The Gilligan files: Greenwich Council’s cycling sulk revealed
Cyclists in Greenwich borough face missing out on “superhubs” proposed for North Greenwich and Abbey Wood stations after Greenwich Council resisted NINE separate attempts to set up a meeting with City Hall cycling commissioner Andrew Gilligan, it has emerged.
The council’s attitude also appears to put plans for a cycle superhighway through Woolwich, Charlton and Greenwich to London Bridge in jeopardy.
Last week saw farcical scenes in a council meeting as the Labour leadership tried to avoid debating the issue with the Conservative opposition, who tabled a motion condemning leader Chris Roberts’ refusal to deal with the controversial journalist, charged by London mayor Boris Johnson with pushing his recently-published “vision for cycling in London”.
But the council’s Labour mayor Angela Cornforth allowed an amendment to the motion from the leadership which avoided the issue entirely, leading to angry scenes at Woolwich Town Hall.
It’s since emerged that Chris Roberts cancelled a meeting of Labour councillors two days before the meeting which would have discussed the Gilligan motion. Instead, the meeting was moved to an hour before the full council meeting, denying Labour councillors the chance to fully debate issue among themselves.
Greenwich is the only one of London’s 32 boroughs to have refused to deal with Gilligan, and it has claimed it can still take forward projects outlined in the mayor’s documents. However, this appears not to be the case.
Now documents released by City Hall reveal the extent to which Chris Roberts has avoided communicating with Andrew Gilligan – and how even approaches to politically neutral officers appear to have been clamped down upon by the leader.
The emails were released after a request to the Greater London Authority under the Freedom of Information Act – however, what’s been released goes far beyond the Act, indicating that City Hall has had enough of refusals from Roberts and council chief executive Mary Ney, who is supposed to act in an apolitical manner.
The emails also document attempts by the mayor’s chief of staff, Sir Edward Lister, and Labour assembly member Len Duvall to persuade Greenwich to talk.
A covering letter from City Hall information governance manager Albert Chan sets out the picture clearly. Where they’ve been made available, you can download the documents through the links in the text.
“Mr Gilligan informs me that since his appointment in January he or others acting on his behalf (Transport for London officials or members of the London Assembly) have made a total of nine approaches to the leader, portfolio holder or officers at the Royal Borough of Greenwich.
“On 13 February, Mr Gilligan contacted the office of the leader, Cllr Chris Roberts, introducing himself and asking for a meeting, but received no response.” (A separate FOI response from Greenwich Council claims Roberts did not receive a letter.)
“On 15 February he emailed Cllr Harry Singh, the cycling portfolio holder, introducing himself and asking for a meeting, but received no response.
“He emailed Cllr Singh again on 20 February, but received no response.” (See both the emails here, obtained under a separate FOI to Greenwich Council.)
“On the publication date of the cycling vision, 7 March, Mr Gilligan expressed concern to the council’s cycling officer, Sam Margolis, who attended one of the launch events, at the lack of response from Greenwich. Mr Margolis promised to feed this back, but nothing further was heard.
“During March, at Mr Gilligan’s request, Alex Williams, TfL’s head of borough partnerships, raised the issue with Cllr Denise Hyland, the cabinet member for transport. Mr Williams was assured that the council did wish to be involved in the Mayor’s cycling plans. Again, however, no contact followed.
“On 26 March, Mr Gilligan wrote to Mary Ney, the chief executive, and to Cllr Roberts expressing his hope that the council would still take part in the cycling programme and asking for a meeting. He received a holding response from Ms Ney on 4 April, saying that she would respond fully when she returned from holiday. No substantive response followed.” (See the letter to Chris Roberts, which mentions the hubs at North Greenwich and Abbey Wood, Cycle Superhighway 4 to Woolwich and Mary Ney’s response. Greenwich Council denies that a letter from Gilligan was ever received by Roberts’ office.)
“On 4 May, Mr Gilligan emailed Ms Ney asking for a response, but received none.
“On 20 May, he emailed again and received a response stating that the council would not meet him.
“In mid-June, Mr Gilligan, the Mayor’s chief of staff, Sir Edward Lister, and Len Duvall, the local Assembly member, agreed to make a final approach to Greenwich, through Mr Duvall. However, the council continued to refuse to meet Mr Gilligan and stated publicly that it would not do so.”
The email from Sir Edward Lister to Roberts states: “I was surprised to learn that Greenwich, alone in London, has declined to work with Andrew, stating that there is a conflict of interest. Both Greenwich and the Mayor in fact share a common interest in ensuring that cycling in the borough is as attractive and safe as possible. We are extremely keen to work with, and to fund, Greenwich on cycling.”
But there was no joy, and the email trail ends only eight days ago, on 29 July, with an email from Gilligan to Len Duvall. It reads: “This issue has been decided by Ed [Lister]. He’s quite clear, and has asked me to tell TfL, that Greenwich must deal with me, and can’t go through Isabel [Dedring, deputy mayor for transport], if they want to benefit from any of our new cycling funding, infrastructure or routes.”
Gilligan also discusses the Tories’ motion and voices his fear that it will drive Greenwich “even further into the bunker”. A month previously, Gilligan also turned down an offer from the London Cycling Campaign to make a fuss about Greenwich’s refusal for the same reason.
It appears the events of last Wednesday have persuaded City Hall that there’s nothing to lose by abandoning the softly-softly approach. What’s striking is that Chris Roberts doesn’t even have the guts to respond to Gilligan to tell him to go away – it’s as if he’s scared of him. He either hides behind Mary Ney, or simply orders council staff to block all contact. A parallel FOI response from Greenwich to me denied that Roberts’ office received any correspondence from Gilligan – a claim I now know to be false.
Indeed, this whole episode goes far beyond a spat over personalities and cycling, for it reveals just how dysfunctional Greenwich Council really is.
But for the sake of the people of the borough of Greenwich – and not just its cyclists – does anybody on that council have the guts to do anything about it?
PS. To put Chris Roberts’ refusal to talk about cycle safety improvements into context, Monday saw a cyclist die in a collision with a lorry at the Archway roundabout in north London, while there was an unconfirmed report of one being hit by a bus at Dog Kennel Hill in East Dulwich.