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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 the ‘greenwich council’ Category

Be magnanimous in victory… except if you’re Eltham Labour

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A little postscript to May’s Greenwich Council election. The highest-profile scalp was that of Conservative Nigel Fletcher, who lost his Eltham North seat as Labour advanced – due at least in part to Ukip taking suburban votes from the Tories.

Nigel’s written well about his experience of losing. Sadly, others couldn’t be as classy. On Saturday, Nigel got this leaflet through his door.

Eltham North Labour leaflet

Ouch. Not nice.

Still, at least Nigel can count himself lucky – up here in the north of the borough, hearing from your councillors after an election simply doesn’t happen.

In the meantime, let’s keep a special eye out for how Linda Bird and Wynn Davies shake things up…

2.45pm update: Nigel has now written about the letter himself.

Written by Darryl

14 July, 2014 at 6:30 am

Government backs Greenwich Ikea: So what happens next?

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Peartree Way, 3 November 2013

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has confirmed he won’t intervene in Greenwich Council’s decision to allow a huge new Ikea superstore in east Greenwich.

Greenwich Council gave outline permission for the store, on the site of the “eco-friendly” Sainsbury’s store in Peartree Way, in March. Planning officers ignored concerns about increased traffic and air pollution, a decision later backed by London mayor Boris Johnson.

The process was halted by Pickles in May, leading campaigners to hope the decision could go to a public inquiry.

Now Pickles’ decision means it’s back in the hands of Greenwich Council, which now needs to hammer out what concessions Ikea needs to make to make any store work, before a detailed planning application goes in.

Of course, the biggest worry is traffic and pollution. The development’s bound to be a draw for flat-pack furniture fans from across London and Kent, yet it’s to be placed in an area which can’t cope with any more traffic. The only real proposal from Ikea to solve this was to route traffic away from the notorious Woolwich Road roundabout, sending traffic in the direction of the Millennium Village.

Any ideas? If you do, contact your local councillors – it’s time for them to earn their corn and try to ameliorate the damage their colleagues have caused.

Written by Darryl

7 July, 2014 at 11:34 am

Will Greenwich Council’s new boss be the same as the old boss?

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So, last week, Chris Roberts said his farewells as Dear Leader. I’m told he was still in his office at Woolwich Town Hall as the minutes ticked down until the end of his reign at 7pm last Wednesday. And as the effective editor of the council’s weekly newspaper, Greenwich Time, he got to pen his own farewell.

roberts_farewell

In case you were wondering, “leave this world a little better than you found it” is a quotation from Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scout movement.

More telling, though, from a politician closely associated with huge building projects, is “make no small plans, for they have no power to stir men’s souls”. That’s attributed to Daniel Burnham, a US architect who worked on some of the world’s earliest skyscrapers, including New York City’s Flatiron Building. Something to remember when Berkeley Homes’ huge towers start to loom over Woolwich in the next few years.

Possibly more telling than that, though, is a revealing comment he made at his final full council meeting in March, which you can listen to below. He’s heavily tipped to end up in some consultancy or advisory role, so until he re-emerges, let’s leave this as the last word.

He was paying tribute to departing councillors. But it was pretty clear he wasn’t talking about them when he said: “The service of the public is a noble calling, whether you’re doing it as a councillor or as an officer. No-one in a democracy does it for the money. It can be long, it can be tiring, but as we all know, it can be rewarding.

“It can result in people delving into your personal lives, and as we all know it’s full of journalists, bloggers and tweeters who think that your moral compass and motives are as base as theirs sometimes seem to be – and that public works and public good are something to be denigrated by those who seek to pursue them [sic].”

***

That was then, this is now.

Greenwich Time, 17 June 2014

The Dear Leader is no more, so congratulations and welcome to Denise Hyland as the new Greenwich Council leader, as trumpted by – where else? – Greenwich Time.

It’s lucky for Hyland that one of the more controversial projects under her past watch as regeneration cabinet member, the botched refurbishment of the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels, is finally nearing completion. Indeed, she’d also been saddled with fronting the council’s Bridge The Gap campaign to build the Silvertown Tunnel and a bridge at Gallions Reach – in spite of opposition from her own party.

The party members’ opposition meant Labour’s position in May’s election was subtly different. “Bridge The Gap is dead,” one Labour source insisted to me during the council election. And, indeed, look at what the Labour manifesto said…

Greenwich Labour manifesto, 2014

A little bit of wiggle room emerged. And Labour candidates were telling people on the doorstep that things had changed. Here’s Stephen Brain, now Peninsula ward councillor, on 23 April.

Stephen Brain on Twitter

But on 24 April, despite what was in the Labour party manifesto, here’s what Denise Hyland was telling Boris Johnson, responding to his London Plan

London Plan response, 24 April 2014

Was Denise Hyland just following orders? Here she is from the News Shopper last week:

“I’m saying that we need a package of river crossings, absolutely we do.

I’m not going to get drawn into over whether we’ll accept or refuse a single crossing. I want to work with my colleagues, my Labour colleagues in the majority group and get a consensus after we’ve seen the proposals.”

That sounds like Bridge The Gap is still alive.

“Of course I’m concerned about air quality. I think it’s obviously a very difficult balance. If we actually look at our figures, 85 per cent of people thought we needed additional river crossings. 76 per cent wanting Silvertown, 73 per cent wanting a bridge at Gallions. People seem to think that doing nothing is not an option.”

Let’s not forget that Greenwich Council tried to rig that consultation, of course. Perhaps the new chief whip, one Stephen Brain, needs to get his leader into line…

Generally, the News Shopper interview seemed to promise more of the same than anything new. When asked about opening up the council, she said “I obviously want ward councillors to be frontline councillors, they’re the representatives of the council in the community and they represent their people and its for them to channel people’s voices through to the council” – ie, they should do their job. From this early interview, don’t expect any move away from the current top-down decision-making any time soon.

Then again, her Greenwich Time “interview” talked up the importance of listening to communities – since the Shopper’s piece went up on the website on Friday, shortly before GT goes to press, I can’t help wondering if the piece underwent a hasty rewrite as the introductory paragraph doesn’t match the headline. After all, Hyland is now the effective editor of GT…

It’s early days, and Hyland has to get her feet under the table first. While Roberts’ chief executive, Mary Ney, remains in place, big changes are probably unlikely – although a new cohort of Labour councillors will want to make their presence felt.

But who has her old job of regeneration cabinet member, the most important on the council?

Danny ThorpeCuriously, the job didn’t go to an big hitter such as Jackie Smith, John Fahy or David Gardner – but to Danny Thorpe, the 30-year-old Shooters Hill councillor best known for spending a year of his first term in office in Australia. When a skint Thorpe had to return to London after six months to attend a council meeting to avoid a by-election being triggered, the council’s Labour group had to pay his air fare.

Thorpe, who used to work in events management for Hackney Council, will be juggling his cabinet portfolio with teacher training at a primary school in Dartford. You could always try to follow him on Twitter, but his profile’s locked. Mind you, the last time I saw it, it was full of photos of him and singer Beverley Knight.

Hyland and Thorpe are also both on the planning board along with ex-deputy leader Peter Brooks and ex-chief whip Ray Walker – so the old guard are still represented there.

There are other new faces in the new cabinet. Highly-rated newcomer Sizwe James takes business, employment and skills, while fellow new councillor Chris Kirby gets housing. Miranda Williams, in her second term, joins the cabinet as member for cultural and creative industries. Returning councillor David Gardner takes health and adult social care.

Maureen O’Mara stays in the cabinet, taking community wellbeing and public health; while Jackie Smith also stays in the cabinet, but loses her highly-praised role in charge of children’s services to take on community safety and environment. John Fahy now takes on children’s services as well as being deputy leader. The “Greener Greenwich” portfolio (created by Roberts after the Greens broke through as an electoral force in 2006) has been dumped, with Harry Singh talking charge of customer and community services.

Cynics never the changed the world, so this website won’t be writing the new team off just yet. Denise Hyland and her team need to prove they are better than the unravelling shambles that came before them – and they’ll need to pick up some of the pieces, too.

Of course, Greenwich councillors should be held to account for past actions, but those actions may not necessarily be an accurate prediction of the future. It’d be good to see a review of past contracts signed with developers – as Hammersmith & Fulham’s new Labour administration is carrying out after usurping a Tory regime that also looked a bit too close to builders – but frankly that won’t happen.

Those who kept their head down and did as they were told under a bullying, stifling regime need the chance to find their feet and prove to us they can make a difference. The way Greenwich borough is run desperately needs to change – will they be the ones to deliver?

PS. Former Labour councillor Alex Grant has started a blog – and if you’ve made it down this far, his first post will be essential reading. Former Tory councillor Nigel Fletcher has also returned to being a digital scribe, and his account of losing his seat is also well worth reading.

Woolwich Tesco up for bad architecture’s Carbuncle Cup

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Woolwich Tesco, 15 June 2014

The development containing Woolwich’s giant Tesco store has been nominated for the Carbuncle Cup, architecture’s prize for the UK’s worst new building. The whole block has been developed by Spenhill, a subsidiary of the retail giant.

Woolwich Tesco, 15 June 2014

The store, which opened in November 2012, and its associated Woolwich Central housing development have been shortlisted for the prize by architects’ trade journal Building Design.

BD’s Ike Ijeh writes:

Woolwich might have thought that its days as a military outpost were over. Wrong. Somehow what looks like the world’s largest shooting range gained planning permission right in the middle of the town centre, presumably after masquerading as housing above a Tesco supermarket.

Camouflage comes in the way of some truly diabolical cladding and a massing strategy that seems to have been directly inspired by the 1948 Berlin Blockade; we can only hope that residential leases come with free airlift. Tesco may be the world’s third largest retailer but clearly when it comes to this untactical offensive, every little hurts.

Woolwich Tesco, 15 June 2014

“If you approach it from Angelsea Road, it towers above the pub and small shops on Woolwich New Road – this isn’t a development that’s going to be held in much affection outside the town hall and Tesco HQ. Look out for it in next year’s Carbuncle Cup,” I wrote when the store opened 19 months ago.

Greenwich Council were enthusiastic backers of the store when it opened – the authority gained a new civic HQ and library out of the move – yet it’s unclear whether the store has been the shot in the arm that Woolwich town centre needed. Many of the other retail units in the development remain unlet.

Earlier this month, Marks & Spencer announced plans to close its store there.

Woolwich Tesco, 15 June 2014

It’s not the first time the award’s judges have condemned a Greenwich borough development – 2012′s award went to the “disastrously conceived restoration” of the Cutty Sark.

Last year’s prize went to a student block on Caledonian Road, Islington, which features windows facing onto a brick wall. 2010′s award went to the Strata tower at Elephant and Castle, blasted for its “Philishave stylings”.

Written by Darryl

15 June, 2014 at 6:50 pm

Greenwich’s Peninsula Square welcomes the World Cup

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Peninsula Square, Greenwich, 12 June 2014
A year ago, I wrote how Peninsula Square, the open space between North Greenwich station and the Dome, planned as “a buzzing, exciting place to visit”, had become a sorely disappointing spot – simply nothing more than a glorified holding pen for O2 Arena customers.

Twelve months on, and here was the scene as the opening ceremony of the 2014 World Cup got under way in Brazil. Directly below, people were passing through North Greenwich to watch the opening ceremony and the first match on screens large and small. But on a balmy June evening, all the big screen in Peninsula Square could muster were the same old crappy promos for the O2 Arena. What a waste.

Even the unfortunate Frank Dekker (remember him?) managed better on Olympics opening night with his ill-fated Peninsula Festival big screen. Oh well. In the meantime, Woolwich’s big screen might just be the place to head to (particularly for Iran v Nigeria on Monday and Ghana v Germany on Saturday 21st.)

PS. There won’t be any football there, but one open space in Greenwich is open for the community this weekend – the riverside garden at Ballast Quay, by the Cutty Sark pub.

Written by Darryl

13 June, 2014 at 7:30 am

M&S to close: Woolwich’s Marks finally loses its spark

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Marks & Spencer Woolwich, 5 June 2014

The other week I found myself in Woolwich’s Marks & Spencer. An underpant crisis does that to a gentleman, you see. I stood for a minute, and looked around me. The shelves looked tatty. Wires hung down from the wall. The decor had barely changed since I was a kid, making 2014 fashion displays look like something out of 1974.

There couldn’t be many stores left with that proud, golden “MARKS & SPENCER” lettering on the front, I mused. Yet the main entrances had been locked up for years, presumably a last-ditch move against shoplifters. While down the road, Woolwich was shiny and new, here was the Woolwich that was still in decline. I must write about this some day, I thought, before remembering I had undercrackers to purchase. That’s the good thing about an M&S outlet shop – cheap pants.

But I’m going to have to go somewhere else for my discount drawers now, because Woolwich’s century-old M&S is for the chop. And it’s the first big headache for Greenwich Council’s leader-elect Denise Hyland, deputy-elect John Fahy, and regeneration cabinet member-elect Danny Thorpe.

They aren’t alone. Down in Gravesend, the council’s furious at the loss of their M&S. Up, way up in Redcar, the council’s planning talks – as is Greenwich. And with good reason. In South Shields, they say even charity shops are being hit by the loss of their store.

Woolwich M&S, 5 June 2014

“[They] clearly have a lack of commercial judgement,” fumed John Fahy. But let’s be honest here – that M&S has looked doomed since the day it became an outlet store over a decade ago, when the main doors were bolted shut and the wires started hanging down from the ceiling. And the steel frame of the new Charlton M&S has started to emerge in recent weeks, ahead of its opening late next year. Did the arrival of Tesco bang the final nail in the coffin of M&S Woolwich? It’s a moot point after decades of decline.

But just as the national economic recovery is only being felt in a few places, Woolwich’s own re-emergence isn’t all that clear to all either.

Yup, shiny new-ish Tesco (tick), some coffee bars (tick), nice square that everyone likes (tick), but then the rest of it’s all behind the brick walls of the Arsenal. While Wellington Street, between the town hall and the council HQ, is immaculate and bedecked in “ROYAL GREENWICH” propaganda banners; Powis Street and Hare Street look as miserable as ever. If you had a choice, why would you do your shopping there?

Woolwich M&S, 5 June 2014

And frankly, who’s left to do their shopping there? Big employers have moved out of Woolwich in recent decades and haven’t been replaced. Right opposite M&S on Thomas Street is the Island Site, once home to Thames Polytechnic/Greenwich University, now let out to small colleges. Over the road was Morgan-Grampian Publishing, whose offices are now flats. In the 1960s, according to the Survey of London, Woolwich’s M&S carried lines you’d usually only find in the West End. Today, there aren’t enough people around during the day to even buy heavily-discounted pants.

What to do? A council can’t work miracles, and you can’t force a business to stay, particularly one with shareholders to please. But it’s clear M&S hasn’t got much confidence in a real upturn in Woolwich’s fortunes, and judging by the state of the store, it probably hasn’t done for years. There are no easy answers, but one sign of what’s going wrong in Woolwich was in Greenwich Council’s weekly newspaper last week…

Greenwich Time, 26 May 2014

The outgoing Dear Leader’s still in charge until Wednesday, so here’s Chris Roberts bigging up a plan for a “cultural quarter” behind the Royal Arsenal brick wall, without mentioning it’s an attempt to replace the ailing Firepower military museum.

Yet who’ll really benefit from this scheme? Roberts’ mates at Berkeley Homes, of course, who own the residential land surrounding the Firepower site. While Powis Street and Hare Street continue to decay, the council is still at Berkeley’s service.

Even more bafflingly, the “cultural quarter” plans seem at odds with the council’s own Woolwich masterplan, which envisage another cultural quarter, this time opposite the current M&S store.

Woolwich Town Centre Masterplan

townhall_annexeStroll along Polytechnic Street and you’ll find the neglected and empty-looking original Woolwich Polytechnic building, with intricate decorations around the windows; a mysterious “town hall annexe” which has seen better days, the original Woolwich swimming baths, and the crumbling first town hall from 1842. It’s a ghost street right in the heart of Woolwich.

Yet nothing’s happening to bring this back to life – indeed, the Woolwich Grand Theatre looks set to be replaced by flats. Fill this block with creative businesses, as promised in the masterplan, and you’d at least generate some daytime trade in Woolwich that had some money to spend.

But instead, Greenwich Council remains focused on pleasing Berkeley Homes above any other business, and while that continues, it’s hard to see the rest of Woolwich really getting much of a look-in.

Once Chris Roberts leaves on Wednesday, maybe the new leadership might change tack and look at ways to make sure the effects of Woolwich’s revamp are felt more evenly. At a hustings event for Woolwich Riverside ward, Labour’s Jackie Smith even suggested the wall surrounding the Arsenal come down – “if it happened in Berlin, it can happen in Woolwich”. It’s time to talk and find new ideas for Woolwich, instead of the old approach of painting over locals’ views.

And maybe for that Arsenal “cultural quarter”… what about a nice new M&S outlet store? Otherwise, I’m going to have to start stocking up on cut-price undercrackers very soon…

8.05am update: John Fahy has written to M&S: “The alternative to this proposal should be to dispense with the Outlet brand,restore the M&S brand and extend the Simply Food floor space.”

Written by Darryl

6 June, 2014 at 7:30 am

Greenwich Council election results: Labour prevails, but no wipeout

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woolwich_town_hall

Election counts are funny events. While the overall result was never in doubt, there were enough mini-dramas to make spending most of Friday in a hall at Woolwich’s Waterfront leisure centre a strangely compelling experience. Maybe it’s the hypnosis that kicks in after staring at ballot papers being counted.

Anyway, enough waffle. Here are the headlines:

  • Labour tightened its grip on Greenwich Council after taking three seats from the Tories, giving them 43 councillors to the Conservatives’ eight.
  • Tory deputy leader Nigel Fletcher was the night’s biggest scalp, losing his Eltham North seat to Labour along with fellow Conservative Adam Thomas. Their leader Spencer Drury clung on, but Labour’s Linda Bird and Wynn Davies surged ahead of their rivals, both finishing less than 30 votes behind Drury.
  • Labour also nicked a seat from the Tories in Blackheath Westcombe ward, with Cherry Parker and Paul Morrissey topping the poll. Veteran Tory Geoff Brighty held on, edging out Labour rival Damien Welfare.
  • But the Tories held off surging Labour and Ukip votes in Eltham South and Coldharbour & New Eltham to retain all their councillors there.
  • Strong Ukip votes wrecked Tory polling in many wards in the south and east of the borough – coming second in five wards – but early fears that they would eat into Labour votes in Abbey Wood and Eltham West weren’t realised.
  • But in the north and west, it was the Greens who picked up votes, notably in Greenwich West where Robin Stott polled a party record 1,108 votes. They also came second in five wards, beating the Liberal Democrats in all 17 wards, mostly comfortably.
  • The Lib Dem vote collapsed completely, with their strongest vote being just 557 votes in Greenwich West, a target for them in 2010. Former councillor Paul Webbewood slumped to just 273 votes in Middle Park & Sutcliffe, behind the British National Party.
  • Full results are on the Greenwich Council website.

For the next four years, all that really matters is the bit in bold. Labour won, eating away at traditionally Tory Eltham. The urban/suburban divide in Greenwich borough used to be expressed by where voted Labour and where voted Conservative. Now Labour have snuck deeper into Eltham, the great divide is now summed up by where the Greens came second, and where Ukip ended as runners-up.

waterfront

The count took up two big sports halls at the Waterfront. The heroes were the counters, all given Royal Borough of Greenwich bags and sugary sweets to see them through the long day. Polling boss Stephen O’Hare prowled around with a smile on his face – his team toils for years building up to days like this. You have to admire the skills involved in putting all this together.

It was Christmas Day for polling geeks, and there were lots of presents to unwrap. The counters had to sort the yellow ballot papers out (did you spot the little Cutty Sark on them?) and flatten them – and make sure the white European ballots were packed away for their separate count on Sunday. This alone took two or three hours. Only then could the counting actually start.

And they did this while being watched by candidates and party helpers. Some sat back, relaxed and good-natured, like Labour’s Don Austen, poised as if he was soaking up summer sun. Some manage to do it in the creepiest possible fashion – like the one bent right over one desk, showing off rather too much of his backside. If he’d hung around, one of the Greens could have parked her bike there. (Lib Dem veteran Bonnie Soanes later told me he always wears braces to election counts to prevent this.)

count_leafletThere were more intriguing sights. The perfect Judas kiss, as one politician got a smacker on the cheek from a same-party rival suspected of a stitch-up operation. The grandest of Greenwich politics’ grand fromages, Nick Raynsford, greeting all with a statesman-like smile. Labour councillor Clive Mardner, also beaming away, brought his mum along to take a look.

And there was the camaraderie across party lines, as rivals talked, gossiped and joked after a stressful battle – a lot more unites than divides after the polls have shut, and after all, it’s the ones who wear the same rosette as you who are more likely to stab you in the back. There were two groups who weren’t really chatting, though – one was Ukip, the other the clique around outgoing leader Chris Roberts.

There’s an old joke about weighing the Labour vote. But despite the thumping win, that wasn’t strictly true – it was all about the split votes. And there were a huge number of them – far higher than in previous elections, experienced campaigners told me. These told as much of a story as the big piles of Labour votes that emerged later.

You get three votes for council elections, but many Greenwich votes stubbornly decided to pick and choose rather than vote on party lines, or only voted for one or two candidates. Some splits were logical – Labour/Green, or Tory/Ukip. A telling number went for logic-defying protest split of Green/Ukip. Green candidate Dave Sharman, a peace-loving Quaker, wore a look of saintly bemusement after being told one voter had picked him, Ukip and the BNP. Another voter planted three Xs in the box for another Green candidate – a misunderstanding or a declaration of love?

While the splits tell a story, they can also be misleading – they have to be separately counted, which is painstakingly done by ticking off candidates’ names on a grid. A large number of Ukip ticks led to a small flurry of excitement over Abbey Wood ward. A larger number of ticks led to real worries in Eltham West – local MP Clive Efford watching with concern for chief whip Ray Walker, one of Roberts’ henchmen.

But in the end, Labour sailed through, although many in his party would have been quietly pleased to see the back of Walker, who once accused victims of bullying in the party of being bandwagon- jumpers. That said, when the Eltham West result was announced, it was like a fog had lifted from the hall. Another early panic saw Labour’s Chris Lloyd display a look of mild terror at a pile of Green votes. By the time the Greens turned up to take a look, though, Labour were comfortably ahead.

Then there were the spoiled ballots. “There’s a cock and balls on that one!,” giggled one Labour candidate. “There’s one in Charlton that just says ‘cunts’ all down the paper,” mused a Labour helper. I saw one where the voter put a cross next to everybody. We all agreed it was better that people spoiled their papers than stayed at home – but heaven knows what the counters made of the genitalia and profanities.

Count wristband

When counting got under way, the looks on candidates’ faces, lined up in front of the counters, seemed to resemble the old Fry’s “five boys” advertisement – anticipation, desperation, concern, despair and elation. “Someone needs to give Matt Clare a hug,” an observer said as the Eltham South Tory looked more and more concerned.

Outside the Waterfront, the smokers turned a stretch of pavement on Woolwich High Street into Greenwich borough’s premier political salon. “I’m staying detached,” said Nigel Fletcher, puffing away and reflecting on what was to come.

Back inside, Tory chief Spencer Drury looked increasingly like a man who’d been up all night playing poker and was left with only his car keys to throw onto the table. Around lunchtime, the rosette-wearing Tories had a little pow-wow under a tree in Powis Street. Heaven knows what Woolwich’s shoppers, swimmers and winos made of the sight.

The day went on. The process started at 9am, yet it was nearly 5pm before the first seats were announced. One Labour candidate’s mum kept texting her to ask if she’d won. Not yet, not yet… big crowds built up around the Eltham counting desks. Shooters Hill’s Lib Dem Stewart Christie gave up watching his results, laughing: “I’m going to finish a very strong 9th.”

But despite the curse of being saddled with the toxic Lib Dem badge, and a local party imploding after the resignation of its leader, he made an impact beyond the ballot box, and found himself in an animated chat with Labour’s Denise Hyland about the Gallions Reach Bridge. Stewart’s campaigning will certainly go on. His Charlton colleague Paul Chapman, a complete newcomer, looks set to stay active in some form or other. I couldn’t help wondering if the Charlton Labour party were eyeing him up as a possible recruit…

Someone else who seemed to have caught the campaigning bug was the Greens’ Jo Lawbuary, bouncing with excitement when she heard boyfriend Purnendu Roy came second in unfancied Woolwich Common. She didn’t do too badly herself, beating the Tories and Lib Dems in Plumstead.

But while the Greens were proud of their second-place finish in Peninsula, one experienced Labour figure suggested it was a bit of a damp squib – they were still a good 900-1,150 votes behind Labour (789, 757 and 665 to Labour’s 1,926, 1,771 and 1,614). The lesson for the Greens should be to kick on and just carry on campaigning locally. Perhaps with people like Jo on board and a general election next year, they might do that this time.

Empty counting hall

As the results went on, the emotional contrasts became sharper. Blackheath Westcombe Labour victor Cherry Parker‘s smile was matched by Tory opponent Thomas Turrell‘s resigned laugh. He’d had a rough day, but at least he played his part in the election.

And in a borough like Greenwich, taking part really is what counts. In next-door Charlton ward, the Tories seemed to conduct a fantasy campaign from behind a keyboard, meting out the odd tweet without even revealing who was behind the account, yet declining to even appear at a hustings or come along to the count. They rightly finished well down the ballot, and then quietly deleted their Twitter account.

There were big cheers for Labour’s win in Eltham North, but widespread sympathy for popular Nigel Fletcher. A genuinely nice guy who can do an unnervingly accurate impression of William Hague (his criticism of the Daily Mail’s campaign against Ed Miliband went viral last year), he’s a keen student of the way opposition politicians conduct themselves, but he’d had a harsh practical lesson. Even Chris Roberts popped by to pass on his condolences.

Nerves were fraying among the Tories, but in the cold light of day, perhaps they panicked a bit too much. John Hills, Mandy Brinkhurst and Matt Hartley held onto Coldharbour & New Eltham. This kind of working-class Tory vote could have been stolen by Labour or Ukip – and had been not so far away (Lewisham’s Grove Park ward falling to Labour, Bexley’s Blackfen & Lamorbey losing one to Ukip – the losing Tory there being Brinkhurst’s son, Chris Taylor). But the Conservatives dug in, and held on – in its own way, a stunning victory when judged against other London boroughs.

The crowd surrounding the final ward to declare, Eltham North

The crowd surrounding the final ward to declare, Eltham South

The clock ticked towards eight, and there was a delay as a few missing ballot papers for the final ward, Eltham South, were tracked down. A fog seemed to fall again as whispers indicated a three-way split between the Tories, Labour and Ukip. But again, the Tories held on, with both Labour and Ukip less than 100 behind, and despite disgrunted ex-Tory Eileen Glover scoring 440 votes.

Finally, Matt Clare could relax. And while it’s no comfort to Adam Thomas or Nigel Fletcher, the resillience of the Eltham Tories is striking. Stung by their losses, they could have turned on their leader Spencer Drury. Yet the Tories seem to have weathered the storm, and on Saturday they re-elected him as their leader.

More importantly for the borough’s immediate future, there’s an intriguing question over whether Labour should have gained more seats in Greenwich.

Would a Labour party that was more more willing to listen and more capable of dealing with criticism have done better? After all, the more open and consensual administration in Lewisham, with a track record of campaigning on local issues, even surged into suburban Grove Park on its way to a near-wipeout. Greenwich Labour, which had little local narrative beyond aping the Tories’ council tax freeze, couldn’t get past Eltham High Street.

moundOne of the keenest criticisms of Chris Roberts’ administration was that it deliberately focused on the big three town centres and ignored smaller local centres. The Coldharbour & New Eltham Tory campaign focused on the state of The Mound, a small shopping parade off Mottingham’s William Barefoot Drive. If Chris Roberts’ administration had dealt with issues there earlier, could that have generated the extra votes to propel Labour’s Sandra Bauer or Rob Carr past Matt Hartley? But it didn’t, so the Tories won.

More pertinently, did Roberts and Maureen O’Mara’s pavement tax deny Simon Christie the 68 extra votes to nudge him ahead of Tories’ Nuala Geary in Eltham South, which includes part of the high street?

Labour across London had a superb night - but the Roberts regime’s chronic inability to listen to people acted as a brake on the party’s success in Greenwich.

But now Roberts has sailed off into the past on his royal barge. There are 13 shiny new Labour councillors, and one returning councillor (Woolwich Common’s David Gardner). Some elements of their jobs will be tough – such as dealing with the fallout from further Government cutbacks.

But hopefully they’ll be allowed to bring new ideas to the table – and most importantly, be allowed to express those new ideas. Can they deliver a fresh start? Good luck to them – I’ll be watching with fingers crossed.

Written by Darryl

25 May, 2014 at 6:30 am

Greenwich Ikea: Planning permission halted by Government

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Peartree Way, 3 November 2013
The Government has stepped in to halt the outline planning permission for a new Ikea in east Greenwich after complaints from local protesters.

Greenwich Council gave outline permission for Ikea to build a store on the site of the “eco-friendly” Sainsbury’s store in Peartree Way earlier this year, with planning officers ignoring concerns about increased traffic and air pollution, a decision later backed by London mayor Boris Johnson.

The five Labour members on the planning board – including council leader Chris Roberts, chief whip Ray Walker and regeneration member Denise Hyland – backed the scheme, with two Conservatives voting against.

This was despite every speaker at the planning board meeting – including local outgoing Labour councillors Mary Mills and Alex Grant – voicing objections to the scheme.

Since then, a local campaign has sprung up, gathering cross-party support to call for the decision to be overturned and handed to a public inquiry.

Now Pickles has issued a directive telling Greenwich Council to put final approval on hold while he reviews Greenwich’s process.

Government policy is not to interfere on local matters, so for Pickles to overturn the decision, campaigners have to show that the Ikea decision is of more than local importance.

There’s no timescale for the decision, but those who want to make a representation to Pickles on the issue can email Muredach Diamond at the Department for Communities and Local Government: muredach.diamond[at]communities.gsi.gov.uk, quoting reference NPCU/RTI/E5330/73828.

Separately, English Heritage is considering an application to list the 1999 Sainsbury’s store that’s already on the site, which was lauded at the time for its ecologically-friendly innovations. Work has already started on a replacement store half a mile away in Charlton.

Update 9pm: I’m told by that an Ikea representative was meant to attend a meeting of residents in Greenwich Millennium Village on Wednesday evening, but failed to show.

For more information on the anti-Ikea campaign, visit its website or Facebook page.

Written by Darryl

22 May, 2014 at 12:11 pm

Royal barge farewell for Greenwich Council’s Dear Leader

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Steve Sutherland and Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts with Steve Sutherland, ambassador for the Charlton Athletic Community Trust, which runs the council’s youth services. (Picture from Steve’s Twitter feed.)

His former colleagues may have been tramping the streets in search of votes in today’s poll, but Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts decided to end his 14 years in charge in lavish style on Tuesday – with a cruise along the Thames on a royal barge.

Roberts and chums set off from St Katherine Docks on The Queen’s Row Barge Gloriana, which was the lead vessel in 2012’s diamond jubilee pageant.

Gloriana Facebook page

The Gloriana’s Facebook page describes the event as “The Royal Borough of Greenwich Row”, and was crewed by rowers from the Curlew and Globe rowing clubs, both based in Greenwich.

“Crews from Globe RC & Curlew RC rowed QRB from St. Katherine Docks through central London with Cllr Roberts and his guests on board celebrating his 14 years as Leader of the Greenwich Council – a splendid evening on the River Thames,” the Facebook page reads.

It’s not known who paid for the send-off (the council didn’t) although the barge was built as a tribute to the monarch by Roberts’ friend, Conservative peer Lord Sterling, the former chair of Royal Museums Greenwich. Sterling played a major role in obtaining royal borough status for Greenwich, which took effect in 2012.

Gloriana trip

While Roberts found time to mess around on the river, he didn’t find time last week to attend his last public commitment as council leader – to explain why he stepped down as director of the council-run company Meridian Home Start, days before quitting as a councillor. He went onto appointing his own successors to Meridian Home Start, including cabinet member Steve Offord.

Labour councillors objected to plans which would have converted the company to an industrial and provident society – similar to Greenwich Leisure Limited – complaining the council would no longer be able to scrutinise its activities, and that it would have effectively provided Roberts or one of his associates with a job for life.

It was even mooted that MHS, originally designed to provide intermediate-level housing, could take on the council’s entire housing stock, and even take the tender for the council’s Cleansweep street cleaning service.

Conservative councillors Spencer Drury and Nigel Fletcher “called in” the decision to appoint the new directors, but Roberts failed to show, leaving chief executive Mary Ney to answer questions – or not answer them, as Fletcher tweeted:

So the Dear Leader has been rowed off into the sunset – and the polling stations have just opened for today’s council election. Will the new council be any more open than Roberts’ administration? Your vote will help decide – use it wisely.

Mary Ney and Peter Brooks

Thursday 7.40pm update: A new picture has emerged on Twitter which (just about) shows Greenwich Council chief executive Mary Ney on the barge (see left), and Roberts’ deputy Peter Brooks (centre), parachuted into the outgoing leader’s Glyndon seat after his sudden decision to resign. Brooks is competing against John Fahy in the contest to be deputy leader in the new administration.

Written by Darryl

22 May, 2014 at 7:00 am

Will Ukip help Labour tighten its hold on Greenwich?

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One thing’s clear about this Thursday’s council elections – Labour will gallop to victory again. It’s 50 years since the first elections for the London Borough of Greenwich, and Labour has won all but one poll, in 1968, when a stunning London-wide landslide saw it fall to the Conservatives. Business as usual resumed in 1971, and there’s no reason to expect Thursday’s 14th election to be any different.

Most of the action’s going to take place in wards in Eltham, New Eltham and Mottingham, away from this website’s usual north-of-the-borough focus.

One factor which could affect the result will be the European Parliament election taking place the same day, and the near-blanket coverage given to the UK Independence Party and its leader Nigel Farage.

A vandalised Ukip poster in East Dulwich. But how will voters in Greenwich borough treat the hard-right party?

A vandalised Ukip poster in East Dulwich. But how will voters in Greenwich borough treat them?

To a smaller extent, the same could be said for the Greens, who should benefit from Euro coverage too. But with Farage barely off our screens for what’s felt like months, it’s Ukip who have the potential to wreak havoc at the local polls too – despite the unpleasant views of many of their candidates.

The London Communications Agency predicts the hard-right party will return up to 50 councillors across the capital – will any of them come in Greenwich?

Greenwich borough’s comprised of 17 wards, which elect three councillors each. Ukip is standing a single councillor in 13 wards – a 14th candidate, in Glyndon ward, failed to get enough nominations in time.

Standing a single candidate means the Faragists can quietly hoover up protest votes from across the political spectrum. So where in the borough is the party’s support strongest?

According to the breakdown of votes from 2012′s London mayoral and assembly elections, Eltham North is Ukip’s happiest hunting ground, scoring 279 votes in the poll for the London-wide member, against 1,385 for the Tories and 1,172 for Labour, and beating the Greens (261), BNP (172) and Lib Dems (159).

I’ve picked this vote as it’s a straight party poll, not distorted by mayoral personalities or Ukip’s accidental rebranding in the mayoral poll (due to a party cock-up) as “Fresh Choice for London”.

Eltham North is represented by Tory leader Spencer Drury and his deputy Nigel Fletcher. The Tories have a slim-ish majority over Labour of 379 – if they lose a chunk of their votes to Ukip, Labour could benefit.

Paul Oakley's tweet

Of course, this theory depends on you believing that Ukip will hoover up disgruntled Tory votes rather than Labour ones. Considering Ukip’s manifesto looks like a Sun editorial from 1983, I suspect they will pick up votes from the right rather than the centre – risking a high-profile scalp for the Labour party. The local Tories agree, and are worried about what the rise of Ukip will mean for their embattled Eltham enclaves.

Ukip are also strong in Coldharbour & New Eltham, in the far south of the borough, where Labour were 353 votes to claiming a scalp in 2010. In 2012, Ukip polled 248 votes here, coming third to the Tories on 1,104 and Labour on 794. Ex-Tory candidate Peter Whittle is standing for Ukip there.

But it’s Eltham South where the Tories could face a horrific squeeze, with similiar levels of Ukip support and rejected councillor Eileen Glover standing against her old party colleagues as an independent. 2012′s assembly vote had the Tories just 240 votes ahead of Labour, which could well come through the middle to seize power.

Greenwich borough’s other strong ward for Ukip, according to the 2012 data, is Abbey Wood, home seat of mayoral contender Denise Hyland.

Don’t be surprised if Ukip beat the Tories out in the east, while the party is also campaigning in the Labour stronghold of Eltham West – which could be vulnerable now the Ferrier Estate has gone.

Gary Port's tweet

Ukip candidate Gary Port was found by the Evening Standard to have ‘liked’ a far-right group’s Facebook post. By this weekend, his social media activity had become more benign.

Why does all this matter? Well, just what shape Greenwich’s next Labour council will take could well be determined by how big Labour’s majority is on the council. An increase in Labour’s 29-seat majority will be seen as vindication of how Chris Roberts did things – and will strengthen the hand of his preferred successor, Denise Hyland. A decrease will show discontent with the Dear Leader’s style – and will give strength to Jackie Smith’s case for taking over.

So it’s well worth keeping on eye on Eltham on Thursday. Of course, if Ukip can grab Labour votes as well, they could even take a seat or two – council elections can be prone to wild fluctuations, although Greenwich seats have been relatively stable. Whether Ukip really want a miserable life as a minor party in the Greenwich Council chamber, with one or two powerless councillors, is another matter, mind. But what of the others?

Stephen Brain's tweet

LABOUR. Seats in 2010: 40/51. Current seats: 39/51. Candidates: 51/51 (See manifesto)
Nobody really knows what Labour party will take charge in Greenwich after 22 May. Will it be the Berkeley Homes Party, guided by the demands of developers, hammering home a heady mix of regeneration schemes, tall ships and road-building? Or will it be something closer to the community politics espoused by the likes of John Fahy and Blackheath Westcombe candidate Cherry Parker? Nobody knows.

Spot the difference?

Spot the difference?

Rivals complain that Labour is fighting on national policies rather than its local record. Indeed, my local Charlton Labour Twitter feed has told me nothing about the council’s record – although I now know Terry the local ward organiser’s phone number, should I fancy a spot of canvassing. (Hello, Terry.) That said, this election has seen the first manifesto emerge for eight years – the 2010 version was never published in public – but without the launches seen in other boroughs.

This poll has even seen Labour candidates disown the Labour council’s own policies – Woolwich Common candidate David Gardner claiming that building the Silvertown Tunnel was “not a Greenwich Labour policy”, despite three Labour councillors and a Labour MP launching a campaign to get it built.

The current manifesto position, which I understand was bitterly fought over, merely says “we will consider our position further based on our view of the economic and environmental impact assessments” – leaving plenty of wriggle room. Will a Greenwich Labour council trust a Tory mayor’s assessments, which has been the position so far? “Bridge The Gap is dead,” one Labour insider told me – but what if Denise Hyland takes over?

There are many good candidates standing for Labour – but will there be enough of them to force change? A vote for Labour on Thursday would certainly be a leap of faith.

Wards to watch: Blackheath Westcombe, the Eltham seats.
New candidates to watch: Peninsula ward candidates Stephen Brain and Chris Lloyd, telling voters they’ll fight Silvertown; ambitious Woolwich Common candidate and IT systems analyst Ambreen Hisbani, closely connected to the current leadership (oddly, her Portuguese husband Rui Dias lurks on Twitter watching critics from a locked account); heavyweight Blackheath Westcombe trio Paul Morrissey, Damien Welfare and Cherry Parker, locked in street-to-street combat with the Tories; Shooters Hill’s Chris Kirby and Sarah Merrill, involved in a bad-tempered fight with Lib Dems.

Eltham Tories' tweet

CONSERVATIVES. Seats in 2010: 11/51. Seats now: 10/51. Candidates: 51/51 (Read the manifesto.)
If Labour are riddled with splits and in-fighting, the Tories have their own problems too – the rejection of Eltham South councillor Eileen Glover by her local party triggered her to stand as an independent and colleague Neil Dickinson to quit. Marginal seats such as Kidbrooke with Hornfair lie neglected as the Tories fight to shore up what they’ve got, and possibly nick an extra seat in Blackheath Westcombe, where Labour won’t benefit from long-standing councillor Alex Grant’s personal vote. But their majority over Labour in Blackheath Westcombe is just 22 votes – so this could go any way.

Peninsula ward candidate Harry Methley (right) shows 'em some leg

Peninsula ward candidate Harry Methley (right) shows ‘em some leg on a sunny Sunday

As detailed above, there’s a real fear that Ukip could wreck the party’s Eltham heartland. Blackheath aside, the party’s long been a spent force north of the Shooters Hill Road, although judging by Peninsula ward candidate Harry Methley’s Twitter feed, the party’s giving east Greenwich another shot.

While Harry’s unlikely to be a councillor come Friday, the party’s results both here and in Woolwich Riverside will be interesting – will plush new riverside developments give the Tories a boost?

Wards to watch: Blackheath Westcombe, Eltham North, Eltham South, Coldharbour & New Eltham.
New candidates to watch: Blackheath Westcombe’s Thomas Turrell seems to have had an effect in winding up the local Labour establishment, while local credit union trustee Matt Hartley is bound to be a prominent figure if he is elected in Coldhardbour & New Eltham.
Ex-candidates to watch: Eileen Glover in Eltham South. Can she unseat her old colleagues?

Charlton Lib Dems tweet

LIBERAL DEMOCRATS. Seats in 2010: 0/51. Candidates: 40/51 (Read the manifesto.)
Currently ranked just below leprosy in the national polls, with every utterance from Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander making their lives harder, the local Lib Dems’ coalition pains were compounded when Greenwich party boss Chris Smith quit just weeks before the poll.

All this upheaval has seen the Lib Dems slip to just 40 candidates this time around, with Labour activists claiming that the party’s old power base in Middle Park & Sutcliffe lies neglected.

libdemSo all the action’s taking place up on Shooters Hill, where candidate Stewart Christie (who is also involved with No to Silvertown Tunnel, as are volunteers from Labour and the Greens) has mounted a campaign focusing squarely on Greenwich Council’s support for the Thames Gateway Bridge, which is likely to put Oxleas Woods and Woodlands Farm under threat once again as TfL seeks to link the bridge to the A2.

The result’s been a bad-tempered fight over the seat, best summed up by this Twitter exchange on Saturday, after Shooters Hill’s Labour candidates spotted Christie rummaging in his boot…

Undateables tweet

The “Undateables” tweet, probably the best gag of the election, was deleted by Charlton candidate Paul Chapman after one respondent complained it was cruel to use others’ physical appearance for humour.

Chapman’s online output’s been worth following, though – a change from the usual party tweets aimed solely at the already-converted. I hope he stays contributing to the local debate once the poll’s done and dusted.

Ward to watch: Shooters Hill.

jean_lambert

GREENS. Seats in 2010: 0/51. Candidates: 19/51 (Policy page / London council manifesto.)
I should, of course, state that I stood for the Greens in Peninsula ward in 2010. I’m no longer a member of the party, though the Greens are targeting Peninsula once again.

In March, five Labour councillors handed the Greenwich Greens a publicity gift by giving Ikea outline planning permission to build a store right in the heart of the ward – but have they been able to capitalise on this?

The Greens’ performance to beat came in 2006, when candidate Lucy Early came 250 votes behind Chris Roberts in the ward, terrifying the Dear Leader into creating a nonsense “Greener Greenwich” portfolio on his cabinet. Bad feeling over Ikea and Silvertown, plus an uplift from the European election, could give them every chance of matching that, despite limited resources.

Their biggest problem tends to be in communication – after I complained about their local tweets being full of waffle, I had the novel experience of being told by the Twitter feed that I set up that once I understood “economic story told by media is a fallacy… you may want to vote Green”. The Ikea issue seems to have given them some much-needed local focus – and they’re the only ones publicly raising it.

Peninsula was the Greens’ third-strongest performing seat in the 2012 assembly vote, after Blackheath Westcombe and Greenwich West, with Charlton coming fourth. They comfortably beat the Lib Dems in most Greenwich wards then – so this could be a pivotal election for them, if the Lib Dems really are on a death spiral.

Beyond Peninsula, the party’s fielding one candidate per ward – of these, Trevor Allman, a one-time Labour councillor from the 1980s, has a big personal following in Blackheath Westcombe. He’s cheerfully off-message, even admitting not voting for the Greens’ local London Assembly candidate two years ago.

Wards to watch: Peninsula, Blackheath Westcombe, Greenwich West.

And elsewhere… Greenwich’s neighbouring boroughs are also likely to also stay the same.

Over in Bexley - very much the Tory Shelbyville to Greenwich’s Springfield – the Tories are assured of victory, though Ukip will be a big threat and could gain seats. At least Labour here has a sense of humour, standing three candidates called O’Neill against council leader Teresa O’Neill in Bexleyheath’s Brampton ward. One to watch here will be three independent candidates standing under an anti-corruption banner in Blackfen and Lamorbey ward, next to the Greenwich boundary at Avery Hill. Despite candidate Michael Barnbrook’s past connections with the far right, the result here will be worth watching – not least because they’ve been pushing flyers for the Bexley Is Bonkers blog through local letter boxes.

In Lewisham, the big question is how many Lib Dem councillors will remain – Labour’s Sir Steve Bullock being set for an easy win in the mayoral poll. Campaign low-light so far has been People Before Profit (which abandoned plans to stand in Greenwich) appropriating the name “Save Lewisham Hospital” for one of its candidates, after trying to take over the campaign of the same name. Will Lewisham go 100% Labour on Thursday? Probably not, but it’ll be close. Bob from Brockley and Alternative SE4 have more Lewisham coverage.

If you’ve read this far down, head to the Charlton Champion for what happened in last week’s Charlton and Woolwich Riverside hustings. Polling stations are open from 7am-10pm on Thursday. See a full list of Greenwich candidates.

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