Greenwich Council leader makes her debut in Private Eye

Private Eye, 21 August 2015

Denise Hyland’s unfortunate habit of picking fights with local residents has been marked with this appearance in Private Eye‘s Rotten Boroughs column this week. (£1.80 in all good newsagents.)

It’s sure to annoy the image-conscious Royal Greenwich Greenwich Council press office, while it’ll no doubt cause sniggers among the Labour councillors who are unhappy with their leader’s performance. After all, her bullying predecessor managed to keep himself out of the Eye…

(Thanks to the Greenwich Green Party for scanning it in.)

Elsewhere: ‘How the Emirates Air Line’s fares aren’t paying its way’

Thames Cable Car
This website hasn’t featured the cable car much recently, so here’s a story somebody else has done about it. LondonLovesBusiness has done some digging and found that the Dangleway isn’t paying its way.

LLB editor Shruti Tripathi Chopra used the Freedom of Information Act to get the Emirates Air Line’s fare income for each year since it opened in June 2012. During the six months it was open in 2012, it took a healthy £6m; but in all of 2013 that dropped to £5.2m; then back up to £5.8m in 2014. Up to July, it’s taken £2.3m in fares – obviously that’s before the bulk of the school holidays.

Operating costs in the cable car’s first year were £6m per year*, so essentially, LLB says, the thing’s not only useless as public transport – journeys have now been slowed to 15 minutes to allow people to enjoy the view – it’s losing money as a tourist attraction, if you judge it by fare income alone. (I’ve amended this paragraph as TfL later went on to dispute this – see update below.)

Some caveats, though. Firstly, most public transport in London is subsidised to some extent anyway – there’s a social benefit in getting people onto mass transit and out of cars, and its existence supports centres of employment. However, the Emirates Air Line’s extremely low number of regular users show this can’t be judged in the same way as, say, the 108 bus through the Blackwall Tunnel (which costs £3.7m each year to run before fares from 3.5m journeys are taken into account).

Secondly, these figures don’t include non-fare income, such as the sponsorship money from Emirates, which is paid in annual tranches. Emirates’ deal is worth £36m in total, including £10.35m up to and including the day the cable car opened. It is now paying the rest off in £2.85m chunks each year – enough, so far, to keep the finances in the black. You could argue that this is similar to advertising on the bus network.

All that said, it’s still another valuable insight into what essentially was a panicky vanity project carried out by a mayor seeing re-election. The sad thing is that a pedestrian or cycling connection between North Greenwich and Canary Wharf wouldn’t have cost that much more to build (£100m instead of the cable car’s £60m) and would have transformed the area.

Political parties are now choosing Johnson’s replacement (this website humbly suggests Labour backers make Christian Wolmar their first choice). It’ll be interesting to see just what the wannabe mayors make of Johnson’s most baffling legacy to London.

* Friday update: After this post was written, LLB amended its story to include TfL figures – which as far as I can gather had been released for the first time – that claim operating costs have fallen since the first year of operation, putting the cable car’s finances in a healthier light. I’d be curious to find out just where the falls in operating costs comes from. And of course, if the cable car was doing its job as public transport, the question of whether it makes or loses a million pounds each year wouldn’t be such a vexed one.

Greenwich Council’s abandoned sweepers’ bags – mystery solved?

An abandoned bag left split open at Victoria Way, Charlton

An abandoned bag left split open at Victoria Way, Charlton

Not much time for new stories at the moment, but a quick word about something old that’s just a teensy bit annoying, which may be the dullest post this site has ever featured..

Last night, the Twitter feed of Greenwich Council’s deputy leader John Fahy – it’s the only place to find him these days, he seems to have been airbrushed out of the weekly Greenwich Time again – sprang to life with a strange little comment.

Rachel Blundy? Who’s that? Man the borders! Guards, stop her!

Actually, it turns out she’s a journalist at the Evening Standard, who had the exciting job of writing up a story about nine out of the 10 most miserable places in the UK being in London. Greenwich comes seventh – one place more miserable than Luton.

Of course, she never had to leave the paper’s Kensington HQ to write it – it’s purely based on a survey of 25,000 people conducted by Rightmove. It’s the sort of stuff that’s easy clickbait, and people who rarely look deeper than the headline get really excited by this kind of thing.

I wonder how statistically sound this survey is – you’re looking at no more than 200 people per council area surveyed, for a start. We also don’t know where in each borough these people live – in Greenwich, you’re likely to be vastly more satisfied if you live on the Ashburnham Triangle conservation area than if you go home on the 177 to the Abbey Wood Estate.

But in terms of getting lovely, lovely clicks, there’s no room for this kind of question. And no time. So, essentially, it’s a councillor blaming a journalist who’s been told to write a fairly rubbish news story. So far, so typical.

Even the Tories are getting defensive.

But hang on a minute. Let’s dive into these figures. Asked about the upkeep of their local area, respondents rated Greenwich 119th out of 130 council areas – 27/33 in London. As a local council, you’ve got some direct input over this. I’d be asking some questions here. So perhaps the good councillor Fahy shouldn’t be so dismissive. And maybe there’s something for new Tory leader Matt Hartley to get his teeth into.

Rightmove survey

Too often, Greenwich is dismissive of those who claim the place looks like a dump – even while a contracting cock-up means weeds are threatening to displace puny humans from many parts of the borough.

To be fair, they are making efforts to change – finally embracing the FixMyStreet app for reporting faults (erstwhile Dear Leader Chris Roberts is said to have actively discouraged techological fixes like this), and using a 25-year-old law to finally get tough on shopping trolleys.

But if you live in well-tended Eltham avenues as the council leadership does, you may not see the fly-tipping that blights other areas. And you also may not see these…

Council sweepers' bags left out in Highcombe, Charlton - a well-known flytipping hotspot

Council sweepers’ bags left out in Highcombe, Charlton – a well-known flytipping hotspot

Abandoned street sweepers’ bags started cropping up a year or so in my own neck of Charlton. They also appear in parts of east Greenwich, while I’ve had reports of them in Abbey Wood too. They come and go – I remember them being left out all over Christmas in many areas. We seem to be in a summer of them here, left lying around for anything up to a week, blocking pavements and getting in the way. More often than not, they’re left out for a whole weekend. Essentially, the council is flytipping its own streets.

They’re not the only ones – cross into Lewisham, and you’ll often see huge piles of blue bags shoved up against walls awaiting collection. It’s the same in Southwark. But in Greenwich, half-empty bags are just left in seemingly random places to moulder for days on end. It happened today in my part of Charlton – I’m pretty fearful they’ll be left out for the weekend, making the place look a dump for the first day of the football season.

Personally, I’ve complained plenty of times, only really getting anywhere when local MP Matt Pennycook gets involved. Otherwise, reports are often ignored, both by council staff and by councillors. (I accept this is probably because it’s me doing the complaining.)

But today, I got some answers. I bumped into a street sweeper leaving these bags out, and asked him about how it works. I won’t say where to protect his identity. It does seem, though, that this practice shouldn’t be happening. If you come home from work in the evening and your street is littered with bags, then chances are they shouldn’t be there.

Apparently, these bags should be collected within two hours. However, the vans that do the collecting often don’t get round to them – some staff are more “efficient” than others, according to my man with the broom. So, it appears that they just get abandoned. The bags are half-empty because otherwise staff can’t throw them onto the van otherwise (!), and staff are told to leave the bags on the edge of the pavement – even though it often blocks the pavement.

It looks like something’s gone wrong at Cleansweep, the council’s in-house litter service – nobody’s really monitoring whether this relatively new way of working is actually successful. And, I’d argue, because people are often used to poorly-kept streets, they aren’t really pressing the council on it. It also doesn’t appear that councillors are doing much work on this either.

So, ladies and gentlemen – we have some work to do here. If you see a bag that’s been left out for a day or so, report it. The FixMyStreet app is great for this if you have a smartphone. Ask it to send you updates on your problem. They’ll ring you back sometimes to check details. If the council comes back and tells you it’s “awaiting collection”, politely ask them to collect it. Hopefully, they’ll get the message and fix this.

Because otherwise, the next step is seeing if the council can be fined for flytipping its own streets – and that would be a bit embarrassing, wouldn’t it?

Blackwall Lane pocket park: Greenwich Council ignores objections and sells to developer

Blackwall Lane open space and flats
Greenwich Council’s cabinet agreed to sell a “pocket park” off Blackwall Lane to a developer on Wednesday night, despite 54 complaints about the plan.

Councillors agreed the plan to dispose of the open space to the company building flats on an adjacent plot of land that had formerly been used as a car wash.

The vast majority of complaints came from streets close to the open space, which has been tended to by council street maintenance staff for many years.

Most of the complaints were about the potential loss of open space, while 38 were concerned about increased noise and air pollution levels at a site which is close to the Blackwall Tunnel approach.

They were all given the same reply: “The planning process deals with local consultation and issues relating to the potential loss of public open space and the impact of any new development.”

The cabinet was asked to consider a quick sale because “a decision in September 2015 will be too late to enable the Royal Borough [sic] to seek to secure the best possible receipt”, according to documentation released earlier this month.

The sale price was not made public, but the council says it is trying to address concerns by ensuring that 20% of the receipts would “be used for the purpose of environmental improvements to other areas of public realm in the vicinity”, to be decided by regeneration cabinet member Danny Thorpe and senior council officer Pippa Hack. No role is mentioned for the area’s local councillors or residents.

The cabinet paper adds: “There may also be an opportunity for further public realm improvements to be secured under any section 106 agreement linked to a planning consent for redevelopment of the site.” This will also be something for local residents to stay vigilant about, as section 106 deals in Greenwich are usually used to fund borough-wide projects.

The other 80% of the sale cash will go into the council’s general funds. Wondering where that’s going? Well, Wednesday night’s cabinet meeting also agreed a £12.2 million budget for a scheme to build a cinema in Eltham High Street, and heard that the latest budget for the 2017 Tall Ships race is £1.8 million.

Greenwich cruise liner terminal: The night Greenwich councillors ignored air pollution – again

London City Cruise Port

Worth noting the London City Cruise Port’s graphic, taken from this year’s application, doesn’t show the impact of other developments on Greenwich Peninsula

Hugely controversial plans for a cruise liner terminal at Enderby Wharf, east Greenwich, were approved on Tuesday night after a marathon four-hour session of Greenwich Council’s planning board – with councillors dismissing fears of air pollution from the ships.

I couldn’t be at Woolwich Town Hall, so have to leave you in the hands of those who were and who tweeted from the meeting. The plans were approved 6-3, with one abstenion, after a motion calling for approval to be deferred was defeated.

This Storify page contains just about all the tweets from the meeting – and a few from afterwards.

The crucial issue is that the ships will be generating their own power, using much dirtier fuels – critics say it’ll be the equivalent of having 50 lorries running their engines all day and night, and that the terminal should use its own power sources, as used in New York and Amsterdam and demanded by an EU directive.

But these fears were dismissed by councillors, who also heard the terminal will only provide 88 jobs – down from the 500-odd previously mooted.

It’s not the first time air quality concerns have been brushed aside on a major planning application – this happened most recently in March 2014, when outline plans for an Ikea store, also in east Greenwich, were approved.

Those that were there also managed to hear leading councillors make hugely simplistic assumptions about the effect of the terminal.

Forget the charms of the West End – leisure cabinet member Miranda Williams claimed the development will bring tourists to Woolwich and Eltham…

(Worth noting that Stewart Christie is in the Greenwich Lib Dems, Simon Edge in the Greenwich Greens.)

Regeneration member Danny Thorpe claimed the only sources of air pollution in east Greenwich came from Blackwall Tunnel queues and buses – conveniently ignoring the horrendous westbound traffic through Greenwich town centre, which in the 1990s led the council to consider building a bypass under the Thames.

And to top the lot, council leader Denise Hyland told residents that they should have raised air quality issues when the terminal first came before planning some years back – despite the fact that the new plan envisages cruise liners staying for longer. It’s also worth pointing out that Greenwich Council wasn’t making its readings from nitrogen dioxide tubes public at the time.

Peninsula ward councillor Chris Lloyd defended residents, along with colleague Stephen Brain, and local MP Matt Pennycook asked for the matter to be deferred. Conservative councillor Matt Clare also spoke against the scheme, along with his Tower Hamlets counterpart Chris Chapman.

As I said, I wasn’t there, but here are tweets from the night, while The Wharf’s Rachel Bishop was also there.

I suspect we’ll be returning to this issue before too long.

9am update: Any Greenwich resident who wishes to ask a question of Greenwich Council regarding this can submit a question to next Wednesday’s council meeting – email committees[at] by noon today.

Reaction from Tower Hamlets Labour councillor Candida Ronald…

…and local MP Matt Pennycook.

Greenwich cruise liner terminal: Planners shrug off pollution fears

The new proposals for a cruise liner terminal at Enderby Wharf

The new proposals for a cruise liner terminal at Enderby Wharf

10.40pm update: The cruise liner terminal was passed by six votes to three, with one abstention. Read on for the story from before the meeting.

Greenwich Council planners have dismissed fears of air pollution from the new cruise liner terminal at Enderby Wharf, recommending councillors pass the scheme at a meeting on Tuesday evening.

Groups including the East Greenwich Residents Association and the Greenwich Society are objecting to the terminal as liners berthed there will be generating their own power, keeping their engines switched on rather than using cleaner shore-side power, as used at termimals in New York and Amsterdam.

Critics say the effects of the ships generating their own power while berthed will be the equivalent to having 50 lorries running their engines all day and night.

Across the river, Tower Hamlets Council is also objecting to the scheme, both on air and noise pollution grounds, criticising the lack of detail in the plans and branding as “nonsense” a claim that noise levels will be cut for Isle of Dogs residents.

Local Green parties in both Greenwich and Tower Hamlets have also submitted objections. In total, 117 objections were received by Greenwich Council, with just three expressions of support.

The application has gone to the planning board just a few weeks after a second consultation into the scheme closed.

EU directive 2012/33/EU says:

Air pollution caused by ships at berth is a major concern for many harbour cities when it comes to their efforts to meet the Union’s air quality limit values.

Member States should encourage the use of shore-side electricity, as the electricity for present-day ships is usually provided by auxiliary engines.

But this is dismissed by Greenwich planners.

In a response to residents of Plymouth Wharf in Cubitt Town, which faces the terminal, they declare that this isn’t their responsibility.

Implementation of the EU Directive is the responsibility of the UK Government by transposing this into national legislation. The UK Government must give the Directive effect by instituting schemes, projects etc,. to comply with the Air Quality Directive. The LPA’s role is to assess applications according to legislation and planning policy.

Later, Greenwich’s planners say that following EU directives would be too costly for the cruise liner terminal’s developers.

The applicant has assessed the use of shore power to supply vessels with electrical power in order to reduce emissions when in port. Using shore power has a number of issues attached to it namely:

• Very few cruise ships worldwide actually have the ability to link up to shore power.
• Ship power requirements vary with the size of ship
• The ship electrical requirements differ from those supplied from the UK national grid.

In addition to the above, it is understood that the costs associated with providing such facilities can be prohibitive to both the provider and user when considered against the environmental benefits of burning low sulphur fuel in generators and this is reflected in the low number of ships and ports utilise this facility globally.

Furthermore, the council commissioned a report… but it’s nowhere to be seen in the planning document.

The Council commissioned independent consultants to assess the case for on shore power. The consults report [sic] supported the application position [sic] stating that with the new low sulphur requirements now governing the supply and use of heavy diesel fuel for marine vessels it is unlikely that the huge investment in shore side power equipment can be justified.

Whose side is the council on? It’s a valid question, considering it’s five years since the prospect of a cruise liner terminal at this site was first raised by former leader Chris Roberts, who took the media out on a boat trip to show off the site. He claimed it’d be built for the Olympics.

Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts on BBC London News, 4 June 2009

These days, the planning board is chaired by independently-minded Mark James. Planning is supposed to be free of all political influence, although in practice this hasn’t been the case in recent years.

James replaced Roberts’ one-time henchman, former chief whip Ray Walker, who has now to be content with being vice chair. Current leader Denise Hyland and regeneration cabinet member Danny Thorpe also feature along with Roberts’ former deputy Peter Brooks – so much for doing things differently from the Dear Leader’s days.

So this starts to feel like the Ikea decision – rushed through in the dying days of the Roberts regime, now regretted by some on the council – all over again. Indeed, picking entirely unnecessary fights with local residents and even neighbouring boroughs has a depressingly familiar ring to it.

Will councillors recognise the serious concerns about this project, or will they just give another pet project the nod? It’ll be a big test for the council under Denise Hyland.

Here’s what local MP Matt Pennycook has to say: 

The meeting will be held at Woolwich Town Hall at 6.30pm – this post will be updated as soon as a result is known.

Blackwall Lane pocket park: Greenwich Council plans quick sale to developer

Blackwall Lane green, 7 August 2014
Last summer, this website revealed Greenwich Council was planning to sell a small piece of green space on Blackwall Lane in east Greenwich.

In other areas, it’d be called a “pocket park” and cherished – it soaks up some of the terrible pollution in this area of SE10 and provides a valuable bit of green space. It also offsets the grim-looking block of flats going up next door.

Local residents and at least one councillor protested about the council’s plan – but their complaints have fallen on deaf ears.

Greenwich Council’s cabinet is set to approve a quick sale of the land… to the developer of the ugly flats next door. The cabinet is being asked to rush through the sale at a higher price to suit the developer, according to this document:

“The adjoining owner/developer has offered a sum in excess of Officers’ opinion of the market value. The building works on his adjoining site are progressing to completion and, to justify the offer, he is requesting the Royal Borough finalises the deal soon. The concern is that a decision in September 2015 will be too late to enable the Royal Borough to seek to secure the best possible receipt.

“With Member’s [sic] approval to the disposal in principle, the process to secure the best receipt will be established and implemented by the Director of Regeneration Enterprise & Skills. Any development of the site will be subject to the usual planning requirements to ensure the delivery of a sustainable development.”

Meanwhile, contrary to what library staff were telling customers, the old East Greenwich Library is also set for sale to the highest bidder.

At the last full council meeting, regeneration councillor Danny Thorpe confirmed that the building – donated to the community in 1905 by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie – was not protected by a covenant.