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news, views and issues around Greenwich, Charlton, Blackheath and Woolwich, south-east London – what you won't read in Greenwich Time

Posts Tagged ‘blackheath

Beyond the Silvertown Tunnel: TfL eyes Ringway road revival

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With smog levels high in London this week, you might think that anyone proposing major new road schemes for the capital would be laughed out of town.

But Transport for London is considering reviving long-dead proposals for new orbital roads around the capital – raising the spectre of decades-old plans which threatened Blackheath Village and other parts of SE London.

The transport authority is already planning a new road tunnel under the Thames to feed into the A102 at the Greenwich Peninsula. But the plans don’t stop with the Silvertown Tunnel or possible plans for a bridge at Gallions Reach, near Thamesmead.

City Hall is currently consulting on proposals to change the capital’s planning guidance, The London Plan. These include taking on board the recommendations of the Roads Task Force as planning policy.

London Plan alterations

The Roads Task Force was set up in 2012, after Boris Johnson’s second election win “to tackle the challenges facing London’s streets and roads”. Dubbed an independent body, it includes representatives of haulage, transport and motoring groups as well as the London Cycling Campaign and Living Streets. Its first report was published last summer, and recommended a “feasibility study of tunnelling to remove ‘strategic’ traffic from surface and free-up space for other uses”.

This month, a progress report has appeared, where this has become…

RTF March 2014 report

TfL’s enthusiasm for digging tunnels hasn’t just been sparked by Silvertown – Boris Johnson is backing proposals by Hammersmith & Fulham Council to build a Hammersmith Flyunder, which would replace the existing flyover.

While the plan’s being sold on revitalising Hammersmith town centre, options being pushed by the council involve effectively creating a buried urban motorway from Chiswick to Kensington.

So what’s meant by the “orbital tunnel”?

As both the Silvertown Tunnel and Gallions Reach/ Thames Gateway Bridge are, essentially, revived versions of long-dead transport plans, this could well mean the resurrection of Ringway 1.

Ringway 1

Here’s the leaflet which sold the Blackwall Tunnel Southern Approach to locals when construction started in 1967. (Thanks to The Greenwich Phantom for the scans.) The BTSA was originally planned to be part of Ringway 1, which would have featured an interchange at Kidbrooke, roughly where the current A2 junction is now.

A new road, the South Cross Route, would have continued at Kidbrooke, following the railway line and ploughing through the Blackheath Cator Estate and tunnelling under Blackheath Village, through Lewisham town centre and featuring an interchange roughly where St John’s station is for a slip road to New Cross. It would then have follow the railway line through Brockley, Nunhead and Peckham and on a flyover through Brixton, where the famous “Barrier Block” of flats was built in anticipation of a motorway which, thankfully, never came.

The Ringways project would have been Britain’s biggest ever construction project. They were proposed by Conservative politicians on the Greater London Council and tacitly backed by Labour opponents – sound familiar? The GLC also planned Ringway 2 – which threatened Oxleas Woods, and still does today in the form of the Gallions Reach Bridge proposal.

But the Ringways caused such public outrage that they never happened. It led to an upsurge in local activism, such as this community group in Grove Park, channelled through the Homes Before Roads group. The Tory GLC considered burying the roads to pacify locals. But when Labour won the 1973 GLC election, it scrapped the Ringways – public protest and oil price hikes were too much.

But now the plans are back. In January, Transport for London’s managing director of planning, Michele Dix, gave a presentation to the Institution of Engineering and Technology. She discussed TfL’s plans to extend tolling on London’s roads, and how this may be applied to the Blackwall Tunnel and Silvertown Tunnel (if built).

Whereas the proceeds from Ken Livingstone’s congestion charge went into public transport, these new TfL tolls would pay for… more roads. Which could include, she said, orbital tunnels.

Michele Dix TfL presentation

Looks familiar, doesn’t it?

Ringways compared with orbital tunnel

Essentially, TfL is looking at using the A102 through Greenwich, Charlton and Blackheath – and a Silvertown Tunnel – as part of a resurrected Ringway. And areas such as Blackheath, Lee, Lewisham, Brockley and Catford would be in the firing line for a tunnel.

Even if we bury the damn thing, the traffic has to come off the roads somewhere – and London simply can’t cope with the number of vehicles as it is. Any more would be a disaster. Why a road? Why not an orbital rail line?

New roads fill up as soon as they’re built. The last major road to be built in London, the A12 through Leytonstone, is the UK’s ninth most congested road, 15 years after it opened.

This is why opposing the Silvertown Tunnel is so important. It’s the thin end of a very dirty wedge. And it’s why Greenwich Council’s decision to endorse an Ikea next to the Blackwall Tunnel approach is so dangerous – because the last thing we need is extra traffic, even on grounds of congestion alone.

But it’s on health grounds where this also counts. Paris is also suffering from high pollution at the moment, so is making public transport free to all this weekend. London’s politicians, led by its mayor along with its footsoldiers like Greenwich’s councillors, just seem to want to encourage even more people to get in their cars. Choked, congested and polluted – is this really the sort of city we want to live in?

(I’m indebted to Steve Chambers, who’s researching Homes Before Roads and the Ringways plan, and Tom Barry, who’s been posting about the Hammersmith plans at Boriswatch.)

Written by Darryl

14 March, 2014 at 12:19 pm

Greenwich Tories tell Labour to tell the Tories to fix the buses

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108 bus

It’s always good to see an issue raised on this website taken up by politicians – so here’s a warm 853 welcome for a petition calling for a boost to the 108 bus service between North Greenwich and Lewisham, which suffers from chronic overcrowding during rush hours.

The petition comes from Greenwich Conservatives – in particular, their energetic candidate for Blackheath Westcombe ward, Thomas Turrell. Blackheath Westcombe’s the borough’s most marginal ward, represented by two Tories and one Labour repesentative, so what goes on here is worth watching.

The Tories’ petition wants a rush-hour only bus, numbered 108A, to supplement the packed-out 108 south of the river, giving passengers a service that is less affected by Blackwall Tunnel delays. Ignoring the fact that Transport for London no longer runs rush-hour only buses (nor ones with letters as suffixes – although with next year’s train woes in mind, a revival of the original 108A to London Bridge could be useful), at least the issue of the 108′s woes is being taken seriously.

Greenwich Tories' petitionExcept… the Tories are addressing their petition to Greenwich Council. Not TfL, which runs the buses, but Greenwich Council. “We call on Royal Greenwich Borough Council [sic] to use the means at its disposal to work with Transport for London to introduce a new 108a bus route…”

So, effectively, Greenwich Tories are asking the Labour-run council to ask Tory-run TfL to fix our buses. Could they not, well, go straight to Boris Johnson instead? Perhaps not, with TfL bracing itself for deep cuts to bus services under its current administration. Awkward.

Anyone that’s ever been to a Greenwich Council meeting will know how it’ll treat the petition, anyway. Transport cabinet member Denise Hyland will act like the Tories have suggested selling a close family member, before Chris Roberts declares once again that the council should run bus services because Berkeley Homes the council knows better than anyone else on the entire planet. Nobody will go home happy, not least those going home by bus.

Which is a shame, because the state of the 108 is worth addressing, and it’s a pity that local politicians have ignored the issue for so long. Unlike the 132, overcrowding on which has been raised three times in 14 months at City Hall.

But then the 132′s fate proves a point. Run a bus to North Greenwich from just about anywhere, and it’ll fill up.

So maybe the Greenwich Tories’ 108 petition will light a flame. Perhaps some bright spark will team up with politicians across the boundary, and suggest an entirely new route to somewhere new like Brockley or Bromley, or maybe just the Kidbrooke Village development, to help ease the 108 through Blackheath. Maybe they’ll even set up a petition, and maybe they’ll get somewhere.

But hopefully, they’ll remember to address it to the right people first.

Will 2014 be the year of cycling in Greenwich borough?

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Blackheath Royal Standard
An interesting plan crept out of Greenwich Council with zero publicity before Christmas – it wants to put in a special cycle lane at Blackheath’s Royal Standard, to make pedalling through the area easier and safer.

The idea came from Greenwich Cyclists. If you’re cycling from Vanburgh Park towards Old Dover Road, it’s intimidating for new cyclists to have to circumnavigate the Standard, and can feel a bit dicey. So why not have a contraflow lane to cut straight across to Old Dover Road?

Blackheath Standard cycle plan

So, there it is. It’s a notable plan, because while Greenwich has been pretty good at widening cycle lanes and improving what’s already there; this might just be the first scheme on an existing road aimed at newer cyclists.

Most experienced cyclists will find the Standard a cinch (especially now it’s been resurfaced with new lighting) but it’s a worry if you’re a newbie. So it’s an important development, and I think it’s one which deserves credit.

You could have commented on it, but the oh-so-quiet consultation ended yesterday. Some things still need some work…

But there’s another way to have your say about cycling in Greenwich borough – the consultation into Greenwich’s cycling strategy ends this Friday. If you pedal around SE London, it’s worth a read and worth having your say too.

Written by Darryl

7 January, 2014 at 7:30 am

Lewisham tells Greenwich: Cough up for Blackheath fireworks

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Lewisham Council is asking Greenwich Council to start paying towards the annual Blackheath fireworks display again, after revealing fundraising for this year’s event fell nearly £30,000 short of covering its costs.

Greenwich withdrew its £37,000 share of funding for what was a jointly-run display in 2010, with council 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.

But 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.

Lewisham has continued to set aside £36,000 each year for the display, which this year cost £108,673, and has relied on public donations and private sponsorship to make up the rest.

Lewisham Council meeting response

But a cut in private sponsorship money this year has meant the shortfall has widened from £7,919 to £29,656 this year, according to an answer from Lewisham’s culture and community services cabinet member Chris Best given at a council meeting last Wednesday.

Responding to Blackheath councillor Kevin Bonavia, she said in a written reply: “Officers continually look for different ways to attract funding for the event. We will continue to request financial and other support from the Royal Borough of Greenwich.”

At the time Greenwich Council’s Peter Brooks was claiming the borough was too hard-up to pay for Blackheath fireworks, Greenwich was paying £30,000 each year on a private party to inaugurate the borough’s ceremonial mayor.

While that cost has come down to £10,000 – thanks to the Royal Naval College no longer charging – this summer the council contributed £20,000 to fireworks displays to support Sail Royal Greenwich, a private company working out of the council’s Mitre Passage offices in North Greenwich.

In 2011, it effectively bailed out Greenwich and Docklands Festival with a £100,000 payout, and spent £110,000 on events to mark becoming a royal borough in 2012.

And while supporters of leader Chris Roberts point to Lewisham’s controversial decision to cut library funding in response to a government funding squeeze, Greenwich has been cutting under-fives’ play centres, outsourcing youth and library services and trying to cut funding from Charlton’s Maryon Wilson animal park.

Relations between the two Labour groups have got worse recently, with Lewisham councillors looking on in alarm at the bullying accusations levelled at Greenwich leader Chris Roberts, with the bad smell drifting across the border.

Greenwich councillors complained to their Lewisham counterparts after Bonavia referred to the accusations in his unsuccessful campaign to be the parliamentary candidate for Greenwich & Woolwich, demanding he be disciplined for disloyalty. They were flatly turned down.

Lewisham council also reaffirmed its reservations about the proposed Silvertown Tunnel – which is backed by Greenwich – at the same meeting.

Deputy mayor Alan Smith said: “The proposed Silvertown Tunnel relies on the same southern approaches as the existing Blackwall Tunnel. These routes, including the A2 area and the South Circular, already suffer from daily congestion. As the only primary alternative to the Dartford crossings, these routes come under extreme pressure when the M25 is not operating smoothly. The council therefore has reservations about the impact of an additional 6,000 vehicles per hour on these routes.”

Other London boroughs, including Southwark, Tower Hamlets, Barking & Dagenham and Redbridge, have also voiced opposition or reservations about mayor Boris Johnson’s plan. In the affected area, only Greenwich and Tory Bexley are wholly for it.

Silvertown Tunnel and pollution: Greenwich Council’s dirty secret

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Some of Greenwich’s most high-profile development sites suffer from air pollution far in excess of European limits, research carried out for No to Silvertown Tunnel has revealed.

Volunteers, including myself, used tubes to record the pollution in the air at over 50 locations close to the A102, A2 and A206 for four weeks during June, using similar methods used by Greenwich Council for its own pollution records. Over half the tubes came back with readings over 40 μg/m3, the EU limit.

The Woolwich Road/ Blackwall Lane junction in Greenwich, outside where new homes are now being built by developer Galliford Try, recorded 70 micrograms per cubic metre. The site is opposite the flagship Greenwich Square development, which will include homes, shops and and a leisure centre.

Meanwhile, readings of 50 μg/m3 were recorded at two locations at Greenwich Millennium Village – at the centre, by West Parkside; and at the junction of Bugsby’s Way and Southern Way.

The highest figure recorded, unsurprisingly, was 70.55 μg/m3 at the Woolwich Road flyover, with a reading of 69 μg/ at Farmdale Road, where houses face an A102 slip road.

A pollution tube outside Kidbrooke Park School

High readings were also recorded along the Woolwich Road (64 μg/m3 outside the Rose of Denmark pub in Charlton) and at Blackheath Royal Standard (52 μg/m3 at Westcombe Hill).

With Greenwich Council and London mayor Boris Johnson backing a Silvertown Tunnel, which will attract more traffic to the area, the figures can only get worse.

The figures will be discussed at a public meeting at the Forum at Greenwich, Trafalgar Road, SE10 9EQ on Wednesday (tomorrow) at 7pm.

Further south, high readings were recorded in Eltham at Westhorne Avenue, Eltham station and Westmount Road, where the A2 forms a two-lane bottleneck. Local MP Clive Efford supports the Silvertown proposal, despite compelling evidence that it will make traffic in his constituency worse. So do local Conservatives – even though we recorded a big fat 50 μg/m3 outside their local HQ.

Sssh - it's one of Greenwich Council's pollution tubes

Sssh – it’s one of Greenwich Council’s pollution tubes. Readings haven’t been published since 2010.

What’s more, when we contacted Greenwich Council to tell it we intended to place pollution tubes on its lamp posts, we discovered it had been collecting its own statistics since 2005.

But mystifyingly, no figures were published since 2010 – until now. We obtained the results through a Freedom of Information Act request, and have published a full archive on the No to Silvertown Tunnel website.

These borough-wide stats bear out our own research, revealing that the borough’s worst location is outside Plumstead station – possibly due to the bus garage being nearby, but also a regular scene for heavy tailbacks.

Despite the council also pressing for a road bridge at Gallions Reach, it appears to have made little serious attempt to record pollution levels in the Thamesmead and Abbey Wood areas, which would be affected by such a scheme as well as emissions from London City Airport.

The whole borough has been an air quality management zone for 12 years, which makes Greenwich Council’s position on road-building even more mystifying. Its decision to stop publishing air quality reports smacks of carelessness at the very least. Pollution has become the council’s dirty secret.

If you drill down into the statistics, you’ll actually find air quality gradually improving in some areas. But in places where traffic remains heavy, it’s stubbornly awful.

Incidentally, the tubes are very easy to install and relatively cheap – if local groups find Greenwich Council’s response to pollution wanting, it’s simple for them to carry out their own studies, just as we did. Indeed, we were inspired by a study done by the Putney Society – so it should be easy for groups in Greenwich, Blackheath, Eltham and Charlton, or elsewhere, to follow suit.

x

Greenwich Council’s pollution readings from May 2013 – you won’t find this on the council’s own website, but you’ll find it all on the No to Silvertown Tunnel site.

Greenwich Council continues to back new road schemes on the grounds that they will take traffic off existing roads – despite a heap of evidence that proves the opposite. Indeed, studies show new roads simply increase traffic by making road travel more attractive.

It also claims economic benefits for new schemes – but it hasn’t been able to produce a shred of evidence that this is the case. And will it take the health costs from the extra pollution caused by yet more traffic on local roads into account?

Even more perplexing is that neighbouring boroughs don’t want Silvertown – leaving Greenwich’s Labour council in a position where it’s just a figleaf for a Conservative mayor’s scheme. If Greenwich opposed it, would Boris really go ahead?

So how can we persuade local decision-makers to wake up and realise they’re backing a scheme would could be disastrous? Well, we thought we’d invite them to our meeting, where they can hear from experts and see what results we got.

Here’s the response from Don Austen, Labour councillor for Glyndon ward.

Don Austen email

Incidentally, Don’s ward not only contains the borough’s filthiest air, his own home is very close to Charlton Village – where air quality also breaks EU rules. We had a few other responses that were nicer, but it’s hard to dispel the feeling that Greenwich’s councillors simply aren’t taking this seriously.

That said, some of the nominees to be Labour’s candidate for for Greenwich & Woolwich are alert to the dangers of blindly following a Conservative mayor’s policy. Lewisham councillor Kevin Bonavia (whose own council opposes Silvertown) voices his concern in his manifesto: “According to a recent GLA report, 150 deaths per year across the borough are caused by air pollution. We shouldn’t be encouraging more traffic in already concentrated areas.”

And yesterday, outsider Kathy Peach took aim not just at the proposal, but the way Greenwich Council has handled it:

I’m not convinced Boris Johnson’s Silvertown Tunnel is the answer. Nor do I believe there’s been an informed democratic debate about it.

I have heard from several quarters that Labour councillors who oppose the scheme have been banned from voicing their opposition in public… the fact that such stories gain traction points to something insular and complacent about our local political culture. We need a breath of fresh air. Let’s get rid of stale tactics and encourage a vigorous inclusive open debate. We need to bring the community along with us – otherwise other parties will jump into the gap.

Hopefully we’ll see Kathy, and Kevin, and others, and hopefully you, down at the Forum tomorrow night. If you’re sceptical, feel free to come along and lob some tough questions.

But if Greenwich councillors won’t listen, and Boris Johnson won’t listen, then we need to find our own way forward – because this is a battle that can be won.

And we might even have some fun on the way. If you want to help, come along tomorrow night.

No to Silvertown Tunnel public meeting: Wednesday 16 October, 7-9pm, Forum at Greenwich, Trafalgar Road, London SE10 9EQ. Speakers are transport consultant John Elliott, the Campaign for Better Transport’s Sian Berry, King’s College London air quality expert Dr Ian Mudway and Clean Air London’s Simon Birkett.

PS. If you have the time, it’s worth reading the 1994 Government report Trunk Roads and the Generation of Traffic. These studies are backed up by another report, published in 2006 for the Countryside Agency and Campaign to Protect Rural England.

Fancy starting Blackheath fireworks? You could for a fiver…

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There are two events which make living in this part of London like no other. Both of them involve big crowds and take place on Blackheath. One is the London Marathon, the other is Blackheath fireworks. This year’s event is less than three weeks away – it’s on 2 November at 8pm.

Of course, the continuation of the Blackheath fireworks display is no thanks to Greenwich Council, which yanked its £37,000 funding away from the event three years ago, leaving Lewisham Council in the lurch.

Lewisham could have scrapped the event, which attracts up to 100,000 people, or moved it to another open space. But to its credit, it’s continued.

Back in 2010, deputy leader Peter Brooks claimed Greenwich Council couldn’t afford it, a whopper so big it could be seen from space.

This poverty didn’t stop the council handing over £20,000 towards the cost of fireworks to help promote a private company, Sail Royal Greenwich, back in August, according to an answer given under the Freedom of Information Act. And last year, it blew £114,000 on fireworks and other public events to mark royal borough status. Three years on, the decision still rankles, and the real reason for pulling out has never been given.

So ever since then, Lewisham Council’s shouldered the responsibility of raising the cash for the event on its own – even if the firing site’s been outside its borders. The event’s always had some kind of sponsorship, but Lewisham has tried to come up with fundraising wheezes that make the community feel part of the event – something its self-styled “royal borough” neighbour singularly fails to do.

This year’s is simple. Pay a fiver, and you’ll get put into a prize draw where you can win the chance to press the plunger to start the display, along with getting a behind-the-scenes look at how it’s all done. You can enter as many times as you like, and it doesn’t matter where you live.

Of course, it’d be GREAT if someone from this side of the border won the prize – so go on, stick a fiver in and remind our neighbours we’re not all hypocritical miseries over here.

Run to the Beat organisers sorry after course cock-up

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Woolwich Barracks photo from Terri Willis

If they’d listened to local people, who’ve consistently said that Run to the Beat’s circular course is a bad idea, then perhaps they wouldn’t be apologising.

But the controversial half-marathon’s organisers have been left red-faced this evening after runners found themselves stuck at bottlenecks on the 13.1-mile route, caused by their insistence on holding running a circular route through Greenwich, Blackheath, Charlton and Woolwich.

Runners used Twitter to complain about a hold-up at Woolwich Barracks, where the course wasn’t wide enough for runners to get through, and also showed them stuck at gates in Greenwich Park.

The delays meant many runners were either delayed, missing out on their target times, or were sent on a short cut, leaving them fearing their times were invalid.

Organisers have apologised, promising “a detailed review”.

One runner, Gavin, described his experience on his blog:

At mile 4, however, the part of the route which goes in and out of the Woolwich Barracks there was a bottleneck of about 10 minutes. This is because unlike previous years when you had the runners all running through the courtyard, you decided to have 20,000 runners run in AND OUT of a gate which was no bigger than 8 foot wide.

Mile 4 for me, and for many is ‘The Wall’, the part of run where you are struggling, but you power through. So having to stop immediately and stand still for 10 minutes often causes cramps. It can be avoided by continuing to move, however there was very limited space due to the sheer volume of runners. Many people climbed over the barriers and ran down the road, I refrained from doing this for fear of missing a ‘chip timer’ mat, which I figured would be in the courtyard. It wasn’t. By the time I got back to the gate to exit the courtyard, the marshals had in fact stopped runners entering and sending them straight down the road. At this point, the 2h30m marker was well in front of me.

Other complaints included the runners being given coconut water instead of sports drinks – the race was sponsored by a brand of coconut water – while there were grumbles about the last mile being uphill through Greenwich Park, particularly unhelpful for participants in wheelchairs (“It was so steep that their front wheels kept popping up,” one observer said).

As for locals, one Greenwich Millennium Village resident complained to this blog about organisers setting up portable buildings outside her home at 4.45am, while Peninsula ward councillor Mary Mills said the number of complaints she’d received was up this year. “I’ve had more complaints this year, and nastier ones,” she tweeted.

On the plus side, roads did seem to reopen earlier than planned, although it took a while for bus services to return to their normal routes.

A little sample of tweets:

The route was confirmed at fairly short notice this year, after an earlier version saw it cut off Sunday footballers in Charlton’s parks. But despite assurances from Greenwich Council cabinet member Maureen O’Mara, and claims made by the council to the Department of Transport, there has been no meaningful consultation with local residents.

Despite objections, organiser IMG still plans to return next year, doubling its contribution to Greenwich Council from £10,000 this year to £20,000.

I also understand Greenwich Council gets some more money out of the race thanks to an agreement to advertise race arrangements in its weekly newspaper, Greenwich Time – denying other newspapers revenue from those ads.

While many residents have lost patience with Run to the Beat years ago and would rather it went away, others do enjoy it – and it enjoyed ideal weather this morning. Perhaps now organisers and Greenwich Council will start to listen. IMG needs to make a meaningful donation to the community – perhaps by sponsoring a facility such as Maryon Wilson animal park – instead of the cash disappearing into the council’s coffers.

And it needs to create a route that’d be a proper Greenwich borough half-marathon – perhaps from Eltham to Greenwich – ending the charade of the circular route which causes grief to runners and locals alike.

Will any of this happen? I wouldn’t hold your breath…

If you’re a local with issues surrounding today’s race, let your local councillor know – and it’s also worth copying in Greenwich Council chief executive Mary Ney on the email (firstname.surname@royalgreenwich.gov.uk).

Written by Darryl

8 September, 2013 at 7:49 pm

Run to the Beat 2013: The public consultation which wasn’t

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Run to the Beat final route, July 2013

On Sunday, up to 19,000 runners will pound through Greenwich, Blackheath, Charlton and Woolwich on the Run to the Beat half-marathon. The forecast is set for mild weather, and you never know, it may actually be a success. Indeed, you’re probably reading this after the event and will know how it went.

Many of those thousands of runners will be exerting themselves for good causes. This is not a charity event, so others will have paid £55 to prove something to themselves that some of us won’t even manage half of. But unwittingly, those up-to 19,000 customers of Run to the Beat have been caught up in an extraordinary battle between, on one side, Greenwich Council and organisers IMG, and on the other, local residents and councillors in the area affected.

So keen has Greenwich Council been to rubber-stamp the event in the face of continuing objections from locals and councillors – many of whom who represent the Labour Party which supposedly runs the council – that this website understands even senior council officials are unhappy about publicity for the race published in the council’s own newspaper.

East Greenwich Library bus stopIt’s worth remembering this row doesn’t happen with the London Marathon, which is twice as big, and causes the same inconvenience. With our streets on show to the world, people swallow a day of hassle out of neighbourhood pride. The same arguments won’t ever apply to a low-profile race which is imposed both on residents, and their elected representatives.

The imposition point is important, because alternative routes have been suggested, and have been ignored. Instead, thousands of local residents are cut off by IMG and Greenwich Council’s insistence on a small circular route, presumably to save IMG money, but which is also unsatisfactory for runners. This year’s diversion via the riverside path at Angerstein Wharf looks set to be particularly grim.

In many ways, the battle over Run to the Beat has become less about people being unable to take a bus to hospital, or even being stopped from crossing over a main road, and more about Greenwich Council’s failures to listen or learn from criticism – something which is finally catching up with both its leadership, and those who have been cowed by it.

Remember the assurances from environment councillor Maureen O’Mara last year? They’re worth repeating again.

“If this race is to return to the borough, it needs to be with residents fully understanding what’s going to happen in their streets, and what’s going to happen with licensing.

“And we need to think – well, what does this bring into the borough? I certainly don’t want go through again, the anguish of the past four weeks. We have to be absolutely clear about why Run To The Beat is here in the first place.

“If residents say they don’t want it, then we’ll have to talk to IMG about that.”

Did they? Did they heck. 853 reader Steve Smythe wrote to Transport Secretary Patrick McLaughlin about the road closures caused by Run to the Beat – for legally, the council needs to go through the Government for roads which have already been closed for an event in the same year – and was given this reply from civil servant Amanda John, sent to her by Greenwich Council.

DfT letter

However, this website has established that formal residents’ groups – usually spoken to in lieu of a proper consultation – weren’t asked for their views. The Greenwich Society tells me it wasn’t spoken to, nor was the Blackheath Society, and it’s understood the Charlton Society wasn’t consulted either. The Westcombe Society was spoken to because it complained; while the Charlton Central Residents Association spoke to organisers in November 2012, again because it complained.

Only groups who complained, it appears, were consulted, which would explain the appearance of sports groups on the list, since early plans for this year’s events proposed cutting off the football pitches in Charlton’s parks. What’s clear is that even after five years, there’s still been no serious, proactive attempt by either IMG or Greenwich Council to gauge residents’ views on the event.

Did the council lie to the government? Was the council itself fed duff info? I’ve certainly heard accusations that council officers were told to make sure Run To The Beat was licensed, at whatever cost – obviously this can’t be substantiated, but suspicions like this will fester in an atmosphere when residents and elected representatives are ignored.

Run to the Beat ad, Greenwich TimeWhat’s for sure is that there’s been no great public rethink about what Run To The Beat does for the locality.

While it’s true councillors met organisers in November 2012, a promised follow-up meeting never happened – instead, they were invited to a meeting on Thursday night at short notice. Some councillors, I am told, “have never been so angry”.

Indeed, it’s actually possible that councillors’ treatment has led to them being angrier about the event than their constituents, who at least can choose to stay in bed while the race is on.

But most astonishingly, I understand even Greenwich Council officers are unhappy with the way IMG has promoted the arrangements for the race. Indeed, even the council website acknowledges “some local residents may not yet have received printed leaflets from the organisers”.

Ads have been taken out in its weekly newspaper Greenwich Time, but I’m told director of culture, media and sport Katrina Delaney is unhappy with
the lack of information on them, and they way they seem to be about promoting the RTTB brand – they merely refer people to the Run to the Beat website. Why Delaney herself hasn’t been more proactive in distributing information, or ensuring IMG’s ad was correct, heaven alone knows. But since her job is in reputation management, and promoting the “Royal Greenwich” brand, it’s certainly a case of the biter being bit.

And while there is a residents’ helpline – 020 8233 5900 (open 7.30am-2.30pm) – it has only been publicised online. It doesn’t appear on the numerous yellow signs dotted around the area. The event still doesn’t appear on Transport for London’s journey planner (despite a tucked-away website page), so while roads are meant to be reopening earlier, it’s anyone’s guess when bus services will resume.

And all this, for a measly £10,000 to the council, with the promise of double next year.

It may well be that the sustained criticism of this year’s Run To The Beat will lead to a better event. But it shouldn’t be this way. After all, this should be fun, like the London Marathon is. A true Greenwich borough half-marathon would be great. Involve Eltham and other areas that don’t have the brilliant experience of the marathon, and break the circular route which cuts so many off.

Perhaps we should look to the London Marathon Playing Fields in Kidbrooke as an example. Why doesn’t Run To The Beat sponsor a community facility on its route? How about getting it to cough up for the Maryon Wilson Animal Park in Charlton, which is having trouble raising funds? Supporting the community rather than the council would be a way forward for an event with serious PR problems.

But instead, Run To The Beat has become emblematic of just how Greenwich Council under Chris Roberts has become arrogant, overbearing and more interested in big business than its residents. And until things change at the town hall, the race will always be a problem rather than a party.

For details about the Run To The Beat route and maps, click here and scroll down to ‘residents’. A residents’ helpline will be open until 2.30pm on 020 8233 5900, staffed by IMG and a council officer. If you have any issues, let your local councillor know – and it’s also worth copying in Greenwich Council chief executive Mary Ney on the email (firstname.surname@royalgreenwich.gov.uk).

Written by Darryl

7 September, 2013 at 9:37 pm

Double your money: Run To The Beat’s £20,000 council sweetener

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Run to the Beat sign in Wyndcliff Road, Charlton, 26 August 2013

Organisers of the controversial Run To The Beat race are already planning to give Greenwich Council £20,000 to host next year’s event – even though this year’s half-marathon still hasn’t been given licences by the authority.

Objections from residents, who face being shut in by the race’s circular route via Greenwich, Blackheath, Charlton and Woolwich on 8 September, mean that this year’s race has to face a licensing hearing for its sound stages this Wednesday at Woolwich Town Hall.

Those objections have meant that what Greenwich Council actually gets out of holding the half-marathon has been revealed – but those expecting a huge sum of money will be disappointed. In fact, local people get very little out of the event, which is run for profit by events conglomerate IMG.

In an email exchange between Charlton resident Anne Waite, objecting to the race, and IMG’s Clayton Payne, it emerges that the firm only gives the council £10,000 for holding the event – but is planning to double it from 2014, even though there’s been no public agreement for the event to continue beyond this year.

Mr Payne writes:

“It is our utmost wish that the local community engages in the event and it serves to support the local community… We are aware that at times the event poses disruption to the local area and to that effect we have doubled our resident and business communications for 2013.

“As a boost to the successful partnership between Greenwich Council and IMG (Organisers), IMG will give £10,000 to the Greenwich Council Sports legacy [sic] this year, and £20,000 from next year.”

Clayton Payne’s statement appears to contradict claims made by Greenwich Council’s environment cabinet member Maureen O’Mara last year, which indicated that the council didn’t have a long-term relationship with the organisers.

Greenwich West councillor O’Mara told a council meeting in October 2012:

“If this race is to return to the borough, it needs to be with residents fully understanding what’s going to happen in their streets, and what’s going to happen with licensing.

“And we need to think – well, what does this bring into the borough? I certainly don’t want go through again, the anguish of the past four weeks. We have to be absolutely clear about why Run To The Beat is here in the first place.

“If residents say they don’t want it, then we’ll have to talk to IMG about that.”

Yet no such consultation has taken place, despite O’Mara conceding that Run To The Beat “seems to create more trouble than the [London] Marathon” – possibly because the marathon causes inconvenience, it’s a not-for-profit event that’s known around the world and which draws huge crowds to pubs, restaurants and local shops. The same can’t be said for RTTB.

So how has Greenwich Council entered into what appears to be a long-term relationship with Run To The Beat’s organisers? This is a particularly baffling question as members of the local Labour Party, which is supposed to control the council, demanded a full consultation should take place before the race was repeated.

Will Maureen O’Mara, often spirited in council meetings, have the bottle to face those local party members to explain why their views don’t matter?

All this said, there has been an improvement in communications from RTTB, with reports of two information leaflets about the race (853 Towers, in the cut-off zone, has had one leaflet, copies of which can be downloaded from here), and there is a promise that roads will be re-opened earlier, largely down to a few local councillors defying O’Mara and kicking off about the issue. One leaflet even, for the first time, featured a map of local bus services, which will still be hugely disrupted.

Mind you, in his letter to runners, RTTB managing director James Robinson’s London geography suggests he may not even be aware what side of the Thames his race is on…

Run To The Beat competitors' leaflet

The Run To The Beat licence hearing is at 5.30pm on Wednesday at Woolwich Town Hall, and is open to the public. If you can’t make it, you can ask your local councillor to speak for you (I understand in Peninsula ward, Mary Mills is happy to speak for residents, and in Charlton, Gary Parker will do the same) – just get in touch with your councillor via the council website and see what they plan to do.

Written by Darryl

26 August, 2013 at 7:30 am

Ride London Freecycle – Good, but not good enough

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Ride London Freecycle, 3 August 2013

Like most of the good things Boris Johnson promotes, this is another one that actually started under the previous mayor. Yesterday’s Ride London Freecycle – once the London Freewheel – was great fun as ever.

But getting to the start at Tower Hill and back showed how far London has to go in really becoming a cycling city, and how little progress has been made since then. A weekend of two-wheeled fun is one thing, but the real hard work is in making sure the whole capital is a city fit for cycling.

On the way up there via Blackheath, I saw a cyclist wearing a Ride London bib pull out of Westbrook Road into Kidbrooke Park Road, a road which makes for hairy riding at the best of times. But he didn’t pull out onto the carriageway, he did a left onto the pavement and cycled up that instead. I couldn’t help wondering if he’d actually just taken a train to Blackheath rather than cycled all the way back.

I took a friend who was riding in London for the first time, and while cycling along the Thames Path isn’t the quickest way to get to central London, it’s certainly the most scenic and pleasant. And riding over Tower Bridge is usually great fun. It wasn’t yesterday, though – a bottleneck of traffic and a badly-parked ice cream van meant it was slow and unpleasant going – and this was the main route into the Freecycle for many from south of the river. On the other side, there were people wheeling their cycles back on the pavement, rather than taking on the traffic. I even saw a bike being carried on top of a car, but that could have been unrelated. Closing this iconic old bridge to motor traffic was clearly a step too far for a “cycling city”.

The Freecycle itself was great – it’s been made bigger, thankfully, cutting the bottlenecks of the past. Being surrounded by children having a whale of a time was something special. But while making loads of noise in the Blackfriars Underpass was fun, I saw a couple of nasty crashes – when it’s sunny outside the underpass, it takes a while for your eyes to adjust to the lack of light inside.

On the way back, we took one of the few genuine innovations that has done some good – Cycle Superhighway 3, through Wapping and Poplar, before swooping down through Cubitt Town to the Greenwich Foot Tunnel. It’s a step above the other cycle superhighways, but while linking the route up has been a good thing, CS3′s separated cycle lanes – and traffic signals – were there long before blue paint was slapped down.

Ride London Freecycle, 3 August 2013

How easy did Transport for London make it to get back from Ride London? By not bothering to adjust the traffic signals, long queues of cyclists built up at the end of Royal Mint Street, where they were only given eight seconds to cross Leman Street. Clearly TfL’s “smoothing traffic flow” only applies to those on four wheels.

For all the great fun of Ride London, including this weekend’s amazing sight of amateur and pro cyclists charging down the A12 and through the Docklands for the London Surrey Classic (next time, how about through the Blackwall Tunnel and out to the North Downs?) it’s not going to do a single thing to make the streets safer for cyclists.

At the moment I’m watching the BBC’s Ride London coverage, where an elected politician is being treated once again as a national treasure. “It’s a magnificient symbol of what we’re doing for cycling in this city,” Boris Johnson told an interviewer, unchallenged, less than a month after two cyclists were killed in a week in central London. If Michael Gove held a national spelling competition, he wouldn’t be allowed to get away with saying it was a symbol of what he was doing for education. So why does the mayor of London get away with it?

It’s easy to shut roads for a weekend’s pedalling party, but the real hard work is in making it easy for people to cycle to work, to school, to the shops. Maybe with the appointment of Andrew Gilligan as cycling commissioner, we will finally to get somewhere with this (except in the rotten borough of Greenwich). But until we see concrete evidence (or rather tarmac evidence), while Freewheel/Skyride/Freecycle will continue to be a success in its own right, it’ll also be a symbol of a wider failure.

Prudential Ride London website

Update 00.15 Monday: The Ride London website quotes Boris Johnson talking about 50,000 “amateur cyclists” on Saturday’s Freecycle – does that mean people who drive cars are “amateur motorists”? It’s very unlikely Johnson came up with those words himself, but this City Hall clanger won’t do any good in persuading people that cycling is a thing that normal people do to go to the shops or wherever.

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