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Ikea Greenwich exhibition: Greenwash and wishful thinking

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So, if you saw the ad in Greenwich Council’s propaganda weekly announcing Ikea’s plans to build a new superstore, or if you got a letter through your door, you’d have expected to have learned something new from Saturday’s exhibition at Greenwich’s Forum.

But Ikea was remarkably short of detail on its plan to build a new store on the soon-to-be vacated Sainsbury’s site off Peartree Way. When Sainsbury’s mounted a similar exhibition two years ago to announce its intentions to move to Charlton, a lot more questions had been answered.

Instead, all we got was….

Ikea Greenwich plan

…a map which merely confirms that Ikea wants to knock down Sainsbury’s and Comet and plonk a new store on the same space.

Ikea greenwash

…some greenwash.

Ikea exhibition

…give us our store or these people in a stock photo won’t have jobs!

And that was about it. One thing which struck me was how confident Ikea’s reps were – “well, it’s either us or another store,” one told me, while I overheard one man in a yellow shirt explain to a colleague he’d be in charge of the project “once we get planning permission”. Indeed, since these displays will be on show in East Greenwich Library for the next fortnight, it’s effectively a free ad from Greenwich Council.

So, what was said about the elephant in the room, traffic? Not a lot. When asked, Ikea’s reps conceded there’d be an increase to traffic, and acknowledged the current access from the Woolwich Road flyover was a problem. But their only idea to fix things was merely to encourage car drivers to use the A102 exit at Blackwall Lane instead.

Ikea Greenwich exhibition

Much was made of the proposed store sitting on six bus routes and being a short walk from others (Ikea seems to have included night bus N1 in its figures), but a Billy bookcase doesn’t go well on a bus.

Ikea NeasdenWhen I explained to an Ikea rep that I was a non-driver, he seemed somewhat surprised I hadn’t taken advantage of its costly delivery service. Like every other non-driver I know, the last time I used Ikea to buy something bulky, I sponged a lift to Croydon.

And as for “several off-street cycle routes serving the site” – really?! Where? – it’s worth pointing out that the Neasden Ikea has a whole three cycle racks. (Thanks to tweeter @Helzbels for the shot.)

Ikea’s confidence that many people will use public transport seems somewhat misplaced. In fact, one of its displays betrayed that.

“At present, people living and working in the Royal Borough of Greenwich… travel to our stores in Croydon, Lakeside or Tottenham.” The latter store is actually practically impossible to get to by public transport from this part of London. In fact, Ikea’s Neasden store is only 40 minutes up the Jubilee Line from North Greenwich, but public transport doesn’t seem to be Ikea’s strength.

Back in 2004, Ikea put in a planning application to Bromley Council for a store at the old Klinger factory site in Sidcup, together with a separate application to Bexley Council for an approach road. It was later withdrawn.

While the Sidcup site had much poorer public transport access, many of the observations from this Greater London Authority planning report from 2004 ring true of Ikea’s Greenwich plans – especially this one:

“It is not within or near a town centre and is an out of centre location chosen specifically for its proximity to the A20 with its ease of access by private motor vehicle from south east London and Kent. Indeed, the Medway towns of Chatham, Rochester and Gillingham, and Gravesend are all large conurbations within 30 minutes drive from this store along a motorway.”

Switch dual carriageways and add another 15 minutes, and you’ve got Ikea’s Greenwich plan – a magnet for Kent car drivers, and a pain for everyone in Greenwich itself. If it’s serious about winning over residents, Ikea needs to actually start thinking about its plans, rather than assuming people will be wowed by talk of solar panels and bus routes.

Written by Darryl

11 November, 2013 at 8:05 am

Greenwich Council bullying: A night in denial at the town hall

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Greenwich Council meeting, 30 October

Fans of dark comedy would have been richly rewarded by Wednesday night’s torturous meeting of Greenwich Council. In fact, it’s hard to know where to start.

But running through the meeting were themes common to anyone who’s read this website over the past couple of years – the lack of transparency and an unwillingness to listen.

Labour mayor Angela Cornforth, who is on the longlist to be Greenwich & Woolwich’s next Labour candidate, announced she had refused permission for the meeting to be filmed. It’s understood the BBC wanted to bring a camera into the meeting, but the doors were closed to the corporation and so Greenwich residents won’t be able to see their councillors’ inaction.

Pavement tax demonstratorsCouncil leader Chris Roberts’ bullying voicemail hung over the meeting like a cloud, but it wasn’t just the local Labour outpost having problems.

The Tories’ attempts to capitalise on the issue were hampered by deselected councillor Eileen Glover consistently making digs at her former colleagues. When the Tories complained about another attempt by the Labour leadership to make changes to the way the council does business, Glover, sporting the biggest poppy in the room, turned on her own colleagues, saying they should have “tracked the changes” themselves.

“It’s past their bedtime,” she spat at youthful ex-colleagues Nigel Fletcher and Adam Thomas. Hell hath no fury like a Tory scorned.

The Tories plan to get Roberts hung on a clutch of motions designed to smoke any dissent on the Labour benches. One was about the way the council runs its scrutiny panels (no Tory ever gets to run one), hung on the back of a tweet from another wannabe MP, Matt Pennycook, declaring “the decades-old culture of machine politics must change”.

Challenged by Tory leader Spencer Drury to explain what he meant, Pennycook kept quiet. The situation was a lose/lose one for the Greenwich West councillor. Speak out and get disciplined, or keep schtum and look silly? Short-term embarrassment was the easier option rather than face the long-term difficulties of being ostracised by Roberts and his helpers.

With his own councillors staying quiet, Roberts made one of the oddest contributions himself – presumably to try to protect Pennycook. Talking about his early days in Greenwich Labour, during the days of rate-capping rows, he recalled how he and other young upstarts vowed to change matters.

“The most embarrassing political question you can be asked is ‘what’s the average age of your councillors?’ I’d be really worried if we didn’t have a group of talented twenty- and thirtysomethings saying ‘this is our time’. And believe me, after [the elections] in May, you will see some of those in this chamber.”

Nobody thought to ask why twentysomething councillor Hayley Fletcher is stepping down because of bullying.

Pennycook’s Greenwich West colleague, David Grant, wasn’t going to keep quiet – intervening several times to defend the embattled leader. When Drury made a passing reference to Roberts referring himself to the council’s standards panel, Grant blurted out “cheap!”. Greater love hath no man than this, that a Greenwich Labour councillor lay down his dignity for his Dear Leader.

Roberts did try to fight back, though – inserting motions into the evening which had barely even been discussed beforehand by his own councillors. The Tories made sport of this, inserting a sarcastic amendment into one attacking David Cameron and Boris Johnson.

Sarcastic Greenwich Conservative amendment

Eileen Glover, who’d earlier treated the council to a lengthy complaint about councillors’ IT woes, branded her former colleagues’ effort “a waste of time”.

But the Tories did leave a ticking timebomb. Another “get Roberts” motion, from Nigel Fletcher, suggested the council investigate the possibility of electing its leader by a secret ballot – it’s currently done by a show of hands.

But Labour mayor Cornforth, heavily guided by council chief executive Mary Ney showing her various bits of the council rulebook, withdrew it “for further advice” on the legality of electing a leader by secret ballot – despite it appearing in the agenda. Fletcher recorded the discussion himself – it’s very technical, but it’s illuminating nonetheless, especially towards the end. No wonder why they didn’t want it filmed.

Fletcher has now launched a formal complaint over the issue.

All of which overshadowed two significant bits of news. Firstly, the council voted to review its new “pavement tax” on shops’ outdoor displays, introduced earlier this year with no discussion or debate. Indeed, an unusually sheepish Chris Roberts even apologised for the way things had been handled.

Yet the bungled introduction of the charge goes to the heart of the political culture in Greenwich. One answer from Roberts suggests key decisions are being taken at weekly informal cabinet meetings, rather than in the monthly public meetings.

If the council leadership wasn’t so scared of debate, it might have got the charge right in the first place.

And the council is finally meeting Andrew Gilligan to talk about belatedly signing up to City Hall’s big cycling plans – indeed, I understand regeneration cabinet member Denise Hyland is due to meet him today. It’s another U-turn from the council’s troubled leader, who had refused to allow officers or councillors to talk to the journalist-turned-cycling advocate. Three months ago, Roberts and mayor Cornforth seemed desperate to stop his name even being mentioned.

Thankfully, sense has prevailed. What about that “irresolvable conflict of interest”? “Well, that was the situation at the time,” Hyland responded.

So, in the world of Greenwich Council, what was an outrageous suggestion in July becomes normality three months later. Maybe that’ll be the case with the Silvertown Tunnel. But clearly not yet, for the council is still in its denial phase. (Full disclosure: I’m involved in the No to Silvertown campaign.)

A question asking who knew what about the council’s pollution figures was “lost” by the council and wasn’t asked. Written answers about the tunnel told a questioner he was “misinformed” about the council not publishing air quality stats from its 42 monitoring sites. Yet it doesn’t – go looking on its website, and you won’t find a thing.

Greenwich Counciil response on Silvertown/ News Shopper story

Even madder, another questioner was told he had “failed to properly convey the response given” from the council to the News Shopper about its support for Silvertown on economic grounds – appearing to deny telling reporter Mark Chandler that the tunnel would bring economic benefits, even though that’s the whole basis of its Bridge The Gap campaign.

When asked by Nigel Fletcher if the council would reconsider its policy given independent evidence of the damage the tunnel would have, Denise Hyland commented “a group that calls itself ‘No to Silvertown’ is hardly independent, is it?” What counts as “independent”, though, was not explained.

There are big problems at Greenwich Council. The council leadership’s bullying is out in the open, and it’s clear how it’s not just ruining the lives of those who entered local politics to do good, it’s also resulting in bad policy. Or it’s resulting in incoherent policy, like the current mess on air pollution and the Silvertown Tunnel. Treating people with legitimate questions like enemies to be vanquished isn’t healthy.

Those with the most power to do something are still sitting on their hands, though, content either to let others do the dirty work of trying to decapitate the leadership or to wait until May’s elections and see what happens. Yet while this happens, the bullying row is infecting the more high-profile battle to be the next Labour candidate for Greenwich & Woolwich, and causing problems outside the borough too. But that’s another story…

PS. You can hear/download audio of the public questions and councillors’ questions, if you want to. Thanks to Clare for cleaning up the audio and hosting it.

Why did the Independent’s Andy ignore Labour’s Annie?

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Annie Keys

With a second councillor standing down over the bullying culture in Greenwich Council’s Labour group, the battle to be the party’s parliamentary candidate for Greenwich & Woolwich is, in truth, a bit of a sideshow.

But for those involved, the chance to succeed Nick Raynsford in what should be a safe seat for years to come means everything. Favours are being called, supporters marshalled, deals are being done and deals are being denied. If you could power the national grid with gripes, snipes and complaints, the Greenwich & Woolwich battle alone would make sure there’d be no blackouts this winter.

24 people threw their hats into the ring – mostly flotsam, jetsam, chancers and no-hopers. After pressing the flesh of ward parties and other groups, they’ve now been whittled down into a longlist consisting of most of those who were decent contenders in the first place.

  • Angela Cornforth, Plumstead councillor and current Greenwich Council mayor.
  • Len Duvall, Greenwich and Lewisham London Assembly member and former Greenwich Council leader.
  • Annie Keys, former Blackheath Westcombe councillor and community activist.
  • Matt Pennycook, Greenwich West councillor and analyst for the Resolution Foundation think-tank.
  • Kathy Peach, head of campaigns at charity Scope.
  • David Prescott, PR agency boss, former journalist and son of ex-deputy prime minister John.

This does mean the loss of Kevin Bonavia, the well-liked Lewisham councillor and solicitor who decided to throw his hat in the ring across the border. The Blackheath ward representative will live to fight another day. The other vanquished hopefuls, possibly not.

As party bigwigs drew up that longlist, a curious few paragraphs appeared in the Independent on Saturday, penned by veteran political correspondent Andy McSmith.

An email has gone to members of the Greenwich Labour Party, in south London, telling them that Polly Toynbee, queen of The Guardian commentariat, is heading their way to advise them to select Matt Pennycook, a promising young intellectual from the much respected Resolution Foundation, as their next Labour MP.

Polly Toynbee’s been involved in SE London politics before – campaigning against Labour in Lewisham East in 1983, when she stood for the SDP and came third. I’m told she also campaigned for Rosie Barnes in the 1987 Greenwich by-election.

And whoever is selected will be an MP because Greenwich is safely Labour. There are other contestants, including David Prescott, son of, and Kathy Peach, from Scope, but the word is that this is a two horse race.

A two-horse race? Really? One horse is Matt, says Andy, but the other is “the local candidate”, who is “exceptional”.

Len Duvall, who hails from a Woolwich council estate, entered politics via the 1970s Anti Nazi League, having had to cope with racist taunts because he is part Indian. He took a very hard line on the 2011 rioters, and paid the price when someone told the police that his son was out looting. This was untrue, but generated a lot of damaging publicity. In his long local government career, he has been hard on sleaze, which has left him with enduring enemies. If it were my choice, I would forego Ms Toynbee’s kind advice and back the guy with battle scars.

Both Matt and Len would make fine representatives. But take a look at the battle so far, and this certainly isn’t a two-horse race. Because if you look at who won the most ward nominations, it’s actually Annie Keys, as every bit as local as Len is, in front, after getting the backing of six out of the area’s seven ward parties. But Andy completely ignored her.

Matt’s on four, while Len ties with Kathy on three, with Angela on one – Glyndon, council leader Chris Roberts’ ward. Annie’s also the only candidate to win backing at the opposing Greenwich and Woolwich ends of the constituency – Andy McSmith neglected even to mention the latter place in its name.

In case you’re interested, here’s the breakdown.

  • Blackheath Westcombe: Annie Keys, Matt Pennycook, Kathy Peach
  • Charlton: Annie Keys, Matt Pennycook
  • Glyndon: Angela Cornforth, Len Duvall
  • Greenwich West: Annie Keys, Matt Pennycook, Kathy Peach
  • Peninsula: Annie Keys, Matt Pennycook, Kathy Peach
  • Woolwich Common: Annie Keys, Len Duvall
  • Woolwich Riverside: Annie Keys, Len Duvall

So why did Andy McSmith ignore Annie Keys’ chances? Matt Pennycook’s certainly the frontrunner, but Len Duvall’s no underdog. Both have heavy union backing – particularly Matt.

But while Matt is weaker in Woolwich and Len is weaker in Greenwich, there’s every chance Annie can come through the middle. Last week she challenged the council to withdraw its unpopular “pavement tax” on small businesses – something none of the other candidates have done yet. In case you’re wondering how David Prescott’s on the longlist, he’s also been nominated by unions, so he gets a place. A shortlist will be drawn up in a couple of weeks, with the final hustings and vote taking place on 30 November.

I should point out I’ve known Annie since we were at school together, and I’m a trustee of the Mulberry True Children’s Trust, which she set up to manage the Big Red Bus Club play centre in Charlton. In fact, I’ve just found an invite to a party she threw 20 years ago. Maybe I’ll publish it in the next few weeks…

But what I would like to publish are your questions to the candidates. Once the shortlist’s drawn up, I’d like to pose some questions to them. So if there’s anything you’d like to know, leave it in the comments box below.

Of course, the battle for Greenwich & Woolwich comes at an awkward time for the Labour Party, as the Labour council remains mired in bullying accusations – a real story which Andy McSmith somehow managed to miss.

This Wednesday’s council meeting will see two motions put forward by Conservative councillors in an attempt to go for the jugular on the issue – although whether they’ll actually be heard is another matter, with competing anti-Tory motions being pushed onto the agenda by leader Chris Roberts without consulting his Labour colleagues. It remains to be seen how the mayor – one Angela Cornforth – will treat them.

Hayley FletcherNow a second councillor, Kidbrooke with Hornfair’s Hayley Fletcher, has decided to step down, as the News Shopper’s Mark Chandler reported on Friday. Her decision to go follows that of Alex Grant earlier this year.

Regular readers will be familiar with Hayley’s contributions to this website’s comments, and the loss of a promising councillor in her 20s will be a deep blow to a council already desperately short of younger members.

Her resignation email, as seen by this website, refers to her beginning a new job and a masters’ degree. Then there’s the sad conclusion:

As you’re all too acutely aware, Labour group is a toxic and unhealthy environment to be in. The bullying culture is rife and I see little prospect of that changing anytime soon.

I simply cannot sustain my own wellbeing in this environment and, for my own mental health if nothing else, have decided that walking away from it is the healthiest thing for me right now.

To lose one councillor to bullying accusations should be a wake-up call. Losing two should, in any normal organisation, demand a full investigation.

But the local Labour party remains in denial. This website understands that it’s more likely that Greenwich’s Labour group will pursue and punish any whistleblowers, particularly in regard to the leaked “thick skull” voicemail in which Chris Roberts threatened cabinet member John Fahy, rather than take action against the party hierarchy, or the clear conflict of interest over the Run to the Beat half-marathon which the Dear Leader’s voicemail reveals.

Several of the candidates for Greenwich & Woolwich have connections with Greenwich Council, with two going back decades. Hopefully local Labour members will ask the right questions to ensure they select a potential MP who will be part of the solution, and not part of the problem in a self-lacerating local party.

Locals win Lovells Wharf fight – but council bullying goes on…

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Fantastic news from Woolwich Town Hall last night, as Greenwich Council’s planning board unanimously rejected developer London & Regional Properties’ proposals to pack an extra 246 homes onto the Lovell’s Wharf development, increasing the height of the buildings from 10 to 13 stories.

Council leader Chris Roberts was the first on the panel to reject the scheme, and the others followed suit, with residents heading to the Pelton Arms (playing host to a surprise Glenn Tilbrook show) to celebrate afterwards. Huge credit must go to local residents for a tenacious campaign – see the video above – and it’s notable that Labour parliamentary nominees Matt Pennycook, Len Duvall and David Prescott all swung their weight behind the campaign. A few council candidates will have slept more soundly last night, but questions must be asked about why council planners recommended approval in the first place.

A more telling decision, however, took place a few hours earlier, when an overview and scrutiny call-in committee decided to take no action on Roberts’ personal decision to spend at least £2.5m of money the council had suddenly discovered on various pre-election schemes. This is without having to go through the council’s cabinet, where awkward questions could have been asked of the proposals.

So Greenwich Council complains of being skint when it suits it to not spend a five-figure sum, but when Roberts wants to spend a seven-figure sum without scrutiny, it’s all okay? Something’s very odd there.

And that’s the rub of the bullying culture at Greenwich Council. It’s not just about Roberts swearing and threatening his fellow councillors – it’s also the institutional refusal to engage or explain what is going on. Will the Labour nominees be as frank on this obvious issue as they were on Lovell’s Wharf? We wait and see.

Written by Darryl

22 October, 2013 at 7:30 am

Trouble at North Greenwich: Council protects empty offices

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6 Mitre Passage

Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts is stepping into stop empty office space on the Greenwich Peninsula being converted into housing – although it’s unclear whether there are any actual threats to the office space.

The four-year-old 6 Mitre Passage development remains largely unoccupied, with its biggest tenant being Greenwich Council itself. Greenwich has two floors, one devoted to its Digital Enterprise Greenwich centre – which also houses the Sail Royal Greenwich company – and another suite of offices which the leader is believed to use for private meetings.

But most of the rest of the privately-owned building is empty, and plans to let out the bottom floor of for retail have failed. It is now to become a gym.

Now Roberts is planning to issue a direction removing the owners’ rights to convert the office space from business to residential use, for 6 Mitre Passage and another block, 2-4 Pier Walk.

It’s not clear whether there’s an actual plan to convert the two blocks to residential accommodation, but as the property market heats up it’d certainly be a temptation for owners – especially with the blocks’ close proximity to North Greenwich station.

A council report says:

“The revenue generated through business rates would be lost if the offices were to be converted to residential use.

“Both the comprehensive masterplan for the Greenwich Peninsula and RBG’s emerging Local Plan identify the potential for North Greenwich district centre to increasingly become a hub for business uses, forming a new commercial heart for the local area and wider region.

“The North Greenwich district centre has the potential to be the driver of future economic growth in the borough. Its role is highlighted in the Growth Strategy for the Royal Borough of Greenwich, which sets out a vision to drive sustainable and balanced growth: a new business district which at its heart aims to stimulate innovation and business growth, with a particular focus on the digital sector.”

Traffic jam outside North Greenwich station

Why the offices aren’t occupied isn’t explored in the report, but despite the closeness to the Tube station, connections with the rest of the local area south of the river are poor.

In particular, evening bus services out of North Greenwich are still regularly held up by traffic trying to get into the O2 arena’s car parks – with buses queueing back into the bus station, as seen last Thursday night ahead of comedian Micky Flanagan’s show.

And as for getting across the river, despite Transport for London’s Silvertown Tunnel consultation conceding that there is “a strong appetite for crossing improvements for cyclists, pedestrians and public transport users”, there are no plans to address this.

North Greenwich station, Wednesday 16 October

TfL is also resisting demands to put the Emirates Air Line cable car into the travelcard scheme, despite disappointing user numbers.

Cable car staff are now having to stand at North Greenwich station on event nights to try to drum up interest in trips across the Thames.

While Chris Roberts’ idea may be laudable in the long-term, in the short term, he’ll need Transport for London to urgently reassess its priorities at North Greenwich if the area’s ever to become a success.

Written by Darryl

21 October, 2013 at 7:30 am

Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels report released

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Late to the party with this (see the News Shopper’s coverage) but in case you haven’t seen already, the independent report into the messed-up refurbishent of Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels has been released by Greenwich Council ahead of a cabinet meeting this Wednesday. As expected, there’s criticism for Greenwich Council’s oversight of the scheme, but the strongest words are for council contractor Hyder Consulting.

Readers with long memories will recall how Hyder was commissioned to work on plans to part-pedestrianise Greenwich town centre, but the scheme failed after it planned to introduce a huge gyratory system and cut bus services. Hyder’s still working on a detailed “DLR on stilts” proposal, for an extension along the A102 and A2 to Eltham, commissioned nearly two years ago. If it’s anything like Hyder’s work in the foot tunnels and Greenwich town centre, don’t expect much from it…

Meanwhile, the Friends of Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels are celebrating 101 years of the Woolwich tunnel with a ceremonial walk through it on Saturday at 11am - all are welcome.

Silvertown Tunnel and pollution: Greenwich Council’s dirty secret

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Some of Greenwich’s most high-profile development sites suffer from air pollution far in excess of European limits, research carried out for No to Silvertown Tunnel has revealed.

Volunteers, including myself, used tubes to record the pollution in the air at over 50 locations close to the A102, A2 and A206 for four weeks during June, using similar methods used by Greenwich Council for its own pollution records. Over half the tubes came back with readings over 40 μg/m3, the EU limit.

The Woolwich Road/ Blackwall Lane junction in Greenwich, outside where new homes are now being built by developer Galliford Try, recorded 70 micrograms per cubic metre. The site is opposite the flagship Greenwich Square development, which will include homes, shops and and a leisure centre.

Meanwhile, readings of 50 μg/m3 were recorded at two locations at Greenwich Millennium Village – at the centre, by West Parkside; and at the junction of Bugsby’s Way and Southern Way.

The highest figure recorded, unsurprisingly, was 70.55 μg/m3 at the Woolwich Road flyover, with a reading of 69 μg/ at Farmdale Road, where houses face an A102 slip road.

A pollution tube outside Kidbrooke Park School

High readings were also recorded along the Woolwich Road (64 μg/m3 outside the Rose of Denmark pub in Charlton) and at Blackheath Royal Standard (52 μg/m3 at Westcombe Hill).

With Greenwich Council and London mayor Boris Johnson backing a Silvertown Tunnel, which will attract more traffic to the area, the figures can only get worse.

The figures will be discussed at a public meeting at the Forum at Greenwich, Trafalgar Road, SE10 9EQ on Wednesday (tomorrow) at 7pm.

Further south, high readings were recorded in Eltham at Westhorne Avenue, Eltham station and Westmount Road, where the A2 forms a two-lane bottleneck. Local MP Clive Efford supports the Silvertown proposal, despite compelling evidence that it will make traffic in his constituency worse. So do local Conservatives – even though we recorded a big fat 50 μg/m3 outside their local HQ.

Sssh - it's one of Greenwich Council's pollution tubes

Sssh – it’s one of Greenwich Council’s pollution tubes. Readings haven’t been published since 2010.

What’s more, when we contacted Greenwich Council to tell it we intended to place pollution tubes on its lamp posts, we discovered it had been collecting its own statistics since 2005.

But mystifyingly, no figures were published since 2010 – until now. We obtained the results through a Freedom of Information Act request, and have published a full archive on the No to Silvertown Tunnel website.

These borough-wide stats bear out our own research, revealing that the borough’s worst location is outside Plumstead station – possibly due to the bus garage being nearby, but also a regular scene for heavy tailbacks.

Despite the council also pressing for a road bridge at Gallions Reach, it appears to have made little serious attempt to record pollution levels in the Thamesmead and Abbey Wood areas, which would be affected by such a scheme as well as emissions from London City Airport.

The whole borough has been an air quality management zone for 12 years, which makes Greenwich Council’s position on road-building even more mystifying. Its decision to stop publishing air quality reports smacks of carelessness at the very least. Pollution has become the council’s dirty secret.

If you drill down into the statistics, you’ll actually find air quality gradually improving in some areas. But in places where traffic remains heavy, it’s stubbornly awful.

Incidentally, the tubes are very easy to install and relatively cheap – if local groups find Greenwich Council’s response to pollution wanting, it’s simple for them to carry out their own studies, just as we did. Indeed, we were inspired by a study done by the Putney Society – so it should be easy for groups in Greenwich, Blackheath, Eltham and Charlton, or elsewhere, to follow suit.


Greenwich Council’s pollution readings from May 2013 – you won’t find this on the council’s own website, but you’ll find it all on the No to Silvertown Tunnel site.

Greenwich Council continues to back new road schemes on the grounds that they will take traffic off existing roads – despite a heap of evidence that proves the opposite. Indeed, studies show new roads simply increase traffic by making road travel more attractive.

It also claims economic benefits for new schemes – but it hasn’t been able to produce a shred of evidence that this is the case. And will it take the health costs from the extra pollution caused by yet more traffic on local roads into account?

Even more perplexing is that neighbouring boroughs don’t want Silvertown – leaving Greenwich’s Labour council in a position where it’s just a figleaf for a Conservative mayor’s scheme. If Greenwich opposed it, would Boris really go ahead?

So how can we persuade local decision-makers to wake up and realise they’re backing a scheme would could be disastrous? Well, we thought we’d invite them to our meeting, where they can hear from experts and see what results we got.

Here’s the response from Don Austen, Labour councillor for Glyndon ward.

Don Austen email

Incidentally, Don’s ward not only contains the borough’s filthiest air, his own home is very close to Charlton Village – where air quality also breaks EU rules. We had a few other responses that were nicer, but it’s hard to dispel the feeling that Greenwich’s councillors simply aren’t taking this seriously.

That said, some of the nominees to be Labour’s candidate for for Greenwich & Woolwich are alert to the dangers of blindly following a Conservative mayor’s policy. Lewisham councillor Kevin Bonavia (whose own council opposes Silvertown) voices his concern in his manifesto: “According to a recent GLA report, 150 deaths per year across the borough are caused by air pollution. We shouldn’t be encouraging more traffic in already concentrated areas.”

And yesterday, outsider Kathy Peach took aim not just at the proposal, but the way Greenwich Council has handled it:

I’m not convinced Boris Johnson’s Silvertown Tunnel is the answer. Nor do I believe there’s been an informed democratic debate about it.

I have heard from several quarters that Labour councillors who oppose the scheme have been banned from voicing their opposition in public… the fact that such stories gain traction points to something insular and complacent about our local political culture. We need a breath of fresh air. Let’s get rid of stale tactics and encourage a vigorous inclusive open debate. We need to bring the community along with us – otherwise other parties will jump into the gap.

Hopefully we’ll see Kathy, and Kevin, and others, and hopefully you, down at the Forum tomorrow night. If you’re sceptical, feel free to come along and lob some tough questions.

But if Greenwich councillors won’t listen, and Boris Johnson won’t listen, then we need to find our own way forward – because this is a battle that can be won.

And we might even have some fun on the way. If you want to help, come along tomorrow night.

No to Silvertown Tunnel public meeting: Wednesday 16 October, 7-9pm, Forum at Greenwich, Trafalgar Road, London SE10 9EQ. Speakers are transport consultant John Elliott, the Campaign for Better Transport’s Sian Berry, King’s College London air quality expert Dr Ian Mudway and Clean Air London’s Simon Birkett.

PS. If you have the time, it’s worth reading the 1994 Government report Trunk Roads and the Generation of Traffic. These studies are backed up by another report, published in 2006 for the Countryside Agency and Campaign to Protect Rural England.

Towering contempt: Greenwich’s River Gardens riles locals

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Lovell's Wharf, 12 October 2013
Of all the developers who have come into Greenwich in recent years to make a few quid, possibly the most overtly cynical has been London & Regional Properties, which has been smashing up the riverside at Lovell’s Wharf for a good few years now.

It doesn’t have to be this way – there are other developers in the area that actually listen to their neighbours. Not so with London & Regional, which destroyed a chunk of the Thames Path and didn’t bother reopening it for three years, while remaining content to leave much of Lovell’s as a hole in the ground for much of that time.

Now the development has been given yet another rebranding, as “The River Gardens – Royal Greenwich“, which will probably go down well with overseas speculators most of London’s newbuilds seem to be going to, yet goes down like a cup of cold sick in in SE10.

Lovell's Wharf, 12 October 2013

Of course, London & Regional’s plans are anything but green and pleasant. As reported here earlier this year, it’s trying to increase the height of the development’s towers from 10 to 13 stories. The developer wants to increase the number of flats in the development from 667 to 913 – with the extra 246 flats all for private sale. Non-residential uses have been scaled back as the developer tries to pack homes into the site.

Even the current buildings loom horribly over Banning Street – heaven knows what 13-storey towers will feel like. But despite this, Greenwich Council planning officers are recommending approval. And worryingly, there are precedents – approved proposals for Enderby’s Wharf include 16-storey towers, while Woolwich will get 21-storey towers on the park at Royal Arsenal Gardens.

Lovell's Wharf protest, 12 October 2012

Thankfully, though, neighbours are fighting back against a scheme which will overwhelm the streets of old east Greenwich. They include current residents of the blocks which have already gone up, who complain developers have reneged on past pledges not to build higher, and say their children have nowhere to play.

Thanks to Laura Eyres for the picture of a protest against the plans which took place on Saturday morning. A petition against the scheme has already got over 630 signatures – and the residents will be out in force for the planning meeting next Monday, 21 October. They’d appreciate your support.

Written by Darryl

14 October, 2013 at 7:30 am

Fancy starting Blackheath fireworks? You could for a fiver…

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There are two events which make living in this part of London like no other. Both of them involve big crowds and take place on Blackheath. One is the London Marathon, the other is Blackheath fireworks. This year’s event is less than three weeks away – it’s on 2 November at 8pm.

Of course, the continuation of the Blackheath fireworks display is no thanks to Greenwich Council, which yanked its £37,000 funding away from the event three years ago, leaving Lewisham Council in the lurch.

Lewisham could have scrapped the event, which attracts up to 100,000 people, or moved it to another open space. But to its credit, it’s continued.

Back in 2010, deputy leader Peter Brooks claimed Greenwich Council couldn’t afford it, a whopper so big it could be seen from space.

This poverty didn’t stop the council handing over £20,000 towards the cost of fireworks to help promote a private company, Sail Royal Greenwich, back in August, according to an answer given under the Freedom of Information Act. And last year, it blew £114,000 on fireworks and other public events to mark royal borough status. Three years on, the decision still rankles, and the real reason for pulling out has never been given.

So ever since then, Lewisham Council’s shouldered the responsibility of raising the cash for the event on its own – even if the firing site’s been outside its borders. The event’s always had some kind of sponsorship, but Lewisham has tried to come up with fundraising wheezes that make the community feel part of the event – something its self-styled “royal borough” neighbour singularly fails to do.

This year’s is simple. Pay a fiver, and you’ll get put into a prize draw where you can win the chance to press the plunger to start the display, along with getting a behind-the-scenes look at how it’s all done. You can enter as many times as you like, and it doesn’t matter where you live.

Of course, it’d be GREAT if someone from this side of the border won the prize – so go on, stick a fiver in and remind our neighbours we’re not all hypocritical miseries over here.

Council bullying: Wannabe MPs pile in as whitewash feared

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The aftermath of Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts’ bullying voicemail took a new twist over the weekend after hopefuls who want to be the next MP for Greenwich and Woolwich stepped in to demand a full investigation into the email.

Greenwich Council leader and bully Chris RobertsBut they only spoke up after a candidate for next year’s council elections said she felt “profoundly let down” by the affair, which saw Roberts threaten cabinet member John Fahy with the loss of his portfolio, instructing him to “get that through your fucking thick skull”.

Cherry Parker, who is standing in the marginal Blackheath Westcombe ward, wrote on her blog:

“It has become painfully clear that we aren’t doing enough to live up to our values.

“It is extraordinary that we have allowed things to get to a point where expletive-laden rows are splashed across the front of the local press.

“As a candidate in the borough’s most marginal ward, I feel profoundly let down. All of our work is now at risk. Next time our team is out on the doorstep, we will be asked to explain what is going in the Labour group and what we are doing to fix it. I don’t know what answer I can give, but I do know that silence is not an option for me, and it is no longer an option for my colleagues.”

After challenging those who want to be Labour’s candidate for the 2015 general election in Greenwich & Woolwich to speak up, a few used to Twitter to do just that. First up, Matt Pennycook:

There’s an obvious question here – why did it take the Greenwich West councillor three years to speak out against this form of behaviour? Nevertheless, his intervention is notable, and frankly, it’s important he’s said something.

Other wannabe MPs also spoke up, including Lewisham councillor Kevin Bonavia, who also fancies his chances.

As did David Prescott:

And “Woolwich girl” Kathy Peach:

Last night, I thought I’d ask Len Duvall:

What’s certainly clear is that Cherry Parker deserves great credit for bursting a taboo and making the way Greenwich Council is run is an issue when Labour picks its candidate. If she hadn’t spoken out, would anyone else have done so?

But will there be a thorough investigation? So far, the signs aren’t looking good. Last Monday, I reported that Labour’s chief whip, Ray Walker, had not acted on a complaint about the voicemail to Fahy. This prompted complaints to Lewisham East MP Heidi Alexander, which she passed onto the London Labour Party.

On Friday, the News Shopper reported that the issue had been passed from the London Labour Party to… Ray Walker at Greenwich. Essentially, Greenwich Labour is investigating Greenwich Labour.

Ray Walker is a close ally of Chris Roberts. It’s worth remembering his comments when Blackheath Westcombe councillor Alex Grant spoke of the bullying culture in Greenwich Labour. He told the News Shopper in March: “I’m not aware of any of those descriptions that he puts on the Labour Group or the council.

“I don’t know why he’s had that impression. That wouldn’t be a good culture to work in. We wouldn’t allow a bullying culture. There’s no bullying culture.”

It’s likely Walker will be assisted by fellow Roberts allies Janet Gillman, Radia Rabadia, Mohammed Iqbal and Labour group chair Christine May. Is Greenwich Labour fit to investigate itself? Many are fearing a whitewash.

Incidentally, it is possible for members of the public to trigger an investigation by the council’s own standards committee by getting in touch with the chief executive. The old Standards Board for England was shut down last year by the coalition government, meaning councils effectively govern themselves.

Who wants to be a Greenwich & Woolwich MP? 24 candidates have put themselves forward to be Labour’s candidate for the Greenwich & Woolwich seat.

This list will be whittled down over time, and local members will choose on 30 November.

Links in bold are to personal websites, others are to other scraps of info I’ve found:
Adebayo Alaba, Waltham Forest councillor Liaquat Ali, Lewisham councillor Kevin Bonavia, current Greenwich mayor Angela Cornforth, London Assembly member Len Duvall, Jane East, Anthony Ethapemi, Barking & Dagenham councillor Sukhninder Gill, Mohammed-Abbas Hanif, Ashiq Hussain, Keran Kerai, former Greenwich councillor Annie Keys, Nizam Mamode, Ian Mason, Southwark councillor Abdul Mohamed, Martin Morris, Kusum Parashar, James Parker, Kathy Peach, Matthew Pennycook, Lambeth councillor and ex-Lib Dem Sally Prentice, David Prescott, Colin Uju, Damien Welfare.

Written by Darryl

7 October, 2013 at 8:39 am


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