Tagged: chris roberts

Want the biggest job in the borough of Greenwich? Apply now…

Woolwich Town Hall
Want to get your hands on Greenwich borough’s biggest job, plus a salary of at least £185,000? Get yourself to royalgreenwichchiefexecutive.com and see what’s on offer as Greenwich Council chief executive Mary Ney gets set to retire.

Ney’s approaching retirement has been well-known around the council for some time, and the quote given to the News Shopper’s Mark Chandler back in July when he asked to confirm the details – “this is old news” – pretty much sums up the petulant, entitled and secretive attitude that spread at the top of the council under her watch.

Ray Walker, Chris Roberts and Mary Ney

Ray Walker, Chris Roberts and Mary Ney

Recruited by former leader Chris Roberts shortly after he took over the council, Ney – a former head of Harrow social services – failed to act when alerted to the bullying culture within the council under Roberts and ex-chief whip Ray Walker’s watch.

Indeed, Ney is still trying to prevent the release of a document about bullying sent by a Greenwich councillor, a case that has now gone to a freedom of information tribunal.

Writing on his blog yesterday, former Labour councillor Alex Grant shines some light on the broken culture of what now calls itself ‘Royal Greenwich’:

“In my 16 years as a councillor in Greenwich I lost count of the number of times that hard-working councillors were told to look away from problems rather than scrutinise them.

“It was worryingly common for councillors who asked innocent questions about what the council was doing – either publicly or privately – to be shouted at, receive abusive voicemail messages, or even be officially ‘warned’ to shut up or face the consequences.

The problems I encountered in my time as a councillor in Greenwich [included] bullying, a culture of secrecy, discouraging councillors and members of staff from raising concerns, particularly about the council’s finances and use of resources.”

A new chief executive will be a bigger opportunity to flush out the old culture at Greenwich than the election of a new political leader – here’s hoping it’s an outside appointment. Alas, it doesn’t look like an offer’s gone out to share Lewisham’s hugely-respected chief executive, Barry Quirk.

Over at Lambeth, Derrick Anderson is also stepping down after turning around “London’s worst council” – wonder if he fancies a new challenge?

Berkeley Homes and Boris Johnson’s £500 ceremonial trowel

Back page of Meridian magazine, September 2014 edition
There’s an interesting feature in this week’s Economist about Berkeley Homes, the developer which had a great influence on Greenwich Council during the Chris Roberts years.

It’s not just interesting because it features “a local blogger” commenting on the former Dear Leader, who’s still in close contact with the council leadership, and his ownership of a Berkeley home on the Royal Arsenal development in Woolwich. It also features the revelation that Boris Johnson was given a £500 ceremonial trowel by Berkeley’s chairman, Tony Pidgeley, last summer. (He was also given a glass paperweight in October.) Johnson is, of course, responsible for strategic planning approval for developments such as the Arsenal (which is GLA land) and Kidbrooke Village. (Mind you, at least you can find Johnson’s gifts and hospitality on the City Hall website – try having a look for the equivalent on the Greenwich site.)

It’s not just Berkeley, it’s not just Greenwich, it’s not just Boris Johnson. Developers’ demands are weighing heavily on many London boroughs, but some are more eager to be associated with them than others. And Berkeley’s particularly good at gaining influence, especially as Pidgeley is also president of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (chair: Chris Roberts’ friend Mark Adams) which has been pushing heavily for the Silvertown Tunnel and Gallions Reach Bridge. Indeed, this written answer from Johnson to London Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon acknowledges the link between Berkeley and the LCCI.

Next month’s tall ships boondoggle will also feature another example of a developer wielding financial power – Barratt Homes, which is currently letting historic Enderby House rot away, is sponsoring the event and has its name on banners in Greenwich town centre. “Festival supporters” include Berkeley, Cathedral Group (Silvertown Tunnel supporter and Morden Wharf developer) and Knight Dragon (Greenwich Peninsula developer). Lots of lovely hospitality, no doubt.

It’s not just on tall ships where developers and councillors can get together. Earlier this summer Cathedral’s chief executive Richard Upton popped up at the unveiling of a tree dedicated to Vice Admiral Hardy at Devonport House, Greenwich, alongside Greenwich leader Denise Hyland and Lewisham’s deputy mayor Alan Smith. Cathedral owns Devonport House, alongside the Movement development by Greenwich station and the Deptford Project across the borough boundary. Naturally, it got a warm write-up in Greenwich Time.

So it’s worth keeping an eye on little things like this. As developers become more powerful, and with councils often unable to build their own housing, do we have representatives that can resist these charm offensives and fight for a good deal for us all?

Incidentally, the picture above is that of an ad for the latest phase of the Royal Arsenal – effectively, the flats that’ll pay for Berkeley’s contribution to the Crossrail station there. Note the little back-scratch for the mayor in the shape of a New Routemaster cruising along Beresford Street – in reality, it’s highly unlikely that the Roastmaster will ever make it to SE18.

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

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

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.

Residents launch fight against ‘planned chaos’ of Greenwich Ikea

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

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.

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

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.