Lewisham Council voted unanimously last night to oppose TfL £1bn Silvertown Tunnel scheme, on the grounds that it risks increasing both congestion and air pollution in the area.
The Labour-run council endorsed a motion proposed by Blackheath councillor Kevin Bonavia, who mocked TfL’s claims on air pollution as “simply not good enough”.
Lewisham’s opposition follows that of Hackney, which passed a motion against the tunnel in July.
The tunnel is by no means a done deal – while the process is being rushed through so it can be ticked off before Boris Johnson leaves office, his successor as mayor can bin the project as soon as they take over.
All but one of Lewisham councillors will be hoping their motion helps to persuade Labour’s mayoral candidate, Sadiq Khan, to dump the scheme. The remaining councillor, the Green Party’s one-man opposition, John Coughlin, also spoke up for the motion. Green candidate Sian Berry is already against the tunnel.
Lewisham’s motion says the planned tunnel between Greenwich and the Royal Docks “risks exacerbating rather than dispersing” traffic congestion in the area, including on the A2 and the South Circular Road in the borough.
The resulting increase in congestion also risks “a deterioration of air quality in the London Borough of Lewisham”, affecting the health of residents, it added.
Particular worries for Lewisham councillors include the dreadful air quality around New Cross and Deptford – which even TfL admits will get worse under the Silvertown scheme – and the congestion blackspot of the Catford one-way system, which needs no help from the Blackwall Tunnel to become gridlocked.
“What TfL don’t say is how they’ll deal with the approach roads,” Cllr Bonavia, the council’s cabinet member for resources, said. “All they’ll have is a widening of the A102 near the tunnel – nothing about the approach roads further up.
“What does that mean for us in Lewisham, on the A2 and South Circular? More congestion.
“This proposal is poorly planned, poorly placed, and can only harm the poor congestion and poor air quality our residents face.”
Seconding the motion, fellow cabinet member Rachel Onikosi accused TfL of “over-egging” claims that the tunnel would be a “congestion killer”.
So Lewisham’s councillors have made it clear they won’t be taken in by TfL. So have Hackney’s. But what about Greenwich?
This website has written before about the dire perils of trying to appease TfL on the Silvertown Tunnel.
The No to Silvertown Tunnel campaign began from a petition on this website three years ago.
It’s since gained a life of its own, conducting three air quality studies, submitting evidence to parliamentary and City Hall inquiries, meeting politicians and doing its damnedest to get this thing stopped. (So I should point out that this post does not represent the views of the campaign, whose members have views of their own.)
Some of the Greenwich political figures who have been asking why this website hasn’t been properly updated for weeks will hopefully have been spending their time reading up on the scheme.
There are thousands of pages of consultation documents to sift through – full of contradictions and dodgy assumptions – but it remains clear that this is a botched scheme that needs to be opposed.
Whether or not you believe new road-building somewhere is what’s needed (generally it’s only a short-term fix at best), the tunnel is looking like a costly, under-scrutinised disaster. It’s all very well crying “something must be done” – this ain’t it, and TfL has played many people for mugs. There’s no one, satisfying big bang solution to getting rid of those jams.
Despite the glossy propaganda which has somehow turned up in scores of community venues across Greenwich borough, TfL has consistently admitted some areas will see increased pollution and congestion because of the scheme.
Tolling is likely to end up being the worst of all worlds, with fees too low to deter HGVs and Kent commuters, but enough to send increasing amounts of more local traffic to Rotherhithe. There are no plans to toll at weekends, despite heavy congestion on Saturdays and Sundays.
Meanwhile, the cost has crept up to £1bn, up from £600m three years ago. Desperate talk about boosting cross-river bus services is at odds with the current reality where TfL neglects the 108, and canned the Rotherhithe Tunnel’s service nine years ago.
And there’s the obvious, fatal flaw that hobbles the scheme from the start – while it’s aimed at relieving northbound Blackwall Tunnel queues, it will only exacerbate each evening’s southbound queues.
Many evenings see traffic at a crawl back through Eltham, Kidbrooke and back into Greenwich – imagine that with the 20% extra traffic even TfL predicts will use the A102/A2. There are also similar problems north of the river.
There are many different reasons why the Silvertown Tunnel must be stopped – whether you’re a driver, a bus user, a pedestrian, a cyclist, someone who has to breathe this area’s foul air, or a combination of all or some of these.
So far, Greenwich’s Labour councillors have stayed notably silent on a Conservative scheme that will have serious implications for the borough. There are murmurings that they’ve been told to keep schtum.
Regeneration cabinet member Danny Thorpe and deputy leader John Fahy attended No to Silvertown Tunnel’s public meeting two weeks ago, but did not contribute any of their thoughts. Nor did the assembled Tories.
What is clear, however, is that the demands put forward in Greenwich’s response to the last Silvertown Tunnel consultation haven’t been met. Demands to run the DLR through the tunnel to Kidbrooke and Eltham have been rejected, and TfL hasn’t been forthcoming with proposals to extend the London Overground from Barking to Abbey Wood.
A third demand, to run the DLR to Thamesmead and Abbey Wood, could appear in a new consultation on a crossing at Gallions Reach to appear on Monday, but taken in isolation, appears to have little relevance to the Silvertown scheme.
Further demands – for independently-scrutinised modelling that shows congestion and pollution would be cut – also have not been met, as the current consultation only carries “preliminary” modelling.
But this website understands from a variety of sources that TfL has been trying to secure Greenwich backing by tying a number of improvements – many desperately needed anyway – to implementation of the Silvertown Tunnel scheme.
These include a bus route from Kidbrooke Village to North Greenwich, which has been on the drawing board for at least 12 years, since the days when the Ferrier Estate was still standing.
More cynically, this website understands that TfL is tying installing a noise barrier along the A102 in Blackheath to implementation of the Silvertown Tunnel scheme, and that Greenwich councillors are happy to go along with this.
Essentially, this means that if residents on Westcombe Hill and Siebert Road (on the left in the picture below) don’t want to be deafened by traffic noise, they have to agree to be choked by even more traffic.
When it comes down to it, the Silvertown Tunnel question comes down to whether you wish to challenge Transport for London’s modelling and the assumptions that lie behind it.
One group which is set not to challenge TfL is the Greenwich Society. This website has seen its draft response, which swallows the TfL line almost completely – backing the tunnel despite admitting it will cause “small increases in traffic on local roads”.
The society left writing its response to Sir Alan Bailey, a former permanent secretary in the Department for Transport in the 1980s – his words reflect the thinking common in those times. Greenwich Society members might like to wonder what they are getting for their subscription fees.
This website understands the Westcombe Society and East Greenwich Residents Association are rejecting the scheme.
Many Greenwich Labour councillors like to pretend they have no influence over the process – even though their mayoral candidate could, if elected, cancel the scheme in May.
Of course, in other political spheres, we’ve seen Labour politicians face down dangerous proposals from Conservative opponents – such as George Osborne’s tax credit cuts.
With Londoners dying from air pollution-related causes, and town centres choked by traffic congestion, it would be refreshing to see Greenwich follow in Lewisham’s lead and stand up for residents. Will they? We’ll have to wait and see.
More than 1 in 50 Greenwich borough residents could lose their right to vote due to Government changes to the way electoral registers are compiled.
Greenwich Council says 4,293 electors are at risk of falling off the roll when it is forced to switch to individual electoral registration in December.
Broken down by ward, the difference is enough to unseat two of Greenwich’s current councillors, judging by 2014’s election results.
Previously, the electoral roll was compiled by one member of each household filling in a survey form. Now, everybody who wants a vote will has to apply individually.
Even if you had a vote in May’s general election, you may still be at risk of falling off the register as voters who’d registered under the old method were still included then.
If you’re unsure you’re on the register, you can check with Greenwich Council’s electoral registration office (or Lewisham’s, or anywhere else). You can get yourself on the roll by visiting www.gov.uk/register-to-vote.
186,340 people were registered to vote in Greenwich in May 2015, up from 174,522 at the time of 2014’s council poll.
The Labour Party launched a “missing million” campaign last weekend focused on driving up electoral registration – it fears that it will lose votes in poorer areas.
That analysis is borne out in Greenwich borough – a ward-by-ward breakdown of where the missing voters are shows more in Thamesmead Moorings and the two wards covering Woolwich. While Labour has little to fear in those three seats, it will need every vote it can get in next year’s mayoral election if Sadiq Khan is to beat Zac Goldsmith to City Hall.
|Coldharbour & New Eltham||147|
|Kidbrooke with Hornfair||232|
|Middle Park and Sutcliffe||158|
Total “red matches” – those due to come off electoral register in 1 December 2015. Source: Greenwich Council
In marginal seats, the effects of missing votes could go both ways. Judging by 2014’s results, two more Labour councillors could have been elected in Blackheath Westcombe and Eltham South if all the “red matches” were Tory voters and had already been removed.
The figures were obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request to Greenwich Council. A similar request was made to Lewisham.
PS. Leader of the House of Commons Chris Grayling today accused journalists of “misusing” Freedom of Information laws to “generate” news stories. The government is currently reviewing FOI laws.
“Everybody’s interested in the job I’m doing, what I’m up to. Yeah, I love it. I’m very proud. You get to see all the vessels that go by, get to see some beautiful vessels.”
Here’s a short film of the Woolwich Ferry’s captain, David Watkins – produced as part of the great 1,000 Londoners series.
Less than a quarter of homes on the new phase of Greenwich Peninsula development will be “affordable”, according to planning documents released by Greenwich Council last night.
Greenwich planners are recommending councillors approve the scheme at a meeting on Tuesday 8 September. Just 22.7% of homes of the 12,678 won’t be sold at full rate, the 320-page planning report reveals.
The original masterplan for the peninsula, agreed in 2004, envisaged 40% of homes being “affordable”.
But that stalled, and Hong Kong-based developer Knight Dragon – controlled by billionaire Dr Henry Cheng – which is now in charge of the scheme, has taken a much more aggressive approach to developing the huge site.
It controversially persuaded councillors to allow it no “affordable” properties at all on the plots nearest Canary Wharf, Peninsula Quays, leading to a legal row which resulted in Greenwich being forced to reveal the viability assessments it used to make the decision.
Greenwich has published the viability assessment for the new scheme, where consultants Christopher Marsh and Company pinpoint withdrawals of grants by the last government as a factor in the low figure.
“Some agency, or several, will receive significant sums via the original land agreement, and currently, none, it would appear, are prepared to re-cycle any share of those receipts back into affordable housing in Greenwich. That is a key driver in this case. Before February 2014, when Government largely abandoned grant aid to affordable housing, we would have expected most schemes to have exceeded 30% affordable housing. Without grant, that expectation has now been reduced by about one third.”
A further document from BNP Paribas compares the Peninsula scheme with property values at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich – an improvement on the Peninsula Quays scheme where values across the whole borough were used, despite the unique nature of the site.
The document indicates that the headline figure for new homes remains 12,678, with towers of up to 40 storeys.
A quick skim through the papers would appear to indicate Greenwich planners have largely accepted Knight Dragon’s transport proposals, despite fears from a raft of local groups and even Transport for London that they will pile additional pressure onto North Greenwich station. An early reference to the “Silvertown Tunnel Rail Link” suggests that planners may not totally be on the ball here.
TfL says: “Jubilee Line crowding is already an issue and is forecast to continue in 2031. The additional crowding on Jubilee Line services is considered an issue. TfL cannot agree that the London Underground (LU) and National Rail networks would be largely unaffected by the proposed development.”
Indeed, council planners shrugged off calls for a pedestrian and cycle connection to Canary Wharf to relieve the Jubilee Line in just a sentence – “the feasibility of a pedestrian link between the Peninsula and Canary Wharf has been investigated previously but it is not considered feasible” – presumably a reference to an 2010 assessment by TfL produced to justify the construction of the Thames Cable Car, which said a bridge would not bring in any income.
The only explicit mass public transport improvement appears to be funding for a bus from Kidbrooke Village to North Greenwich – which is likely to pile even more pressure on the Jubilee Line.
There’s a lot to wade through, but it’s hard to see quite where Greenwich has tried to strike any worthwhile bargain with Knight Dragon. The big question remains – will the council’s planning board swallow Dr Cheng’s prescription?
It’s another tall ships weekend, but for a real sniff of what life’s like by the river in Greenwich these days, head down to Christchurch Way. Here, Barratt Homes has recently unveiled the first homes at Enderby Wharf – adjacent to the planned cruise terminal site.
Unfortunately, these homes haven’t yet been properly linked up to utilities. There’s currently no sewerage service, for example.
So every other day, a truck parks up in Christchurch Way to take the new residents’ effluent away. Sometimes it comes at breakfast, sometimes it comes in the afternoon. It smells, and it’s noisy too…
It typically takes three hours to suck all the sewage away, I’m told.
Worse still, the new homes are currently being powered by diesel generators.
While I was filming the poo wagon, one shift-working resident came out to tell me he’s disturbed by the noise from the crap truck, and his asthma is being made worse by the generators.
These are clearly growing pains for what will be a big new development. But it’s another example of why people in this part of Greenwich are feeling a little under siege right now.
Mayor Boris Johnson’s deputy has backed Greenwich Council’s decision to allow a cruise liner terminal to be built at Enderby Wharf, east Greenwich, despite residents’ fears that it will increase air pollution in the area.
The Conservative administration at City Hall sided with the Labour council on last month’s go-ahead for the scheme, even though locals are demanding the terminal is fitted with on-shore power generation to save the area from being exposed to emissions from the dirty fuel that cruise ships usually use.
A version of the scheme was originally approved in 2011, but new plans put forward this year propose ships staying longer at the site, using their own fuel, rather than shore-side power as recommended by the European Union.
Despite councillors hearing last month that the scheme will actually only create 88 jobs, a City Hall press release persists with the original claim that the scheme will lead to 500 jobs.
Deputy mayor Edward Lister – a former leader of Wandsworth Council – took the decision, saying: “We have worked with the local authority and the developer to ensure the new terminal and surrounding infrastructure will meet the needs of thousands of tourists coming to the city each year.
“It will provide a major boost to tourism, benefit the local economy and further contribute to London’s status as a world leading city.”
City Hall said it relied on an separate independent assessment to the one revealed to Greenwich councillors just days before last month’s planning meeting.
“While it recognised there could be some moderate adverse impact on occasion, it also acknowledged the height, speed and heat of ship emissions disperse more efficiently in comparison to motor vehicles,” it said.
“Recognising the levels of background pollution already experienced in the borough, £400,000 has been secured towards ongoing environmental monitoring or improving air quality through the Royal Borough of Greenwich’s Air Quality Action Plan.”
For Greenwich Council, regeneration cabinet member Danny Thorpe said: “This landmark cruise liner development will bring many thousands more visitors to the borough, and provide a major boost to tourism.
“The council is committed to improving air quality in the borough, and recognises that this was an area of concern for local residents. I hope that it will be reassuring for residents to learn that the Mayor has submitted our measures to independent scrutiny and found them to be satisfactory.”
Residents in the area already complain of feeling under siege by politicians and developers, and many may find hearing a Labour councillor endorse Boris Johnson’s administration on air pollution – not the Conservative mayor’s strongest point – represents a new smack in the face.
Last week, the East Greenwich Residents Association called on council leader Denise Hyland to step down from its main planning committee after it emerged she was the only one of London’s 28 council leaders to take a direct role in deciding whether new developments should go ahead.
Hyland’s comments during the meeting were also leaked to Private Eye magazine, leading to the council’s first appearance in the satirical publication for many years.
Local residents in east Greenwich are demanding council leader Denise Hyland stands down from the borough’s main planning committee after it was revealed she is the only council leader in London who is regularly directly involved in taking decisions about major new developments.
The East Greenwich Residents Association has made the call following Hyland’s role in pushing through plans for a controversial cruise liner terminal in the area.
Hyland, who has led the council since June 2014, told the planning meeting that the terminal’s planned 31-storey residential tower was “nothing”, criticising residents for not bringing up air pollution fears when the proposals first came before the planning committee some years back – even though plans for the terminal have substantially changed since then.
She also said that on a trip to a cruise terminal in Southampton, she could not “see” any air pollution there – despite the fact that it is usually invisible. Her performance at the planning board earned her an appearance in this week’s Private Eye magazine.
The planning board shrugged off air pollution concerns about the London City Cruise Port, and the lack of any comprehensive, timely environmental assessment. It accepted developers’ claims that it would be too expensive to install on-shore generating equipment which would reduce the impact of ships spending extended stays at the terminal, despite European guidelines recommending this system is used.
Local MP Matt Pennycook and councillors Stephen Brain and Chris Lloyd were among the objectors, along with Tower Hamlets councillors and Isle of Dogs residents.
Research by EGRA – independently verified by this website – shows no other borough in London allows its leader such a prominent role in taking planning decisions, a role where politics should play no part.
Large or contentious decisions across Greenwich borough are usually taken by a committee of 14 councillors, called the Planning Board.
Most boroughs operate a similar system – though using different names for the committees – which usually see less high-profile cases taken by area committees.
But Denise Hyland is the only one of London’s 28 council leaders (a further four are run by elected mayors) to regularly sit on her council’s main planning committee.
The only other council to permit a formal role for its leader in planning decisions is the controversial Conservative-run authority in Barnet. But even here, Richard Cornelius is only a substitute member of its planning committee, deputising for his fellow Conservative councillors where necessary – a role he hasn’t carried out since June 2014.
Indeed, 13 out of London’s 32 boroughs only allow backbench councillors to take major planning decisions – removing any suspicion that may arise from having high-profile councillors taking sensitive formal decisions.
Of the 14 planning board meetings held since Hyland became leader, she has attended nine of them.
This continues a system which began under Hyland’s predecessor Chris Roberts, who started sitting on the planning board in 2007. Roberts did not take part in the 2011 meeting which gave the terminal its original green light, after appearing on TV promoting the scheme.
But Hyland – then regeneration cabinet member – did take part in that meeting, then praising the scheme as “world class”.
In May, ahead of the planning board’s decision, the London City Cruise Port’s chief executive Kate O’Hara was invited to the council’s £20,000 private mayor-making ceremony, attended by Hyland.
Advice from the Local Government Association says that “members of a planning committee… need to avoid any appearance of bias or of having predetermined their views before taking a decision on a planning application or on planning policies”.
Hyland’s successor in that role, Danny Thorpe, has inherited her position the board. Just six other boroughs – Barking, Camden, Harrow, Lambeth, Newham and Richmond – allow his counterparts to assist in making planning decisions.
In an open letter to Hyland, EGRA’s executive committee says:
“We are concerned that your presence as council leader alongside the regeneration cabinet member could make the planning board susceptible to political pressure and decisions made on policy and party lines rather than in the wider public or community interest.
“This concern is reinforced by your tendency and Councillor Thorpe’s tendency to sum up and make your positions known before voting takes place. The recent decision on the cruise liner terminal is a good case in point.
“Our community feels extremely frustrated at the way in which our attempts to raise legitimate concerns over the development of our area are not being taken seriously and are being batted away through a process that is less than scrupulous at times and is susceptible to what we perceive as potential political interference.
“We call on you to restore our confidence in the borough and the decisions it makes and we formally request that you step down from the Planning Board. We need to have confidence that our borough is making the right decisions for the right reasons and operating in the same way as other London boroughs as part of the statutory process.”
Residents are now pinning their hopes on London mayor Boris Johnson “calling in” the application to decide himself – a move supported by Liberal Democrat, Green and Conservative members on the London Assembly. Tower Hamlets Council has since backed away from its opposition to the scheme. A decision is expected soon.
Meanwhile, it has emerged that European money could have been available to help fund the London City Cruise Port fund on-shore generating equipment.
Trade publication Ship Technology, which accuses the developers of “cutting corners”, reports that the EU can fund up to half the costs of research and 20% of the costs of installation if a member state opts to use such a system. But councillors were not told this before they made their decision.
7pm update: Former Greenwich councillor Hayley Fletcher, who sat on the planning board alongside council leader Chris Roberts, responded to this story…