Category: greenwich council

Leafing through the Greenwich Book Festival

The Guardian's Zoe Williams with University of Greenwich senior politics lecturer (and pub quiz king) John McLean

The Guardian’s Zoe Williams with University of Greenwich senior politics lecturer (and pub quiz king) John McLean

It’s easy to overlook the Greenwich Book Festival, which is happening now and across the weekend, because most of the publicity for it seems to have been “wow! here’s a book festival!” rather than “here’s a brilliant thing you can see at the book festival this weekend!” So I just assumed it was a handful of events and was about to let it pass by.

But there’s actually a huge range of events on – I popped by this lunchtime to see Guardian journalist Zoe Williams discuss the themes behind her book Get It Together: Why We Deserve Better Politics – an apt theme after the recent election, and one that reverberates closer to home than you might think.

There’s more on tonight and over the weekend, including a load of kids’ stuff, although if I was free tomorrow night, I’d pop along to see Viv Albertine of The Slits talk about her recent memoir with Everything But The Girl’s Tracey Thorn.

It’s certainly a wise use of £12,000 from Greenwich Council, although it could have helped more by sticking the programme in this week’s vanity rag Greenwich Time rather than giving it just one paragraph – the Royal Greenwich Festivals banner seems to be suffocating its events somewhat. The University of Greenwich has also chipped in, and it’ll hopefully kickstart which should be a regular event – in future years, perhaps we’ll all be wondering why Greenwich never used to have a book festival.

Greenwich Council gives £100,000 to Woolwich Frida Kahlo show

The Four Fridas

An outdoor theatre production celebrating the life of Mexican surrealist artist Frida Kahlo has gained £100,000 in funding from Greenwich Council after backing from council leader Denise Hyland.

The Four Fridas is the headline show for this year’s Greenwich & Docklands International Festival, and will take place at the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich from 1-4 July.

Greenwich has already committed £100,000 to GDIF, of which £20,000 was already earmarked for The Four Fridas.

Now the council is paying an extra £80,000 to festival bosses to secure the 45-minute long display of music, dance and flight, with a further £250,000 coming from Arts Council England and £60,000 from other sources.

Audiences will be able to stand and watch the show for free, with seats costing £16.

Kahlo, who died in 1954 aged 47, took up painting after being seriously injured by a trolleybus as a teenager. Her tempestuous personal life was explored in the 2002 film Frida, for which Salma Hayek was nominated for an Oscar.

An animated film will explore Kahlo’s “legacy as a disabled artist”, while the show “will feature a unique and powerful pre-hispanic Mexican cultural tradition by a group of young women from the village of Xochiapulcho in the Sierra Puebla, enacting the flight of the Voladores” – a ceremony that involving participants flying around a pole.

While the show is bound to pull in the crowds, the generous grant is likely to raise eyebrows at a time when the council is continuing to plead financial hardship. Over recent years, funding has been diverted away from smaller arts and cultural projects into larger, big-ticket events under the Royal Greenwich Festivals banner.

Smaller-scale grants have now been made available for community projects, and the council made a minor contribution to the Blackheath fireworks last year for the first time since 2009. But the Plumstead Make Merry festival is still struggling to survive while there remain fears for the future of Charlton’s Maryon Wilson Animal Park, an early victim of council cuts.

In any case, the funding decision continues a pattern of the council suddenly awarding extra funding to GDIF once programmes have been printed and press releases already sent out – the council found £100,000 at short notice in 2011.

“During a time of increasing financial pressures, Royal Greenwich is unique in making a significant investment in arts and culture to stimulate regeneration and access to the arts,” the council report says.

It adds the Four Fridas funding “strengthens Woolwich’s case as London’s newest cultural destination”, citing a decade of regeneration including new transport links, significant investment in residential, leisure and business development and evidence of grass roots arts-led development”.

How much this is actually apparent to the world beyond Woolwich Town Hall is worth questioning, though – an Evening Standard feature on the show describes Woolwich as “a part of London that is in desperate need of improvement”.

Other big arts events getting council funding – “developing awareness of ‘brand Greenwich'” – this summer include Greenwich Dance Festival (May-July £30,200), Greenwich International Book Festival (21-24 May, £12,000), Greenwich Children’s Theatre Festival (23-30 May, £17,000), Greenwich Music Festival (June 2015 – March 2016, £25,000), Parksfest (May – July, £26,400) and the one-day Greenwich World Cultural Festival (£20,800).

Second Floor Arts, 17 May 2015

Update, 7.50pm: After writing this, I took a trip down to the open studios at Woolwich’s amazing Second Floor Studios & Arts, a community of 400 artists tucked away by the river (next door to where Ed Miliband’s notorious pledge stone is being stored).. Having a wander around, I couldn’t help wonder why Greenwich Council doesn’t take advantage of this if it wants to turn Woolwich into a creative hub.

Instead of blowing £100,000 on marching people up to the barracks for a show that will be gone in four days, why not use that money to help artists actually set up shop in Woolwich town centre? Greenwich town centre isn’t a year-round cultural hub despite having had GDIF events for years – so why would Woolwich be any different? Amazing as The Four Fridas may be, will it really have any lasting effect once the last visitor has walked back down Grand Depot Road? Or is this just one big, ever so alluring, ego trip?

Greenwich Council plans to reveal ‘affordable’ housing assessments

Quintain plans for Peninsula Quays site

This has been covered elsewhere but it’s worth noting a welcome change of heart from Greenwich Council – it wants to force developers to reveal why they can’t provide set amounts of ‘affordable’ housing in the borough.

The council’s consulting on new rules on the information firms must provide when they apply for planning permission. If big developments have less than 35% “affordable” housing, then homebuilders must submit a viability assessment that outlines why they can’t afford to do it. Greenwich’s plan would see this assessment made public, along with other documents.

It’s a striking U-turn from the council’s attitude over the Peninsula Quays development (pictured above). Greenwich fought all the way to a tribunal to stop having to reveal Knight Dragon’s reasons why it slashed “affordable” housing to 0% in a development including a private school, “high-end private residential” units and a four/five star hotel.

The documents have been released and are currently being studied – and it’s worth noting that Knight Dragon, which recently pushed its Peninsula plans with an “urban village fete“, hasn’t included any “affordable” housing details in its latest masterplan for the area.

Viability assessments and the Peninsula Quays case featured on the BBC’s Sunday Politics London a few weeks back – thanks to Alex Ingram for the recording.

Anything to open up the planning process has to be applauded, and while it’s a shame it took a court case to get here, it may be that Greenwich are actually pioneers here.

Regeneration cabinet member Danny Thorpe said: “This is about transparency for local people. At the moment our hands are tied on affordable housing levels if the viability study shows a development won’t work financially with the levels of affordable housing we want.

“This will now allow the whole process to be far more transparent – making the viability studies publicly available as part of the planning documents means the royal borough and residents alike can see precisely why a developer might claim they cannot meet our affordable housing targets.

“We believe we’re the first local authority in the country to be doing this – looking at policy which insists on these studies being in the public domain. We now want to hear what people think about this policy so please do give us your views.”

Former Conservative leader Spencer Drury has cast doubt on whether the transparency will make any difference, tweeting that “council attitude is key”.

Indeed, despite a snippy response from Thorpe, one argument put forward by the council when it was fighting the release of the Peninsula Quays documents is that few people would understand them.

But with residents’ groups growing over recent years and working together on scrutinising these issues – at least in Greenwich and Charlton – they may have an increased capacity to hold developers, planners and councillors to account. (The big omission is Woolwich, where despite much social media chatter, there is no formal residents’ group to take on these kinds of issues.)

To find out more on the consultation, visit the www.royalgreenwich.gov.uk/haveyoursay and send a response by 22 June.

Air pollution threat from new Greenwich cruise liner terminal

The new proposals for a cruise liner terminal at Enderby Wharf

The new proposals for a cruise liner terminal at Enderby Wharf

It’s been four years since Greenwich Council approved plans for a cruise liner terminal at Enderby Wharf in east Greenwich – it got the green light at the same planning meeting as the cable car. In fact, it was given unanimous approval.

Planning documents said: “It is the applicant’s intention to deliver the cruise liner terminal and pier in time for 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games bringing a major piece of new infrastructure to London,” adding that an independent study had found this was “realistic and achievable”. This was loyally written up in council weekly Greenwich Time – it was “anticipated” it’d be open by the Olympics.

By April 2011, nothing had happened on site apart from the vandalism of historic Enderby House. In June 2011, Greenwich Time declared the terminal would be open “in 2012″, and mega-liner The World would be docking there in 2013.

It never happened. Last year, Barratt Homes moved in on part of the site and hid Enderby House away.

Now the cruise liner terminal is back – hey, maybe in time to watch the 2020 Olympics on television. And surprise, surprise, the plans have grown.

Here’s the East Greenwich Residents Association:

The developers propose building two towers near the riverside, Blocks Y and Z. Block Y will be 23 storeys high and will have 113 flats. Block Z will be 31 storeys high and will be home to 150 dwellings.

These two blocks will have no affordable housing in them – the idea is that they will generate the income required for the new terminal.

There is a further block planned for the rear of the site, Block A. It’s proposed this will have 9 storeys at one end and 26 at the other, this is where the affordable housing will be.

The developers already had planning permission to build 93 apartments here. Now they are proposing to build a further 121 in this block.

The three blocks combined represent an increase of 384 apartments from the original plans.

Under this proposal the overall affordable housing provision for the site drops to 16% from the 20% promised by Barratt London when it unveiled its plans back in July 2013.

More homes, but a smaller proportion of “affordable” ones – a depressingly familiar story. Plans for a hotel have now gone.

Then there’s the threat of pollution – not just from the traffic accessing the development, but from the ships themselves.

While emissions from motor vehicles are coming under ever-tighter legal restrictions, this isn’t the case with ships. When a ship is docked, it needs power – and there are no plans to supply this from generators on the shore, as used by similar terminals in New York City and Amsterdam.

I don’t recall this being an issue in 2011 – but it’s been forced up the agenda by a determined resident of the Isle of Dogs, who’ll also be affected by the terminal.

European Union directive 2012/33/EU says:

Air pollution caused by ships at berth is a major concern for many harbour cities when it comes to their efforts to meet the Union’s air quality limit values.

Member States should encourage the use of shore-side electricity, as the electricity for present-day ships is usually provided by auxiliary engines.

But instead, the Enderby Wharf plans see the ships’ diesel engines burning day and night, spewing out emissions that will affect residents on both sides of the Thames. The impact of this is barely acknowledged in a health assessment belatedly submitted by the developer last week.

The East Greenwich Residents’ Association is demanding an environmental assessment. It says:

“A ship like The World may burn up to 2 tonnes of fuel an hour. This is the equivalent of 1200 HGVs with their engines idling. A ship will burn this 24 hours a day.

Cruise vessels do not need to comply with strict emission treatment controls as do trucks, and they may well use dirtier fuel. Given that the proposed terminal will operate in the summer months, when pollution is worst, and that it lies at the heart of a dense residential area dramatically raises concerns.

East Greenwich already suffers from high, often illegal, air pollution levels. Yet another huge source of deadly pollution is not what anyone wants on their doorstep.”

EGRA says permission should not be given until the UK government responds submits its plans for complying with EU air pollution laws by the end of the year – or until the developer comes up with an acceptable plan to generate its electricity on shore.

There’s only one day left to comment on the plan yourself – yes, residents have had only three weeks to go through 130+ documents and come up with a response. Visit Greenwich Council’s planning database and enter 15/0973/F for more.

PS. If you’re still in the mood for responding to planning applications that close tomorrow, 15/0457/F is a plan to build housing on the beer garden at the Vanburgh pub in east Greenwich – something that’s definitely worth objecting to.

Greenwich Council meetings to be webcast: Will you watch?

Woolwich Town Hall, 25 February 2015
It’s been a long time coming, but Greenwich Council is all set to begin streaming video of its full council meetings online.

Councillors are being asked to formally back a year’s trial of the scheme at their annual general meeting on Wednesday.

It means anyone will be able to watch meetings live – or watch back recordings at a later date.

The move will “increase transparency and participation” and “ensure that the full and unedited version of events is available on the web”, a council report says.

It follows a change in the law last year which forced the council to allow members of the public to record or photograph meetings.

Past leader Chris Roberts had been hostile to opening up meetings – first insisting nobody would watch, then claiming it was for councillors to decide but without ever giving them the opportunity to do so. But successor Denise Hyland, who’ll mark a year in the job next month, is more keen on the idea.

A recent refurbishment of Woolwich Town Hall means the main council chamber is now kitted out to enable video recording.

This website has been recording audio from council meetings for some years, but has recently begun recording video of key moments – see a debate on the Tall Ships Festival from February and on Greenwich Time from March.

However, the old attitude still persisted as recently as January, when council critic Stewart Christie was told by a security guard to stop filming with his laptop in an incident which caused some embarrassment at Woolwich Town Hall.

Lewisham trialled webcasting in 2010, although hasn’t done so in recent years. Bexley started webcasting last year, using a low-cost system where cameras automatically focus in on whichever participant has their microphone switched on. Camden uses the same system, and its old-style chamber will give you an indication of what to expect from Greenwich.

Will anyone watch? Tweets from council meetings have generated some interest over the years, so there’s a number of people who’ll certainly dip in and take a look. But the clips I’ve put up – generally of questions from Conservative councillors to the ruling Labour cabinet – have mostly not got beyond two-figure audiences.

That said, it’ll be a godsend to journalists, who won’t need to schlep to the town hall to cover meetings. And I suspect councillors and officers will find it handiest of all, as they can watch footage back and see what was really said at meetings, as verbatim transcripts aren’t routinely taken.

One regrettable aspect of this move is that it only covers full council meetings, which tend to generate more heat than light – although in itself that can be interesting.

The real meat of the council’s business – particularly cabinet meetings and the planning board – take place in committee rooms at the front of the town hall and will still go uncovered by the new service.

Stuck at North Greenwich: Can the peninsula cope with its new masterplan?

A luxury hotel is among the developments under construction on the peninsula

A luxury hotel is among the developments under construction on the peninsula

Update, Friday 17 April: The consultation period has now been extended to Tuesday 28 April.

The general election’s well under way. But an arguably bigger decision for this part of south east London is also open for your thoughts – although you’ve only got until Friday to make your views known.

Last month, Greenwich Council quietly started consulting on changes to the 11-year-old Greenwich Peninsula masterplan. Considering the size and location of the site, this is one of the most important pieces of planning in the 50-year history of the borough (with only Thamesmead and the Royal Arsenal as competition).

Yet, as ever, engagement with the public seems to be the last thing on anyone’s mind. You know how the council claimed Greenwich Time was essential for engaging with local people? Well, not a word of editorial copy has appeared in its weekly paper about this in the three weeks the consultation has been open.

By contrast, the issue has been covered in both the News Shopper and the Mercury.

If there’s a development that demands proper discussion and debate – especially at general election time – it’s this one. It touches on the two most vital issues addressing our capital city – housing and infrastructure. Yet there simply isn’t one – it’s being swept under the carpet.

To his credit, Labour candidate Matt Pennycook mused on the issues after a consultation event in January (followed up by the Guardian’s Dave Hill), but that’s been about it. The local Peninsula ward councillors aren’t even mentioning it on their new blog.

If you want to find out more, head to Greenwich Council’s planning search and look for application 15/0716/O.

There are 191 documents to read. One person is not realistically going to manage to take on board this information all alone – even in the summary planning statement – so if you read the documents and something strikes you that’s not mentioned here, please feel free to stick it in the comments.

The plans include 12,678 homes (up from 10,100 in 2004); towers of up to 40 storeys high; 220 serviced apartments; a 500-room hotel; education and healthcare facilities; a film studio and visitor attraction; a new bus station/ transport hub; and a 5k running track around the peninsula.

Update, 21 April. Philip Binns has emailed to say the planning statement points out “up to 15,700 units could be delivered in total on the Peninsula as a whole”, explaining that this is made up of the 12,678 units referred to in the application notice plus a further 200 serviced apartments and 2,822 units which are currently being constructed or are to be implemented (approvals already having been granted). This would represent a 57% increase on what was permitted in 2004.

Like I said, there’s a lot to take in. But here’s two very broad themes that I reckon should be addressed. You may have different views.

Housing – who’s going to live there?

One vital question is unanswered – how many of these homes will people be able to afford to live in? No figures are given for social or “affordable” housing.

We already know that neither you nor I will be able to afford to live in part of the Peninsula, as Greenwich Council allowed the pre-emptive social cleansing of Peninsula Quays back in 2013, reducing the amount of social/affordable housing to 0%.

This decision was based on a viability assessment – can the developer afford to build social housing? – which was kept secret by Greenwich Council. Earlier this year, local resident Shane Brownie won a Freedom of Information battle to get this information out there.

It’s a complex issue that affects other areas of London and elsewhere – the most notorious case affects Southwark Council and the Heygate estate – and one that’s barely being heard in the election campaign. The BBC’s Sunday Politics London spoke to Shane when it dealt with the issue a few weeks back. (Thanks to Alex Ingram for the recording.)

It’s entirely possible Knight Dragon has been spooked by Greenwich being forced to disclose this document, and is playing its cards even closer to its chest.

Indeed, this planning application going out to formal consultation during an election may even stifle debate – although the decision to run it now would have been the council’s call, rather than Knight Dragon’s.

But where else in London would a development of 12,000 new homes emerge without any discussion about who they are for?

The transport infrastructure – can North Greenwich cope?

Day and night: The huge queue for the single-decker 108 at Stratheden Road, Blackheath; and the struggle to get home when there's an event on. Thanks to Ruth Townson for the pictures.

Day and night: The huge queue for the single-decker 108 at Stratheden Road, Blackheath; and the struggle to get home when there’s an event on. Thanks to Ruth Townson for the pictures.

The plans also include rebuilding and moving North Greenwich bus station. It’s approaching capacity and struggles to cope with demand as it is. But the increase is small – space for 17 bus stands rather than 15, and 11 bus stops rather than seven.

There’s pressure for North Greenwich to handle even more buses. Very few other tube stations in London are expected to handle demand from such an absurdly large area (Finsbury Park – which has to serve areas such as Crouch End and Muswell Hill – is probably the nearest equivalent).

Politicians keep demanding extra services from Kidbrooke and Eltham (as opposed to demanding improvements to rail services there), while existing routes from areas much closer to North Greenwich still struggle to cope. Route 108, in particular, is still overwhelmed each morning despite demands for a boost to services, which were met with the miserly addition of a single extra bus.

And this is before the next phase of homes open on the peninsula – adding more “one-stop” passengers on the buses and more demand for the tube station itself.

Yet TfL’s only significant transport boost in the area has ben to create a cable car which is aimed at tourists and charges premium fares. If it was a bus route, it’d be London’s 407th busiest.

It’s a crude measure – especially as these figures cover all passengers, not just ones heading to North Greenwich – but a cursory glance at passenger numbers on the eight services would suggest they’ve pretty much hit their rush-hour capacity.

Bus usage on the routes serving North Greenwich station since 1999. Route 486's figure includes predecessor service M1.

Bus usage on the routes serving North Greenwich station since 1999. Route 486’s figure includes predecessor service M1. Thanks to Clare Griffiths for her Datawrapper work.

Add to this the continuing huge developments planned for Canary Wharf and the Royal Docks, together with predictions that Crossrail will hit capacity within months of opening, and you’ve got a big problem in depending so heavily on the Jubilee Line. The queues for Stratford-bound trains at Canary Wharf show just how big demand is here.

Move the peninsula closer to Canary Wharf

There are already big queues to get on eastbound Jubilee Line trains at Canary Wharf

There are already big queues to get on eastbound Jubilee Line trains at Canary Wharf in the evening rush hour

One answer would be to give Canary Wharf workers an alternative to the Jubilee Line. At this point, up will pop Transport for London, claiming the Silvertown Tunnel would provide that for buses.

But it’s very likely that before long, any buses routed this way would get stuck in the same snarl-ups as the 108 through Blackwall, or new ones north of the Thames.

Building new roads won’t bring the high-density regeneration Greenwich Peninsula needs – this isn’t a suburban business park or a collection of warehouses. You get better results when you build workplaces within walking distance of shops, restaurants, other workplaces and railway stations.

The mostly-empty office block at 6 Mitre Passage, whose lights have stayed dim on winter evenings, shows how the Greenwich Peninsula has failed to attract businesses – one stop from Canary Wharf might as well be the other side of London.

So why not a pedestrian and cycle link to Canary Wharf? Proposals for a bridge from Rotherhithe to the Wharf have recently been dusted off – but one to the east would bring the Greenwich Peninsula within walking distance of shops, offices and the new Crossrail station.

It’d transform the area, tying it into Canary Wharf and freeing up space on both Tube and buses, and making it more attractive for businesses to set up shop.

In 2009, the cost of a bridge was put at £90m, not including maintenance and operating costs, and a TfL assessment as part of the cable car business case said it would be an “iconic” scheme, “likely to attract investment” in the area.

It added that “the walking routes on both sides of the Thames would need substantial improvement associated with developments for the environment to be of a high quality”. Well, those improvements are coming now. And without a fixed connection to Canary Wharf, those improvements on the Greenwich Peninsula may never fully reach their potential.

It’s election time – why isn’t this an issue?

London's new hire bikes feature the Dome - even though there are no terminals near North Greenwich

London’s new hire bikes feature the Dome – even though there are no terminals near North Greenwich

London is growing at a bewildering rate. Property developers are ruling over local people like feudal landlords, while local councils are treated like mug punters who fall for three card tricks.

Yet this simply isn’t an issue in a general election where it’s become fashionable to bash London. Planning desperately needs reform to give councils more clout – but this isn’t being addressed in manifestos.

The lack of serious discussion about how to manage London’s growth reflects poorly on our city’s politicians and media. And we’ve one of the worst examples of it here in Greenwich, a borough run by councillors that have too often lacked curiosity in what’s presented to them.

In the same way that Greenwich councillors fell for poor road-building schemes because the area lacks river crossings, they may well fall for an unsustainable plan for the peninsula simply because they’re desperate to see all that brownfield land built on with the first thing that comes along.

That said, the recent ousting of Chris Roberts acolyte Ray Walker from his role as planning board chair can give us hope – his replacement, Mark James, has a background in transport, so actually has an understanding of the issues at stake. With Matt Pennycook taking a more sceptical view of big developments than his predecessor, some of the mood music around Greenwich and regeneration could be about to see a welcome change.

If you’ve a couple of hours free this week, give the plans a read and send your views (try the planning statement and design and access statements for summaries) to the council. At least then, they can’t say they weren’t warned.

Greenwich Council saves playing field from Greenwich Council

Greenwich Time, 14 April 2015
The election doesn’t stop Greenwich Time – it just removes councillors from its pages for a few weeks. But the weekly paper remains to subtly associate the council with Good Things in the area, and to drone on about “royal borough” this and “royal borough” that.

This week’s Good Thing is the rescuing of Kidbrooke’s Hervey Road Playing Field, which has had the threat of redevelopment hanging over it for years now. There’s a council press release on it too, linking it to other Good Things such as improvements to nearby Hornfair Park.

Except the only threat to Hervey Road Playing Field came from… Greenwich Council. Until 2011, the council had been planning to move Willow Dene special school from Plumstead to the site, until it became clear that building on open land wasn’t going to be a popular option – particularly with the tenacious Save Hervey Road Sports Field campaign in full swing.

“It is clear that the process to secure planning consent for a development at Hervey Road might produce challenge, given its current use and planning designation for Community Open Space in the Unitary Development Plan,” a paper presented to Greenwich Council’s cabinet in July 2011 said with some understatement.

So the council backtracked, Willow Dene stayed in Plumstead and now has a brand new building; and finally Hervey Road field has been declared safe. It should never have taken this long.

Of course, those who only see Greenwich Time – like those who lived in East Germany’s “valley of the clueless” because they never saw western TV – won’t know the full story. Hervey Road got a happy ending – but it’s just another little example of how the council abuses its dominant weekly paper to shape perceptions of itself.