Posts Tagged ‘denise hyland’
Odd goings-on at a meeting of Greenwich Council last night. It should have been an important night if you live in the riverside part of Charlton, as a long-standing application to build a new Sainsbury’s store on Woolwich Road, on the site of the old Wickes branch, was to have been have been approved or rejected.
In short, Sainsbury’s has run out of space in its Greenwich store, and would like to open a new store half a mile down the road, to the same environmental principles as its 13-year-old current branch.
Marks & Spencer would take up space in the building too, and developer LXB – which has bought up much of the Charlton retail space – has spent a lot of time wooing local residents’ groups and pledging that it’ll bring a bit of life back to the Woolwich Road.
The planning application was submitted in May, and these things are meant to take 13 weeks to come to a decision. In “Royal” Greenwich, this actually took until the penultimate day of November to be scheduled for a decision.
But that wasn’t enough. Four days after Woolwich’s new mega-Tesco opened, on the night of the meeting, Greenwich Council’s planning board decided to delay the Sainsbury’s application even further. But why?
Apparently, a site visit was needed. Even though this is a prominent site, sat between two A-roads, and a visit could have been arranged at any time within the past five months. Also, a “retail impact assessment” was required – but why couldn’t have been done in the five months it took this application to come before the planning board? After all, it’s 13 months since a councillor voiced reservations on he effect this would have on Woolwich.
All of this came as a surprise to the council’s planning officers, but it was to no avail – Sainsbury’s application, submitted in May, was booted well into the long grass.
How did this happen? Well, there was an exchange of scribbled notes, which started with regeneration cabinet member Denise Hyland (of foot tunnels fame), and involved council leader Chris Roberts, planning director Steve Pallett and planning chair Ray Walker. And then, mysteriously, the item was struck off the agenda.
Incidentally, across the road from Woolwich Town Hall, and a couple of miles from the Sainsbury’s site, a new mega-Tesco has just opened. Tesco built the council’s new HQ as part of the deal, and council leader Chris Roberts has spoken warmly about the job opportunities the new store has brought.
Wisely, though, as a member of the planning board, Chris Roberts didn’t appear in the photos marking the store’s opening on Monday – leaving that to mayor David Grant, MP Nick Raynsford and Abbey Wood-based Olympian Zoe Smith, with a cheque from Tesco to the council’s charity.
But despite his endorsements of Tesco in Woolwich, he was still able to take part in an exchange of notes which resulted in a planning decision about a rival’s store being deferred for a “retail impact assessment”. (Even though one had already been done – see below.)
So, what on earth is going on? Local campaigners in Charlton want to use the Sainsbury’s scheme (and the long-delayed Travelodge, also backed by LXB) as leverage to make the Woolwich Road less of a filthy rat-run and more of a pleasant place to live.
Yet despite months of prevarication, Greenwich Council has kicked it into the long grass, just as a rival’s store opens. What is going on in a council run by a party which, on a national level, brands Tesco “an almighty conglomerate”?
11.45am update: It’s been pointed out to me that a retail impact assessment had already been done – it’s two documents in this enormous bundle here. Council officers, meanwhile, had been working under the belief that the issue would be discussed last night. What is going on?
Greenwich Council told a Government agency that the unfinished Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnel works had been completed, a minister has said, even though it now admits the tunnels are in a poor state of repair.
The project, which has been beset by delays, remains unfinished after the contractors were sacked last year, and last month Greenwich Council commissioned an independent investigation into what went wrong.
But local government minister Mark Prisk told Bermondsey MP Simon Hughes that Greenwich Council said the works, which had been funded by an £11.5m grant, had been finished – and any further work would have to come from the council’s own funds.
The cash was awarded by the Department for Communities and Local Government in November 2008. But the project moved to the Homes and Communities Agency, which took charge of monitoring progress on the project.
In a written response to the Liberal Democrat MP, Mr Prisk said: “The borough confirmed that all eligible works funded by the Homes and Communities Agency were completed as per the conditions of contract and that any remaining works would be funded from their own resources.”
However, contractors Dean & Dyball, Hyder Consulting and Swett were sacked in December 2011 following slow progress on the project, with the council issuing a series of misleading and evasive answers about the project until it finally owned up to the problems four weeks ago, and announced plans to take legal action against the firms.
The funding letter, signed by Greenwich’s assistant chief executive John Comber (and obtained by this website under the Freedom of Information Act), outlines the schedule of works.
It’s clear to anyone who uses either tunnel that the works are nowhere near finished – only the lifts and south rotunda in the Greenwich tunnel have been completed, along with the stairwell in the Woolwich tunnel. Greenwich Council refuses to publicly discuss what hasn’t been completed for fear of inflating new tenders to finish the work.
It’s also worth recalling Greenwich cabinet member Denise Hyland’s answer at a council meeting when asked, bluntly, if the Government’s money had run out.
“The budget is considered sufficient to complete the project, subject to the contractual issues being resolved with the contractors involved in the first phase of the works,” she said, despite the fact the council had claimed the works were completed and all the money had been spent.
I’ll leave it down to you to decide whether that, in retrospect, was a misleading answer. Incidentally, Greenwich has still not announced who will lead its investigation into the foot tunnel fiasco, and other big projects.
Whether or not the council misled the HCA – it’s certainly clear the government agency wasn’t taking enough notice of what was happening with its money.
To make matters more complex, the HCA’s functions in London were taken over by the mayor’s office earlier this year, which now means the responsibility for keeping track of the grant falls to a certain Boris Johnson, who has consistently batted away requests that he put pressure on Greenwich to finish the project. City Hall may now have to sit up and take more notice of what’s going on beneath the Thames.
Greenwich Council ignored the members of its own governing party to give half-marathon Run To The Beat the go-ahead, it has emerged.
The race – branded “an imposition” by one councillor – will take place for the fifth year running on 28 October, closing roads and forcing diversions to bus services in Greenwich, Blackheath, Charlton and Woolwich for much of the day, and placing 14 sound systems at various locations.
Heavily backed by Nike, the event is run commercially by leisure conglomerate IMG, “a global leader in sports, fashion and film”. As well as the disruption, the event has also been criticised for poor information.
Now it’s emerged senior councillors ignored members of their own party to give the race the go-ahead.
Both the Greenwich & Woolwich Labour Party and its Local Government Committee – which acts as a link between the party’s councillors and its rank and file members – had agreed a policy that any repeat of Run To The Beat be subject to a full public consultation. It also said it needed to follow a route which minimised transport disruption.
But no consultation was undertaken on whether the event should continue, and the council has approved a traffic management order to shut main roads across the north of the borough. No details of who approved it, or any conditions placed upon organisers, have been made available.
The senior councillor in charge is Denise Hyland – a close ally of council leader Chris Roberts, who is also in charge of the deteriorating situation at Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels. (Later information is that it’s actually environment cabinet member Maureen O’Mara in charge of this one, rather oddly.)
Other Greenwich councillors have spoken out about the event on this website – with health cabinet member John Fahy calling it “an imposition on borough residents” and Peninsula councillor Mary Mills complaining that organisers “seem to be able to carry on regardless”.
The row over Run To The Beat is likely to exacerbate tensions between Roberts and local party bigwigs, who are growing increasingly frustrated at the way the council is being run, and the tight control he has over councillors.
An attempt to usurp Roberts failed in March when those councillors rejected a challenge from John Fahy by 24 votes to 15.
It’s Greenwich Foot Tunnel that gets all the attention, but if you want a graphic example of the chaos that’s surrounded Greenwich Council’s handling of the foot tunnels fiasco, now to be the subject of an independent inquiry, you need to head to Woolwich. For months after the tunnel was reopened, it still bore a sign claiming it was closed. It’s finally been replaced, with the quality of information that you’d expect of an authority with a generously-funded communications department.
See, the government’s beastly cutbacks meant the felt tip ran out before they could colour in the arrow properly.
But there are several questions left unanswered by the unusually damning report into the botched refurbishment programme. I’ve a few, have you got any more?
Why didn’t council officers undertake “intensive scrutiny” of the project fron the start? After all, the report makes clear this was a “uniquely complex and specialist project”, yet “intense scrutiny” only took place 17 months into the scheme, when it was clear things were going wrong. Why was this?
Has the £11 million from the government run out? The funding came from a government programme. Last month, the cabinet member in charge, Denise Hyland, was asked in a council meeting if the money had run out. Her answer was that the budget was “considered sufficient to complete the project, subject to the contractual issues being resolved with the contractors involved in the first phase of the works” – the first, tiny hint of a problem. Yet this didn’t answer the question – has the money run out?
Did cabinet member Denise Hyland knowingly mislead the public? On 26 October 2011, Denise Hyland blamed the delays on “hidden structures” in an answer to the co-ordinator of Greenwich Cyclists. We now know this answer was nonsense. This was at least a month after council officers started “much more intense scrutiny” of the project. As someone that’s a full-time cabinet member with a big portfolio (“regeneration, enterprise and skills”) she must have known what was going on. If not, why not?
Will heads roll as a consequence of this inquiry? Again, as the politician in charge, and the one that should be giving direction to council staff, what exactly was Denise Hyland’s role? After all, big projects in other parts of the council (such as schools) have gone smoothly, once work has begun. Her lead council officer, John Comber, who earns £155,000 per year, also surely has questions to answer.
Will we ever get to see the results of this inquiry? Will the report be published? The two foot tunnels are important crossings used by hundreds of thousands of people from across London and far beyond. Will Greenwich Council try to cover up the findings?
The issues surrounding the foot tunnels fiasco go to the heart of the way the council is run. This isn’t a party political issue – the opposition Conservatives have also failed to ask questions in council meetings about this. (Away from the council benches, local Lib Dems* and Greens have also failed to apply pressure.) The failure of the foot tunnels project should shame every Greenwich councillor. But what are they going to do to put things right?
(* I should acknowledge that Lib Dem assembly member Caroline Pidgeon has pursued the issue from City Hall.)
Greenwich Council has withdrawn a public survey on transport issues being carried out by its own councillors, breaking its own code of conduct.
A scrutiny panel of councillors – which is supposed to act independently of leader Chris Roberts or council officers – published a survey last month to find out what the public thought of Transport for London and Southeastern services ahead of a meeting with the two organisations.
However, the survey was not promoted in either Greenwich Time, the council’s weekly newspaper, or on the authority’s website. Despite this, it was promoted by some local groups, on Twitter by committee chair Hayley Fletcher, and on this site, where it was clicked-through to 89 times.
But the survey was quietly dropped earlier this month, without explanation or, this website understands, consulting the scrutiny panel’s members.
In a written response to a question at Tuesday night’s Greenwich Council meeting, cabinet member Denise Hyland branded it as containing “weaknesses and errors”, and said it would be reissued. However, time is tight ahead of the meeting, due on 1 November. It’s not known what’ll happen to the responses already received.
However, this breaks the council’s own code of conduct, its constitution, which states scrutiny panels are free to conduct their own “research, community and other consultation in the analysis of policy issues and possible options”.
Even if the council’s leaders and officers had the power to overrule those who are supposed to be scrutinising their work, apart from the omission of a couple of Docklands Light Railway stations, it’s hard to know quite what “weaknesses and errors” were in the surveys.
In the past, council scrutiny panels – dominated and led by the council’s heavily-whipped Labour group – have been tame and unwilling to criticise cabinet members or council officers. Proof of this can be found in the scrutiny panels’ annual report, praises the “council’s progress in modernising services”.
In many places, it reads like a child’s homework project.
Under past committee chair Gary Parker – paid an extra £9,800 for his work – the sustainable communities and transport panel had found, according to the report, that “due to the salt, fat and saturated fat content of most fast food, it should ideally only be consumed occasionally” and that “scrutiny of the Council’s policy on trees showed that protecting and maintaining the borough’s 80,000 trees was a complex matter”.
However, new chair Hayley Fletcher, who regularly comments on this site, had wanted to open up the panel’s work to the wider public – something which seems to have been a step too far for the council’s leadership.
You might remember my post a month ago about the continuing fiasco of the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels, whose refurbishment has turned into a long-running saga. Asked by Greenwich Cyclists’ Anthony Austin, cabinet member for regeneration, enterprise and skills Denise Hyland put the delay down to the discovery of “hidden structures”.
None of this made much sense, so I put in a Freedom of Information request to find out just what these “hidden structures” were. Here’s the response – which isn’t actually about hidden structures at all, but about issues with the stairs not picked up in initial surveys.
I’ve edited it slightly for sense – the original is here. Stringers support the stairs, treads are the bits you tread on and a soffit is the underside.
The comment related to the stairs in both locations. In all four shafts, these have corrosion of the load bearing faces and ends of the cast iron treads and corrosion hidden behind the stair stringers that could not be detected until the stringers were removed. In addition, many of the individual treads have been found to be completely fractured and these have been replaced with specially-cast replacements.
This hairline-fracture damage was not detectable until the holding bolts on the stair soffits had been removed.
Removal of chequer-plate flooring to the machine rooms has revealed structural repairs required to the structural members before the re-installation of the lifts and motors, and at high level on the Greenwich cupolas. Fractured and broken cast iron elements have been removed and re-cast or repaired ready for replacement.
Again, these problems were not apparent to the pre-contract survey and inspection either because the structures and components were inaccessible or they only revealed themselves as components were accessed for conservation.
So, the problems are less about “hidden structures”, which bring to mind all sorts of riverbed horrors (remember, there’s World War II bomb damage on the north side) but more about hairline cracks on the steps and in the machine rooms. Which was perhaps the answer Denise Hyland should have given to Mr Austin last month. Or maybe it would make a feature to fill up the pages of council weekly Greenwich Time instead of another photo-op for the council leader. But never mind. We know now.
There are some positive signs at Greenwich – the scaffolding is down at Cutty Sark Gardens and in Island Gardens, although the last time I passed Woolwich, it looked as if the site had been abandoned. Whatever is going on down there, hopefully we’re nearing the end of this saga.
Naturally, it wasn’t an elected politician who brought it up – but Anthony Austin of Greenwich Cyclists. He asked just what the hell is going on with a project that should have been finished this spring, but now looks like it’s running a year behind schedule, with one tunnel liftless and shut at night, and the other completely closed.
“Who at Greenwich Council is managing the refurbishment of the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels, and what was the original stated schedule of works and by how much has it been delayed?,” he asked in a written question.
Cabinet member for regeneration, enterprise and skills Denise Hyland responded:
“Firstly, I would like to apologise for the continued inconvenience to the public as a result of the partial closure of the tunnels and the shutdown of the lift service.
“The works to the foot tunnels are being carried out by contractors and consultants, whp also manage the works on a day-to-day basis, engaged by the Director of Regeneration, Enterprise and Skills. The original programme for the works as known at the time for these century-old structures was estimated to be complete in the spring of 2011. Additional works and site complexities will mean the tunnels are unlikely to open fully before early 2012.
“The funding for the project has come from Government and no council funds are involved.”
Mr Austin then asked a follow-up question, the response to which you can hear here…
Listening to that response, I’m not sure if Cllr Hyland is really on top of the situation – it sounds like a painful piece of improvisation. At present, Greenwich Foot Tunnel is open daytimes only, with no lift service, and Woolwich Foot Tunnel is completely closed.
“May I thank Mr Austin for his supplementary… and reassure him that we are doing our absolute level best to bring these tunnels back into full operation, with the Greenwich tunnel early in 2012. This has been a heritage project, bringing the 100-year-old tunnels back into full use, and we have had decisions to make where we have had hidden structures have been uncovered and further work has been necessary.
“Private contractors manage the work on a day-to-day basis… and we have put pressure on our contractors and worked with them in a positive partnership to bring a swift resolution to the tunnel [sic].
“Can I say – absolute apology on behalf of the council to pedestrians and cyclists, because although the tunnels are open [sic], they haven’t had the proper lifts functioning in the way that they should. So, er, y’know, complete apologies for that, and we are working hard for a quick resolution.”
There’s no mention of Woolwich Foot Tunnel at all in that statement, which gives the impression that Cllr Hyland believes it is still open. And what on earth are these “hidden structures”? Shouldn’t one of the only councils in the country to publish its own weekly newspaper be telling us what’s happening?
It’s also interesting to hear the tunnels now described as a “heritage project”. The Woolwich Foot Tunnel celebrates its centenary next year, the Greenwich tunnel opened in 1902. Yet when Transport for London started refurbishing the Blackwall Tunnel, built in 1897, that wasn’t called a “heritage project”. TfL’s work there is running ahead of schedule, while Greenwich’s work is now a year late.
So we’re still no further ahead with understanding just what the hell is going on in those foot tunnels. With the Greenwich tunnel’s stairwells looking largely untouched – and the Woolwich tunnel’s southern portal boarded up and deserted – what are the odds on the project being finished by the Olympics?