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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 ‘chris roberts

Will Greenwich Council’s new boss be the same as the old boss?

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So, last week, Chris Roberts said his farewells as Dear Leader. I’m told he was still in his office at Woolwich Town Hall as the minutes ticked down until the end of his reign at 7pm last Wednesday. And as the effective editor of the council’s weekly newspaper, Greenwich Time, he got to pen his own farewell.

roberts_farewell

In case you were wondering, “leave this world a little better than you found it” is a quotation from Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scout movement.

More telling, though, from a politician closely associated with huge building projects, is “make no small plans, for they have no power to stir men’s souls”. That’s attributed to Daniel Burnham, a US architect who worked on some of the world’s earliest skyscrapers, including New York City’s Flatiron Building. Something to remember when Berkeley Homes’ huge towers start to loom over Woolwich in the next few years.

Possibly more telling than that, though, is a revealing comment he made at his final full council meeting in March, which you can listen to below. He’s heavily tipped to end up in some consultancy or advisory role, so until he re-emerges, let’s leave this as the last word.

He was paying tribute to departing councillors. But it was pretty clear he wasn’t talking about them when he said: “The service of the public is a noble calling, whether you’re doing it as a councillor or as an officer. No-one in a democracy does it for the money. It can be long, it can be tiring, but as we all know, it can be rewarding.

“It can result in people delving into your personal lives, and as we all know it’s full of journalists, bloggers and tweeters who think that your moral compass and motives are as base as theirs sometimes seem to be – and that public works and public good are something to be denigrated by those who seek to pursue them [sic].”

***

That was then, this is now.

Greenwich Time, 17 June 2014

The Dear Leader is no more, so congratulations and welcome to Denise Hyland as the new Greenwich Council leader, as trumpted by – where else? – Greenwich Time.

It’s lucky for Hyland that one of the more controversial projects under her past watch as regeneration cabinet member, the botched refurbishment of the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels, is finally nearing completion. Indeed, she’d also been saddled with fronting the council’s Bridge The Gap campaign to build the Silvertown Tunnel and a bridge at Gallions Reach – in spite of opposition from her own party.

The party members’ opposition meant Labour’s position in May’s election was subtly different. “Bridge The Gap is dead,” one Labour source insisted to me during the council election. And, indeed, look at what the Labour manifesto said…

Greenwich Labour manifesto, 2014

A little bit of wiggle room emerged. And Labour candidates were telling people on the doorstep that things had changed. Here’s Stephen Brain, now Peninsula ward councillor, on 23 April.

Stephen Brain on Twitter

But on 24 April, despite what was in the Labour party manifesto, here’s what Denise Hyland was telling Boris Johnson, responding to his London Plan

London Plan response, 24 April 2014

Was Denise Hyland just following orders? Here she is from the News Shopper last week:

“I’m saying that we need a package of river crossings, absolutely we do.

I’m not going to get drawn into over whether we’ll accept or refuse a single crossing. I want to work with my colleagues, my Labour colleagues in the majority group and get a consensus after we’ve seen the proposals.”

That sounds like Bridge The Gap is still alive.

“Of course I’m concerned about air quality. I think it’s obviously a very difficult balance. If we actually look at our figures, 85 per cent of people thought we needed additional river crossings. 76 per cent wanting Silvertown, 73 per cent wanting a bridge at Gallions. People seem to think that doing nothing is not an option.”

Let’s not forget that Greenwich Council tried to rig that consultation, of course. Perhaps the new chief whip, one Stephen Brain, needs to get his leader into line…

Generally, the News Shopper interview seemed to promise more of the same than anything new. When asked about opening up the council, she said “I obviously want ward councillors to be frontline councillors, they’re the representatives of the council in the community and they represent their people and its for them to channel people’s voices through to the council” – ie, they should do their job. From this early interview, don’t expect any move away from the current top-down decision-making any time soon.

Then again, her Greenwich Time “interview” talked up the importance of listening to communities – since the Shopper’s piece went up on the website on Friday, shortly before GT goes to press, I can’t help wondering if the piece underwent a hasty rewrite as the introductory paragraph doesn’t match the headline. After all, Hyland is now the effective editor of GT…

It’s early days, and Hyland has to get her feet under the table first. While Roberts’ chief executive, Mary Ney, remains in place, big changes are probably unlikely – although a new cohort of Labour councillors will want to make their presence felt.

But who has her old job of regeneration cabinet member, the most important on the council?

Danny ThorpeCuriously, the job didn’t go to an big hitter such as Jackie Smith, John Fahy or David Gardner – but to Danny Thorpe, the 30-year-old Shooters Hill councillor best known for spending a year of his first term in office in Australia. When a skint Thorpe had to return to London after six months to attend a council meeting to avoid a by-election being triggered, the council’s Labour group had to pay his air fare.

Thorpe, who used to work in events management for Hackney Council, will be juggling his cabinet portfolio with teacher training at a primary school in Dartford. You could always try to follow him on Twitter, but his profile’s locked. Mind you, the last time I saw it, it was full of photos of him and singer Beverley Knight.

Hyland and Thorpe are also both on the planning board along with ex-deputy leader Peter Brooks and ex-chief whip Ray Walker – so the old guard are still represented there.

There are other new faces in the new cabinet. Highly-rated newcomer Sizwe James takes business, employment and skills, while fellow new councillor Chris Kirby gets housing. Miranda Williams, in her second term, joins the cabinet as member for cultural and creative industries. Returning councillor David Gardner takes health and adult social care.

Maureen O’Mara stays in the cabinet, taking community wellbeing and public health; while Jackie Smith also stays in the cabinet, but loses her highly-praised role in charge of children’s services to take on community safety and environment. John Fahy now takes on children’s services as well as being deputy leader. The “Greener Greenwich” portfolio (created by Roberts after the Greens broke through as an electoral force in 2006) has been dumped, with Harry Singh talking charge of customer and community services.

Cynics never the changed the world, so this website won’t be writing the new team off just yet. Denise Hyland and her team need to prove they are better than the unravelling shambles that came before them – and they’ll need to pick up some of the pieces, too.

Of course, Greenwich councillors should be held to account for past actions, but those actions may not necessarily be an accurate prediction of the future. It’d be good to see a review of past contracts signed with developers – as Hammersmith & Fulham’s new Labour administration is carrying out after usurping a Tory regime that also looked a bit too close to builders – but frankly that won’t happen.

Those who kept their head down and did as they were told under a bullying, stifling regime need the chance to find their feet and prove to us they can make a difference. The way Greenwich borough is run desperately needs to change – will they be the ones to deliver?

PS. Former Labour councillor Alex Grant has started a blog – and if you’ve made it down this far, his first post will be essential reading. Former Tory councillor Nigel Fletcher has also returned to being a digital scribe, and his account of losing his seat is also well worth reading.

Royal barge farewell for Greenwich Council’s Dear Leader

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Steve Sutherland and Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts with Steve Sutherland, ambassador for the Charlton Athletic Community Trust, which runs the council’s youth services. (Picture from Steve’s Twitter feed.)

His former colleagues may have been tramping the streets in search of votes in today’s poll, but Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts decided to end his 14 years in charge in lavish style on Tuesday – with a cruise along the Thames on a royal barge.

Roberts and chums set off from St Katherine Docks on The Queen’s Row Barge Gloriana, which was the lead vessel in 2012’s diamond jubilee pageant.

Gloriana Facebook page

The Gloriana’s Facebook page describes the event as “The Royal Borough of Greenwich Row”, and was crewed by rowers from the Curlew and Globe rowing clubs, both based in Greenwich.

“Crews from Globe RC & Curlew RC rowed QRB from St. Katherine Docks through central London with Cllr Roberts and his guests on board celebrating his 14 years as Leader of the Greenwich Council – a splendid evening on the River Thames,” the Facebook page reads.

It’s not known who paid for the send-off (the council didn’t) although the barge was built as a tribute to the monarch by Roberts’ friend, Conservative peer Lord Sterling, the former chair of Royal Museums Greenwich. Sterling played a major role in obtaining royal borough status for Greenwich, which took effect in 2012.

Gloriana trip

While Roberts found time to mess around on the river, he didn’t find time last week to attend his last public commitment as council leader – to explain why he stepped down as director of the council-run company Meridian Home Start, days before quitting as a councillor. He went onto appointing his own successors to Meridian Home Start, including cabinet member Steve Offord.

Labour councillors objected to plans which would have converted the company to an industrial and provident society – similar to Greenwich Leisure Limited – complaining the council would no longer be able to scrutinise its activities, and that it would have effectively provided Roberts or one of his associates with a job for life.

It was even mooted that MHS, originally designed to provide intermediate-level housing, could take on the council’s entire housing stock, and even take the tender for the council’s Cleansweep street cleaning service.

Conservative councillors Spencer Drury and Nigel Fletcher “called in” the decision to appoint the new directors, but Roberts failed to show, leaving chief executive Mary Ney to answer questions – or not answer them, as Fletcher tweeted:

So the Dear Leader has been rowed off into the sunset – and the polling stations have just opened for today’s council election. Will the new council be any more open than Roberts’ administration? Your vote will help decide – use it wisely.

Mary Ney and Peter Brooks

Thursday 7.40pm update: A new picture has emerged on Twitter which (just about) shows Greenwich Council chief executive Mary Ney on the barge (see left), and Roberts’ deputy Peter Brooks (centre), parachuted into the outgoing leader’s Glyndon seat after his sudden decision to resign. Brooks is competing against John Fahy in the contest to be deputy leader in the new administration.

Written by Darryl

22 May, 2014 at 7:00 am

Residents launch fight against ‘planned chaos’ of Greenwich Ikea

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Greenwich Sainsbury's, 14 April 2014
Recognise the green space above? It’s the little eco-garden behind Sainsbury’s in Greenwich, which is due for demolition along with the supermarket if Ikea’s plans to build a store here go ahead.

It’s also going to be where the No Ikea Greenwich Peninsula campaign will be launching with a picnic a week on Saturday (12 noon, 26 April), to fight against the arrival of a store which it’s feared will generate huge weekend traffic jams.

Greenwich Council gave the scheme outline planning permission last month, with planning board members Denise Hyland, Steve Offord, Clive Mardner, chief whip Ray Walker and council leader Chris Roberts ignoring over an hour of public criticism to endorse the proposal, after it was rushed through the planning process.

Campaigners have already sent a blistering open letter to outgoing leader Roberts, branding the site “clearly unsuitable for a standard Ikea store”, adding: “This is not responsible planning; this is planned chaos.”

This would be the first Ikea store in a congested residential area and the only Ikea in a Royal Borough. When Greenwich was granted Royal Borough status in 2012, you visited local primary schools to celebrate, handing out commemorative coins. Only two years later, you cave in to the pressure of an out-of-town furniture retail giant, wilfully disregarding the health of its residents and the impact this development would have on both the Unesco heritage site and the Greenwich Millennium Village.

We will not rest in our efforts to make the public aware of your actions and to use every means possible to put a stop to this outline planning consent going ahead.

The campaign has Facebook page while a a petition to Boris Johnson, who has to ratify Greenwich Council’s controversial decision to give the store outline planning consent, has also been set up.

Roberts announced his intention to not seek re-election as a councillor last Friday, and the council has now gone into purdah ahead of 22 May’s election – essentially, the council must avoid controversial issues and leave those to the political parties fighting he election.

But there’s clearly a rush to get something through planning ahead of Roberts’ departure – a previously-unscheduled planning board meeting has been called for 6 May, just 16 days before the poll.

In 2010, the last planning board meeting was six weeks before the poll, and the gap was five weeks in 2006. With future council policy somewhat uncertain following Roberts’ departure, and a whole load of big schemes being rubber-stamped over recent weeks, it’ll be interesting to see just what’s being rushed through on 6 May.

8.45am update: Boris Johnson’s office has told the protesters he will not intervene to overturn Greenwich Council’s decision to support the planned Ikea store.

The Dear Leader resigns: Chris Roberts leaves Greenwich Council

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Chris RobertsGreenwich Council leader Chris Roberts is to quit the authority altogether at next month’s council election, he’s announced in an email to councillors.

Roberts, who was first elected to the council in the 1990s and became leader in 2000, had previously announced he would stand down as leader but seek re-election in Glyndon ward.

But in recent months he had been bogged down in accusations of bullying, and last year this website first revealed a threatening message left on the voicemail of his cabinet colleague John Fahy.

This website understands that Roberts resigned as a director of council company Meridian Home Start after clashing with Labour councillors about the firm’s role.

Roberts’ resignation email in full:

Dear Colleague

I wrote in February last year to advise that it was not my intention to seek re-election as Leader of the Royal Borough of Greenwich following this year’s local elections in May.

The administration held its final Council meeting at the end of March and on Monday the formal period of election ‘purdah’ commences.

I am therefore writing to you now to advise that it is not in fact my intention to seek election to the Council at all. I believe the presence of a previous leader in the new administration, especially one who has held the post as long as I have, is unfair on any successor.

When I wrote last year, I expressed the hope that we would be able to complete the work necessary to secure the Crossrail station at Woolwich. This we were able to announce last July.

Our work on Crossrail was itself a crucial element of our growth agenda which has also seen the development of four new development master plans backed by targeted intervention by the Council to stimulate economic activity and generate employment.

These include commitments over the next four years to build a new leisure centre in the heart of Woolwich, a new cinema in Eltham High Street, a performing arts centre in the Borough Halls at Greenwich and the expansion of pier capacity at Greenwich, Woolwich, Charlton and Thamesmead.

In addition the Council is primed to finance up to £30m of investment in the expansion of school places to meet the growing demand of our population as well as securing more than 450 genuinely affordable homes to be built on the Greenwich Peninsula for those in greatest need.

Of course the final year of this administration has been overshadowed by the awful murder of Lee Rigby and marks the lowest point of my entire period as Leader. I am relieved at least that his killers were so swiftly brought to justice. I hope this, alongside the outpouring of support and thanks for Lee’s service to his country, provides some small measure of condolence to his family.

During this last year, I am particularly proud of the progress we have made in moving people off benefits and into work. A coherent and coordinated approach has enabled hundreds of families locally move into employment.

Our programmes for growth and anti-poverty have been recognised nationally, as indeed is our continuing strong record of financial management. None of the projects I have referred to above require additional support from the Council Tax payer.

We have frozen Council Tax seven years in a row and the Council’s finances have been left in a robust state which will enable this to be maintained during the four year life of the next Council.

I remain enormously grateful for having had the honour to serve as Leader of this Borough. As I write last year, I have been blessed with an extraordinary collection of Council officers who have embraced the agenda I have set, even when that agenda keeps expanding.

The same is true of the remarkable women who have worked in my personal office and given so much by way of support and help to me.

I was grateful for the huge number of kind messages I received to my message last year and while some have kindly canvassed my candidature for London or Westminster, it has always been my wish to ‘do’ something rather than ‘be’ something.

I have greatly valued the support and commitment of our wide and expanding array of partners to working with, for or alongside Greenwich during my time as Leader.

I trust this will continue and that my successor when she is elected in June will be equally blessed and that the work we have each committed to on behalf of the people of Royal Greenwich will continue into the future.

Yours faithfully
Chris Roberts
Leader, Royal Borough of Greenwich

Roberts’ resignation now opens the way for one of his close associates, such as current deputy leader Peter Brooks, to be parachuted into the Glyndon seat ahead of Monday’s close of nominations for the elections. It could be an interesting weekend in the Greenwich Labour Party.

A new council leader will be chosen by councillors in June. Roberts’ use of the word “she” would appear to confirm suggestions that cabinet members Denise Hyland and Jackie Smith are front-runners.

Written by Darryl

11 April, 2014 at 1:23 pm

Return of the high-rises: Kidbrooke Village’s 31-storey tower

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Kidbrooke Village phase 3

Thought demolishing the Ferrier Estate would rid Kidbrooke of tower blocks? Think again – these are the first images of the 31-storey tower planned as a new centrepiece for the Kidbrooke Village development, currently being built by Berkeley Homes.

Kidbrooke Village tower proposalThe plans for the third phase of the Kidbrooke Village development were revealed at an exhibition earlier this month, and the information boards have now been published online.

The centrepiece is a 31-storey “landmark residential tower”, surrounded by “pocket towers” of 8 to 15 storeys high. There would be restaurant/cafe and retail space at the foot of the tower, which would provide 143 homes.

Berkeley’s plan would supersede the existing scheme which limits the towers to 15 storeys, which itself replaced a plan keeping them at nine storeys.

The tower replaces plans for a hotel and “is designed to create a vertical community, able to live and enjoy recreation through the provision of well-orientated common areas and amenity spaces”.

It would also be the tallest building for miles around – beaten locally only by Deptford’s Convoys Wharf, which would boast a 40-storey tower.

The Kidbrooke tower would equal the highest tower planned for Greenwich Peninsula, which would have 31 storeys. Berkeley has permission for 21-storey towers in Woolwich, Lewisham’s completed Renaissance Tower is 24 storeys high while Deptford’s Distillery Tower weighs in at 27 storeys.

The presentation also details plans for blocks of eight to 18 storeys on land close to Blackheath’s Cator Estate, a conservation area.

The scheme would add would add a further 877 new homes to Kidbrooke Village, taking the total to over 5,000, making it denser than the original Ferrier Estate. There’s no word on how many of these homes will be “affordable” or for social rent – the scheme was due, overall, to deliver 38% “affordable” housing.

But transport infrastructure changes are minimal – with a new Kidbrooke rail station (but the same old service) and a partial reversal of the bus cuts which took place last summer – with TfL already planning to re-route the B16 bus back into the eastern side of the development. But there’s no sign of any serious upgrades to local transport.

Land Registry entriesEltham-based community magazine SE Nine, which revealed the plans a couple of weeks ago, reports the proposals “could only have been put forward with the tacit approval of senior councillors and officers” at Greenwich Council – although with the final planning board ahead of May’s election due to meet on 9 April, it looks too late to squeeze it through before the poll, Ikea-style, as no planning application has yet been submitted.

But the close links between council leader Chris Roberts and Berkeley Homes can’t be denied – the leader likes its Royal Arsenal development so much, he bought one of the flats in 2009 (see Land Registry record above). Last year, Berkeley helped Roberts’ campaign for a Silvertown Tunnel. And in January this year, the council’s weekly newspaper Greenwich Time published this odd letter about Berkeley’s charitable arm…

Greenwich Time, 7 January 2014

Pleasant and approachable, eh? Clearly this was an attempt to deflect some of the bullying accusations against the leader. Yet Chris Roberts’ exercise in vanity begins to look foolish when you remember how closely his council’s ambitions for Kidbrooke Village depend on Berkeley’s financial position.

According to a confidential report passed to this website, in December 2012, a year before Roberts’ bash, both Greenwich Council and London mayor Boris Johnson agreed to waive their rights to a share of some sales profits from the scheme after Berkeley complained of an £83 million shortfall. In return, the housebuilder would start work on the “village centre” which it said would make the scheme viable.

Cabinet member Denise Hyland – widely thought to be Roberts’ preferred successor if he stands down after May’s poll – backed the move, and a few months, one Sainsbury’s Local and a housing boom later, the place was in rude health once again. If this is the kind of tough decision about a developer your council has to make, it’s not wise to be buddying up with them in public.

As a private firm, Berkeley is only doing its job, getting the best possible return for its shareholders. But is Greenwich Council up to the challenge of doing the same for its residents? We’ll see in the weeks and months to come in the way it deals with the giant tower of Kidbrooke.

Written by Darryl

17 March, 2014 at 7:30 am

Greenwich Council ignores locals and backs new Ikea store

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Woolwich Road, 22 February 2014

The planning board ignored worries about traffic congestion on the Woolwich Road

Greenwich Council’s planning board ignored well over an hour of public criticism last night to back outline plans by furniture giant Ikea to build a store in east Greenwich.

The seven-strong board split on party lines to endorse the proposal, with the council’s Labour leader Chris Roberts among the five members backing the scheme – despite Labour councillors and candidates joining opponents to speak out. The two Conservatives opposed the scheme.

The decision is just an outline approval – Ikea will have to return to the council at a later date with detailed plans before construction can go ahead on the site currently occupied by the “eco-friendly” Sainsbury’s store, which is relocating to Charlton.

Greenwich planning officers said Ikea was considering subsidising delivery for those who use public transport to get to the store, although neither they nor Ikea representatives were clear about what this would mean.

Members of the public spoke for an hour and quarter on the scheme, with nobody supporting it. Opponents included Labour councillors Mary Mills and Alex Grant.

“So many people have got in touch with me – there’s so much wrong with this, I can’t go into detail,” Peninsula councillor Mills said.

“When I was elected 14 years ago, it seemed as if Greenwich had taken on board sustainability. It seems like we’re running away from that now.”

Blackheath Westcombe councillor Alex Grant also recalled approving the original Sainsbury’s scheme as “a rookie councillor”, branding traffic predictions “nonsense”. He suggested Ikea be invited to select a more suitable site.

Greenwich & Woolwich parliamentary candidate Matt Pennycook acknowleged the promised 400 jobs – “the people who will benefit are not in this room” – but added he was “extremely concerned” about traffic and pollution.

“Too much rests on underlying assumptions which may not be realised,” he told the planning board.

Greenwich Council planning board, 3 March 2014

One resident of Greenwich Millennium Village told the board: “Common sense tells me this will be a nightmare for the area if it goes ahead. We’re not an out-of-town shopping centre, we’re a thriving community.”

Other residents questioned why Ikea was unwilling to compromise its business model, with one pointing out that the store operates a car-free model in Hong Kong.

Charlton Society chair (and Labour council candidate) David Gardner questioned why Ikea aimed for 35% of visitors using public transport in Greenwich, when the Croydon store – which lies off a tram line – only has 28%.

Another local resident, Martin Stanforth, said the Croydon Ikea could not cope with the traffic, adding: “Our streets are not designed for massive amounts of traffic.

“You cannot approve this store until you’ve been to Ikea Croydon on a Saturday afternoon. What’s your legacy going to be?”

But councillors on the board were unmoved – indeed, regeneration cabinet member Denise Hyland asked planning officers from the start of the meeting how the council could enforce conditions if the application was approved.

Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts said he was aiming to reverse the legacy of 1980s car-centric development – but backed the scheme regardless.

Abbey Wood Labour councillor Clive Mardner backed the scheme, emphasising the importance of working with local people and adding: “I assume they’re taking on board air quality.”

Both Conservative councillors on the board opposed the scheme. Blackheath Westcombe councillor Geoff Brighty called the traffic predictions “laughable”.

Veteran colleague Dermot Poston (Eltham North) called the existing Sainsbury’s store “revolutionary” and “beautiful” – which led to him being accused of “playing to the gallery” by Roberts in a meeting which is supposed to be non-partisan.

Poston also questioned the lack of environmental impact assessment, and accused the council of arrogance for ignoring the 20th Century Society’s application to have the Sainsbury’s building listed.

But in the end, the board appeared determined to back the scheme – no matter how shaky the case, or how much Chris Roberts’ own Labour councillors and candidates opposed it.

For tweets from last night’s planning board, take a look at this Storify page.

Votes for: Steve Offord (Lab, Abbey Wood/ housing cabinet member), Clive Mardner (Lab, Abbey Wood), Denise Hyland (Lab, Abbey Wood/ regeneration cabinet member), Chris Roberts (Lab, Glyndon/ council leader), Ray Walker (Lab, Eltham West/ chief whip).
Votes against: Geoff Brighty (Con, Blackheath Westcombe), Dermot Poston (Con, Eltham North)

Written by Darryl

4 March, 2014 at 6:30 am

Listen to a Greenwich Council meeting – just a few months late

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Some people have strange hobbies. They might collect odd things, or have peculiar enthusiasms. Me, I go to Greenwich Council meetings. I often even ask questions, because it’s the only way I’ll find things out.

Actually, it’s not that strange. We all should take an interest in how we’re governed. We can watch, and be depressed by, Prime Minister’s Questions each week. But in the borough of Greenwich, there’s no such facility for us to do the same for our own local council. Yes, we can trot along to Woolwich Town Hall to take in a showcase full council meeting, study scrutiny panels, or watch planning decisions being made. But for most people, real life gets in the way.

Greenwich Council meeting, 30 October 2013

Greenwich has resisted any form of recording or broadcast of its meetings, despite pushes for openness from both the government and the Labour party at Westminster.

I’ve sneakily recorded bits of meetings in the past, and they’ve seemed popular, even though to be frank, the quality’s crap. Woolwich Town Hall is due to undergo a £1.5m refurbishment soon, which will – in part – attempt to fix some of the notoriously bad acoustics in the committee rooms.

But even then, there’s no promise to start webcasting meetings, as Camden does. Here’s cabinet member Denise Hyland last month: “The proposal for the refurbishment of the Town Hall does include the delivery of improved meeting facilities for the public, and [we] will investigate the use of such technologies. However the decision regarding broadcasting committee meetings has yet to be considered by the Council.”

Last October’s council meeting was a particularly dramatic one, as the row over Greenwich Council’s pavement tax came to a head, and allegations over the leadership style of Chris Roberts were raised. But how to get hold of a decent recording?

The answer, as ever, came in the Freedom of Information Act. Greenwich Council records each meeting so minutes can be taken. Could I get hold of one of these recordings?

So, on 10 November, I emailed the council. On 12 February, three months later, I finally got the response I wanted – the council was going to send me a CD. I got it last week – it contains a 3-hour MP3 of the full meeting, from start to finish. The quality is crisp and clear, except for contributions from independent councillor Eileen Glover, whose microphone was switched off the whole way through. One of her (silent) contributions has been cut out, as well as one of the two short adjournments – otherwise, this is the whole thing.

Greenwich Time, 5 NovemberNow the council’s found a way to convert its recordings to MP3, there’s no reason why it can’t do this for future meetings – such as this week’s one.

But in the meantime, here’s the council meeting of 30 October 2013, broken up into chunks. You can read all you like about what goes on at the council, and get a gutful of mine and other people’s opinions, but this will give you an insight into just how the Labour council leadership defends and promotes its policies, and how the Conservative opposition group holds them to account.

The recording may be nearly four months old, but the issues are still current – particularly the pavement tax, a belated consultation into which has recently opened. Indeed, I’d recommend listening to part 6, and comparing it with the way the council’s weekly newspaper, Greenwich Time (that week’s cover pictured on the right) covered it.

COUNCIL – WEDNESDAY 30 OCTOBER 2013, 7.00PM (See full agenda and minutes)
Silent parts in the recording are where Councillor Eileen Glover’s microphone was not switched on.


PART 1. Apologies for absence, minutes, mayor’s announcements, declarations of interest, petitions.
This includes mayor Angela Cornforth mentioning that a request had been made to film the meeting “by a commercial operator”. This was for the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme, on bullying allegations against Chris Roberts, aired in December and made by Juniper TV. It also includes Peninsula councillor Mary Mills handing in the 2,500-strong pavement tax petition.


PART 2. Public questions. (See written answers to questions.)
Here, questions can be asked by members of the public if they’re submitted at least a week in advance. If you turn up, you get to ask a supplementary – and these are what you hear here. Includes questions on the pavement tax, Run To The Beat and the Silvertown Tunnel.


PART 3. Questions from members. (See written responses.)
A similar format to the public questions, except from councillors. These are almost always from opposition councillors. Includes questions on council computer system issues, publishing recordings of council meetings, Silvertown Tunnel, severe weather preparations, car parking income, war memorials, Well Hall Pleasaunce, Andrew Gilligan, Blackheath fireworks and zero hours contracts.


PART 4. Oral questions to members of the cabinet.
More questions from councillors. Includes the pavement tax (including Chris Roberts’ admission of “informal” cabinet meetings), storm damage, World War I huts in a school in Eltham, and Denise Hyland declaring: “A group that calls itself ‘No to Silvertown‘ is hardly independent, is it?”


PART 5. Petition responses.
A member of the public speaks on speeding traffic on Westcombe Hill, Blackheath. Includes debate on Charlton Lido parking and speeding traffic on Sparrows Lane in New Eltham.


PART 6. Motion on the ‘street trading policy’ (pavement tax). (motion text)
Conservative and Labour councillors debate the controversial tax on shops placing items on the pavement outside their premises, and the way it was introduced. Worth a listen, and also worth seeing how council weekly Greenwich Time covered the debate.


PART 7. Labour motion on “management of public services by the Mayor of London and the Coalition Government”. (see motion text)
Chris Roberts lays into the Tories. Spencer Drury says “it reflects some brass neck”, and issues a sarcastic amendment about Roberts’ “interpersonal skills”.


PART 8. Revised code of conduct, Treasury management report, council functions on scrap metal dealers, “changes to the executive functions scheme of delegation”.
The dry drudgery of regular council business. But it picks up at the end, as opponents claim constant tinkering with the way the council works makes it harder to track just what the council is doing. Includes Eileen Glover having a pop at her former Conservative colleagues (well, it would if her mic was switched on).


PART 9. Labour motion on smoking and tobacco control.
Charlton councillor Janet Gillman speaks.


PART 10. Conservative motion on culture of politics in Greenwich. (see full item)
This motion followed comments made about the way Greenwich Council is run made by Greenwich West councillor (and now parliamentary candidate) Matt Pennycook and Lewisham councillor Kevin Bonavia, which themselves followed allegations of bullying in the Labour group. Notably, Pennycook does not speak in the debate. It proposes changes to the council’s scrutiny functions.


PART 11. Conservative motion calling for secret ballots for council leader.
Another motion designed to smoke out allegations of bullying in Greenwich’s Labour group. Mayor Angela Cornforth withdrew the motion “for further consideration”. It has not yet re-emerged.

So, there were are. Audio of a Greenwich Council meeting has been published. And nobody’s been hurt by it. I’ve also asked for recordings of the past two meetings, which I can only assume Greenwich is sitting on, now it knows how to convert these to MP3 – it’s made a habit of being late with responding to Freedom of Information requests, particularly those which cause it difficulty.

But when they come, if people find this recording useful, I’ll be happy to publish them here.

Written by Darryl

25 February, 2014 at 6:30 am

Will Labour be the party to reform Greenwich Council?

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Greenwich Council meeting, 29 January 2014

This Guardian website comment piece caught my eye…

“The public think Westminster is dominated by a London-centric, elite class but they are also not oblivious to the fact that a municipal mafia frequently dominates their town halls. These are often run by an elite which even backbench councillors can’t penetrate never mind the public.

“I know of councils that still refuse to allow their full council meetings to be filmed. Senior councillors who avoid social media like the plague and cabinet members who actively avoid or aren’t capable of interacting with the media. Open and accessible politics it isn’t. (more)

You’d think it was written about Greenwich, wouldn’t you? Interestingly, the piece was written by Simon Danczuk, Labour MP for Rochdale and a member of the local government select committee. And he must have known that his own party has a fair few councils like that.

Do pieces like this suggest Labour’s getting set to reform councils like Greenwich? Danczuk is only a backbench MP, so it’s hard to say. But it’s good to know that at least some MPs are aware of what’s going on and are prepared to speak up.

Funnily enough, I’m told a former business partner of Danczuk, one Oswin Baker, was the chair of the Greenwich & Woolwich Labour Party who helped Chris Roberts to power way back in 2000. It’s funny how things turn out.

Chris Roberts in Greenwich Time

Speaking of the council leader, he’s barely been seen since the year began. He’s not been seen at a council meeting, nor has he been fulfilling his Labour party duties. Roberts is known for “going missing” from time to time, but this spell of absence has raised eyebrows.

In particular, he didn’t show for a scrutiny panel meeting last week, leaving chief executive Mary Ney to stand in for him. Since very little goes ahead at Greenwich Council without his say-so, rumour mills have gone into overdrive. He’s even not been seen in the past two editions of Greenwich Time (last appearance shown above).

There’s a new GT out today, a planning board tonight, and a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, so he may well reappear. But with elections due soon, Roberts’ own future undecided and potential successors quietly jockeying for position, these are strange times at Woolwich Town Hall. Well, stranger than usual, anyway…

(Real life’s got in the way of this website lately, but if you’re looking for some decent local reading, I can recommend From The Murky Depths on more iffy-looking Peninsula developments (which go to planning tonight), and new site Blackheath Revolt on the Blackheath Society.)

Written by Darryl

17 February, 2014 at 7:30 am

Blackheath fireworks: Senior Greenwich councillor breaks ranks

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Greenwich Council cabinet member John Fahy has broken ranks on his council’s refusal to help fund the annual Blackheath fireworks display by declaring it should fund the event.

Since 2010, Lewisham Council has been left alone to raise funds for the annual event, which straddles the boundary of the two boroughs, after Greenwich pulled its £37,000 funding.

The issue has strained relationships between the two neighbouring administrations, despite them both being run by the Labour Party.

Fahy has published a post on his blog in which he declares:

Blackheath Fireworks is one of the largest community events in London. It attracts large numbers of residents from Greenwich and elsewhere. Local restaurants and businesses benefit from the number attending. It has a major impact on reducing the number of home firework parties and reduces any potential safety issues in the home. Families can enjoy the event in a safe environment.

“Clearly Local Government has many pressures on limited resources but supporting community events is extremely important. We spend significant resources on our Festivals and rightly so. Getting together with a neighbouring Borough builds positive relationships and I fully support Greenwich making a contribution to secure the long term future of the event.”

Fahy, who’s Greenwich Council’s cabinet member for health and older people, also links to a poll where he seeks to “test the views of the wider community” on the issue.

In October 2010, council deputy leader Peter Brooks claimed it would be “inappropriate in this financial climate” to cough up the £37,000 needed to co-fund the event.

“I could give 65 million reasons why we didn’t pay,” Brooks told a council meeting in October 2010, referring to government cuts in the council’s budget. “£37,000 is equivalent to a job and a bit.”

At the same time, Greenwich was spending £30,000 a year on private parties to inaugurate its ceremonial mayors. Thamesmead Moorings councillor Brooks also told the same council meeting that “it’s very difficult to get to Blackheath from my ward” – despite the fact there’s a direct bus, route 380.

Since then, Greenwich spent £20,000 last year on fireworks to promote the Sail Royal Greenwich event, and a further £110,000 on events to mark becoming a royal borough in 2012.

Despite Greenwich’s refusal, Lewisham has continued to raise funds for the event, even though it’s also had its budget slashed by the coalition, by seeking sponsorship from firms and donations from locals – indeed, it was Greenwich resident Douglas Parrant who started 2013’s display after buying tickets in a Lewisham Council-run raffle.

But after last year’s event, Lewisham councillors were told fundraising had fallen £30,000 short – and the council would be approaching Greenwich to help it fund 2014’s display.

Greenwich’s refusal to help out is especially embarrassing for the council’s Labour colleagues in Lewisham, who have pledged to protect the display in past election campaigns.

Of course, there’s some context to this surrounding the poisonous atmosphere in Greenwich Labour.

It’s worth pointing out that Fahy appeared to have slightly different views on the issue in October 2011….

…although it’s well-known within Greenwich Council circles that cabinet members don’t write their own responses – indeed, they often come from council leader Chris Roberts.

When Fahy stood against Roberts for the leadership of the council in 2012, he lost his role as cabinet member for leisure and literally found himself airbrushed out of Greenwich’s weekly propaganda paper, Greenwich Time:

airbrush_greenwich_time

And, as everybody knows now, Fahy was also subjected to this threatening voicemail from Roberts last autumn:

I expect Fahy might have his phone switched off for a few days. To read what he has to say and vote on whether you think Greenwich Council should fund Blackheath fireworks, head on over to his website.

Written by Darryl

30 January, 2014 at 10:48 am

Will Charlton’s pitch problems flush out ground move?

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valley01

There’s a new owner at Charlton Athletic – but the scale of the rebuilding job facing Belgian businessman Roland Duchâtelet became apparent yesterday when the team’s match against Barnsley was postponed less than two hours before kick-off due to ongoing problems with The Valley pitch.

But Charlton fans should be vigilant that the current problems with the pitch aren’t used as a pretext to move the club out of its historic home.

Last year, it was reported that the club was in talks with Greenwich Council about moving out of The Valley for a new stadium, to be built at Morden Wharf on the west side of Greenwich Peninsula, on land currently owned by developer Cathedral Homes. The club’s old site would become social housing, under this scheme.

What’s been unclear, though is where the impetus for the scheme has come from – whether it came from within the club, or from outside.

But what is known is that Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts was a frequent visitor at matches under the ownership of Michael Slater and Tony Jimenez, where he could be seen enjoying hospitality in the directors’ box.

Slater and Jimenez took over at Charlton at the end of 2010. They installed Chris Powell as manager, and secured the funds to secure promotion back to the Championship in 2012. But after that the funds dried up.

The pitch problems at The Valley are a symptom of that trouble. The club admits part of the drainage system has collapsed, and this can’t be rectified until the end of the season. No significant work has taken place on the pitch for years – and the end result of that neglect was Saturday’s fiasco.

Now Slater and Jimenez are on their way out, to be replaced by Roland Duchâtelet, owner of Belgian sides Standard Liege and Sint-Truidense, one-time East German giants FC Carl-Zeiss Jena and Spanish second division team AD Alcorcón. Quite a collection of clubs. He also fronts a small liberal political party in Belgium.

Greenwich Council press reelaseDuchâtelet has installed aide Katrien Meire onto Charlton’s board, but before they could get their feet under the table, a little charm offensive was launched from Greenwich Council.

“Royal Borough welcomes new Charlton Athletic owners,” trilled a press release on 3 January, adding ominously: “The borough will work with the new owners to further strengthen the Club.”

Oddly, Chris Roberts seems to be in a very small band of people who believes that Michael Slater and Tony Jimenez helped Charlton “progress”.

Councillor Chris Roberts, Leader of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, said: “The Council would like to welcome the new owners of Charlton Athletic Football Club to the Borough. At the same time, we would also like to place on record our thanks to the previous owners for the progress made by the Club during their tenure in which they secured promotion to the Championship.”

It’s a very, very odd statement – yes, Slater and Jimenez helped Charlton return to its natural level in the Championship. But the club haemorrhaged senior staff under their regime, and by all accounts was facing serious financial problems before its sale. Hopefully yesterday’s events will encourage football journalists to investigate their record a little more thoroughly.

So what exactly was Roberts thanking Slater and Jimenez for? For being receptive to a proposal to move ground, perhaps? We don’t know, but previous chairman Richard Murray (who returns to his role under Duchâtelet) didn’t get that kind of herogram when he sold up, despite all his achievements.

Neither did the council make any noise when it declared The Valley an asset of community value last November, which would put a six-month block on any sale. Why was that?

Charlton Athletic, 9 January 2014

If Roberts is putting pressure on Charlton to move, then he’s now got to start again with Roland Duchâtelet and Katrien Meire. Will they be receptive? Nobody knows, but Duchâtelet did refer to The Valley as “a cherished stadium” in a statement to fans last week.

Greenwich Council has denied any formal discussions have taken place over a move. An answer to a Freedom of Information Act request made last year would only say:

“Occasional discussions have taken place between representatives of the Council and CAFC going back over many years. These discussions have included reference to the Club’s aspiration to stay in, or return to the Premiership, and as a result have included reference to the size and capacity of the existing stands and constraints on expansion posed by the physical limitations of the existing site. The discussions have been informal and conversational in nature, and have not been of a substantive nature.”

It’s very easy to make an educated guess that Greenwich Council is encouraging Charlton to move under the pretext that the ground is knackered. It then gets a high-profile occupant for a stadium on the peninsula, while social housing which would otherwise have been built up there gets shunted into Charlton. It’s a conspiracy theory, but with the lack of anything on the record, it’s one which makes sense.

Typically, not even those connected with Greenwich Labour know quite what Roberts’ intentions are towards Charlton. Even those who support the club seem hazy on the plans.

But a conversation I had with one yesterday worried me. “If there’s a continuing sense The Valley is awful, it makes the argument to move easier,” I was told.

Yet there is nothing wrong with The Valley. The pitch hasn’t been maintained properly, but that’s a management failure, not a failure of location. Indeed, The Valley was known as one of the best pitches in the country a decade ago. And it can be that way again.

If there’s an argument for moving, it surrounds the The Valley’s limited room for expansion. But with The Valley not even two-thirds full at present – and Greenwich Council having previously backed past expansion plans – that isn’t an issue.

Fixing the pitch should be relatively cheap. But perhaps the embarrassment of the postponement, and the way it was mishandled by the club might prompt Duchâtelet to show his hand on the long-term future of Charlton Athletic.

It’s 24 years since Charlton fans formed the Valley Party to fight Greenwich Council on the issue of the club playing at its traditional home. Nearly a quarter of a century on, it may well be time for a new generation to become just as vigilant and proactive towards the council’s intentions for Floyd Road.

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