‘We’ve had enough': Foot tunnels’ friends fight back

Greenwich Foot Tunnel, July 2013
In case you haven’t seen this elsewhere, a friends group is being set up for the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels, badly damaged by a botched Greenwich Council attempt to refurbish them.

For more than a century the people of London have crossed the River Thames through foot tunnels at Greenwich and Woolwich which owe their existence to that great Victorian working class hero Will Crooks.

The Woolwich MP’s vision was of a free passage under the Thames for people commutng to work in the docks and factories on the north bank of the river.

The docks may have gone, but the tunnels, classed as public highways and therefore kept open around the 24 hours a day, are now used in large part by those working in the fnancial services sector in Canary Wharf, and by tourists wishing to sample the baroque majesty of maritme Greenwich. The tunnel at Greenwich is also part of Natonal Cycle Route #1, which links Dover and Inverness.

Taken together, the Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels are used by 1.5 million people every year.

Whether this be for work or leisure, the tunnels are a vital transport and cultural asset which, in the spirit of their creator, belong to the people of London.

Management of the Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels is the responsibility of the Royal Borough of Greenwich. For some years the tunnels have been in a poor state of repair, and for this reason they have been the subject of a renovation project funded by an £11.5m grant from central government.

Beset by delays, contractual issues and politcal obfuscaton, the tunnel renovaton work is far from complete. In 2011 the original contractors were sacked without explanation, and the Royal Borough of Greenwich has yet to release the report of an independent inquiry into what went wrong. The new lifts at Greenwich are subject to frequent breakdown, work on the staircases has halted, and new lifts have yet to
be installed at Woolwich.

The matter is now in the hands of auditors at the Greater London Authority, and
few expect the work to be fnished before the end of next year.

Local people have had enough of the mismanagement of this invaluable community asset. We are now rallying together in celebration and defence of the tunnels, and in early September will formally launch the Friends of Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels.

The aim of this new community group is to promote the use and enjoyment of the Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels, and to oversee and hold to account those responsible for them.

Together we will work to ensure a high standard of maintenance, appearance and access to the tunnels, represent all tunnel users – pedestrians and cyclists together – and, with the rapid economic growth of the Isle of Dogs and Newham, lobby for the importance of the tunnels as a transport facility.

The inaugural meetng of the Friends of Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels will take place on Thursday 5 September at the 10 Centre, Tarves Way, London SE10 9JU, starting at 7pm. The venue is located behind Greenwich DLR station, at the end of Straightsmouth.

All are welcome, and we look forward to seeing you there.

From last month’s council meeting, here’s Denise Hyland, the Greenwich councillor responsible for the foot tunnels fiasco, explaining why the council has changed tack to commission new work to finish the tunnels’ refurbishment, and why its inquiry into the mess won’t be reporting back any time soon.

Incidentally, a friends group is also being set up for Island Gardens, the park at the foot of the Isle of Dogs which contains the Greenwich tunnel’s north entrance. This follows the withdrawal of a mysterious attempt to build a “community centre” (see Tower Hamlets-watching blog Trial By Jeory for more). Campaigners there are meeting tonight at 7.30pm at Poplar, Blackwall and District Rowing Club, next to the park, to discuss next steps.

(For more information on FOGWOFT, call Francis Sedgemore on 07840 191336 or Ian Blore on 07900 253658.)

19 comments

  1. Richard

    Does anyone have an idea of the legality of the chicanes in the Greenwich tunnel (which some humorous soul keeps removing)? They seem to challenge people with trailers, recumbents and in wheelchairs and cause quite a bit of congestion.

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  3. IslandDweller

    Those stupid chicanes are a challenge to everyone. Much as I hate idiots who cycle in the tunnel, these chicanes just make passage difficult for everyone. I hate them.

  4. Chris

    I have a financial interest in the Great Tunnel Fiasco. I am a Council Tax payer and it’s some of my money that’s gone down the Swanee (or Thames). I presume that means I can attend?

  5. Maggy May

    Citizens to the barricades! Great to see some action against council tax payers money being wasted by people who apparently couldn’t run Noddy Town. I don’t know a lot about much of the borough, but I know the SE3, SE7 and SE10 areas well and they are all dripping in residents associations, societies and the like. Why oh why are they not joining together and making common cause against some of the excesses of RBG? They say there is strength in number, and surely 5 or 6 societies coming together to represent hundreds/thousands is more effective that individual ones representing a few. How about it folks?

  6. Ian and Louise

    Chris, you are very welcome. The £11.4 million refurbishment grant came from central government. So all British taxpayers have an interest in seeing their taxes well spent. Greenwich citizens have an especial obligation to press their council for action on behalf of all those taxpayers.

  7. Mr Ree

    From the secret meeting link:

    Reason why public are excluded:
    Likely Disclosure of Exempt Information: Paragraph 3, Part 1 of Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act, 1972 – Information relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person (including the authority holding that information).

    What on earth odes that mean? Anytime the council debate financial matters they can exclude the public?

  8. Darryl

    It could mean the handing out of new contracts for foot tunnel refurbishment – which we know is being pushed forward. Contractual discussions are excluded.

    But equally, it could mean the failure of Denise Hyland and her department is being discussed. It could be one or the other, or both.

  9. Chris

    Mr Ree – That was my earlier point. Why should I be excluded from the meeting when I have a financial interest as a Council Tax/Income tax payer? Enough money has been wasted by the council, at least let me witness it going down the gurgler!

  10. Darryl

    Councils have the right to exclude public and press when contracts and personal matters are discussed.

    You are, of course, welcome to the FOGWOFT meeting, though.

  11. Franklin

    Maggy May

    Interesting suggestion. I’m on the exec of the Greenwich Society, and we’re always looking for ways to enhance the Society’s voice and influence.

    Which other residents associations or societies are you referring to? We already liaise closely with the Blackheath and Westcombe Societies, when there are issues of common concern. I don’t know much about the Charlton Society but get the impression they’re not very active. Whom else should we be working with?

    Thanks!

  12. Franklin

    PS. The Greenwich Society is fully supportive of FOGWOFT, and I’ll be representing G Soc at FOGWOFT meetings. Hope to see you at the first one next week!

  13. Gerald

    Franklin: You seem to have the west covered but further east in Charlton there are three orgs worth giving a try. The Charlton Society is worth a shot whatever you think. Over here in the east we have no idea what you and the rest of the east are up to but you seem to be active enough.. Their Chair David Gardner is a council candidate next time and will be interested in anything affecting locla people. Further down the hill is Charlton Central Residents Association and right by the river are Charlton Riverside Action Group. I don’t have any contact details but these days theyn have to have websites. If not then David and the Charlton Society would have them.

  14. Maggy May

    Dont right off the Charlton Society David Gardner the chair is alright. There are a couple of other groups but further down the hill and David G is in touch with them You could get all details from him

  15. Franklin

    Just noticed that the 18 September cabinet meeting has been cancelled. So presumably no action on the foot tunnel(s), Denise Hyland and/or Regeneration, Enterprise and Skills will be undertaken in the foreseeable…

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