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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 & Woolwich Foot Tunnels’ Category

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.

Greenwich Foot Tunnel ‘could be finished by March 2014′

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Greenwich Foot Tunnel, July 2013

Long-delayed refurbishment works at Greenwich Foot Tunnel could finally be finished by next March, the inaugural meeting of a pressure group on the issue was told last week.

About 50 people filled the first gathering of the Friends of Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels, which aims to protect and promote the two cross-river links, both badly hit by a botched revamp managed by Greenwich Council.

At a council meeting in July, Greenwich regeneration cabinet member Denise Hyland, who is in charge of the tunnel scheme, announced work on to get the tunnels finished would be brought forward – but there was still no date as to when a report, commissioned last October, into the fiasco would be published.

Hyland, who is in charge of the tunnels, did not attend the packed meeting at the 10 Centre last Thursday. But Tower Hamlets councillor Gloria Thienel was there, and the Conservative representative for Blackwall & Cubitt Town said her own council’s officers understood that Greenwich planned to have the work done by March.

But she did add: “We’ve been told this before.”

If true, this would mean the work at Greenwich would be finished in time for May’s council elections. There was no news as to when work at Woolwich would be finished – indeed, users of that crossing were thin on the ground.

Much of the meeting, chaired by outgoing Peninsula councillor Mary Mills, was concerned with filling positions on its committee. Indeed, But a wide range of issues were raised, with the issue of cycling in the tunnels causing almost as much concern as their poor state of repair.

The other big issue was the lack of lift staff – made redundant by Greenwich Council, with passengers able to operate the lifts themselves. Dubbed the “guardians of the tunnels” by one speaker, their ability to control cycling in the tunnels merely by denying errant cyclists entry to a lift was much missed.

Crime and anti-social behaviour were brought up – with suggestions for closer working between Greenwich, Tower Hamlets and Newham councils and borough police forces. Others also feared the Greenwich tunnel was nearing capacity – and it was time to start looking at alternative pedestrian and cyclist links.

While no Greenwich cabinet members turned up, backbench councillors Alex Grant and Matt Pennycook were there for part of the meeting, along with parliamentary hopeful David Prescott. Shortly after the two councillors went, with perfect timing, London cycling commissioner Andrew Gilligan popped in for the end.

There were also representatives from the new Friends of Island Gardens group, formed to protect the park which faces Greenwich from across the Thames.

I’ve compiled some of the most pertinent points from the evening in this Storify page. For more information about the friends group, visit the FOGWOFT website.

‘We’ve had enough': Foot tunnels’ friends fight back

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Greenwich Foot Tunnel, July 2013
In case you haven’t seen this elsewhere, a friends group is being set up for the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels, badly damaged by a botched Greenwich Council attempt to refurbish them.

For more than a century the people of London have crossed the River Thames through foot tunnels at Greenwich and Woolwich which owe their existence to that great Victorian working class hero Will Crooks.

The Woolwich MP’s vision was of a free passage under the Thames for people commutng to work in the docks and factories on the north bank of the river.

The docks may have gone, but the tunnels, classed as public highways and therefore kept open around the 24 hours a day, are now used in large part by those working in the fnancial services sector in Canary Wharf, and by tourists wishing to sample the baroque majesty of maritme Greenwich. The tunnel at Greenwich is also part of Natonal Cycle Route #1, which links Dover and Inverness.

Taken together, the Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels are used by 1.5 million people every year.

Whether this be for work or leisure, the tunnels are a vital transport and cultural asset which, in the spirit of their creator, belong to the people of London.

Management of the Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels is the responsibility of the Royal Borough of Greenwich. For some years the tunnels have been in a poor state of repair, and for this reason they have been the subject of a renovation project funded by an £11.5m grant from central government.

Beset by delays, contractual issues and politcal obfuscaton, the tunnel renovaton work is far from complete. In 2011 the original contractors were sacked without explanation, and the Royal Borough of Greenwich has yet to release the report of an independent inquiry into what went wrong. The new lifts at Greenwich are subject to frequent breakdown, work on the staircases has halted, and new lifts have yet to
be installed at Woolwich.

The matter is now in the hands of auditors at the Greater London Authority, and
few expect the work to be fnished before the end of next year.

Local people have had enough of the mismanagement of this invaluable community asset. We are now rallying together in celebration and defence of the tunnels, and in early September will formally launch the Friends of Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels.

The aim of this new community group is to promote the use and enjoyment of the Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels, and to oversee and hold to account those responsible for them.

Together we will work to ensure a high standard of maintenance, appearance and access to the tunnels, represent all tunnel users – pedestrians and cyclists together – and, with the rapid economic growth of the Isle of Dogs and Newham, lobby for the importance of the tunnels as a transport facility.

The inaugural meetng of the Friends of Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels will take place on Thursday 5 September at the 10 Centre, Tarves Way, London SE10 9JU, starting at 7pm. The venue is located behind Greenwich DLR station, at the end of Straightsmouth.

All are welcome, and we look forward to seeing you there.

From last month’s council meeting, here’s Denise Hyland, the Greenwich councillor responsible for the foot tunnels fiasco, explaining why the council has changed tack to commission new work to finish the tunnels’ refurbishment, and why its inquiry into the mess won’t be reporting back any time soon.

Incidentally, a friends group is also being set up for Island Gardens, the park at the foot of the Isle of Dogs which contains the Greenwich tunnel’s north entrance. This follows the withdrawal of a mysterious attempt to build a “community centre” (see Tower Hamlets-watching blog Trial By Jeory for more). Campaigners there are meeting tonight at 7.30pm at Poplar, Blackwall and District Rowing Club, next to the park, to discuss next steps.

(For more information on FOGWOFT, call Francis Sedgemore on 07840 191336 or Ian Blore on 07900 253658.)

Greenwich Foot Tunnel works to drag into 2014

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Not exactly earth-shattering news, but City Hall isn’t expecting work on the Greenwich Foot Tunnel to be complete until next year. Work on revamping the Thames crossing, together with its sister tunnel at Woolwich, stopped last year after a Greenwich Council refurbishment project collapsed in 2011.

Last month, it emerged that Labour London Assembly member Len Duvall had asked auditors to investigate the supervision of the project. While the works were being carried out on behalf of Greenwich Council, the cash had come from a Government agency whose work has since been taken over by the Greater London Authority.

Now Green assembly member Darren Johnson has taken up the issue, asking mayor Boris Johnson:

Greenwich foot tunnel
Question No: 1923 / 2013
Darren Johnson

Although responsibility for the refurbishment of the Greenwich foot tunnel lies with the Royal Borough, and given that these works have been stalled for several years will you as the Mayor of London and Chair of TfL instigate an investigation into what has gone wrong and urge Greenwich to publish a timetable for the completion of these works?

Written response from the Mayor

The foot tunnels are important strategic links, which need careful management to refurbish, given their age. Work on the refurbishment of the foot tunnels has been suspended whilst Greenwich re-evaluates the required scope of the works, as it has become clear that the scale of the task is greater than previously anticipated.

The tunnels are currently safe and open for use at all times and I understand that Greenwich anticipates procuring consultants and contractors shortly, in order to review and complete the works as early as possible in 2014. Once the procurement process has been finalised, a timetable for completion of the works will be announced.

What Boris Johnson’s response didn’t say is that Greenwich isn’t going to be commissioning any new works until its own investigation, led by John Willmoth, is complete. Last month, Greenwich Council said the report wasn’t yet complete, but would be presented to the council’s cabinet “at the earliest opportunity”.

At least, however, the reply from the mayor indicates City Hall has woken up to the issue – past responses, to Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon, gave the impression it was shrugging off the issue and leaving it to Greenwich Council.

City Hall asked to probe Greenwich Council foot tunnels fiasco

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City Hall officials have been asked to investigate the handling of Greenwich Council’s botched £11.5m redevelopment of the Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels, where work has been stalled for over a year.

Greenwich & Lewisham assembly member Len Duvall has referred the matter to auditors at the Greater London Authority to establish what went wrong with the project, which had been funded by the Government’s Homes & Communities Agency (HCA) before being switched to City Hall last year.

It’s emerged an HCA official signed off the project after a site visit in March 2011, handing the project over to Greenwich Council the following month, on the understanding work would be finished by September 2011.

The HCA stopped scrutinising the project after the site visit, and the matter was not looked at again until City Hall took over the HCA’s work in London in April 2012. Now Duvall has asked the authority’s audit panel and district auditor to investigate. The London Assembly’s budget and performance committee has also been asked to look at the issue.

Duvall’s move comes after campaigning from Greenwich Cyclists on the issue.

Both Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels remain in a poor state after the collapse of the project in late 2011, at around the time cabinet member Denise Hyland was blaming the problems at both tunnels on “hidden structures” which didn’t actually exist.

The council itself, which sacked the three contractors in charge of the job, admitted in October 2012 that there was “an unacceptable and deteriorating environment for users” in the tunnels.

Last November, it emerged Greenwich Council had previously told the HCA the work had been completed – even though that simply wasn’t the case, and that should have been clear on any site visit.

Indeed, when the Woolwich Foot Tunnel reopened in December 2011 after at least a 15-month closure, the poor state of the tunnel demonstrated the difficulty the project was in. When Greenwich’s lifts reopened in early 2012, lights were failing and lifts kept breaking.

In a letter to Duvall seen by this website, the GLA’s Housing and Land executive director David Lunts says “the project remains a concern for the GLA”, and says it is now in “regular dialogue” with the council as it struggles to complete the project.

No work has taken place at either tunnel for over a year, with no new contractors appointed to finish the job. Woolwich Foot Tunnel remains without lifts, Greenwich had new lifts fitted but they have been plagued by breakdowns.

Greenwich Council commissioned an independent report from John Willmoth into the fiasco six months ago. After completing a report into the council’s handling of big projects in general, he has yet to report back on the foot tunnels issue.

11.20am update: Len Duvall has told this site:

“What took place over the work on the foot tunnels work should not have happened.

Greenwich are learning from this experience internally and I look forward to the publication of the second of John Wilmoth’s independent reports examining what happened in this case more closely.

My intervention is to make the GLA take its responsibilities seriously, not just ‘shrug their shoulders’ when public money from bodies that have since become part of the GLA is involved. There are lessons for us to learn at the GLA and I hope that Greenwich Council are equally keen to ensure that events like this don’t occur in the future. Most importantly Greenwich need to press on with the completion of the works – monitored closely by the GLA – to ensure that both foot tunnels are accessible to everyone.”

New Year poll: Cyclists and Greenwich & Woolwich foot tunnels

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Greenwich Foot TunnelFor the end of 2012, we were promised shiny and revamped foot tunnels at Greenwich and Woolwich – but they never happened. The Woolwich tunnel’s been left to rot, the Greenwich tunnel has gained new lifts which still aren’t working properly. It still looks a mess as well.

Funnily enough, the foot tunnel fiasco doesn’t make it into Greenwich Council’s back-slapping review of the year, available for a fiver – sick bags not included.

One thing that struck me before Christmas was the heated debate about cyclists in the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, after this website revealed nobody had been prosecuted for cycling in there for three years. Ticketing errant cyclists would raise more than a Dear Leader’s Greatest Hits DVD ever would – but should, as some commenters suggested, the council officially adopt a more tolerant attitude to those who want to nip through on two wheels, rather than just unofficially doing so?

So, in place of any leadership from the council, let’s have a poll and see what you really think. I’ve taken some of the suggestions and tried to combine them into a series of options that’d work for both Greenwich and Woolwich tunnels. Maybe by this time next year, we could have a radical new policy that both cyclists and walkers could agree with.

Or maybe we could just have working lifts, and fixed-up tunnels instead…

Greenwich Foot Tunnel joins Facebook

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With work still at a standstill at Greenwich Foot Tunnel, Greenwich Cyclists has set up a Facebook page to collect people’s experience of the stricken Thames crossing, laid low by a botched refurbishment scheme. Whether you’re on bike or on foot, I’m sure they’d be grateful to hear of your experiences. Expect to see it full of gripes about berks riding bikes through the tunnel in three, two, one…

There’s still no news from the council on who is leading its inquiry into the screwed-up revamp, which has burned its way through an £11.5m government grant, with council tax-payers footing the bill for the rest.

(Read past coverage of the foot tunnels fiasco.)

Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels: Did council lie over works?

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Greenwich Council told a Government agency that the unfinished Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnel works had been completed, a minister has said, even though it now admits the tunnels are in a poor state of repair.

The project, which has been beset by delays, remains unfinished after the contractors were sacked last year, and last month Greenwich Council commissioned an independent investigation into what went wrong.

But local government minister Mark Prisk told Bermondsey MP Simon Hughes that Greenwich Council said the works, which had been funded by an £11.5m grant, had been finished – and any further work would have to come from the council’s own funds.

The cash was awarded by the Department for Communities and Local Government in November 2008. But the project moved to the Homes and Communities Agency, which took charge of monitoring progress on the project.

In a written response to the Liberal Democrat MP, Mr Prisk said: “The borough confirmed that all eligible works funded by the Homes and Communities Agency were completed as per the conditions of contract and that any remaining works would be funded from their own resources.”

However, contractors Dean & Dyball, Hyder Consulting and Swett were sacked in December 2011 following slow progress on the project, with the council issuing a series of misleading and evasive answers about the project until it finally owned up to the problems four weeks ago, and announced plans to take legal action against the firms.

The funding letter, signed by Greenwich’s assistant chief executive John Comber (and obtained by this website under the Freedom of Information Act), outlines the schedule of works.

It’s clear to anyone who uses either tunnel that the works are nowhere near finished – only the lifts and south rotunda in the Greenwich tunnel have been completed, along with the stairwell in the Woolwich tunnel. Greenwich Council refuses to publicly discuss what hasn’t been completed for fear of inflating new tenders to finish the work.

It’s also worth recalling Greenwich cabinet member Denise Hyland’s answer at a council meeting when asked, bluntly, if the Government’s money had run out.

“The budget is considered sufficient to complete the project, subject to the contractual issues being resolved with the contractors involved in the first phase of the works,” she said, despite the fact the council had claimed the works were completed and all the money had been spent.

I’ll leave it down to you to decide whether that, in retrospect, was a misleading answer. Incidentally, Greenwich has still not announced who will lead its investigation into the foot tunnel fiasco, and other big projects.

Whether or not the council misled the HCA – it’s certainly clear the government agency wasn’t taking enough notice of what was happening with its money.

To make matters more complex, the HCA’s functions in London were taken over by the mayor’s office earlier this year, which now means the responsibility for keeping track of the grant falls to a certain Boris Johnson, who has consistently batted away requests that he put pressure on Greenwich to finish the project. City Hall may now have to sit up and take more notice of what’s going on beneath the Thames.

Foot tunnels fiasco on BBC London News

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If you saw BBC London News cover the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels fiasco today, here’s how this site has followed the issue over the past couple of years.

(The story’s also on the BBC News website.)

No new answers on Greenwich & Woolwich foot tunnels (18 October 2012 – now with meeting audio)
Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels: Unanswered questions (15 October 2012)
Foot tunnels fiasco: Greenwich Council launches inquiry (12 October 2012)
‘Contractual issues’ now delaying foot tunnels (27 September 2012)
A strange smell at the Greenwich Foot Tunnel (27 August 2012)
Lifts breaking, lights flickering in ‘revamped’ Greenwich foot tunnel (16 April 2012)
Christmas surprise – inside reopened Woolwich foot tunnel (22 December 2011)
Those ‘hidden structures’ revealed (sort of) (29 November 2011)
The mystery of the ‘hidden structures’ (28 October 2011)
Woolwich Foot Tunnel now closed until 2012 (26 August 2011)
Yet more delays for Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels (8 June 2011)
Foot tunnel closures drag on until June (31 March 2011)
Greenwich Foot Tunnel closed (17 February 2011)
Nick Raynsford on Greenwich Foot Tunnel fiasco (2 February 2011)
Greenwich Foot Tunnel shambles continues (31 December 2010)
Exclusive: Greenwich Foot Tunnel closed 16 times in one month (23 December 2010)
The shambles of the Greenwich Foot Tunnel restoration (24 November 2010)
Woolwich Foot Tunnel closed until March 2011 (4 November 2010)
More woe for Woolwich Foot Tunnel users (19 October 2010)
Trouble on, and under the water at Woolwich (6 June 2010)

… and, of course: Greenwich Council spin chief bags 25% pay rise.

No new answers on Greenwich & Woolwich tunnels

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Leader Chris Roberts declined to answer questions last night as Greenwich Council’s cabinet met to discuss the collapse of the scheme to refurbish Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels.

The cabinet met to agree on a course of legal action to recover funds from the three contractors involved in the £11m project, who were kicked off the job in December last year.

Conservative leader Spencer Drury criticised a report into the failure, saying it lacked “clarity about what had and hadn’t been done” in the tunnels since work began early in 2010.

He pointed to the frequent breakdowns of the new lifts at Greenwich, installed at the beginning of this year.

“I got the implication you thought the lifts were furnished, but that’s not the experience of tunnel users,” he said.

However, Cllr Roberts said he would ask officers to write to him with answers, adding he did not want to discuss what would be in a new contract to complete the work.

“We will publish full figures when they’re agreed, but I don’t to big the contract up,” he added.

Chief executive Mary Ney said the identity of who will lead the council’s review of the project should be known by the end of the week.

Under questioning from cabinet member John Fahy, she added the council’s role in the fiasco will be thoroughly examined.

Saturday update: Apologies for the lateness of this, but here a recording of the discussion, chaired by Chris Roberts, featuring assistant chief executive John Comber, Conservative leader Spencer Drury, chief executive Mary Ney, and cabinet member John Fahy.

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