The prospect of a legal fight over the future of Greenwich Time has got closer after the Government sent Greenwich Council a final warning to stop printing its weekly newspaper.
Greenwich is one of 11 councils – also including Tower Hamlets, Newham, Waltham Forest, Hackney and Conservative-controlled Hillingdon – that have been warned they will face legal action to shut down their council publications to “defend the independent free press”.
Only Greenwich and Tower Hamlets produce weekly newspapers. Greenwich now has two weeks to show communities secretary Eric Pickles why he shouldn’t take legal action against the council – essentially, it’s an order to shut it down or face legal action.
The Government believes it has outlawed councils publishing newssheets more than four times a year. Greenwich believes it is still operating within the law by publishing Greenwich Time – see its full submission to the Government here, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act – and is vehemently opposed to any attempt to end its publication. Despite the fact that it is one of just two councils that publish a weekly paper, it claims criticism of Greenwich Time is politically-motivated.
Last month, it was revealed the council had refused an offer from the publisher of the Mercury and South London Press to take over Greenwich Time.
It’s long been rumoured Greenwich may try to spin off Greenwich Time to try to avoid the wrath of Pickles – with Greenwich Leisure Ltd mooted as a possible publisher. But there’s never been anything on the record to substantiate these rumours.
In truth, the squabbling over Greenwich Time has been going on for so long, residents may have just become resigned to the paper’s continued existence.
But after many false starts, the fight may now really be about to begin.
Weeks after blowing £500,000 on a tall ships festival, it’s emerged Greenwich Council has declined to pay its way for this year’s Blackheath fireworks for a fifth year running – leaving Lewisham Council to fundraise for the event again.
Greenwich withdrew its £37,000 share of funding from the event in 2010 with then-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.
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.
But despite its best efforts at fundraising, last year’s display lost just short of £30,000, leading Lewisham to approach Greenwich for funding.
Despite Greenwich’s deputy leader John Fahy backing restoring funding to the display, it appears the tall ships have taken priority.
With Lewisham losing 33% of its funding over the next three years, the £100,000 display is unlikely to survive without help from Greenwich.
For a relatively small cost, Greenwich leader Denise Hyland could have demonstrated her council really had entered a new era. Sadly, it seems nothing has changed at Woolwich Town Hall.
By an unfortunate coincidence, Hyland is pictured on the front of this week’s Greenwich Time propaganda newspaper with Lewisham Council’s nemesis, hospital-threatening health secretary Jeremy Hunt. Oh dear.
Want to get your hands on Greenwich borough’s biggest job, plus a salary of at least £185,000? Get yourself to royalgreenwichchiefexecutive.com and see what’s on offer as Greenwich Council chief executive Mary Ney gets set to retire.
Ney’s approaching retirement has been well-known around the council for some time, and the quote given to the News Shopper’s Mark Chandler back in July when he asked to confirm the details – “this is old news” – pretty much sums up the petulant, entitled and secretive attitude that spread at the top of the council under her watch.
Recruited by former leader Chris Roberts shortly after he took over the council, Ney – a former head of Harrow social services – failed to act when alerted to the bullying culture within the council under Roberts and ex-chief whip Ray Walker’s watch.
Indeed, Ney is still trying to prevent the release of a document about bullying sent by a Greenwich councillor, a case that has now gone to a freedom of information tribunal.
Writing on his blog yesterday, former Labour councillor Alex Grant shines some light on the broken culture of what now calls itself ‘Royal Greenwich’:
“In my 16 years as a councillor in Greenwich I lost count of the number of times that hard-working councillors were told to look away from problems rather than scrutinise them.
“It was worryingly common for councillors who asked innocent questions about what the council was doing – either publicly or privately – to be shouted at, receive abusive voicemail messages, or even be officially ‘warned’ to shut up or face the consequences.
The problems I encountered in my time as a councillor in Greenwich [included] bullying, a culture of secrecy, discouraging councillors and members of staff from raising concerns, particularly about the council’s finances and use of resources.”
A new chief executive will be a bigger opportunity to flush out the old culture at Greenwich than the election of a new political leader – here’s hoping it’s an outside appointment. Alas, it doesn’t look like an offer’s gone out to share Lewisham’s hugely-respected chief executive, Barry Quirk.
I couldn’t face the crowds in Greenwich, so nipped down to Woolwich on Sunday afternoon to see what the fuss was about.
And you know what? The Tall Ships Festival looked rather decent. At least in Woolwich, anyway.
A big crowd, nice atmosphere – it looked like a good job, well done. And it’s been lovely watching the ships go up and down the river this weekend.
I did pass on the opportunity to buy a £16 Royal Greenwich Tall Ships t-shirt for half price, mind.
And here’s the most graphic demonstration of why the Firepower museum is closing down – its doors were locked on one of the busiest days the Royal Arsenal complex has ever seen. Madness.
It was a funny experience watching the ships by bike, though. Nowhere to park in sponsor Berkeley Homes’ Royal Arsenal compound – well, apart from this one rack…
Greenwich Council later tweeted me to say there was bicycle parking in Beresford Square, but there were no signs from the Thames Path to indicate this. Which mattered, because loads of cyclists were using the path on Sunday.
At least there was some parking at Woolwich, however hidden it was. I thought I’d peek at the ships moored at sponsor Barratt Homes’ Enderby Wharf. But security guards were ushering cyclists off the recently-installed bicycle path.
So I trundled down Tunnel Avenue, surprised by the numbers of people coming away from Enderby Wharf towards North Greenwich. Was there anywhere to park the bike? Well, I could have taken my chances here…
After a couple of minutes trying to get a D-lock through a wire fence, I gave up and went home.
So that was my Tall Ships Festival. I know there’s been some gripes about it in Greenwich (see the comments on Friday’s post), and the traffic’s been murder this weekend, with packed roads and overcrowded buses. But it was fine in Woolwich.
Imagine it being called the Woolwich Tall Ships Festival, acknowledging where most of the action was…
Remember, though, it’s all about reputation-building. Here’s a naughty slip from Greenwich Council’s Twitter account.
Retweeting praise aimed at the council leader? Cheeky.
Even cheekier, because the original tweet, sent on Friday night, was it was amended the following night by Mehboob Khan, who juggles being a Labour Party adviser to London Councils with being a councillor in Kirklees, West Yorkshire. Very naughty. The original tweeters weren’t impressed.
Enough of what I saw, how were the tall ships for you? Share your praises or gripes below.
If you follow Greenwich Council’s media, you’ll have heard of little else for the past year. If you bin its weekly propaganda rag Greenwich Time and shun its Twitter feed, this weekend could come as a surprise to you. It’s the Royal Greenwich Tall Ships Festival and it’s actually rather a big deal.
The first many would have known that this was actually something rather big was when parking permits started falling onto doormats last month. “Tow away zone” signs have sprouted up (even though many of the Olympics ones are still in place) and parking restrictions are in place all weekend.
Isn’t this all a bit much? Maybe not. A similar event in Dublin in August 2012 attracted over a million people to the Irish capital. And Falmouth, where this year’s event started (below), has been packed out, by all accounts.
It’s a baffling thing, because nobody was really asked or consulted about the festival. Nobody put “tall ships” in their manifesto for May’s election. After Run to the Beat was finally given the bum’s rush, few would have expected another event to cause such major disruption the following year.
This one could be worth it, though, with plenty happening:
– 50 ships will be berthed at Greenwich, Greenwich Peninsula and Woolwich and Canary Wharf between Friday and Monday. The Greenwich Peninsula location is Victoria Deep Water Terminal, which has been decked over and landscaped (above). You’ll be able to climb on board the ships and take a look.
– There’ll be fireworks in Greenwich on Friday and in Woolwich on Saturday.
– A “crew parade” will take place through Greenwich town centre on Saturday afternoon, to congratulate all those who sailed from Falmouth.
– There’ll be “festival villages” at Greenwich and Woolwich over the weekend with shows, music, and other events.
But there’ll be disruption, too:
– Greenwich town centre will be closed to traffic for much of Saturday. Buses will be diverted well away from the area.
– Transport for London is warning of disruption from crowds to rail, Tube and DLR services. Southeastern is promising extra services, though isn’t detailing just what it’s offering.
So how did we get here? It all seems to have started three years ago. Remember the ill-fated Peninsula Festival? That was part of a mini-Dutch invasion for the Olympics that included the similarly-cursed Oranjecamping campsite (above) and Sail Royal Greenwich, a series of hospitality cruises along the Thames, itself based on Sail Amsterdam, which takes place every five years in the Dutch capital.
Only the tall ships actually made it to the end of London 2012. The Peninsula Festival folded after a few days – oddly enough, the Greenwich Peninsula Tall Ships site is adjacent to where Frank Dekker wanted to put his beach – while Oranjecamping moved to Walthamstow. But Sail Royal Greenwich has been based in Greenwich Council’s offices at Mitre Passage, North Greenwich ever since.
By November 2012, Greenwich had decided to bid for a Tall Ships Race, which involved this trip to Latvia, so this weekend’s Tall Ships Festival is an important staging post if it’s to achieve that ambition. Here’s a report prepared for former leader Chris Roberts which outlines the council’s plans, which put the costs at £175,000.
In December 2013, the costs had ballooned to £500,000, plus £2.1 million in pier refurbishments. The council will be hoping to recoup the costs in sponsorship (including from Barratt Homes and Berkeley Homes) and merchandise (including programmes at £5/pop).
Sail Royal Greenwich has a good deal from the council – it’s paying a service charge of £100/month towards each desk, while a games company based in the same office, which is aimed at digital businesses, pays £450/month, according to a Freedom of Information request made last year.
In 2013, the council paid £20,000 towards fireworks for Sail Royal Greenwich at Greenwich and Woolwich, and a further £19,000 for events to mark the ships’ arrival in Woolwich. With the council planning to bid for the 2017 Transatlantic Tall Ships Race, the ships’ll probably be sticking around for a while yet.
So what does the area get out of the tall ships? Well, if there are hundreds of thousands of people over the weekend, then it’ll be a huge boost to tourism – and one that’ll go some way of compensating for cock-ups during the Olympics. The ships and the fireworks promise to be a spectacular sight – there’s no denying any of that.
But what the council gets out of it is more interesting. It’s all about the brand, baby…
The Royal Greenwich Tall Ships Festival is, frankly, about pushing the “Royal Greenwich” brand. But this is also about how a depressingly secretive council sees itself – referring to itself in the third person as “the Royal Borough” even though the council itself is not royal.
It’s almost as if the council is trying to depoliticise itself, to portray itself as some kind of benevolent landlord/ events manager like the (barely-elected) City of London Corporation, rather than the highly political beast which it actually is.
Sooner or later, Greenwich’s 51 councillors will have to make some very difficult decisions about budget cuts. But while next-door Lewisham is asking residents to weigh up some of the dilemmas themselves, Greenwich residents are told “look at the tall ships!”
Yet with many of the tall ships berthing themselves in SE18, why not apply the high-sailed magic to one of the borough’s more battered brands? The Woolwich Tall Ships Festival, anyone? Falmouth-Woolwich Tall Ships Race?
Tall ships also make fantastic corporate entertainment venues. So the festival also offers some glorious opportunities for jollies, and for councillors and officers to be wooed by property developers and the like – Barratt Homes is a lead sponsor, while Berkeley Homes, Cathedral Group and Knight Dragon have also paid to be associated with the event.
In fact, all this is already evident in the pages of Greenwich Time, with two plugs for Morden Wharf developer Cathedral in this week’s council paper – one featuring council leader Denise Hyland larking about with sailing trainees sponsored by developers; another featuring Hyland, Cathedral boss Richard Upton and other trainees who, well, fancy that, are nicknamed the Cathedral Five.
I’ve been told Greenwich Council is terrified the tall ships will be a flop. Judging by the crowds elsewhere, it’ll almost certainly be a big hit. There were even photographers out on Greenwich Peninsula early yesterday evening to watch a trio of ships sail through the Thames Barrier and past the Dome.
It’s going to be an interesting weekend. If you’re well-disposed to the council, there could be plenty to congratulate it on. If you’re not, there’ll be plenty of bones to pick over the following weeks. There are many reasons to celebrate the tall ships’ arrival – but just as many reasons to be sceptical of what’s going on below deck. If you live anywhere near the river, get set to be swept along over the next few days…
The judges called it “inept, arrogant and oppressive,” the Guardian reports. A familiar-sounding description – wonder if this story will feature in next week’s Greenwich Time? Somehow the council never made space for its nomination in its weekly newspaper.
A Greenwich Council spokesperson said: “Look! Tall ships!”
A development by the east Greenwich riverfront at Enderby House, the Grade II-listed building that housed the firm behind the world’s first transatlantic cables, which were made at Enderby Wharf.
The house, now on the site of the long-delayed cruise liner terminal, has been decaying for years. Now developer Barratt Homes has taken action.
It’s hidden it behind a fence.
With Greenwich due for a tourist influx this weekend thanks for the council-backed Tall Ships Festival – which Barratt is a headline sponsor of – it should be a great chance to show off east Greenwich’s amazing industrial heritage. The communications infrastructure – undersea cables that send data around the world – enabling you to read this was developed here. But instead of celebrating one of the birthplaces of modern communications, Barratt has neglected it. And now it’s hiding it.
The addition of Greenwich Council’s Tall Ships logo reminds of the last great bit of civic whitewashing around these parts – the covering over of the Woolwich riot wall three years ago.
Never mind its history, Enderby Wharf is a “brand new riverside destination”.
Mind you, Barratt Homes can’t spell either, so perhaps expecting it to respect Greenwich’s history is a bit optimistic. If you’re Greenwich Council – watch the developers you jump into bed with…