Posts Tagged ‘eltham’
It’s 20 years today since Stephen Lawrence was murdered in Well Hall Road, Eltham. I was cycling around the area yesterday evening, and decided to divert via Well Hall Road to pause at the memorial.
As I wrote when two of his killers were belatedly convicted in 2012, the crime – plus the knowledge that others remain beyond justice – has helped shaped the way I, and others who grew up in south-east London at the time, see the world. Some lives were more precious than others to the Metropolitan Police of 1993, and there are those who argue that not enough has changed.
Pedalling through the pretty Progress Estate, I thought about how times have changed in Eltham since those days, but memories are long.
I stopped to take a photo of the memorial, noting opposite there was a police CCTV van, engine running, keeping watch. As I got ready to leave, an officer approached. As soon as he twigged I was no racist headbanger he was charm personified, but I had to give my name so it could be run through the police national computer. The Met’s top brass were very nervous about the anniversary, he explained.
I pointed out to him that with the greatest of respect, it was a shame the police couldn’t have shown this level of vigilance 20 years ago.
“Well, sir, we all make mistakes.”
This website doesn’t feature Greenwich borough’s Conservatives very often for two very simple reasons. Firstly, they’re not in power, and unlikely to get into power any day soon, so whatever they do doesn’t mean very much. Secondly, and more pertinently, most of them represent seats in and around Eltham, while this site rarely ventures beyond the South Circular.
(Which isn’t to say that Eltham’s not newsworthy – on the contrary, the area would make for a fascinating local blog; indeed, as this tale will prove, there be gold in SE9; but it’s not my patch and deserves someone knows it well and can do it justice.)
But even for those of us with photographs of George Osborne imprinted on our toilet roll, it’s important that Greenwich borough’s ruling Labour clique faces a decent opposition. Unfortunately, the Eltham Popular Front seem to be turning their guns on each other.
If you ever go to a council meeting, the best performers are always the two older Tories. There’s the fabulously erudite Dermot Poston – a councillor, on and off, since 1968 – who brooks no nonsense yet is happy to send himself up; one time having the council chamber in stitches by referring to his days as a rollerskater.
And there’s Eileen Glover, who doesn’t have Dermot’s long years of service, but packs a mean punch beneath her senior citizen demeanour. With a withering turn of phrase and a dedication to serving her Eltham South constituents, she’s ace at exposing the hypocrisy of the council’s leadership.
At the last meeting, just before Christmas, she asked about the retail offer in Eltham High Street, as she’d noticed shops offering less and less. Could the council talk to retailers about offering more? Into the Glover trap walked Denise “Bridge The Gap” Hyland, who blethered on about how it wasn’t the council’s job to tell retailers what to sell, despite the council very much endorsing the huge new Tesco in Woolwich; before going into a weird spiel about how much she loved the borough’s three town centres, as if they were errant children.
Sadly for the Eltham Tories, nobody’s there to report their tactical victories in making the ruling Labour clique look stupid.
Which may be why last week, Eileen Glover found herself deselected by her local party. Should she be tubthumping for privatising everything in sight and sending the unemployed to work in Tesco for nothing instead of sticking up for her residents? Was she not male enough for the Tories? In the mind of the average Conservative Party member in Eltham (you don’t see them show their faces at council meetings, that’s for sure), her work’s not good enough.
Word quickly got out. But curiously, fellow councillor Neil Dickinson was moved to post his support for her on the Facebook page for Greenwich.co.uk. And then he made digs at colleagues Matt Clare and local party leader Spencer Drury, and ex-party leader Peter King. Whoops.
While the Greenwich Tories generally seem more left-wing than their economy-wrecking national counterparts – leader Spencer Drury is well-liked and is the only Conservative politician I’ve ever heard express concern for the welfare of council tenants – it seems they share the same tendency to have their rows in public.
In our opinion, it is unfortunate that this issue has come become the subject of discussion in the week that the Labour Council’s Financial Strategy for the next two years is to be decided. As Conservatives we would wish to focus upon our alternative, which attempts to decentralise power to areas such as New Eltham and support local businesses in an attempt to improve employment and prosperity in our area.
With Greenwich Labour fumbling towards the self-destruct button over the ruling clique’s Bridge The Gap fiasco, the Tories might be better off focusing on scrutinising the current sorry shambles rather than bickering among each other, if only to improve their own chances of employment and prosperity next year.
Among the many joys in this week’s edition of council propaganda rag Greenwich Time is this ad for Eltham Hill School – complete with horrendous, clanking mistake…
Oh dear. While on schools in Eltham, by the way, isn’t it curious how schools which have split away from Greenwich Council try to hang onto the name of the borough whose control they’ve spurned? I was surprised to see Eltham Green School now trades under the odd moniker of Harris Academy Greenwich (what was wrong with Eltham?) while the Greenwich Free School is way out in Shooters Hill. Perhaps they’ll end up turning out a load of geographically-challenging estate agents…
This place used to be boring. Featureless with only a running track – home to Cambridge Harriers athletics club – to break things up, Sutcliffe Park never really had much to commend it. But its design wasn’t just dull, it was also dangerous.
Buried beneath the park was the River Quaggy, which meanders its way from Bromley, through Eltham and Lee to Lewisham, which took the brunt whenever it flooded.
At the time of Lewisham’s last flood, in 1992, plans were in hand to do something about it – but local campaigners persuaded the authorities that rather than continuing to bury the Quaggy, it needed to be given room to cope with flood surges naturally. This would mean returning it to ground level at Sutcliffe Park, and restoring the old flood plain. The park had once been part of the swampy Harrow Meadow, before being landscaped and opened by the old Woolwich Council in 1937, which named it after the borough engineer.
After resistance from Greenwich Council was overcome, work began in 2003, and the results have been dramatic. The dull old park is now a waterside haven for wildlife, a beautiful green space just yards from the roar of the A20. Together with a similar scheme at Chinbrook Meadows in Grove Park, it’s been a win all around, with south-east Londoners getting much-improved parks and a level of reassurance over Lewisham town centre.
While it’s no longer the park’s top attraction, the athletics track remains as the park – on the borders of Eltham, Lee and Kidbrooke – gets set for even more change. A neighbouring football ground, once home to Greenwich Borough FC, was lost for housing development a few years ago, and the Kidbrooke Village development is now rising up to its north, taking the place of the old Ferrier Estate.
Eighty years ago, the old burghers of Woolwich would have looked at you incredulously if you suggested people wanted to live with a view of flooded wetlands. Now, their successors are banking on people flocking to make their homes next to a revitalised river.
As Greenwich’s Labour councillors get ready to vote tonight on whether or not they’ll give long-serving leader Chris Roberts the heave-ho, here’s an example of the secretive culture that challenger John Fahy wants to overturn.
Last December, the council agreed to spend £45,000 on further studies into a possible DLR extension to Eltham, which would utilise the tunnel Boris Johnson wants to build on the Greenwich Peninsula (Labour’s Ken Livingstone is opposed to the tunnel) before running above the A102 and A2 to Falconwood.
It’d already spent £25,000 on commissioning a preliminary study – but can Greenwich council taxpayers study the report on its website? Nope.
Indeed, if you ask the council for the report, it’ll only send a hard copy to you. So I’ve scanned it in anyway – so, for the first time in public, here’s the Eltham ‘DLR on stilts’ report (PDF, 18.3MB) produced for Greenwich Council by Hyder Consulting. Apologies for the occasional wonky page.
A few things are striking about the report, notably the warnings about how difficult construction would be; one proposal would involve demolition around the Woolwich Road roundabout in east Greenwich, while the vexed question of just how the line would negotiate the area around Eltham station, where the A2 runs in a tunnel, is deemed too tricky to answer. The line would also have to be 12-15 metres above the A102 through Charlton and Blackheath.
Routes suggested include a line through the Millennium Retail Park in east Greenwich, but a proposal for a single-track terminus at Falconwood would surely limit its capacity. But there’s no thought here to just where DLR trains would go to once they depart North Greenwich – with Bank and Tower Gateway surely at capacity, they would presumably have to squeeze up to Stratford International.
Anyhow, take a read and decide for yourself. You might also like to compare it with Lewisham Council’s report into Bakerloo Line extensions, which also deals with areas in Greenwich borough. And hopefully, after tonight, we’ll get a council that publishes this stuff as a matter of course. Fingers crossed.
So it seems a good time to share with you a document I had a bit of trouble obtaining – an internal report into how Greenwich Council handled the aftermath of the disturbances.
The report was compiled for the 40 Labour Party councillors – the 11 opposition Conservatives only asked for, and got, a verbal report.
With suspicion over the council’s role in painting over the “Woolwich wall” – the hoardings at the destroyed Great Harry pub – I put in a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the Labour report as soon as I’d got wind that such a document existed.
Greenwich initially turned me down, declaring that an “updated” version of the report would soon be made public. Knowing Greenwich’s reputation for secrecy, and suspecting it was just trying to shoo me away and had no intention of ever publishing this report, I asked the council to review my request. Finally, Greenwich’s head of legal Russell Power agreed I could have a paper copy of the “updated” version of the report.
This was just after Christmas – personal upheavals over the past few weeks mean I’ve been sitting on this for a good few weeks. (Which probably makes me as bad as them.) But to the best of my knowledge, this is the first time that report’s actually been made public. You still won’t find this on the council’s website.
There’s no real skeletons or shocks in here, the report confirms that the mysterious Powis Street Estates was in charge of painting over the wall, but surprisingly, Greenwich was aware of its intentions for a week and asked the company to hold off so it could take photographs of the wall. If this information had been shared at the time, perhaps Greenwich Council would not have come in for such heavy criticism.
But again, it’s symptomatic of “Royal” Greenwich’s ineptness at dealing directly with the people who it is supposed to serve. As you’ll see in the report, the council’s priority was in speaking to businesses – dealing with worried residents simply wasn’t on the agenda.
One thing that is worth noting – the report says the council was bidding for money from the London mayor’s Outer London Fund to help Eltham after the riots. But it was the only south London borough not to get a penny out of Boris.
It’s worth taking a look at the report, though. Does it match up with your memories of last August? The claim about the wall being a target for “foul and offensive language” certainly doesn’t accord with what I remember of it. But I’d like to know what you think – and whether you think SE18 is recovering from the riot.
Of course, not everyone is eye-rolling like me about Greenwich borough’s new royal status. I had to (sssh….) step just outside the borough to find out, and briefly enter a distant borough apparently called “Bexley”. As icy winds blew through Sidcup, a man crossed Halfway Street, at the point where the tarmac changes, and paused in front of a sign. Gone was a welcome to “the millennium borough”. In its place was something new.
In the council’s swish new Eltham Centre, a small crowd had gathered.
What were they staring at? The day old royal charter which declares this a royal borough…
…which came complete with a huge royal seal.
Down at Well Hall Pleasaunce, there was a bit of a party going on.
There were some words from local MP Clive Efford…
There’s an MC’s job for him if the politics goes belly-up, you know. And then there were some fireworks. The sound’s a bit rubbish for the first minute, but bear with it, it’s impressive stuff.
Of course, the council still held its own private party inside the Tudor Barn while the great unwashed shivered outside, but at least we had some fireworks and some music and some spiced apple juice to warm us up. Luck was on their side, too, as it finished just before the snow came falling down. Sunday afternoon is due to – weather permitting – see a procession and more of the same in Greenwich town centre.
If it goes ahead and he shows, say hello to Henry for me.
(12:45PM UPDATE: It’s still going ahead, despite the snow which has blanketed south-east London.)
Tuesday was a day of mixed emotions. Relief at the news that two of Stephen Lawrence’s murderers had finally been found guilty. But any satisfaction at the verdict is muted by how long it has taken to get here. I was 18 when Gary Dobson and David Norris were part of the gang that killed Stephen. It took another 18 years, and then a little bit more, for these two vile individuals to be taken off the streets.
It’s not just their dignity which impresses, but the sheer hard work and determination that Doreen and Neville Lawrence put in over the years to overcome a lack of interest from an insular, complacent – if not outright corrupt – police force. Along the way, they forced the government and public services to examine their own attitudes. None of this can ever bring their son back, and there is a long way to go, but we live in a better country for their efforts.
For a generation of south-east Londoners – those of us who are now in our mid- to late-thirties, the case has cast a long, long shadow. Stephen was in the year below me in our shared sixth form. Our paths only crossed briefly, although a number of my friends knew him. I never heard a bad word of him. A few of them are planning to meet up on Wednesday and have a quiet drink in his memory, taking a break from the careers and families that Stephen never lived long enough to enjoy for himself.
But events in Eltham and elsewhere of the early 1990s certainly shaped my view of the world, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Stephen Lawrence was not the only victim of a racist murder. Rolan Adams, 15, was killed in Thamesmead in February 1991. Back in Eltham, 15-year-old Asian schoolboy Rohit Duggal was murdered the following year only a few hundred yards from where Stephen would die. The Macpherson report would later record evidence that Rohit Duggal’s killer was one of the same gang responsible for Stephen’s death.
Lurking in the background of all this was the presence of the British National Party. Its “bookshop” (in reality, its headquarters) was a couple of miles away in Upper Wickham Lane, Welling, and it was actively recruiting in Thamesmead and the outer suburbs. In October 1993, oafish policing ensured a demonstration against the “bookshop” would end in disarray and violence. After Bexley Council took action through its planning department, the BNP slunk off a couple of years later.
Nearly two decades later, how much has changed? It’s worth remembering that it was the community in Eltham who gave up the names of Dobson and Norris in the first place. It was the local Metropolitan Police who decided that the death of a black man wasn’t worth investigating properly, not the people of Eltham.
Yet SE9 remains a soft target for those who seek to stir and divide people. The cameo role played by racist outsiders in the aftermath of the riots was a reminder of that. A couple of months ago, a friend told me the scenes of white men attacking a bus containing black men had convinced her she wouldn’t be sending her children to school out that way.
Even a more “respectable” politician sought to play on the area’s reputation. Failed Conservative parliamentary candidate David Gold – who on Tuesday described Eltham as “a good community, overshadowed by events of 18 years ago” – tried to whip things up himself during the 2010 election.
But it would be unfair to single out Eltham – a suburb with a royal heritage, once home to Frankie Howerd, Bob Hope and Herbert Morrison. If you look within the narrow borders of the London Borough of Greenwich, it certainly sticks out – mostly ungentrified, predominantly white, full of semis rather than terraces or flats.
Eltham’s bad reputation merely reflects a wider issue in the outer suburbs, to which it really belongs rather than the inner London borough which it forms part of. In fact, the problem has probably moved further out over time. Three years ago, a Bexley Council by-election in Welling saw the BNP come within eight votes of victory. Remember the Boris Johnson event in Bexleyheath last year, when a former member started trying to whip up false rumours about a stabbing? Could they get away with that kind of thing in Eltham now? After the trauma of Stephen Lawrence’s murder, I’m not so sure.
Until politicians and others – both nationally and locally – stop whipping up tensions, suburbs like Eltham will never totally escape the spectre of racism.
It’s not the only place in London with a high street that’s seen better days, and has kids hanging around McDonald’s day and night because there’s nothing else to do. But if ever somewhere needed a bit of local pride – that doesn’t involve standing outside the Rising Sun with pints in hand waiting to fend off imaginary rioters – then here’s a candidate. Who’ll step forward and champion Eltham?
There remain at least three killers who have – so far – evaded justice. With Tuesday’s verdict, at least the area can begin to go some way towards healing a scar that’s been raw for nearly two decades. Neville and Doreen Lawrence lost more than we could ever imagine that night. We owe them a lot for their tenacity and determination, which has helped changed our society.
I can’t help thinking, though, that this won’t be over until the others are also behind bars. We’ve come a long way, but there’s some distance to go yet. In too many ways.