Ikea Greenwich: Campaigners switch to damage limitation

Peartree Way, 3 November 2013
Campaigners against a planned Ikea in east Greenwich have stepped back from taking legal action over the proposed development after being advised they would be unlikely to win.

Five Greenwich councillors, including current leader Denise Hyland, defied local opposition to approve outline plans for the store just under a year ago, a choice which was later endorsed by London mayor Boris Johnson.

The decision was made just four months after plans for the store – to replace the current “eco-friendly” Sainsbury’s store, which is moving half-a-mile down Woolwich Road to Charlton – were first made public.

Greenwich Council talks up Ikea’s claims that the development will bring 400 jobs, but neighbours say the store will add to already-high levels of congestion and air pollution around the Blackwall Tunnel approach and Woolwich Road.

The No Ikea Greenwich campaign had hoped to force a judicial review of the approval, which had only been finalised by planning officers late last year after the Government temporarily halted the process. (Here’s the council’s decision notice.)

But now the campaign has received legal advice telling it that since Transport for London has agreed with Ikea’s claim that the development will not add any more traffic to the area, that any action is unlikely to succeed.

It says on its Facebook page:

“We’re really sorry it’s taken so long to post and doubly sorry, because our excellent barrister has advised us against a legal challenge. This is mainly because TfL has okayed Ikea’s transport assessment (that shows Ikea will have a neutral effect on the traffic). So even if we were to wheel out another transport expert that might disagree, it would come down to two disagreeing experts.”

TfL meekly going along with Ikea’s assessment is something that should alarm people across London, especially considering its role in promoting the Silvertown Tunnel, potentially funnelling more traffic from east and central London to east Greenwich. The wider implications of Greenwich’s decision was something Tower Hamlets Council woke up to last autumn, although by then it was too late.

The group isn’t completely ruling out legal action if the store gets built and fails to live up to promises, and is holding onto money it’s raised so far as a “future fighting fund”.

But for now, it looks like neighbours and others are left to pick up the pieces from one of the most notorious planning decisions in recent Greenwich history.

Ikea planning application

Ikea has recently been meeting community groups – including the new East Greenwich Residents’ Association, Charlton Society, Westcombe Society and Charlton Central Residents’ Association ahead of submitting a detailed planning application.

It also recently met Matt Pennycook, Labour’s general election candidate for Greenwich & Woolwich, along with current MP Nick Raynsford. Pennycook wrote a short piece for Greenwich.co.uk about his experiences.

“We made clear that Ikea Greenwich must not be a standard out-of-town blue shed but instead needs to be a sustainable, public-transport friendly building that is appropriate to its unique setting.

We made clear to Ikea that the local community will want to see a store design that:

– Is a worthy replacement, both aesthetically and in terms of sustainability, for Paul Hinkin’s Sainsbury’s eco store;

– Is designed in such a way and with the relevant accompanying features (for example cargo bikes and bike trailers for locals that purchase bulky goods) to actively promote the levels of public transport use that we will need to see if Ikea’s optimistic transport assessments are to be realised;

– Sets extremely high sustainability standards (ie, it cannot simply be an Ecobling powered box) and;

– Can be adapted to changing circumstances.

Something, in short, that is more akin to Ikea Hamburg Altona than Ikea Croydon.”

On your bike: Ikea advertises cargo cycle deliveries from its Altona store (photo: Chris Taylor)

On your bike: Ikea advertises cargo cycle deliveries from its Altona store (photo: Chris Taylor)

Hamburg Altona? Last summer, Ikea opened its first “inner-city” store in Germany, aimed at public transport users, walkers and cyclists – although it still has 730 car parking spaces. The Altona store is aiming to keep drivers down to 50% of its customers; the Greenwich store (with a 1,000-space car park shared with B&Q and the Odeon) is aiming for 65%.

If Greenwich policymakers want to hop over the North Sea to see what it’s all about, nobody in their right mind should begrudge them the trip. It’d be better value than some of the things the council spends its cash on.

Pennycook also did something very unusual for a Greenwich politician – he revealed the Section 106 agreement which outlines what Ikea will have to do for its planning permission.

- £750,000 to fund travel plan improvements that will be reviewed on an annual basis over five years by an independent assessor;

– £500,000 for improvements to public transport namely the provision of extra buses to serve the development, and the upgrade of two bus stops adjacent to it;

– £115,000 for enhancements to the Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park including the improvement of the range of water bodies and linked habitats within the Park, enhancement of ponds and ditches and the provision of classroom facilities;

– £243,000 for measures associated with the Borough’s Air Quality Action Plan;

– £486,000 for the provision of local skills and training which will include contributions towards training as part of the Greenwich Local Labour and Construction (GLLaB) project;

– Local highway and junction improvements including new and improved signage;

– The promotion of travel by sustainable modes of travel for staff and customers of Ikea travelling to and from the development;

– £24,000 for the provision of public art on and around the development;

– The development of a car park management plan to tighten up what has been, until now, pretty much a free-for-all for commuters and visitors to the O2 arena.

While Ikea’s refusing to budge on the one thing that it could cut on car use – its delivery charges, which start at £35 for large items, Pennycook’s “cautiously optimistic” about coming out with a decent result for the area.

This is going to need Greenwich Council to start playing hardball with a company it bent over backwards for at the beginning of last year. That’s not impossible.

But what happens from here will need to be a great deal more transparent than the process followed a year ago, the pungent stink from which has yet to go away. Ikea’s not yet communicating directly with residents, but if you have strong views, get in touch (and get involved) with those community groups, and bend your local councillors’ ears.

(See past stories about Ikea Greenwich.)

Greenwich Thames Path cyclists told to make way for driverless cars

Driverless car, 9 February 2015

Greenwich Council is quietly doing some very good things on cycling – like boosting cycle lanes, and experimenting with new on-street parking facilities.

But it’s still capable of doing some very dumb things – such as closing a cycle lane on the Greenwich Peninsula so it can be used for trials of driverless cars.

The council won a bid last year to test out the technology, getting an £8 million grant to carry out the tests.

gt_driverless609

In December, the council’s weekly newspaper Greenwich Time claimed the trials would not take place on public roads.

Thames Path, 9 February 2015

But a stretch of dedicated cycle path next to the Thames Cable Car has been commandeered for the tests, with riders told to share an adjacent footpath with pedestrians.

Thames Path, 9 February 2015

There was no consultation about the decision, instead there’s just a tiny notice on a lamp post and cycle markings scrubbed out and replaced with the word “SHUTTLE”.

The notice cites “danger to the public” for the decision. But if the trial’s organisers think they can avoid danger by closing off a length of cycle path, they’ve chosen the wrong place.

I cycle along this stretch regularly, and most days there are pedestrians wandering into the cycle track – often glued to tablets with headphones plugged in.

Thames Path, 9 February 2015

In fact, when I first saw the closure yesterday, there was a small child crawling over the “SHUTTLE” marking. Returning home in the evening rush hour, there were plenty of people wandering down the cycle path.

The trials appear to have begun yesterday, with tourism agency Visit Greenwich posting a video today.

Nobody walking in the path this time, but sooner or later somebody’s going to get a shock when they look up from their phone. As driverless technology evolves, it’s going to have the potential to clash with other road users – four-wheeled, two-wheeled, or two-footed.

Greenwich’s decision to prioritise driverless cars over cyclists and pedestrians without consultation, while on a parochial level is pretty much typical of the way it does things, isn’t a good omen for the future.

In the meantime, if you’re walking along the Thames Path any time soon, keep an eye – and ear – out for a little driverless car…

Thames Path, 17 February 2015

Update, 17 February: The path has now reopened. So what was all that about, and was it really worth burning off road markings, putting on new ones, burning them off again and reinstating old markings? A weird episode.

Greenwich Peninsula social cleansing: Council loses battle to keep developer document secret

Quintain plan for Greenwich Peninsula

Residents on Greenwich Peninsula have won an 18-month battle to force Greenwich Council to release a document that influenced its decision to scrap all ‘affordable’ housing on a key development there.

A tribunal has told the council it should release “viability assessments” which prompted it to cut a requirement for developer Knight Dragon to include affordable housing on Peninsula Quays, on the west side of the peninsula facing Canary Wharf, in exchange for building more on the east side.

Quintain plans for Greenwich PeninsulaGreenwich said its decision – backed by seven councillors, including current leader Denise Hylandwas taken after an independent assessment showed the scheme wouldn’t be viable if Knight Dragon had to build social housing, and that it needed to be approved quickly so Knight Dragon could get £50m in grants.

The plans include a private school, “high-end private residential” units at Drawdock Road, and a four/five star hotel at Ordnance Crescent.

But all affordable properties will now be pushed to the south, towards City Peninsula and Greenwich Millennium Village, rather than being spread evenly across the peninsula, which had been council policy since 2004.

To make up for this effective social cleansing of Peninsula Quays, new developments to the far south of the Dome – around where the City Peninsula tower now sits – will see levels of affordable housing shoot up to between 54% and 58%, mostly for social rent rather than shared ownership.

Residents of City Peninsula and Greenwich Millennium Village asked Greenwich Council to release the viability assessment under the Environmental Information Regulations – similar to the Freedom of Information Act.

But Greenwich refused, and appealed against an Information Commissioner decision that it should release the assessment.

Greenwich’s appeal meant the case ended up at a tribunal, which sat over three days last October and November. The council hired an external lawyer, Christopher Knight from 11 KBW, at a cost quoted in October at £2,200.

The council could appeal and take the case to a further tribunal – at further cost – but it may face an uphill battle considering the comprehensive nature of the judgment against it. You can read the full judgment here.

Quintain plans for Peninsula Quays site

Key passages include:

First, the number of affordable homes to be provided on this enormous development, as well as their location, is an important local issue on which reasonable views are held strongly on both sides.

Second, this is a case where a company, robust enough to take on the development of a huge site over a period of 20 years… immediately asks to be relieved of a planning obligation freely negotiated by its predecessor. It justifies this change on the basis of a downturn in house prices it knew about at the time of purchase, using a valuation model that looks at current values only and does not allow for change in the many factors that may affect a valuation over time. It seems to us that in those circumstances the public interest in openness about the figures is very strong.

One argument against disclosure of the redacted information was that those receiving it would be unlikely to understand it. In our experience this is never a useful objection to disclosure under FOIA or EIR. It is increasingly open to question whether the public should be expected to accept the “expert view” without opportunity to see the supporting factual evidence.

Indeed, the final paragraph of the judgment is one that should ring alarm bells as to how Greenwich’s planning system works.

It points out that the eight-strong planning board – which included three cabinet members and was chaired by the Labour group’s chief whip – that approved the decision to cut affordable housing at Peninsula Quays had no more information than the general public.

Effectively, they were taking the decision on trust, and hadn’t been shown the viability assessment in question. Should they have asked for more details?

“It is not for us to say what depth of information Councillors should have expected or asked for, although we note that at least one Councillor would have preferred more detail about the appraisal,” the judgment says. That councillor, who is not named, was Hayley Fletcher, who voted against the proposal and later left the council citing problems with bullying in the ruling Labour group.

The tribunal’s decision comes as Knight Dragon consults on plans to increase housing on the peninsula from 10,000 to 15,000 – with big question marks over whether anyone will actually be able to afford the new properties. (Labour candidate Matt Pennycook and The Guardian’s Dave Hill have written about this.)

More broadly speaking, it’s also a significant decision in terms of councils’ relationships with developers as they struggle to cope with the demands of an overheated and little-regulated property market.

Last year, Southwark Council was told to release parts of a similar viability assessment for redeveloping the Heygate Estate near Elephant & Castle. The Greenwich decision may now give confidence to others who want to find out more about the relationship between their local councils and developers.

The members of the planning board who supported the decision: Denise Hyland (Labour, then cabinet member for regeneration, now council leader); Ray Walker (Labour, then chief whip, remains planning chair); Steve Offord (then cabinet member for housing), Sajid Jawaid (then cabinet member for community services, no longer a councillor), Clive Mardner (Labour), Geoff Brighty (Conservative), Dermot Poston (Conservative, no longer a councillor).

Hayley Fletcher (Labour, no longer a councillor) voted against, then-leader Chris Roberts (Labour, no longer a councillor) was absent.

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.)

8 February update: This got overshadowed by other events, but here’s video of the debate in the council chamber on the issue, where Matt Hartley proposes his motion and Denise Hyland responds to it.

The second half of the debate kicks off with Labour’s Olu Babatola inviting Hartley to switch sides…

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?