Save Blackheath fireworks – scrap Greenwich mayor’s private party

mick_hayes

Greenwich Council could be on the brink of a welcome U-turn over the traditional Blackheath fireworks display, whose long-term future is at risk thanks to Greenwich’s refusal to join Lewisham Council in funding the display.

The display, due to take place this year on 1 November, began in the 1980s as a joint event between the two boroughs. But Greenwich pulled its £37,000 funding in 2010, leaving Lewisham to raise the funds for an event which takes place on the border of the two boroughs.

With Lewisham facing steep budget cuts, the £100,000 display – which attracts 100,000 people to Blackheath and fills pubs and restaurants in both boroughs – is unlikely to survive without funding from both councils.

But on Friday evening, Greenwich Council’s press office tweeted it had “initiated discussions with Lewisham Council about how we might be able to support their (fireworks) event in an agreed partnership”.

It’s worth pointing out that Greenwich didn’t promote the event at all last year.

On Monday, Greenwich repeated this non-statement on its website, although funnily enough it hasn’t made it into its propaganda weekly Greenwich Time.

When it canned funding for the fireworks in 2010, Greenwich’s then-deputy leader Peter Brooks claimed budgetary pressures led to the decision, a claim that’s looked increasingly ridiculous over the years, with Greenwich blowing £500,000 on the Tall Ships Festival earlier this month.

But if Greenwich Council is sincere in wanting to help the event, perhaps it could start by cancelling a private party it’s continued to hold despite pleading poverty – the annual mayor-making ceremony.

Most councils inaugurate their mayors in simple ceremonies at town halls, which anyone can pop along to watch. (Incidentally, this is all alien in Lewisham, whose residents elect a mayor – Sir Steve Bullock – to run the council. In Greenwich, the mayor is elected by councillors to be a ceremonial figurehead.)

Here’s Waltham Forest’s mayor getting a round of applause from his peers in 2013.

This isn’t good enough for Greenwich, which supplements this town hall event with a full-on inauguration ceremony at the Old Royal Naval College, with 400 invited guests. Were you invited? Nah, me neither.

This year’s event, for current mayor Mick Hayes, cost Greenwich taxpayers £13,385. It featured a speech from the mayor (which you can read here, thanks to the Freedom of Information Act), a speech from leader Denise Hyland (again, you can read it here thanks to FOI). Guests also enjoyed a menu which included Morrocan lamb skewers, crumbled spicy hake and, er, “crudities”.

So, who attends these bashes? Let’s have a look at who was invited – again, supplied under the Freedom of Information Act.

Most of the Labour councillors are on the list, together with a few Tories – all in this together, eh? – along with a load of local worthies, faith leaders and property developers, including representatives from Cathedral Group, Galliard Homes, Berkeley Homes and Greenwich Peninsula developer Knight Dragon. Essentially, it’s a big networking bash that, if you’re a Greenwich taxpayer, you’re picking up the tab for.

The event used to cost £30,000, but the cost has dropped in recent years after the Old Royal Naval College waived its fee for hiring out the Painted Hall. But at £33 per head, there’s very little that ordinary taxpayers in Greenwich get out of this indulgent bash, other than a tedious write-up in Greenwich Time, which probably goes straight in the bin. At least the Blackheath fireworks (£1/head) help local businesses and prevent pyrotechnic misadventures.

Angela Cornforth, Greenwich Time, June 2013

Greenwich Council knows the mayor-making is a touchy subject. In 2011, it was mooted that incoming mayor Jim Gillman could axe the ceremony – but he never carried through with the idea. And in 2013, when the celebration went ahead despite the murder of Lee Rigby the same day, Greenwich Time twice misleadingly claimed the event took place in Woolwich Town Hall.

But still, it goes on. There’s a broader issue about how Greenwich Council relates to its residents, and the mayor’s bash is certainly emblematic of all that is wrong with the council’s approach. But quite simply, while the mayor-making goes on, claims of poverty and cuts simply won’t wash.

And in these gloomy days of ongoing austerity, if there is a few quid to be spared for entertainments, then it’s best spent on something we can all enjoy, rather than on a slap-up meal for hangers-on and fat cats.

Next year’s mayor is likely to be Norman Adams, who by all accounts is a thoroughly decent chap and almost a part of the council furniture, having been there since 1978. If the Charlton Athletic season ticket-holder really wants to contribute something good in his mayoral year, he could can next year’s ceremony and insist the cash is spent on something worthwhile instead.

So we wait and see just what comes out of these belated talks between Greenwich and Lewisham about the fireworks. But there’s one man who could help give them a mighty push forward. So, please, step forward, Norman – and give us all something to smile about.

You can donate money to the Blackheath fireworks display on the Lewisham Council website.

Government issues final warning over Greenwich Time

Wellington Gardens, Charlton, August 2014

The prospect of a legal fight over the future of Greenwich Time has got closer after the Government sent Greenwich Council a final warning to stop printing its weekly newspaper.

Greenwich is one of 11 councils – also including Tower Hamlets, Newham, Waltham Forest, Hackney and Conservative-controlled Hillingdon – that have been warned they will face legal action to shut down their council publications to “defend the independent free press”.

Only Greenwich and Tower Hamlets produce weekly newspapers. Greenwich now has two weeks to show communities secretary Eric Pickles why he shouldn’t take legal action against the council – essentially, it’s an order to shut it down or face legal action.

The Government believes it has outlawed councils publishing newssheets more than four times a year. Greenwich believes it is still operating within the law by publishing Greenwich Time – see its full submission to the Government here, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act – and is vehemently opposed to any attempt to end its publication. Despite the fact that it is one of just two councils that publish a weekly paper, it claims criticism of Greenwich Time is politically-motivated.

Last month, it was revealed the council had refused an offer from the publisher of the Mercury and South London Press to take over Greenwich Time.

It’s long been rumoured Greenwich may try to spin off Greenwich Time to try to avoid the wrath of Pickles – with Greenwich Leisure Ltd mooted as a possible publisher. But there’s never been anything on the record to substantiate these rumours.

In truth, the squabbling over Greenwich Time has been going on for so long, residents may have just become resigned to the paper’s continued existence.

But after many false starts, the fight may now really be about to begin.

Greenwich Council snubs Blackheath fireworks once again


Weeks after blowing £500,000 on a tall ships festival, it’s emerged Greenwich Council has declined to pay its way for this year’s Blackheath fireworks for a fifth year running – leaving Lewisham Council to fundraise for the event again.

Greenwich withdrew its £37,000 share of funding from the event in 2010 with then-deputy leader Peter Brooks claiming it would be “inappropriate in this financial climate” to fund the event, which takes place right on the border between the two boroughs.

Lewisham has continued to hold the event, which attracts up to 100,000 people and boosts trade to local businesses in Greenwich, Blackheath and Lewisham.

But despite its best efforts at fundraising, last year’s display lost just short of £30,000, leading Lewisham to approach Greenwich for funding.

Despite Greenwich’s deputy leader John Fahy backing restoring funding to the display, it appears the tall ships have taken priority.

With Lewisham losing 33% of its funding over the next three years, the £100,000 display is unlikely to survive without help from Greenwich.

For a relatively small cost, Greenwich leader Denise Hyland could have demonstrated her council really had entered a new era. Sadly, it seems nothing has changed at Woolwich Town Hall.

Greenwich Time, 23 September 2014

By an unfortunate coincidence, Hyland is pictured on the front of this week’s Greenwich Time propaganda newspaper with Lewisham Council’s nemesis, hospital-threatening health secretary Jeremy Hunt. Oh dear.

Greenwich’s Peninsula Square wakes up as golf balls set to fly

Greenwich Kitchen

It’s been a long-running moan on this site – the sad waste of space between North Greenwich station and the Dome. Well, it’s being wasted no more.

Joining Meantime Brewing’s temporary Beer Box (due for a three-year stay) is a full-time bar/restaurant, Greenwich Kitchen, that’s billing itself as a “New York-style coffee shop”. It’s even open for breakfast, should you fancy a bacon sarnie on the way into work. There’s another unit being fitted out behind it too – we’ll have to wait and see what that turns out to be.

Gateway Pavillions, Greenwich

Next door is the Now Gallery and the new, plush marketing suite for Greenwich Peninsula owner Knight Dragon containing a champagne bar on the roof – which would explain the three bouncers who seem to be on permanent duty outside the building.

Of course, Knight Dragon has twigged that you’re not going to shift luxury pads if the surrounding area’s as empty and miserable as it has been for the past seven years. It’s a shame that it’s all come too late for the summer – but finally Peninsula Square looks like becoming a decent spot for delaying your journey home. Hooray.

The Jetty Greenwich

In addition to all this action on the square, the old power station coaling jetty’s been taken over by immersive theatre company Shunt, whose show The Boy Who Climed Out Of His Face has another week left to run. It’s been poorly-promoted locally, but you can also pop onto The Jetty Greenwich for a drink in its bar. £4.50 for a pint of Tuborg in a plastic cup ain’t great, but it’s a lovely space and one with potential. Again, it’s all about making the place a but more lively than it was under the previous developers.

Driving range at Greenwich Peninsula

It doesn’t end there, though – there are plans to build a golf driving range at Delta Wharf, which long-suffering readers will remember was once due to be turned into an urban beach. There’s more about the Greenwich Peninsula golf range plan here, and on Greenwich’s planning website, reference 14/2161F. Again, this would be temporary, in place for 10 years before Knight Dragon gets around to developing the site.

Meanwhile, the actual business of selling property has begun, with queues of potential buyers outside the new marketing suite on Saturday. Of course, the property developers’ best friend, Greenwich Council, has chipped in this week with a handy plug in its propaganda weekly, Greenwich Time:

Greenwich Time, 23 September 2014

What Greenwich Time isn’t telling you is what “affordable” actually means, or that the phase after that – where the golf course is set to occupy for now – won’t contain any “affordable” housing at all

10.30am update: See also today’s Evening Standard on the housing issue.

Metroknobbers: Sexism, fireworks, ‘right to report’ and more

Comments I couldn't be arsed to publish

In this week’s podcast: the depressing fallout from calling out a sexist comic on sexist “humour”, hypocrisy over fireworks in Lambeth and Greenwich, Eric Pickles’ ‘right to report’, and more.

Much more, actually, because it’s an hour long. Contains some industrial language and crass stereotyping.

Show notes over at Onionbagblog.

Sexist Jim Davidson quip embarrasses Charlton Athletic

The Valley, Charlton v Wolves, 16 September 2014

Charlton Athletic might be flying high in the Championship, but the club paid the price tonight for attempting to rehabilitate controversial entertainer Jim Davidson after he made a sexist remark about the club’s chief executive during a half-time event.

The Kidbrooke-born performer, whose career was boosted by winning Channel 5’s Celebrity Big Brother in January, was on the pitch during tonight’s match against Wolves to perform an “ice bucket challenge” – being soaked with iced water for charity.

Asked by pitchside announcer Dave Lockwood to nominate people to undertake the challenge next, he picked former player Brian Kinsey, ex-manager Theo Foley, then chief executive Katrien Meire “in a T-shirt”.

Lockwood, who sounded shocked, quickly changed the subject.

Davidson, who is a lifelong Charlton fan, was one of British TV’s best-known faces of the 1980s and 1990s, but remains reviled by many for racist material performed earlier in his career. His television career faded after he was dropped from BBC1’s Generation Game in 2002.

He started making occasional appearances at Charlton events after previous owner Richard Murray sold the club in 2010, and they have continued since current boss Roland Duchatalet bought the side in January.

At 60, he is twice the age of Meire, who speaks three languages and worked for law firms in London and Brussels before joining Duchatalet’s team in 2013.

Davidson’s outburst may also raise eyebrows at Greenwich Council, which contracts Charlton’s community trust to run its youth services.

On the pitch, Charlton have made an encouraging start to the season under Bob Peeters, with fans praising the new head coach’s style of football. The Addicks drew 1-1 with Wolves tonight, leaving them fifth in the table after seven matches.

How was the On Blackheath music festival for you?

Blackheath Village, 14 September 2014
More by accident than design, this website completely managed to miss the fact that the On Blackheath music festival actually finally happened at the weekend. (The line-up really wasn’t my bag and it ended up clashing with a sublime St Etienne show at the Barbican, as it happened.)

Personally speaking, it was good to see the event finally happen – particularly after years of gripes from Greenwich councillors and the Blackheath Society’s court battle over Lewisham Council’s decision to give it a licence in 2011. Here’s an interview with the organisers from way back then.

It seems to have gone down well with those who went, although there’s been some mickey-taking over the “food and music” concept…

I couldn’t hear much of Frank Turner when crossing the heath at Duke Humphrey Road at 9pm last night (not a bad thing in my book,) but I’ve seen a few noise gripes on Twitter (the Blackheath Society is asking locals to fill in this survey). If you went along, or if you live nearby, I’d love to hear your experiences of the weekend.