Greenwich Council refused an approach from the owner of the Mercury and South London Press newspapers to take over its controversial weekly freesheet Greenwich Time, it’s emerged – and is being accused of misleading its own councillors about the offer.
The offer, made three years ago, is at the centre of a row between the publisher and the council over figures used by Greenwich leader Denise Hyland to justify continuing with the newspaper, one of only two in the country that are published weekly.
It comes as Greenwich Council is defending the paper against new laws brought in by the coalition government, with communities secretary Eric Pickles calling it “propaganda on the rates”.
Before GT went weekly, it had a long-standing distribution arrangement with the Mercury, which is London’s oldest local paper and is run as a sister paper to its Tindle Newspapers stablemate, the South London Press.
Greenwich claims it saves money by publishing GT weekly as it can place public notices – for planning, road closures, and the like – there without having to pay a third party for advertising.
But a letter from SLP managing director Peter Edwards to Hyland, sent earlier this month, claims the council presented “inaccurate data” when justifying this in a council debate in June, which saw councillors vote down an anti-GT motion from the Conservatives.
Greenwich claimed advertising in the Mercury would cost it £1.37m per year – but Edwards says he told council officers in a presentation that the council would only pay 55% of that sum, while the Mercury would also increase its distribution to 90% of the borough.
“We would also establish a channel on the Mercury website to carry notices, online videos and interviews, plus video streaming of open council meetings, all of this within the price quoted,” he added.
“In short, we would ensure every Greenwich resident had full and unfettered access to council messages.
“I am certain that if your meeting on 25th June were in full possession of all the facts it may have reached a different conclusion.”
In response, Hyland claims councillors already had “access to the full range of information you have provided”. But this information was only shared with cabinet members at the time, and not with the full council. While the council admitted in July 2011 that talks had been held with publishers, the details were not shared beyond the cabinet.
She added that the SLP/Mercury package would have “cost the council more for less” and would have still resulted “in an increase in expenditure”.
In addition, Hyland said the SLP’s offer would not have matched GT’s distribution, and could leave the council open to “a potential reputational risk as our adverts may appear alongside those for adult service providers and chat lines”.
(The sex trade ads are an Achilles heel for the SLP when it comes to dealing with local councils – some years ago, Lambeth withdrew its ads from the SLP in protest. After a spell running a GT-style fortnightly, Lambeth Life, Lambeth took its ads to an independent, Southwark Newspaper, which now produces a weekly Lambeth Weekender featuring four pages of council news plus public notices.)
After the Mercury/SLP offer was rebuffed in 2011, Tindle Newspapers took on a different strategy to push the Mercury, de-emphasising free deliveries in Greenwich borough in favour of creating paid-for micro-editions on sale in newsagents in west Greenwich, Charlton and Blackheath – the first paid-for papers to serve the areas for three decades.
More recently, Greenwich Council has come out fighting to defend Greenwich Time, which the Government believes it has now outlawed.
“I do not understand on what basis the Secretary of State considers that the council’s publicity is not even-handed or objective,” chief executive Mary Ney, whose job is supposed to be politically-neutral, wrote on 29 April in response to a warning from Pickles that he was considering action.
“This is a serious allegation and I am entitled to understand on what basis it is being made.”
Greenwich Council’s full response, obtained by this website under the Freedom of Information Act, lays into critics of Greenwich Time, essentially implying they do not represent the views of the people of the borough as “half are active in local politics”. “The objectiveness of their submissions has to be questioned,” it adds.
If Greenwich Time is axed, it claims, it will be “on the decision of a single minister, based upon the representations of 8 people out of a borough population of 264,000″.
It also claims that Greenwich Time supports the local newspaper industry as it is printed at Trinity Mirror’s presses in Watford, that Greenwich borough has “a strong local newspaper market”, and that it has “given extensive coverage to the Mayor of London”, and lists the (rare) occasions that opposition councillors are featured in it.
But it misses out the fact that its “rigorous sign-off process” includes the sign-off from the council leader, as admitted by Mary Ney last year, while the council’s sums still don’t take into account the time council staff spend on Greenwich Time.
The council’s response also included a dossier of notes of support from various figures, including a bizarre letter from someone at the Greenwich Islamic Centre in Plumstead which hopes the Government will change its mind so “the residents of the borough can enjoy their favourite weekly newspaper”.
Another respondent claims “it is a very balanced publication which does not demonstrate political bias in any way”, while the council response quotes another individual as claiming it runs “fact-based community editorial”.
One response backing GT comes from Steve Nelson of the South East London Chamber of Commerce, who’s regularly invited to the council’s mayor-making jollies at the Royal Naval College and is a trustee of council charity Greenwich Starting Blocks, which features regularly in the paper.
Looking through the responses, with names redacted, it seems that those who appear in Greenwich Time support it, and those who don’t are against it.
Which, in a nutshell, is the problem with Greenwich Time. Just as the Evening Standard has ceased to be a reliable news source because it contains little criticism of mayor Boris Johnson, Greenwich Time is similarly unreliable because it contains little criticism of Greenwich Council. And only one of those two titles is paid for by council taxpayers.
Whatever the failings of this area’s local media, the fact that we’re paying for a weekly paper which delivers just one side of the story is a big problem. And after six years of it, it’s far from certain that a weekly propaganda rag is even an effective communication strategy for the council anyway – how many go straight in the recycling? Simply barking out instructions on a dead bit of tree simply doesn’t cut it these days.
If Greenwich Time goes, the council’s communications and engagement policy will have to be rethought. And a deal with someone will have to be done, be it with the Mercury/SLP or a competitor, for those public notices.
Like alcoholics contemplating a future off the booze, a future without Greenwich Time is one the council leadership simply doesn’t want to contemplate.
Will Eric Pickles take the bottle off them? We’ll have to wait and see.
It’s 20 years ago today that Blur’s video for Parklife was shot outside the Pilot pub on the Greenwich Peninsula. Directed by Pedro Romhanyi – who’d later shoot the promo for Pulp’s Common People – it remains one of the most fondly-remembered of all British music videos.
I remember it well – the filming took place on my 20th birthday. After hearing Blur were filming on the peninsula, I walked up to take a look. Of course, what I didn’t take was my camera.
If anyone has any memories of the filming – or photographs – I’d love to hear them, along with any corrections to anything I’ve got wrong. (Here are some production shots along with some other Blur snaps from the time.)
It was filmed over two days – 8 and 9 August, 1994 – with most shooting taking place in River Way, a street containing the Pilot pub, some cottages, an industrial estate and the remains of the old Blackwall Point Power Station. In those days, if you travelled up Blackwall Lane onto the Greenwich Peninsula, River Way was a turning on the right before Blackwall Lane ended at the junction of Boord Street and the gates to the old gas works. It was a dead end, leading up to the Thames and the original base of Greenwich Yacht Club.
River Way’s days were numbered, though. Less than two years later, the Greenwich Peninsula was chosen as the site for the Millennium Experience. Two years after that, the street was gone, although the pub and the cottages remain. Remarkably, the Pilot’s landlord resisted offers to sell the place until well into the 21st century – it’s now owned by Fullers and was refurbished last year.
The Pilot’s not marking the anniversary of its little entry into British pop history – it’s staging Shakespeare in its beer garden instead.
It’s hard to imagine what the peninsula was like before the turn of the century – and trying to get an accurate “then and now” record of what’s changed is impossible as the most of River Way is now being built upon. So the Parklife video is a reminder of a Greenwich that’s being erased before our eyes.
This is River Way looking away from the Thames – you can see the silo of Tunnel Refineries in the background, which were demolished in 2010.
Here’s an odd one out – this is the Sun-in-the-Sands roundabout at Blackheath.
River Way looking towards the Thames. The pub and cottages are just behind, the buildings on the right are the remains of Blackwall Point Power Station.
These shots were filmed on Ordnance Crescent, which was an emergency escape route for traffic which couldn’t fit in the Blackwall Tunnel. The road was stopped up a few years ago. In some of these shots, you can see the grey hoardings of the Jubilee Line construction project, which had just begun. The street was closed off a few years back, and it’s now used as a vehicle inspection station.
This is River Way. In those days, the Thames Path didn’t run all the way around the peninsula – walkers had to go via River Way and cross the A102 at the footbridge. There was a sign outside the pub reading “Riverside Walk East/ Riverside Walk West”, which inspired the sign in this scene.
This is Boord Street, close to the Blackwall Tunnel approach. Back then it was a neglected turn-off from the approach road, a remnant of the old community destroyed when the second Blackwall Tunnel was built in the 1960s. Now, if you take the 108 bus through the southbound tunnel, this is the street you’ll pass down to get to North Greenwich.
This is the former end of River Way. The film-makers also painted the words “PARK LIFE” and an arrow on the road at this point, which lasted until the street was destroyed. Greenwich Yacht Club’s old base was just to the right of Phil Daniels. Just in shot on the left is the old coaling jetty, which is now being used for arts projects.
The cottages. I think the tenants were turfed out in the late 1990s and replaced with Dome staff, including its effervescent French boss PY Gerbeau.
I’m a little uncertain about this, but I think this is Boord Street – the yard behind used to be for school buses. Again, you can see Tunnel Refineries in the background.
This is River Way once again – and a reminder that for most of the 1990s, One Canada Square at Canary Wharf stood alone as the only Docklands skyscraper.
Looking down River Way towards the Pilot. You can see how the street curved slightly, this was to pass underneath the gas works’ old railway line, which vanished in the 1980s.
This was the old front beer garden of the Pilot, in the curve of River Way.
And one last shot – this is Dreadnought Street, which used to come off the Blackwall Tunnel approach to meet Blackwall Lane. If you got the 108 bus from east London, you’d come out of the tunnel and travel down this road. Most of it was ripped up in the 90s and a bigger slip road was installed – the recent picture is facing the other way towards that slip road.
The Parklife video isn’t Blur’s only connection with this part of south-east London. The band met at Goldsmiths College, and Alex James’s book Bit Of A Blur: The Autobiographydocuments his time living in a squat on the New Cross Road.
Back in the 1990s, east Greenwich’s derelict sites were favoured spot for videos and photoshoots – a Kylie video was shot at Lovell’s Wharf; while a few bands used Anchor Iron Wharf, which used to be an old scrapyard between the Cutty Sark pub and Greenwich Power station.
But Parklife’s the most enduring reminder, and it was all 20 years ago today. Where did the time go, eh?
“Pocket park” is an abused term, but the idea is that it’s a small open space looked after by the local community. It’s something that’s been championed by City Hall under Boris Johnson’s administration, and it’s been apparently been used to fund 100 projects across the capital.
As ever, it doesn’t appear that Greenwich Council has got involved in this scheme. But a good example would be the little patch of green at the Blackwall Lane/ Tunnel Avenue junction in east Greenwich.
I’m guessing it probably dates back to the construction of the Blackwall Tunnel approach in the late 1960s. It’s almost a village green for this overlooked corner of SE10, helping soak up the high pollution levels and offsetting the effect of the ugly flats going up next door.
Overshadowed in recent years by a large ad hoarding, the green’s been looked after by council staff – not from the parks department, I gather, but from the Cleansweep streets operation. There’s potential here – but instead, the council wants to get rid of this little space…
Buried in back of this week’s edition of council propaganda sheet Greenwich Time is this public notice, stating the authority’s intention to sell the space. Presumably it thinks it’ll be attractive to property developers – even though the green itself is about the only appealling thing in this area.
In recent years, Greenwich has used spare plots of land for council housing – including wiping out a small green space on the borough boundary at Hambledown Road in Sidcup. But at least that land went to some public good – here, the council, which recently announced it has reserves of £1.2 billion, just wants to flog it and cash in.
And despite protestations that this is a “new era” of openness for the council, the first anyone knew of the plan was by looking at the back of Greenwich Time.
There are ways to fight this – getting it declared a village green, or an asset of community value – although these don’t offer much protection when it’s the council itself is the wrecking party. I wonder what the three new Peninsula ward councillors think of what’s being done in their name?
Seven years after the O2 opened, finally, finally, the miserable open space outside, Peninsula Square, has started to look like the “new leisure destination for Londoners and tourists alike” promised back then.
New York band We Are Scientists opened up Meantime Brewery’s Beer Box with a blistering free live show last night. It looks like the Beer Box, on empty land above the Jubilee Line tunnels, is only around for a little while – it was only erected over the last 10 days – but hopefully the shot of life it’s brought to this long-wasted space will last for a while longer.
Fingers crossed, it’ll stay and there’ll be more live events here. Keep the bar, sort out the big screen showing inane promos, and perhaps Peninsula Square will be something Greenwich can be proud of, instead of an embarrassment that’s walked through as quickly as possible.
A petition’s been launched to ask Transport for London to move Woolwich Arsenal station from zone 4 to zone 3. It’s currently approaching 250 signatures….
“As the opening of Crossrail gets closer and closer, and as the regeneration of Woolwich gains momentum, we think it’s important to help the area further benefit from all these positive changes. The number of commuters is growing and this trend is only going to continue.
“Moving Woolwich Arsenal station from 4 to zone 3 will help make Woolwich even more attractive and slightly less expensive for workers commuting west. There are talks of moving Stratford, a stone’s throws from Woolwich, into zone 2. Also Battersea is poised to be moved from zone 2 to zone 1. Gallions Reach, just north of the river and further east than Woolwich, is already in zone 3.”
I wrote about the absurdity of Woolwich being in zone 4 back in 2010, travelling out to leafy Chigwell, Essex, which is also in zone 4. Last week it was announced that Stratford station is being moved to the boundary of zones 2 and 3 to “boost regeneration” – a similar move would put Woolwich Arsenal on the boundary of zones 3 and 4, so passengers travelling from the east wouldn’t lose out.
Of course, there’s a cost to it and the popularity of the Docklands Light Railway from Woolwich would seem to indicate that the market can bear costly zone 4 fares – but a symbolic change could help attract travel *to* Woolwich, rather than from it.
(There’s a wider argument that London’s fare zones, which date back to 1983 and predate the development of Canary Wharf, need a complete overhaul as perceptions of “central London” have changed over the years – but that seems to be something nobody dare touch.)
It’s a simple change that could end up paying for itself over time if it boosts perceptions of Woolwich – but sadly, local politicians seem to have much more time obsessing over the Thames Clippers service to Berkeley Homes’ Royal Arsenal development instead.
Plenty happening, but not enough time to write about them, which is frustrating. Better busy than bored, but output on this website might be sporadic for a little while to come. But I thought you might like to hear a little side project – the Metroknobbers podcast, produced by Onionbagblog and Brixton Buzz‘s Jason Cobb and featuring him and me waxing lyrical on south London happenings, local blogging, how they meet, and more. It’s a simple chat recorded over Skype last Sunday evening, and contains a little bit of swearing, since I couldn’t find any better words to sum up the Guardian’s Job Centre reporting.
The name comes from an in-joke about the long-gone and not-missed London Metroblogging project from a decade ago – think a watered-down Londonist with its brains scooped out, and you have what it was like. It’s only right that a podcast featuring two chaps waffling on a bit keeps the Metroknobbers flame alive…
Besides the Job Centre, topics discussed include a Lambeth Council election “mistake”, the rude health of local web publishing in south London (see the excellent new Deserter site) and why you, yes you, should do it yourself, council fireworks, the origins of the Charlton Champion and why it’s important not to let your site sit un-updated for weeks. Ahem.
Links to what we’re talking about are over on Onionbagblog. And if south London podcasting’s up your street, I recommend South London Hardcore, which took a trip to the reopened Severndroog Castle last week.
A little postscript to May’s Greenwich Council election. The highest-profile scalp was that of Conservative Nigel Fletcher, who lost his Eltham North seat as Labour advanced – due at least in part to Ukip taking suburban votes from the Tories.
Nigel’s written well about his experience of losing. Sadly, others couldn’t be as classy. On Saturday, Nigel got this leaflet through his door.
Ouch. Not nice.
Still, at least Nigel can count himself lucky – up here in the north of the borough, hearing from your councillors after an election simply doesn’t happen.
In the meantime, let’s keep a special eye out for how Linda Bird and Wynn Davies shake things up…
2.45pm update: Nigel has now written about the letter himself.