Archive for the ‘greenwich council’ Category
Woolwich fire station closed this morning.
There was a small demonstration outside the graceful Victorian building, tucked away in the back streets, which now has prime redevelopment potential. About 20 people, including Greenwich Labour councillors and candidates, plus MPs Nick Raynsford (a former fire services minister) and Clive Efford, gathered outside for its final hour.
Woolwich fire station is the victim of budget cuts, yet there was still money in the GLA kitty for two private security guards, two policemen, a police van to lurk around the corner, another police van and the Greenwich borough commander to keep watch.
“All very peaceful, the local MP’s here,” one copper radioed back to base. This was no raging against the dying of the light. As the wind whipped up, this was a final farewell to London’s second oldest operational fire station, which seems to have been written off as terminal long ago.
When Shooters Hill fire station was closed (by a Labour government) in 1998, residents were assured they’d be safe because Woolwich fire station was still there. Now Woolwich is gone, too, thanks to Boris Johnson.
One of its tenders will move to East Greenwich fire station, but a gap in fire coverage has opened up around Woolwich, a district in the throes of redevelopment. More people will live in Woolwich, but they’ll have to wait longer for a fire engine.
With Woolwich fire station gone, could more have been done? I certainly wish I’d covered the issue more, rather than fearing duplicating what other local media were doing. But where was the community anger? It was an issue which seemed to struggle to get beyond local Labour party stalwarts. Local councillor and cabinet member John Fahy comes out of this with credit, organising a 433-strong petition against it.
But Fahy’s own council barely bothered to take up the cause. It can organise a petition to build a new road to please developers, but it didn’t back a petition to keep a fire station eyed by up developers.
As reported here in November, Greenwich’s only response to the cuts proposal was to fire off a two-page letter from cabinet member Maureen O’Mara, containing glaring errors. Neighbouring Lewisham did some research and sent off a seven-page document, detailing the impact on it and other boroughs, and saw New Cross fire station saved as a result.
Greenwich wouldn’t even put up posters for a formal public meeting about the closure.
The council belatedly joined a court action to stop the cuts – but it was too late.
John Fahy – recently given a warning by his party over allegedly leaking council leader Chris Roberts’ bullying voicemail to him – was there this morning. So were cabinet colleagues Denise Hyland and Steve Offord and a smattering of other councillors and candidates. No sign, though, of O’Mara, Roberts, or his deputy Peter Brooks – the ones who really could have done something.
But maybe the blame lies with all of us, for not kicking up a bigger stink. Perhaps not enough people even knew the station existed. Or it points to something nobody wants to face up to – how the public are now completely disconnected from local issues. Or maybe nobody really cared enough.
But now Boris Johnson will have leave a little bit of his legacy behind in Woolwich, when the old Woolwich fire station becomes a free school or luxury flats. Sadly, and despite the efforts of Labour activists, I can’t help thinking either result would meet few complaints from Greenwich Council.
Goodbye, Woolwich fire station. Sorry we didn’t try hard enough.
It’s always good to see an issue raised on this website taken up by politicians – so here’s a warm 853 welcome for a petition calling for a boost to the 108 bus service between North Greenwich and Lewisham, which suffers from chronic overcrowding during rush hours.
The petition comes from Greenwich Conservatives – in particular, their energetic candidate for Blackheath Westcombe ward, Thomas Turrell. Blackheath Westcombe’s the borough’s most marginal ward, represented by two Tories and one Labour repesentative, so what goes on here is worth watching.
The Tories’ petition wants a rush-hour only bus, numbered 108A, to supplement the packed-out 108 south of the river, giving passengers a service that is less affected by Blackwall Tunnel delays. Ignoring the fact that Transport for London no longer runs rush-hour only buses (nor ones with letters as suffixes – although with next year’s train woes in mind, a revival of the original 108A to London Bridge could be useful), at least the issue of the 108′s woes is being taken seriously.
Except… the Tories are addressing their petition to Greenwich Council. Not TfL, which runs the buses, but Greenwich Council. “We call on Royal Greenwich Borough Council [sic] to use the means at its disposal to work with Transport for London to introduce a new 108a bus route…”
So, effectively, Greenwich Tories are asking the Labour-run council to ask Tory-run TfL to fix our buses. Could they not, well, go straight to Boris Johnson instead? Perhaps not, with TfL bracing itself for deep cuts to bus services under its current administration. Awkward.
Anyone that’s ever been to a Greenwich Council meeting will know how it’ll treat the petition, anyway. Transport cabinet member Denise Hyland will act like the Tories have suggested selling a close family member, before Chris Roberts declares once again that the council should run bus services because
Berkeley Homes the council knows better than anyone else on the entire planet. Nobody will go home happy, not least those going home by bus.
Which is a shame, because the state of the 108 is worth addressing, and it’s a pity that local politicians have ignored the issue for so long. Unlike the 132, overcrowding on which has been raised three times in 14 months at City Hall.
But then the 132′s fate proves a point. Run a bus to North Greenwich from just about anywhere, and it’ll fill up.
So maybe the Greenwich Tories’ 108 petition will light a flame. Perhaps some bright spark will team up with politicians across the boundary, and suggest an entirely new route to somewhere new like Brockley or Bromley, or maybe just the Kidbrooke Village development, to help ease the 108 through Blackheath. Maybe they’ll even set up a petition, and maybe they’ll get somewhere.
But hopefully, they’ll remember to address it to the right people first.
An interesting plan crept out of Greenwich Council with zero publicity before Christmas – it wants to put in a special cycle lane at Blackheath’s Royal Standard, to make pedalling through the area easier and safer.
The idea came from Greenwich Cyclists. If you’re cycling from Vanburgh Park towards Old Dover Road, it’s intimidating for new cyclists to have to circumnavigate the Standard, and can feel a bit dicey. So why not have a contraflow lane to cut straight across to Old Dover Road?
So, there it is. It’s a notable plan, because while Greenwich has been pretty good at widening cycle lanes and improving what’s already there; this might just be the first scheme on an existing road aimed at newer cyclists.
Most experienced cyclists will find the Standard a cinch (especially now it’s been resurfaced with new lighting) but it’s a worry if you’re a newbie. So it’s an important development, and I think it’s one which deserves credit.
You could have commented on it, but the oh-so-quiet consultation ended yesterday. Some things still need some work…
But there’s another way to have your say about cycling in Greenwich borough – the consultation into Greenwich’s cycling strategy ends this Friday. If you pedal around SE London, it’s worth a read and worth having your say too.
Organisers of the controversial Run to the Beat half-marathon still haven’t paid Greenwich Council the £10,000 they promised it for hosting the race, it’s emerged.
The council asked for a contribution “towards its sports legacy work” after agreeing that the borough would host the race for a sixth year, according to an answer given under the Freedom of Information Act.
It was the first time Greenwich had asked for money from IMG Worldwide, and the sum is due to rise to £20,000 if next year’s race gets the go-ahead.
But two months after September’s event ended in acrimony after runners complained about bottlenecks and poor organisation, the council is yet to receive a penny of that money, according to the FOI answer.
The event has long been mired in trouble, with residents complaining of poor information and upheavals; with IMG insisting on running the race on a circular route via Greenwich, Blackheath, Charlton and Woolwich.
More recently, Greenwich Council chief executive Mary Ney has refused to investigate allegations of a conflict of interest surrounding leader Chris Roberts and the race. Roberts is chair of a charity, Greenwich Starting Blocks, which is given free places by IMG. The recent threatening voicemail featured Roberts insisting his administration decides whether 2014′s race takes place, rather than the one installed after May’s election, after which he has said he will stand down.
The links between Greenwich Starting Blocks and Run to the Beat have also been confirmed by the council. Over 1,000 places have been donated to the council charity since the first race in 2008.
But only a handful have actually been filled. In the race’s first year, 250 places were offered, and 144 were taken up. This figure slumped to 26 in 2009. In 2011, the number of free places was cut to 100 – but none of them were taken up.
Numbers rose off the back of last year’s Olympics, but this year, another 100 Run To The Beat places were donated by IMG, and Greenwich Council promoted them in its weekly propaganda paper, Greenwich Time (right). But again, none were taken up.
|Places donated||Places taken up|
Documents revealed during the licensing process showed that IMG was planning to double its donation to Greenwich Council to £20,000 next year - even though it’s far from certain that the event will go ahead.
Indeed, even at £20,000, it’s possible to argue Greenwich lets Run To The Beat have the borough’s streets cheaply – Royal Parks gets at least £10,000 for allowing it use of Greenwich Park alone.
And there’s no real destination for the cash other than “sports legacy work”.
But then again it’s paid nothing at all so far. “We need to think – well, what does this bring into the borough?,” cabinet member Maureen O’Mara said of the race last year. So far, that seems to be an unpaid bill, a heap of aggravation, and more questions about the council leader. How long will local councillors put up with it for?
11.55pm update: At tonight’s council meeting, Chris Roberts denied any knowledge of donations from RTTB to Greenwich Starting Blocks when questioned by opposition leader Spencer Drury. Deputy leader Peter Brooks said no decision had been made about 2014′s race, and “ward councillors might have something to say”. Poor quality audio below:
Lewisham Council is asking Greenwich Council to start paying towards the annual Blackheath fireworks display again, after revealing fundraising for this year’s event fell nearly £30,000 short of covering its costs.
Greenwich withdrew its £37,000 share of funding for what was a jointly-run display in 2010, with council deputy leader Peter Brooks claiming it would be “inappropriate in this financial climate” to fund the event, which takes place right on the border between the two boroughs.
But Lewisham has continued to hold the event, which attracts up to 100,000 people and boosts trade to local businesses in Greenwich, Blackheath and Lewisham.
Lewisham has continued to set aside £36,000 each year for the display, which this year cost £108,673, and has relied on public donations and private sponsorship to make up the rest.
But a cut in private sponsorship money this year has meant the shortfall has widened from £7,919 to £29,656 this year, according to an answer from Lewisham’s culture and community services cabinet member Chris Best given at a council meeting last Wednesday.
Responding to Blackheath councillor Kevin Bonavia, she said in a written reply: “Officers continually look for different ways to attract funding for the event. We will continue to request financial and other support from the Royal Borough of Greenwich.”
At the time Greenwich Council’s Peter Brooks was claiming the borough was too hard-up to pay for Blackheath fireworks, Greenwich was paying £30,000 each year on a private party to inaugurate the borough’s ceremonial mayor.
While that cost has come down to £10,000 – thanks to the Royal Naval College no longer charging – this summer the council contributed £20,000 to fireworks displays to support Sail Royal Greenwich, a private company working out of the council’s Mitre Passage offices in North Greenwich.
In 2011, it effectively bailed out Greenwich and Docklands Festival with a £100,000 payout, and spent £110,000 on events to mark becoming a royal borough in 2012.
And while supporters of leader Chris Roberts point to Lewisham’s controversial decision to cut library funding in response to a government funding squeeze, Greenwich has been cutting under-fives’ play centres, outsourcing youth and library services and trying to cut funding from Charlton’s Maryon Wilson animal park.
Relations between the two Labour groups have got worse recently, with Lewisham councillors looking on in alarm at the bullying accusations levelled at Greenwich leader Chris Roberts, with the bad smell drifting across the border.
Greenwich councillors complained to their Lewisham counterparts after Bonavia referred to the accusations in his unsuccessful campaign to be the parliamentary candidate for Greenwich & Woolwich, demanding he be disciplined for disloyalty. They were flatly turned down.
Lewisham council also reaffirmed its reservations about the proposed Silvertown Tunnel – which is backed by Greenwich – at the same meeting.
Deputy mayor Alan Smith said: “The proposed Silvertown Tunnel relies on the same southern approaches as the existing Blackwall Tunnel. These routes, including the A2 area and the South Circular, already suffer from daily congestion. As the only primary alternative to the Dartford crossings, these routes come under extreme pressure when the M25 is not operating smoothly. The council therefore has reservations about the impact of an additional 6,000 vehicles per hour on these routes.”
Other London boroughs, including Southwark, Tower Hamlets, Barking & Dagenham and Redbridge, have also voiced opposition or reservations about mayor Boris Johnson’s plan. In the affected area, only Greenwich and Tory Bexley are wholly for it.
It’s the biggest political battle Greenwich or Woolwich has seen for a generation, and it ends tomorrow. The winner will get the keys to a safe seat in Parliament and the chance to develop a career which could peak in one of the nation’s highest offices. The others are already working out their excuses.
But only 700 or so people will get a say, while the other 66,000 haven’t even been told the identities of the six candidates battling it out. Those local Labour members have had their doors knocked upon, their phones rung and their emails clogged by candidates in a way that those of normal civilians who live in a rock-solid safe seat can only wonder at. Welcome to the contest to be Labour’s candidate for the Greenwich & Woolwich parliamentary constituency.
The six shortlisted candidates who want to succeed Nick Raynsford were decided nearly three weeks ago, but no public announcement was ever made. Labour Party modernisers use this as an example to talk about primaries involving the public – but this is a world away from all that.
The shortlist is current borough mayor Angela Cornforth, London Assembly member Len Duvall, former councillor Annie Keys, charity professional Kathy Peach, Greenwich West councillor Matt Pennycook and public relations director David Prescott.
Pennycook remains the man to beat, with a well-funded and carefully-orchestrated campaign, with Duvall supporters still hopeful their candidate can mount a late surge to success. Peach and Keys appear to be leading the outsiders and can’t be written off yet. Neither can David Prescott, with heavyweight backing.
It’s been a bitter campaign, too. It’s pitted Greenwich versus Woolwich and the young and ambitious against the party old guard. Most of the barbs seem to be flying towards Pennycook, a senior research and policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation think tank.
The allegations of bullying in Greenwich Council’s leadership haven’t helped either. While council leader Chris Roberts is largely disliked within the wider Greenwich & Woolwich party, broaching the subject of his behaviour acknowledges there’s a problem. Particularly when the council your party runs refuses to investigate him, even though everyone else can smell the problem. Because ignoring it looks even worse.
Critics both outside and inside the party charge Pennycook with hypocrisy – and some claim he’s done a deal with Roberts, which he’s denied, although Roberts is believed to be backing him (some say to get a potential council leadership rival out of the race, with Roberts reconsidering his pledge to stand down). But any member of a group of Labour councillors which has failed to deal with bullying in its ranks will hit trouble on the subject.
Even a councillor outside Greenwich got into bother. Lewisham councillor Kevin Bonavia (pictured right), who didn’t make the shortlist but knows the toxic politics of Greenwich Labour well enough, tweeted that the “old-style culture in Greenwich must change”.
For his honesty, he found Greenwich councillors demanding he be disciplined by the Lewisham party for his comments. Lewisham Labour councillors, who worry about the stench coming from across this side of the border, quite rightly, told their embarrassing neighbours where to stick it.
Indeed, in this race, being a Greenwich councillor has been, unusally, a disadvantage. While Pennycook’s proud of his efforts to turn Greenwich into a living wage borough, the council’s PR department has been silent on the matter – allowing the local Tories to pitch to the left of Labour on the issue.
Kathy Peach, who’s run a lively and thought-provoking campaign, managed to get two birds with one stone when emailing local members about an event last week. First, she made a dig at an event Pennycook held with the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee, then nailed the council’s lack of interest in the borough’s high streets.
Cosy chit-chats with Guardian contributors are pleasant enough, but won’t change anything in the real world.
For a glimpse of reality, head out from Woolwich Grand Theatre, look around General Gordon Square, and walk down Powis Street: once diverse community spaces that I remember from my childhood, but now lined with betting shops. Indeed Woolwich is home to 9 betting shops in total – nearly a third of the constituency’s 30 betting shops – all within a few hundred metres of each other.
Payday lenders, fast food takeaways and betting shops have proliferated all over our constituency. How did a council that won ‘council of the year’ for its regeneration efforts fail to stem this slow demise of our high streets – the social and commercial lifeblood of our constituency?
How, indeed. For the record, Polly Toynbee has told this website she is not endorsing any candidate in the selection.
But relentless campaigning – and funding from the Unite and GMB unions – has helped Matt. This week, rivals have been crying foul that he’s offering to buy breakfast for party members on Saturday morning, ahead of the final hustings and vote.
In a public election, “treating” – buying food, drink or entertainment to influence voters – is frowned upon, and can be illegal. But there isn’t the same provision in Labour’s rulebook, so members can dine out on Pennycook’s campaign on Saturday morning.
Supporters of rival candidates are seething – but there’s little they can do. As a current councillor yet still a relatively face, Pennycook can pitch himself as both an insurgent and a member of the establishment. Critics sneer that he’s an “empty suit” – but in an area when the party has struggled to adapt to 21st century communications, his promise of change has won people over.
He’ll be a loss to the council, where he could have proved himself as a leader and shaken up an ageing, out-of-touch authority. Perhaps if Nick Raynsford had held on for another term, this might have happened. But when you’ve the chance to appear on a bigger stage, why would you turn it down?
Len Duvall is pitching himself as the “unity” candidate, and his backers point to a track record of getting things done, including standing up to Roberts and the council he once led. This should have been his to lose. It could still be – he’s best placed to stop the Pennycook juggernaut.
He’s very much the favourite of the anti-Roberts councillors and activists in Greenwich – who remember a better-run council under his control – and is particularly strong in the Woolwich area.
But Duvall does represent the party’s old guard – this campaign should have been his to lose – indeed, his campaign is being run by Quentin Marsh, who ran Greenwich Council 25 years ago. In 2010, former councillor Marsh posed as an ordinary voter on a Labour leaflet imploring electors to back the party’s candidates in Charlton in Charlton. This isn’t forward to a shiny new future.
All this said though, Duvall’s well liked and much respected, can still definitely mount a late surge. Don’t write him off yet. As his supporters say, at least the old guard knew how to get things done.
Annie Keys and Kathy Peach will be pinning their hopes on squeezing through on second choices. Both mounted community-focused campaigns, with Keys coming out against the Silvertown Tunnel and Peach declaring herself sceptical. (Duvall is believed to be for the crossing, while Pennycook has not stated a view either way.)
Charlton-based Keys is popular in both the Greenwich and Woolwich parts of the constituency, while Peach has played up her Woolwich roots. There are many who wish this had been an all-woman selection to force a clean break from the area’s political past of bickering blokes not achieving very much – for generally, when Labour members get a choice of both genders, they tend to go for the man.
They’ll be competing for the votes of those who wish for a Stella Creasy or Heidi Alexander-style MP. Both have worked to emulate those community-rooted values. Neither can be written off just yet – those second choices could see either of them go well, particularly Keys, who has a strong network of local contacts. (Declaration of interest: I’m a trustee of a charity Annie set up to run an under-fives’ club in Charlton.)
David Prescott has homed in on problems with property developers in the area – the kind of issue you won’t read in Greenwich Time, and a brave one to raise when your own Labour council is in bed with those same developers. He’s also been talking up renationalising the railways – more radical than his dad, former deputy prime minister John – managed in office. He’s got heavyweight national Labour backing – notably shadow health secretary Andy Burnham and likely London mayoral hopeful Lord Adonis – and union backing too. Will this be enough to see him through?
Finally, the most perplexing candidate is Angela Cornforth – a Roberts ally said to be in the race solely to draw votes away from Keys and Peach. Earlier this year she stood for an area committee on the Co-op, claiming that “Greenwich councillors are taking the first steps to prepare for co-operative council status“ – which brought hollow laughter from those connected with the council that I’ve asked.
Most recently, Cornforth has been the subject of controversy for twice intervening in council meetings on matters that would embarrass Chris Roberts – even writing to the News Shopper to defend herself. Indeed, Greenwich Council’s weekly propaganda newspaper even misled the public about her inauguration, pretending it was at Woolwich Town Hall and not at a lavish ceremony at the old Royal Naval College. She’s as much chance of being the next MP as I have of scoring the winner at The Valley on Saturday.
So those are the candidates, and if you live in the Greenwich & Woolwich constituency, one of the six above is almost certain to be your next MP after 2015. There have been concerns raised about the amount of union money sloshing around the campaign – the days when a bright young upstart could reach the top through grit and hard work alone have gone. Such is modern politics.
Will this bad feeling be forgotten after Saturday’s selection? The winning candidate will need a lot of support in the months ahead if he or she is to take a leading role cleaning up the practices and reputation of the Labour party in Greenwich.
But with victory in the bag, will the winner really want to? We shall wait and see.