Category: local stuff

Greenwich Time: Eric Pickles turns up the heat on Greenwich Council’s weekly paper

Greenwich Time

Greenwich Council has been given 14 days to respond to a demand from Communities Secretary Eric Pickles to close its weekly newspaper Greenwich Time, MPs have been told.

A written statement from junior minister Kris Hopkins says the council has been told it’ll be directed to close the controversial freesheet by 31 March.

Greenwich Time is one of only two weekly council newspapers in the country, along with Tower Hamlets’ title East End Life.

Pickles has long been trying to clamp down on such papers, demanding that councils publish newssheets no more than four times per year. Neighbouring Lewisham cut its Lewisham Life magazine from monthly to quarterly some years ago.

The council was first warned in September 2014, but it has argued that by using Greenwich Time to publish local information, it is saving taxpayers money.

The true costs of Greenwich Time have been notoriously difficult to quantify. While the paper relies on a lot of freelance labour, quoted costs do not include the time spent by council staff and officers in producing it. In 2013 this website found out that GT cost £124,000 per year to produce, without counting the work put in by the council’s paid staff.

Its opponents say GT, which is signed off by the council leader and chief executive each issue, stifles debate while local newspaper publishers argue it competes unfairly for advertising revenue. A move by the owners of the South London Press to buy the title was rebuffed in 2011.

Last November, Greenwich Council put its advertising contract out for tender – the £400,000 annual fee roughly matching GT’s distribution costs. But council leader Denise Hyland later called this a “Plan B”. Last night, she told Conservative leader Spencer Drury it was “business as usual” at the paper.

You can see the exchange at 1 minute 29 minutes into this video:

The role of the paper in pushing the council’s line was highlighted this week in the bizarre row over the council’s proposals to incentivise local business to pay the London Living Wage.

Despite the scheme first being publicly proposed by Conservative councillors, Greenwich Time placed the story on its front page and credited it to Labour leader Denise Hyland.

Greenwich Time, 27 January 2015

This week’s paper also contains a two-page spread boasting about the council’s plans for the future of Eltham. Promoting improvements in Eltham are a regular feature of Greenwich Time, and few other areas of the borough have had plans publicised in this manner.

It’s widely believed the council is using GT to boost the chances of the marginal seat’s Labour MP Clive Efford being re-elected.

Whether Pickles’ threat will mean the end of GT is a moot point – the closure deadline of 31 March runs so close to the general election that any legal response from Greenwich may mean it can simply carry on through the campaign and leave the issue to whatever government is elected in May.

You can’t film our meeting: More secrecy at Greenwich Council

Stewart Christie remonstrates with a Greenwich Council security guard over filming the meeting

Stewart Christie remonstrates with a Greenwich Council security guard over filming the meeting with his tablet

Very strange goings-on at last night’s Greenwich Council meeting – which overshadowed what seemed to be an amicable end to the row between Labour and the Tories over a scheme to boost the living wage.

A security guard tried to stop one of last year’s council election candidates from filming at Woolwich Town Hall – apparently on mayor Mick Hayes‘s order, and despite new laws aimed at ensuring members of the public can film in town halls.

Stewart Christie, who runs the Royal Greenwich Time website, was trying to film the meeting with his mobile phone when a guard approached him telling him Cllr Hayes had ordered him to stop, or he would call the police.

Christie, whose website is named after Greenwich Council’s weekly newspaper – one of only two left in the country – is a former Liberal Democrat candidate who ran an aggressive campaign against the ruling Labour group in the Shooters Hill ward, based around Labour’s backing for a new road river crossing at Gallions Reach.

The guard approached Christie yet ignored me videoing the meeting within the mayor’s eyeline. Christie stopped filming, but later resumed using a tablet propped up on the shelf of the public gallery.

Again, the guard approached Christie and told him to stop. This time, the guard was ushered away by Robert Sutton, Greenwich Council’s committee services manager, as can be seen in the video below.

Rules allowing council meetings to be filmed have been in force in England since last summer. Before then, members of the public had been warned for even taking dictaphones into the council chamber, while former council leader Chris Roberts had resisted suggestions that meetings might be recorded or broadcast.

In November 2013, then-mayor Angela Cornforth refused a TV crew permission to film a meeting. It turned out to be journalists for a BBC programme investigating bullying accusations against Roberts.

Christie used the new freedom last month to ridicule the “schoolboy politics” of the Greenwich Council chamber.

Greenwich’s rules for recording meetings simply state that people are welcome to film or take photos, and that members of the public should be aware that footage could be publicly available.

greenwich_filming640

Council staff are unhappy about what happened, while there’s also embarrassment on the Labour benches.

With Greenwich Labour – or more accurately, the council leadership – under fire for “machine politics” over the way it claimed credit for a Conservative motion recommending it adopt a scheme to promote the living wage which began in Labour-run Brent, last night’s incident is a reminder the old bullying culture still hasn’t quite gone away.

There are welcome signs of change in the council – but last night’s row was an example of how the old guard can still scupper progress in Woolwich Town Hall.

Greenwich living wage: How did Tories outflank local Labour?

If you watch politics in Greenwich borough for a period of time, one of the most striking things you’ll notice is how local Conservatives occasionally take positions that put them to the left of the ruling Labour party.

Opposition leader Spencer Drury often points out the poor state of much council housing, for instance. Candidate Thomas Turrell might never have got elected, but he made former leader Chris Roberts look like a fool on TV over zero-hours contracts. Some of this is the proper scrutiny that an opposition party should be doing. And sometimes, it points to so much more. As it was yesterday, when Greenwich Council suddenly signed up to a scheme to nudge local businesses into supporting the living wage.

The story starts across the other side of London. Labour-run Brent Council has a scheme where firms get discounts on their business rates if they pay the living wage, which in London is £9.15 per hour.

It’s a corking idea. So corking, it’s being proposed at Greenwich’s next full council meeting tomorrow night. Council meeting motions are often an excuse for a bit of posturing and a barney. It’s often a good time to abandon the public gallery for the pub.

But who’s suggesting Greenwich take up this Labour scheme? The Tories.

Greenwich Council full meeting agenda, 28 January 2015

This is the brainchild of Matt Hartley, the Conservative candidate for Greenwich & Woolwich. He got a fair amount of local publicity for it.

Greenwich Mercury, 21 January 2015

Of course, Labour candidate Matt Pennycook knows a lot about the living wage – he’s been on the advisory board of the Living Wage Foundation, and to his enormous credit, managed to cajole former council leader Chris Roberts into making Greenwich into a living wage council; an accolade it can be proud of, but one it’s been shy about shouting from the rooftops.

You can say this is a non-partisan issue as long as you like – there’s an election on, and it’s a cheeky incursion by Matt H onto Matt P’s home turf. This isn’t cynicism. It’s good politics. If you’re in Greenwich & Woolwich, you’re lucky to have two very good candidates representing the main parties. It might actually be an interesting campaign here.

And then yesterday, the Guardian snuck out news that Greenwich was all set to follow Brent in adopting the scheme.

The news was then confirmed by council leader Denise Hyland.

And look! Here’s Labour’s shadow treasury secretary Rachel Reeves with Matt Pennycook!

Meanwhile, here’s Matt Hartley in the FT, talking about how non-partisan it all is. Is it the first time a Greenwich Council motion has made it into the pages of the Pink ‘Un, I wonder?

Opposing the Tory motion would have made Labour look like ogres – and rewriting it to slag off the government (which is what Chris Roberts would have done) would have made them look like fools.

So, to Greenwich Labour’s credit, they took him up on it, and people from across the area will benefit from the scheme. It’s a funny case of non-vindictive politics in the borough of Greenwich. This rarely happens.

But it has touched some raw nerves. If I was a Labour member, I’d be asking a few awkward questions of my local councillors. Why didn’t they come up with this in the first place?

What Matt Hartley has managed to do – possibly unwittingly, possibly not – is show just how emasculated Greenwich Labour are as a force for getting things done locally. Not the council, but the Labour movement itself.

It’s very good at promoting national policies, but 14 years of bullying leadership have left it with nothing to say locally. Councillors spent so long taking their lead from Chris Roberts and chief executive Mary Ney that now they’ve gone, they don’t know what to do.

Despite Roberts and Ney’s departure, it’s still as if the council controls the councillors, not the other way around. So Labour councillors end up with nothing to say. Where are the blogs, local newsletters or social media accounts boasting of Greenwich Labour’s achievements? Or even just explaining what they’re up to?

Some of this can come down to the party’s struggles to overcome a bullying culture, while councillors at one stage were actually forbidden from having social media accounts. But that doesn’t explain everything. A few weeks back, I had some Labour leaflets through my door – all about national issues, nothing about what the council was doing locally. They went straight in the bin.

I’ve tried following my own local councillors, and those in neighbouring wards, on social media, and have ended up largely giving up and unfollowing them. I’m genuinely interested to see what the councillors are up to, what they think of local issues, and what Labour’s ambitions for the borough are. But if they have any views, they’re keeping them quiet. If I want to see endless retweets about how bad the coalition are, I’ll follow the national Labour Party account.

There are some exceptions, but on the whole, Greenwich’s Labour councillors are the Labour party’s worst salespeople.

Over in Lewisham, councillors and the Labour group proudly display their policies and decisions. You may agree with them, you may not. But they display their local decisions and policies with pride – something their counterparts in Greenwich simply don’t do.

The failure of the vast majority of Greenwich’s Labour councillors to communicate any kind of local vision to a wider public created the space for Matt Hartley to nip in and steal their clothes on the living wage.

That’s a big problem for us all. And it manifests itself in bad policy – think the pavement tax fiasco, or blindly backing new road crossings – as well as a thoroughly unhealthy local political atmosphere. Greenwich Labour knows it has a problem in engaging with the outside world. Maybe Matt Hartley’s motion will be the hint it needs to make it realise it must change.

Thousands of people will benefit from Greenwich supporting businesses who want to bring in a living wage. And while tomorrow night’s motion might well see the same tedious old barneys, hopefully it’ll be a spark for some more positive change on the council.

Greenwich Time, 27 January 2015

1pm update: The dishonest spin – this week’s council propaganda paper, Greenwich Time, claims all the credit for Denise Hyland. No mention of any non-cabinet councillors – whether Labour or Tory – having a role in this, even though they’re due to vote on this tomorrow night.

And when did Greenwich Council’s press office tell the local media about the scheme? Just this lunchtime, the day after Greenwich Time started hitting local doormats, and the day after deadline day at both the News Shopper and Mercury.

All in all, the whole episode demonstrates the cynical circle of how the council is run. Local councillors asleep on the job, their rivals embarrass them into doing something, then the council hierarchy wakes up, claims credit for it and uses its propaganda story to push the local media out of the story – a propaganda paper which means those councillors can stay asleep and not communicate with locals.

And they wonder why people are disillusioned and cynical. The Dear Leader might have vacated his office long ago, but the old key-thrower’s habits are still ingrained in a thoroughly dishonest administration.

(Stewart Christie has another take on this at Royal Greenwich Time.)

Southeastern shambles: Now it doesn’t know how long its trains are

On guard: Police and security officers watch Lewisham station at the end of last Tuesday's rush hour

On guard: Police and security officers watch Lewisham station at the end of last Tuesday’s rush hour

Does anyone know what’s going on at Southeastern? A little snapshot from Twitter from Sunday provided an insight into just what a mess the rail company’s communications are in.

As mentioned earlier this month, Greenwich & Woolwich parliamentary candidate Matt Pennycook’s been chasing the firm over the ongoing issues from the Thameslink programme – particularly as services on the Greenwich line have been subjected to big cuts. What happened to the promised 12-car trains that would help mop up displaced passengers? This is a vital question, not just because of the problems faced by passengers, but because public money’s gone into extending platforms so they can accommodate longer trains.

Even though platforms up and down the line have been extended, there’s a problem with Woolwich Dockyard station, which lies in a brick cutting and can’t be extended. Even though this issue’s been known about for years, neither the Government nor Southeastern have fitted trains on the line with selective door opening (hop on the DLR at Cutty Sark to see this in action).

On Sunday morning, a despairing tweet from the Labour man:

Up popped the social media team at Southeastern…

Which prompted Pennycook to pull rank.

I’m sure Pennycook’s next exchange with Southeastern MD David Statham will be an interesting one.

So why did the Southeastern tweeter get it so wrong? Southeastern is strangely incapable of tailoring messages for different parts of its network – the same information that appears at Deptford also appears at Dover, even though services from those stations have nothing in common.

I took a day trip to Margate on Saturday and saw the same, rushed, generic poster about major engineering works there as I’d seen at Charlton – even though the two stations were affected in completely different ways. So if their communications department can’t tell Greenhithe from Greenwich or Westenhanger from Woolwich Arsenal, why would their Twitter team?

Ghost train: The new trains from Victoria Southeastern hasn't told you about

Ghost train: The new trains from Victoria Southeastern hasn’t told you about. Thursday’s 23.51 from Peckham Rye.

This lack of understanding of how different routes need different information also means Southeastern can’t even put across positive messages. Last week’s timetable change contains one big boon – late evening trains from Victoria to Dartford via Bexleyheath; providing an alternative West End terminal as well as help for anyone visiting King’s College Hospital.

These extra trains have had almost no publicity – just a single, tiny line in generic posters. People in Kidbrooke will be no more aware than their counterparts in Canterbury. So it wasn’t a surprise that when I took a late train back from Peckham Rye to Blackheath last Thursday, it was almost empty.

National politicians from both Labour and Conservative parties are as much to blame for Southeastern’s woes as the company’s dire management, as From The Murky Depths rightly points out. It’s laughable to see Bexleyheath’s Tory MP James Brokenshire threaten Southeastern with a “last chance” less than five months after his government colleagues rewarded the firm’s failure with a new franchise, rather than handing the metro routes to Transport for London.

If the capital had an effective political opposition, it’d be hammering the likes of Brokenshire on why London can’t run its own railway. It doesn’t, so they get away with this posturing.

But even if signals fail, points seize up and snow blocks the line, the one thing Southeastern has total control over is its communications – not just with passengers, but with local politicians. If it can’t even deal honestly with the latter, what hope has Southeastern got for dealing with the rest of us?

Whitehall cut – TfL takes temporary axe to route 53

53 at New Cross Gate, 15 January 2015

The 53. Everybody loves the 53. It finds the parts of south-east London other links with the centre of town can’t reach – even if it isn’t allowed too near any fun spots any more (Routemasters ran to Camden until 1988, it last reached Oxford Circus in 2003).

The Plumstead to Whitehall service is also a vital connection for those who can’t or won’t pay expensive rail fares – from London’s army of service workers to those who simply appreciate a door-to-door connection with a view from the window.

It’s these people who’ve borne the brunt of fare rises under the current mayor – up from 90p in 2008 to £1.50 today. And for them, it’s about to get worse still. Travelling on the 53 yesterday, I noticed this message…

“From 17th Jan, route 53 will terminate at Lambeth North.”

Being cut to Lambeth North? From Saturday? No consultation, no notice, no explanation? I fired off a few tweets to see if anyone could work out what was going on.

It turns out things aren’t as bad as the scrolling message would indicate – the cut is a temporary one to facilitate roadworks at Parliament Square. I’m indebted to transport expert Paul Corfield, who passed on this from TfL this morning:

BRIDGE STREET/PARLIAMENT STREET, SW1 ROUTE 53: from 0415 Saturday 17th of January until Sunday 29th March, buses terminate and start at Lambeth Palace due to closure of Bridge Street SW1 for utilities work and carriageway resurfacing.

It’d nice if TfL had given us a bit more warning, of course, and maybe even talked it over with local representatives. At least it’s a temporary cut, but it’s going to be a painful one for many – especially with other connections with central London in turmoil.

But it’s worth watching this like a hawk. London Transport tried to cut the 53 back to the Elephant & Castle in the late 1990s, arguing that the new Jubilee Line extension meant it was no longer needed. I’m sure TfL would love to try that again if it knew it could get away with it. It helped that back then, local MP Nick Raynsford was a regular on the 53, as it provided a near-door to door link from his home to Parliament. In the end, express buses were axed – heaven knows they’d be useful now.

Indeed, the often-packed 53 really needs a modern-day champion. Frequencies were cut when the 453 was introduced in 2003 and haven’t been improved since, with successive mayors concentrating on the other service. The big groups of passengers changing from the 453 to the 53 at Deptford Bridge tell their own story.

So the news isn’t as bad as it first appears. But if you value a bus to central London, it’s certainly worth keeping an eye on.

5.25pm update: Thanks to Neil for sharing the email he had from TfL in the comments below – the curtailment won’t apply overnight, so from midnight to 6am buses will still depart from Whitehall. The arrangements, worryingly, are “until further notice”.

Greenwich Council backing Bakerloo Line to Lewisham

Waterloo Tube station

Greenwich Council has joined the chorus of south London councils supporting an extension of the Bakerloo Line to Lewisham, Catford and Hayes, its counterparts in Lewisham heard last night.

Lewisham’s elected mayor Sir Steve Bullock rubber-stamped his council’s backing for TfL’s scheme at a cabinet meeting, endorsing a report urging transport bosses to act quickly to bring the Tube line south-east.

Deputy mayor Alan Smith revealed Greenwich’s support for the proposals during the meeting, which sees Greenwich join Southwark as well as its neighbour in backing the proposals.

Transport for London consulted late last year on an extension to the Bakerloo, which currently runs from Harrow & Wealdstone to Elephant & Castle.

Current proposals see the line running via either Old Kent Road or Camberwell and Peckham to New Cross Gate and Lewisham, before taking over the current mainline service through Catford and Lower Sydenham to Hayes. It’s also mulling over the possibility for a branch running to Bromley.

But TfL does not plan to open the extension until after 2030 – a long wait for areas which are already seeing huge amounts of home-building, particularly at Lewisham and Catford.

“We do now have Greenwich supporting us, and though it won’t directly benefit them, the fact that there are more people behind it helps our case,” Cllr Smith told Wednesday’s meeting at Lewisham Town Hall in Catford.

Lewisham has been exploring a Bakerloo extension for some years now, commissioning a report in 2010 which identified possible routes for the extension, which included routes into Greenwich borough.

But this was ignored by Greenwich under former council leader Chris Roberts, which has prioritised river crossings, so Greenwich’s backing for the new proposals under his replacement Denise Hyland is notable.

While there wouldn’t be a station within Greenwich borough, the council boundary passes surprisingly close to Lewisham station, which is also a hub for bus, DLR and rail services north and east into the borough.

To the south, Bromley Council remains cool on the idea of the Tube entering its borough – preferring to see Hayes remain connected to the National Rail network – with Cllr Smith saying had hadn’t seen a “significant shift in their thinking”.

“Bromley doesn’t seem to consider itself to be part of London, it certainly doesn’t consider itself to be part of the economics of London,” he complained.

“Trying to persuade them that this will be beneficial has proved to be extremely difficult, but this doesn’t mean we will stop trying.”

Last month, Bromley’s London Assembly member James Cleverly asked Mayor Boris Johnson what effect a Bakerloo extension to Hayes would have on journey times, clearly anticipating the answer would involve longer journeys. In fact, he was told trips would be quicker on the Bakerloo.

A Bakerloo extension which took over the Hayes line would free up space on National Rail tracks through Lewisham, creating an opportunity to boost rail services across south-east London.

Lewisham’s response to the consultation also outlines an idea for redeveloping Lewisham station – which even now is struggling as an interchange for passengers displaced by works at London Bridge – as well as suggestions for locations for stations on Old Kent Road.

It also floats the idea of a London Overground extension from New Cross to a “Lewisham South” terminal.

While Greenwich is now backing the Bakerloo proposal, it has not published a response; nor is it currently due to be discussed by councillors there.

Lewisham Town Hall

A word on the video on this story – it’s the first time I’ve ever filmed a council meeting, using new legislation brought in last year.

It’s very quiet, but hopefully you can get the gist of what’s happening. It also includes some discussion of Lewisham adopting a borough-wide 20mph zone, a topic this site will return to at some point. Next time I do this, it’ll be in Greenwich and I’ll try to edit it properly…

I may be the first person to have used the new legislation to film a meeting in Lewisham. Stewart Christie has a small clip of a full council meeting in Greenwich here.

Lewisham asks that you inform the clerk of the meeting that you’re planning to film, then it’s all fine so long as you don’t get in the way or focus on members of the public – although it’s hard to do it unobtrusively without furniture getting in the way, as you’ll see here, where New Cross councillor Joe Dromey is hidden by a chair.

It’s also worth pointing out here that Lewisham operates a different system to Greenwich – here, the elected mayor takes all decisions and cabinet members propose, advise and scrutinise, so no vote is taken. In Greenwich, cabinet members vote on issues, usually deciding positions outside of public meetings.

Southeastern shambles – Greenwich’s farewell to Charing Cross

Bye, then... no more Greenwich line trains from Charing Cross from this weekend.

Bye, then… no more Greenwich line trains from Charing Cross from this weekend.

It’s the biggest change to happen to south-east London’s railways for decades. Just before midnight tonight, the last train from Charing Cross to Deptford, Greenwich, Maze Hill and Westcombe Park will be just that. After 23.56, the direct connection from the West End to Greenwich will be no more.

This has been known about since March 2008, when Network Rail published its catchily-titled South London Route Utilisation Study. (See page 112 of this document.) 853 wasn’t running then, but it got a mention on this website six years ago. Here’s another reference from Greenwich.co.uk in December 2009. And look, here’s a “stay of execution” for Greenwich line trains from November 2010.

This isn’t to say “I told you so”. Back in 2008, I never really thought about diving headfirst into local news issues. I never really took much notice of what was in the local press because I never saw it. Then as this changed, and this website developed, it became old news – old news that was never talked about. And who wants to read about old news?

I thought there might be a decent-sized publicity campaign. Posters up and down the Greenwich line, months in advance, extolling the virtues of Cannon Street station, the new seven-day-a-week terminal. (It’s supposed to have a “fantastic new bar” soon, you know.)

But no. Instead, the news was bundled out as part of a mixed bag of information about the Thameslink Programme, the larger scheme which will see a rebuilt London Bridge station accommodate frequent trains to both north and south London. The prize of a decent station is a brilliant one – but the price is those trains to Charing Cross.

Instead of providing station-by-station information, or even details for each line, Southeastern has managed to baffle commuters, failing the challenge at the first hurdle. Many of them still think the change is only temporary. It’s not. Those trains aren’t coming back. And there are some very good reasons why.

Brilliant publicity at London Bridge station, November 2014

Brilliant publicity at London Bridge station, November 2014

What’s happening – the long-term plan

The connection between the Greenwich line and the Charing Cross lines is being severed to accommodate a new set of tracks that will head north from London Bridge to Blackfriars, Farringdon, and north London.

It won’t physically be possible for trains from Westcombe Park, Maze Hill, Greenwich or Deptford to reach them any more. And because of the way services are arranged, trains from Woolwich Dockyard, Plumstead, Erith, Belvedere and Slade Green will rarely reach Charing Cross. (Trains from New Cross and St John’s are also affected by these changes.)

Instead, there’ll be a direct service to Cannon Street, seven days a week. From 2018, you’ll have a brand new London Bridge station to change trains in. The crappy old footbridge is going, and you’ll have escalators, lifts, and a spacious new concourse beneath the platforms. Think the new King’s Cross, but bigger.

There’ll be no more sitting on the viaduct over Deptford waiting to get access to the Charing Cross lines – in theory, you’ll be able to rattle straight up to Cannon Street, and make a simpler change at a much more pleasant London Bridge if you need to get to Waterloo East or Charing Cross.

What you need to know - how Southeastern trains will run until August 2016

What you need to know – how Southeastern trains will run until August 2016

What’s happening – the short term pain

Charing Cross trains will sail through London Bridge from Monday until August 2016. You’ll have to make your change by Tube or bus. And then from 2016, the position will reverse, and Cannon Street trains will glide through without stopping. Interchange will be terrible, and for three years, London Bridge station won’t just be a dump – it’ll be a building site.

There’s also likely to be a series of major weekend closures. The first – happening this weekend and kept very quiet by Southeastern – sees ALL trains routed to Victoria, Blackfriars or New Cross, and all lines through London Bridge completely closed. (There is also no service at all through Deptford, Greenwich, Maze Hill or Westcombe Park – have a play with Real Time Trains to see how it affects you, or check out the situation at Charlton or Lewisham).

Even Charlton Athletic seemed in the dark about the plan, and they’re only playing host to 15,000 football fans on Saturday. Charing Cross will also be closed on Sundays through to at least May.

In English: "Some trains will be longer. Trains may also run to different terminals."

In English: “Some trains will be longer. Trains may also run to different terminals.”

The secret cut in capacity

There’ll also be fewer rush hour trains through Greenwich from Monday. From The Murky Depths has the full details – four evening peak trains are cut, with three going during the critical 1730-1830 hour. One morning peak train goes. Meanwhile, extra capacity has gone to trains serving destinations in distant Kent, if you believe the Southeastern publicity above.

Despite the fact that money has been blown over the years on extending platforms to take 12-car trains – once in the 1990s, and again in the 2010s – there won’t be longer trains to make up for the cut. Woolwich Dockyard station, built in a brick cutting, can’t be extended, and despite these works having been planned for years, neither the Department for Transport nor Southeastern has fitted trains to work with selective door opening which would enable longer trains to stop there.

To make matters worse, Southeastern is pretty much using every train it can get its hands on – and is having to borrow more to satisfy demand.

It’s a mess, frankly.

There now appears to be work happening to fit out the "fantastic new bar"

There now appears to be work happening to fit out the “fantastic new bar”

Send your regards to Cannon Street

“But Cannon Street’s in the middle of nowhere!”, you cry. Cobblers. One of the main gripes is that a lack of trains from Charing Cross makes it harder for tourists to get to Greenwich. Yet Cannon Street is 10 minutes’ walk from St Paul’s Cathedral and the Museum of London, and five minutes from the Monument.

And it’s a fine station for onward travel connections – on the District and Circle lines, with Bank station just a couple of minutes’ walk up Walbrook. (In a few years, a new Bank station entrance will appear opposite Cannon Street, just to really baffle everyone.)

Sure, it’s a bit quiet at the weekends, but there’s that fantastic new bar coming soon…

Matt Hartley's website

The political battle

With an election coming up, both Labour and Conservative candidates for Greenwich & Woolwich have thrown themselves into the debate. Incumbent Labour MP Nick Raynsford has a decent record on fighting for rail passengers – one of his first wins as an MP in the 1990s was to persuade British Rail to stop Gillingham trains at Charlton. His hopeful successor, Matt Pennycook, has been busying himself writing to and meeting Southeastern bosses and tweeting about it.

In the blue corner, Conservative candidate Matt Hartley has launched the Sort it, Southeastern campaign, pledging to hold the rail company’s “feet to the fire” over its performance.

Of course, it goes without saying that both their parties’ administrations also share blame for this – Labour re-privatised Southeastern in 2006, and must share some responsibility for poor Department for Transport planning before 2010. The Tories renewed Southeastern’s franchise in 2014, with the Department for Transport still failing to provide enough rolling stock for the area. Both Labour and Conservative governments have also blocked moves by Transport for London to take over the Southeastern franchise – decisions that will stick in the craw when TfL takes on services from Liverpool Street this May.

Matt Hartley’s campaign aim to secure longer trains throughout the “borough of Greenwich” seems peculiarly parochial – didn’t Conservative candidates elsewhere in SE London want to join in? And as for wanting Greenwich-Charing Cross services restored after 2018, he might as well demand the return of steam – it’d be cheaper and more efficient to run at least six trains an hour to Cannon Street, first train to last, seven days a week. It’s better than hankering for a crappy two trains per hour service to Charing Cross that wasn’t much cop anyway.

But it’s a good thing that both main candidates are getting their teeth into the issue. Frankly, it’s about time Southeastern became a political football – and it certainly deserves the kicking.

Hopeless: How Southeastern announced the most disruptive weekend works in decades

Hopeless: How Southeastern announced the most disruptive weekend works in decades

Will it be enough?

After 2018, we’re promised good things. An all-new London Bridge station that’ll be a pleasure to use. You’ll be able to change for trains that head across North London, to Finsbury Park and beyond, as well as frequent services to Blackfriars, Farringdon and St Pancras. And Charing Cross and Cannon Street services should be more reliable, as a 40-year-old pattern of tracks is ripped up and rebuilt.

And don’t forget that Crossrail will come from 2019, giving passengers at Abbey Wood and Woolwich an alternative that’ll whisk them to Canary Wharf, the City, West End and West London. It’ll relieve some crowding from the Greenwich line – for a short time, at least.

You’d also hope that knackered communications systems would be fixed – systems that stop staff and drivers giving proper information, and systems that have mysteriously started showing Kent-bound trains on London-bound platforms (and vice versa). There’s a lot of work to do.

But an increased population in an overheating city brings increasing pressures. Huge developments are rising by Deptford, Greenwich, Lewisham, Woolwich Arsenal and Abbey Wood stations. Long-term development plans will see the Charlton riverside given over to residential uses. And 10,000 new homes on the Greenwich Peninsula, with no further plans to improve public transport connections there, will squeeze North Greenwich tube station – sending some passengers back to the mainline. On other lines, developments are also taking place at Kidbrooke Village and the old Catford dog track.

Even at the end of the line, developers have their eyes on Dartford. With a population that’s getting priced out of zones 2 and 3, pressures on outer stations will grow.

Yet the political will in this area is for more roadbuilding – a policy that’d be laughed out of town in other parts of London. Vague promises of a Bakerloo Line extension to Hayes, or London Overground to Thamesmead, will need to be brought into reality before we’re clutching our Freedom Passes.

Change here for the future

Cities aren’t fixed in stone – they’re always evolving. The last train from Charing Cross to Greenwich tonight will be a little symbol of how our capital city is changing before our eyes.

40 years ago, London Bridge station went through similar convulsions as the old station was torn down and the tracks relaid. Would the fag-puffing, hi-viz avoiding engineers in the Operation London Bridge video above have known their work would be ripped up just four decades later?

It’s going to be a tricky few years ahead. But once the Thameslink Programme is finished, where will the next big change come from? At present, nobody seems to know. And that’s a bigger worry than whether or not you’ll have to change trains next week.