Category: lewisham council

Electoral roll changes: More than 1 in 20 Lewisham people could lose their right to vote

Lewisham Council is trying to get people to sign up to the register

Last month, this website revealed that one in 50 Greenwich borough residents could lose their right to vote under changes to the electoral register being introduced in December.

Now it’s emerged that the situation is worse in neighbouring Lewisham – with more than one in 20 voters set to fall off the register if they don’t act before 1 December.

Previously, the electoral roll was compiled by one member of each household filling in a survey form. Now, everybody who wants a vote has to apply individually.

Figures released by Lewisham Council under the Freedom of Information Act show that out of 195,863 voters in the borough, 10,730 face falling off the roll when councils switch to the new system on 1 December.

As in Greenwich, it is less well-off areas of Lewisham borough that face losing the most voters. Evelyn ward, which covers most of Deptford, risks losing 8% of its voters; while New Cross ward is set to lose 7.5%.

Lewisham kindly supplied a breakdown of how many voters are registered in each of these 19 wards, so these figures are more detailed than those offered by Greenwich.

Ward Missing voters
Evelyn (11,308 voters) 910 (8%)
New Cross (11,260) 852 (7.5%)
Lewisham Central (13,028) 842 (6.4%)
Rushey Green (9,766) 614 (6.3%)
Telegraph Hill (11,610) 697 (6%)
Brockley (12,518) 738 (5.9%)
Forest Hill (10,764) 631 (5.8%)
Perry Vale (11,264) 627 (5.5%)
Sydenham (11,129) 616 (5.5%)
Ladywell (10,060) 515 (5.1%)
Bellingham (10,308) 529 (5.1%)
Catford South (10,788) 549 (5.1%)
Whitefoot (9,913) 492 (4.9%)
Crofton Park (10,879) 494 (4.5%)
Downham (10,315) 450 (4.3%)
Grove Park (10,517) 442 (4.2%)
Blackheath (10,091) 393 (3.9%)
Lee Green (10,345) 339 (3.3%)

Total “red matches” – those due to come off electoral register in 1 December 2015, as at 11 November 2015. Ward electorates as at 1 September. Source: Lewisham Council

Lewisham staff have been working to make sure people stay on the roll, and these efforts are highlighted in the council’s figures – 1,410 people have been put on the roll since 1 September.

While it’s true the change may also weed out names that shouldn’t be on the register – because they are dead, or are registered in two different places – the Labour Party has launched a “missing million” campaign to get people back on the electoral roll.

This isn’t just out of public service – proposals to cut the number of parliamentary constituencies from 650 to 600, which are set to particularly affect Labour’s urban heartlands, are likely to use 1 December 2015 as a reference date.

Seats in Greenwich and Lewisham are particularly under threat from the changes, which are likely to see many more seats span borough boundaries.

Lewisham Deptford, currently held by Vicky Foxcroft, is set to lose 6.2% of voters. Past plans to redraw constituencies first saw the Deptford area merged with Greenwich, before it was then joined with Rotherhithe.

Think you’re not on the electoral roll? Check with electoral offices in Lewisham, Greenwich, or anywhere else. Know you’re not on the roll? Register now.

PS. The Freedom of Information Act, which uncovered these figures in both Greenwich and Lewisham, is under threat. See four simple ways you can take action.

Refugee crisis: Blackheath’s Age Exchange taking donations

Champion Hill, 5 September 2015
If you’ve been moved in recent days by reports of refugees fleeing Syria and want to donate clothes, sleeping bags or other items to the camp in Calais, then the Age Exchange centre in Blackheath Village is accepting donations from 9am-6pm on weekdays and 10am-5pm on Saturdays.

If you’re unsure about what to bring, take a look at the Lewisham for Refugees Facebook group, set up by Lewisham Central councillor Joani Reid. The priority seems to be men’s warm clothes and camping gear, but take a look at the latest lists there.

I’ve not seen any similar initiative in Greenwich borough, and nothing’s been publicised in this week’s Pravda – council leader Denise Hyland tweeted at the weekend that she expected the Government to meet any “unavoidable costs” of housing refugees.

Lewisham mayor Steve Bullock says the council is already “making preparations” to house its share of refugees. If you do know of anything, please let everyone know in the comments below (thoughts about the wider situation can go elsewhere, thank you).

Pictured above is just some of Saturday’s huge collection at non-league football club Dulwich Hamlet, which included sleeping bags, two guitars, clothes and toys.

Tuesday update: There is now an equivalent Facebook group for Greenwich borough.

Blackheath fireworks: Senior Greenwich councillor breaks ranks

Greenwich Council cabinet member John Fahy has broken ranks on his council’s refusal to help fund the annual Blackheath fireworks display by declaring it should fund the event.

Since 2010, Lewisham Council has been left alone to raise funds for the annual event, which straddles the boundary of the two boroughs, after Greenwich pulled its £37,000 funding.

The issue has strained relationships between the two neighbouring administrations, despite them both being run by the Labour Party.

Fahy has published a post on his blog in which he declares:

Blackheath Fireworks is one of the largest community events in London. It attracts large numbers of residents from Greenwich and elsewhere. Local restaurants and businesses benefit from the number attending. It has a major impact on reducing the number of home firework parties and reduces any potential safety issues in the home. Families can enjoy the event in a safe environment.

“Clearly Local Government has many pressures on limited resources but supporting community events is extremely important. We spend significant resources on our Festivals and rightly so. Getting together with a neighbouring Borough builds positive relationships and I fully support Greenwich making a contribution to secure the long term future of the event.”

Fahy, who’s Greenwich Council’s cabinet member for health and older people, also links to a poll where he seeks to “test the views of the wider community” on the issue.

In October 2010, council deputy leader Peter Brooks claimed it would be “inappropriate in this financial climate” to cough up the £37,000 needed to co-fund the event.

“I could give 65 million reasons why we didn’t pay,” Brooks told a council meeting in October 2010, referring to government cuts in the council’s budget. “£37,000 is equivalent to a job and a bit.”

At the same time, Greenwich was spending £30,000 a year on private parties to inaugurate its ceremonial mayors. Thamesmead Moorings councillor Brooks also told the same council meeting that “it’s very difficult to get to Blackheath from my ward” – despite the fact there’s a direct bus, route 380.

Since then, Greenwich spent £20,000 last year on fireworks to promote the Sail Royal Greenwich event, and a further £110,000 on events to mark becoming a royal borough in 2012.

Despite Greenwich’s refusal, Lewisham has continued to raise funds for the event, even though it’s also had its budget slashed by the coalition, by seeking sponsorship from firms and donations from locals – indeed, it was Greenwich resident Douglas Parrant who started 2013’s display after buying tickets in a Lewisham Council-run raffle.

But after last year’s event, Lewisham councillors were told fundraising had fallen £30,000 short – and the council would be approaching Greenwich to help it fund 2014’s display.

Greenwich’s refusal to help out is especially embarrassing for the council’s Labour colleagues in Lewisham, who have pledged to protect the display in past election campaigns.

Of course, there’s some context to this surrounding the poisonous atmosphere in Greenwich Labour.

It’s worth pointing out that Fahy appeared to have slightly different views on the issue in October 2011….

…although it’s well-known within Greenwich Council circles that cabinet members don’t write their own responses – indeed, they often come from council leader Chris Roberts.

When Fahy stood against Roberts for the leadership of the council in 2012, he lost his role as cabinet member for leisure and literally found himself airbrushed out of Greenwich’s weekly propaganda paper, Greenwich Time:


And, as everybody knows now, Fahy was also subjected to this threatening voicemail from Roberts last autumn:

I expect Fahy might have his phone switched off for a few days. To read what he has to say and vote on whether you think Greenwich Council should fund Blackheath fireworks, head on over to his website.

Lewisham tells Greenwich: Cough up for Blackheath fireworks

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.

Lewisham Council meeting response

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.

Convoys Wharf: Deptford in dread after mayor Boris takes charge

Convoys Wharf from Greenwich
It’s a development which will have massive implications for Greenwich, yet there remains surprisingly little concern east of the creek about the enormous plans for Deptford’s Convoys Wharf, which will tower over the views from Greenwich Park and Cutty Sark Gardens (above).

With three enormous towers of 26, 32 and 40 storeys, the plans would change the skyline forever; and by squeezing 3,500 homes onto the site (3,000 likely to be sold abroad, just 12% going to the local community), riverside Deptford would be transformed. Into what, though, nobody quite knows.

Furthermore, this isn’t just any old patch of derelict land – this is the site of the first royal dockyard, founded in 1513, and arguably the beginning of Greenwich’s links with royalty. The site’s now on the World Monuments Fund’s watch list.

So, it was right and proper that Lewisham Council took its time on the scheme. Until Hong Kong-based developer Hutchison Whampoa threw a wobbly and went running to Boris Johnson, that is.

Now the mayor has decided to call in the application himself, taking the decision away from Lewisham Council and putting it in his hands. Considering Johnson’s track record in backing big developers, and his recent trip to China, you could forgive those who think this one of the more whiffy decisions to come out of City Hall.

It’s not as if critics don’t have alternative ideas for the site. Diarist John Evelyn once kept a legendary garden here. Campaigners want the site to include a recreation of Sayes Court Garden. Most excitingly of all, the Build The Lenox project wants to have a visitor attraction here, centred around building a Tudor era warship in the old dockyard.

At the moment the historic dockyard at Deptford has no working links with its wonderful history. Building a ship which was a significant part of the dockyard’s past would regenerate the area and help restore the eminence Deptford once enjoyed. It would also help bridge the maritime cultural gap with Greenwich. For a modest entrance fee, visitors would be able to see the ship being built and some of the traditional skills used to build her. They would experience all this in close proximity to structures that were contemporary to her construction, such as the Master Shipwright’s house and other surviving buildings.

While locals were hoping Lewisham Council could force Hutchison Whampoa to incorporate these ideas into the Convoys development, Johnson’s intervention puts all this at risk.

As well as the Lenox site, there’s also an excellent analysis of the issue at Deptford Is…. Anyone who cares about Greenwich should be caring about this issue too – because the consequences of what happens at Convoys Wharf will be felt far beyond a small corner of riverside Deptford.

Fancy starting Blackheath fireworks? You could for a fiver…

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.

New Cross and Woolwich fire stations: A tale of two councils

Woolwich Fire Station, 10 July 2013Sighs of relief in New Cross today, as its fire station has escaped closure under revised plans to make £29m of cuts to the London Fire Brigade.

But the news isn’t so good for Woolwich fire station, tucked away in the back streets – one of 10 stations still due to shut by October, although fire chiefs now plan to give East Greenwich a second engine to partly compensate for the loss.

The Fire Brigades Union says the campaign against the remaining closures, which also include Downham fire station, will go on; while the political fall-out is bound to continue.

But it’s worth comparing and contrasting the approaches taken by both Lewisham and Greenwich councils with emergency services under threat in their patches. They differ somewhat – and, as we can see, ended up with differing results, too.

Lewisham fired off a seven-page response to the proposals from a senior council officer, after inviting its borough commander to two council meetings. Lewisham had two stations under threat on its patch – New Cross and Downham. Its response takes each point in turn, and contains a wealth of statistics and real examples of how the borough and its neighbours would be affected by the proposed closures (51% of New Cross call-outs are in Southwark, with a small handful in Greenwich).

That latter point’s an important one – borough boundaries are irrelevant in the fire cuts debate, as many stations predate even the old metropolitan boroughs, never mind the current ones; indeed, east London tenders are sometimes called to fires on this side of the Thames, and vice versa.

So we learn from Lewisham’s document that one in 20 of Downham’s stations call-outs go into Greenwich borough – presumably towards Eltham and Mottingham.

Greenwich sent a two-page letter from cabinet member Maureen O’Mara. It focuses solely on Woolwich and contains two glaring errors.

The first is in a strange example given to demonstrate traffic congestion…

Woolwich often experiences serious traffic congestion particularly when the Woolwich Ferry is busy with large lorries queuing to cross the river or when only one ferry is in operation. For example, the mean weekday run time on bus route 472 (which runs on the Woolwich side of the ferry), over a six month period (January to June 2012) is 1.1 minutes. However the maximum run time (during congested periods) is 42.6 minutes.

And the other seems to get Plumstead and Greenwich fire stations mixed up…

There is a major chemical factory in the Plumstead area which the Fire Brigade has committed to attend within six minutes in the event of a fire. If appliances based at Greenwich had already been called out to a fire elsewhere, the next closest ones would be in East Greenwich and would not be able to arrive within the agreed time frame.

Hopefully a corrected version was sent. There’s no mention of Downham, even though it serves Greenwich borough residents. It also misses the fact that Woolwich fire station serves a small part of London City Airport’s crash zone – a big argument on its favour.

The response largely falls back on the same old stuff about population growth, but there’s no research into how the fire brigade serves Greenwich borough. Compared with Lewisham, it’s a very limp response indeed.

The question’s got to be asked – how serious was Greenwich Council about saving Woolwich fire station?

LFEPA report

The London Fire Brigade report into the consultation says the council refused to put up posters publicising a consultation meeting held in Greenwich on 28 May – forcing it to rely on editorial in the council’s weekly Greenwich Time instead. Why on earth would any council decline to put up posters for a public meeting about something which could have such grave consequences for its residents?

It’s worth pointing out that local Labour party members – including local councillor and cabinet member John Fahy – actively campaigned to retain the fire station. But why didn’t the council that their party supposedly runs back them with something meaningful, rather than a token letter?

Still, if Greenwich Time is stil limping on in a year’s time, there might be a nice little puff piece for some luxury flats in an old fire station in Woolwich, with some quote about how it’s a pleasing sign of the area’s regeneration. We’ll just have to hope a fire doesn’t break out…