelton Arms pub.

Councillors are meeting on Tuesday night to discuss it – and the public’s welcome to come along and ask questions if they want. A lot of attention will be on plugging the gap between the Thames Barrier in Charlton and King Henry’s Wharf in Woolwich, something which would dramatically change the way the path is seen – as well as helping people access the fantastic Second Floor Arts facility at Warspite Road.

Thames Path, 9 February 2013

That said, hopefully there’ll be room for my own gripe to be addressed – sticking some signs up to get pedestrians out of the cycle path by the cable car (and cyclists out of the pedestrian bits), where markings were worn away by the cable car contractors and not reinstated, while the pedestrian bit was never marked.

I’ve seen some sights commuting along the path over recent months, and sooner or later someone is going to come a cropper – or prompt someone else to come to grief – some day for paying more attention to their iPad than their surroundings.

My other gripe is that it doesn’t do much about improving access to the path – but this seems like an encouraging start.

Written by Darryl

11 February, 2013 at 7:30 am

Watch out for Greenwich’s latest attraction – the Thames seal

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If the weather behaves itself enough for a stroll along the Thames Path over the next few days, keep your eyes out for a seal in the river. Will it be back this weekend? (Video from Nicola White.)

Written by Darryl

8 February, 2013 at 7:55 pm

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