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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 ‘greenwich council

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

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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?

Written by Darryl

10 September, 2014 at 6:30 am

Tall ships in Woolwich and Greenwich: How were they for you?

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Tall ships at Woolwich, 7 September 2014

I couldn’t face the crowds in Greenwich, so nipped down to Woolwich on Sunday afternoon to see what the fuss was about.

And you know what? The Tall Ships Festival looked rather decent. At least in Woolwich, anyway.

Tall ships at Woolwich, 7 September 2014

A big crowd, nice atmosphere – it looked like a good job, well done. And it’s been lovely watching the ships go up and down the river this weekend.

Tall ships at Woolwich, 7 September 2014

I did pass on the opportunity to buy a £16 Royal Greenwich Tall Ships t-shirt for half price, mind.

Firepower, Woolwich, 7 September 2014

And here’s the most graphic demonstration of why the Firepower museum is closing down – its doors were locked on one of the busiest days the Royal Arsenal complex has ever seen. Madness.

It was a funny experience watching the ships by bike, though. Nowhere to park in sponsor Berkeley Homes’ Royal Arsenal compound – well, apart from this one rack…

Tall ships in Woolwich, 7 September 2014

Greenwich Council later tweeted me to say there was bicycle parking in Beresford Square, but there were no signs from the Thames Path to indicate this. Which mattered, because loads of cyclists were using the path on Sunday.

At least there was some parking at Woolwich, however hidden it was. I thought I’d peek at the ships moored at sponsor Barratt Homes’ Enderby Wharf. But security guards were ushering cyclists off the recently-installed bicycle path.

Drawdock Road, 7 September 2014

So I trundled down Tunnel Avenue, surprised by the numbers of people coming away from Enderby Wharf towards North Greenwich. Was there anywhere to park the bike? Well, I could have taken my chances here…

Tunnel Avenue, Greenwich, 7 September 2014

After a couple of minutes trying to get a D-lock through a wire fence, I gave up and went home.

So that was my Tall Ships Festival. I know there’s been some gripes about it in Greenwich (see the comments on Friday’s post), and the traffic’s been murder this weekend, with packed roads and overcrowded buses. But it was fine in Woolwich.

Imagine it being called the Woolwich Tall Ships Festival, acknowledging where most of the action was…

Remember, though, it’s all about reputation-building. Here’s a naughty slip from Greenwich Council’s Twitter account.

Mehbooh Khan tweet retweeted by Greenwich Council

Retweeting praise aimed at the council leader? Cheeky.

Cllr Mehboob Khan

Even cheekier, because the original tweet, sent on Friday night, was it was amended the following night by Mehboob Khan, who juggles being a Labour Party adviser to London Councils with being a councillor in Kirklees, West Yorkshire. Very naughty. The original tweeters weren’t impressed.

Enough of what I saw, how were the tall ships for you? Share your praises or gripes below.

Written by Darryl

8 September, 2014 at 7:32 am

Sailing by: Why are the tall ships coming to ‘Royal Greenwich’?

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Tall Ships flags in Greenwich Market

If you follow Greenwich Council’s media, you’ll have heard of little else for the past year. If you bin its weekly propaganda rag Greenwich Time and shun its Twitter feed, this weekend could come as a surprise to you. It’s the Royal Greenwich Tall Ships Festival and it’s actually rather a big deal.

The first many would have known that this was actually something rather big was when parking permits started falling onto doormats last month. “Tow away zone” signs have sprouted up (even though many of the Olympics ones are still in place) and parking restrictions are in place all weekend.

Tall Ships tow away zone

Isn’t this all a bit much? Maybe not. A similar event in Dublin in August 2012 attracted over a million people to the Irish capital. And Falmouth, where this year’s event started (below), has been packed out, by all accounts.

L1230488

It’s a baffling thing, because nobody was really asked or consulted about the festival. Nobody put “tall ships” in their manifesto for May’s election. After Run to the Beat was finally given the bum’s rush, few would have expected another event to cause such major disruption the following year.

Victoria Deep Water Terminal, 31 August 2014

This one could be worth it, though, with plenty happening:

- 50 ships will be berthed at Greenwich, Greenwich Peninsula and Woolwich and Canary Wharf between Friday and Monday. The Greenwich Peninsula location is Victoria Deep Water Terminal, which has been decked over and landscaped (above). You’ll be able to climb on board the ships and take a look.
– There’ll be fireworks in Greenwich on Friday and in Woolwich on Saturday.
– A “crew parade” will take place through Greenwich town centre on Saturday afternoon, to congratulate all those who sailed from Falmouth.
– There’ll be “festival villages” at Greenwich and Woolwich over the weekend with shows, music, and other events.

Woolwich Road, 30 August 2014

But there’ll be disruption, too:

- Greenwich town centre will be closed to traffic for much of Saturday. Buses will be diverted well away from the area.
– Transport for London is warning of disruption from crowds to rail, Tube and DLR services. Southeastern is promising extra services, though isn’t detailing just what it’s offering.

So how did we get here? It all seems to have started three years ago. Remember the ill-fated Peninsula Festival? That was part of a mini-Dutch invasion for the Olympics that included the similarly-cursed Oranjecamping campsite (above) and Sail Royal Greenwich, a series of hospitality cruises along the Thames, itself based on Sail Amsterdam, which takes place every five years in the Dutch capital.

Only the tall ships actually made it to the end of London 2012. The Peninsula Festival folded after a few days – oddly enough, the Greenwich Peninsula Tall Ships site is adjacent to where Frank Dekker wanted to put his beach – while Oranjecamping moved to Walthamstow. But Sail Royal Greenwich has been based in Greenwich Council’s offices at Mitre Passage, North Greenwich ever since.

Greenwich Council report, May 2013

By November 2012, Greenwich had decided to bid for a Tall Ships Race, which involved this trip to Latvia, so this weekend’s Tall Ships Festival is an important staging post if it’s to achieve that ambition. Here’s a report prepared for former leader Chris Roberts which outlines the council’s plans, which put the costs at £175,000.

In December 2013, the costs had ballooned to £500,000, plus £2.1 million in pier refurbishments. The council will be hoping to recoup the costs in sponsorship (including from Barratt Homes and Berkeley Homes) and merchandise (including programmes at £5/pop).

Greenwich Time, 2 September 2014Sail Royal Greenwich has a good deal from the council – it’s paying a service charge of £100/month towards each desk, while a games company based in the same office, which is aimed at digital businesses, pays £450/month, according to a Freedom of Information request made last year.

In 2013, the council paid £20,000 towards fireworks for Sail Royal Greenwich at Greenwich and Woolwich, and a further £19,000 for events to mark the ships’ arrival in Woolwich. With the council planning to bid for the 2017 Transatlantic Tall Ships Race, the ships’ll probably be sticking around for a while yet.

So what does the area get out of the tall ships? Well, if there are hundreds of thousands of people over the weekend, then it’ll be a huge boost to tourism – and one that’ll go some way of compensating for cock-ups during the Olympics. The ships and the fireworks promise to be a spectacular sight – there’s no denying any of that.

But what the council gets out of it is more interesting. It’s all about the brand, baby…

The Royal Greenwich Tall Ships Festival is, frankly, about pushing the “Royal Greenwich” brand. But this is also about how a depressingly secretive council sees itself – referring to itself in the third person as “the Royal Borough” even though the council itself is not royal.

cathedral_350It’s almost as if the council is trying to depoliticise itself, to portray itself as some kind of benevolent landlord/ events manager like the (barely-elected) City of London Corporation, rather than the highly political beast which it actually is.

Sooner or later, Greenwich’s 51 councillors will have to make some very difficult decisions about budget cuts. But while next-door Lewisham is asking residents to weigh up some of the dilemmas themselves, Greenwich residents are told “look at the tall ships!”

Yet with many of the tall ships berthing themselves in SE18, why not apply the high-sailed magic to one of the borough’s more battered brands? The Woolwich Tall Ships Festival, anyone? Falmouth-Woolwich Tall Ships Race?

Tall ships also make fantastic corporate entertainment venues. So the festival also offers some glorious opportunities for jollies, and for councillors and officers to be wooed by property developers and the like – Barratt Homes is a lead sponsor, while Berkeley Homes, Cathedral Group and Knight Dragon have also paid to be associated with the event.

In fact, all this is already evident in the pages of Greenwich Time, with two plugs for Morden Wharf developer Cathedral in this week’s council paper – one featuring council leader Denise Hyland larking about with sailing trainees sponsored by developers; another featuring Hyland, Cathedral boss Richard Upton and other trainees who, well, fancy that, are nicknamed the Cathedral Five.

I’ve been told Greenwich Council is terrified the tall ships will be a flop. Judging by the crowds elsewhere, it’ll almost certainly be a big hit. There were even photographers out on Greenwich Peninsula early yesterday evening to watch a trio of ships sail through the Thames Barrier and past the Dome.

It’s going to be an interesting weekend. If you’re well-disposed to the council, there could be plenty to congratulate it on. If you’re not, there’ll be plenty of bones to pick over the following weeks. There are many reasons to celebrate the tall ships’ arrival – but just as many reasons to be sceptical of what’s going on below deck. If you live anywhere near the river, get set to be swept along over the next few days…

Written by Darryl

5 September, 2014 at 6:30 am

Greenwich Ikea campaigners look to the courts: Can you help?

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Rainbow at Sainsbury's Greenwich, 2011
Campaigners against Ikea’s proposed store in east Greenwich have launched an appeal for funds as they look to begin a judicial review into the Government’s decision not to overturn planning permission for the scheme.

Greenwich Council gave outline permission for the store, on the site of the “eco-friendly” Sainsbury’s store in Peartree Way, in March. Planning officers ignored concerns about increased traffic and air pollution, a decision later backed by London mayor Boris Johnson.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles put the scheme on hold, but later opted not to intervene in the scheme. Current Greenwich Council leader Denise Hyland was among the councillors to back the scheme in March, along with then-leader Chris Roberts, then-chief whip Ray Walker, Steve Offord and Clive Mardner; ignoring over an hour of public criticism of the proposals.

More recently, English Heritage turned down a request from the Twentieth Century Society to list the Sainsbury’s store, which opened in September 1999 and was shortlisted for the following year’s Stirling Prize for architecture. Construction work is now well under way on a replacement Sainsbury’s store at Gallions Road, Charlton.

Now the No Ikea Greenwich group needs to raise £2,000 to take the case to solicitors for an initial opinion on a judicial review. Payments can be made via this PayPal page. Judicial reviews need to be launched within three months of the decision they seek to challenge, so the money will need to be raised quickly.

A new petition has also been launched to persuade Sainsbury’s to lift the restrictive covenant on the old store which prevents its use as a supermarket.

The architect behind the Sainsbury’s store, Paul Hinkin, died earlier this month at the age of 49.

“Paul was a very gifted and principled architect with a passion for true sustainability and he will be desperately missed,” his firm, Black Architecture, said in a statement.

Hinkin spoke at the Greenwich Council meeting that approved Ikea’s plans, and earlier this year wrote that Ikea should “do the right thing” and rethink its plans.

“Develop a proposition that meets the needs of the many people of London by developing a store directly served by train or tube and built with the same care, craftsmanship and environmental stewardship that you demand from you furniture,” he wrote.

Ikea certainly has changed its business model in other parts of Europe – a new store in Hamburg is in an inner-city, pedestrianised area.

But there’s been no sign of Ikea announcing any changes to its model for its Greenwich store (indeed, no sign of Ikea representatives for some months, according to Greenwich Millennium Village residents), nor any sign of pressure from Greenwich Council on the flat-pack furniture giant to amend its plans.

Greenwich & Woolwich foot tunnel cyclists to get partial green light

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Greenwich Foot Tunnel, 13 December 2012

Greenwich Council is to trial “shared use” of the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels, which will mean cyclists being officially allowed to use them at quieter times, it has emerged.

The council’s put in a bid for £100,000 of City Hall money to develop technology to record pedestrian and cyclist movements in the tunnel, to warn cyclists when the narrow passages make it unsafe for riding.

The Friends of Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels have been asked to act as partners on the bid, along with Tower Hamlets and Newham councils.

Fogwoft says: “The proposal would allow shared use between pedestrians and cyclists at times when the tunnel is fairly empty. It would require cyclists to walk when necessary. It would allow them to cycle when safe.”

Greenwich Foot Tunnel, August 2014

Any proposal to allow cycling in the tunnels will be a hugely contentious issue – while there is a blanket ban on riding bicycles, it is widely flouted, especially in the Greenwich tunnel, which is a major link for cyclists between south-east London and Canary Wharf. Since lift attendants were withdrawn some years ago, there has been little enforcement of the ban.

If Greenwich’s bid to City Hall is unsuccessful, the council says it will fund the scheme itself.

The council says: “The proposal will be to use state of the art technology to trial shared use in the tunnel. It will monitor cycle and pedestrian flows (and cycle speeds) at all times, and use this to regulate the cycling ban; at times of low pedestrian flow, considerate cycle use will be permitted, and conversely during high pedestrian flow periods cyclists will be required to dismount and push through the space. In other words, the permission levels would respond in a timely manner to conditions in the tunnels at all times.

“This will be enforced through clear, digital signage triggered by the flow levels during each period, which will be tracked throughout the tunnel. The visual signage could be backed up by audible messages, and reinforced through additional monitoring via CCTV and other means.

“Technology will also be used to monitor the speed of any person cycling through the tunnel, flashing up clear signage to anyone travelling quicker than a recommended limit (to be defined) in a similar way to speed warning signs used on highways.”

The bid document says a trial would last for 12 months and be “rigorously monitored”.

“In using digital technology to track, monitor and regulate permissions at various times of the day, users will feel that a sensible use of the space is allowed at all times. If successful, the trial has potential to be extended to other similar spaces throughout London,” it adds.

A further £10,000-£25,000 would fund “behavioural change” measures – enforcement, in other words.

The system would be trialled in Woolwich (left) before coming to Greenwich (right)

500+ people per day use the Woolwich tunnel, over 3,000 use the Greenwich tunnel

It’s believed that a system would be trialled in the quieter Woolwich tunnel before being moved to Greenwich by 2016/17.

Fogwoft has invited users to discuss the issue at its annual general meeting on 2 October. (See more on Fogwoft’s website.) The council will also have to consult the public directly about the scheme, which will involve a change to a by-law.

Greenwich Foot Tunnel

The announcement comes as the long-delayed refurbishment works on both tunnels enter their final stages, after long delays caused by poor management of the project, both by the council and contractor Hyder Consulting.

Greenwich Foot Tunnel

While deep cleaning hasn’t taken place, the lifts at Woolwich are now working, though anecdotal evidence suggests the Greenwich lifts are still bedevilled by breakdowns. Indicators have been placed in the Greenwich tunnel to warn of lift problems, although they are difficult to read in sunlight.

In December 2012, a poll on this website showed 51% of voters would back cycling in the tunnel at all times, with just 16% favouring the current ban and 18% backing the kind of compromise Greenwich is going for. This may indicate something about the readership of this website, though.

But with Greenwich Council backing the motor vehicle-only Silvertown Tunnel, and with even more intensive development planned for the Isle of Dogs, the foot tunnel issue shows it’s clear there is still a massive, unmet demand for safe pedestrian and cyclist crossings from south-east to east London.

Monday update: Here’s an interesting project – the echoey sounds of the Woolwich Foot Tunnel captured in Waves of Woolwich.

Cycling in Greenwich borough: Two steps forward, one step back

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It’s the simplest things that make cycling easier – and safer. Until recently, the single greatest improvement to my pedalling life was Lewisham Council resurfacing the main road out of Blackheath Village. Prince of Wales Road was treacherous, potholed, and grim. Now it’s like velvet. No more uncertain bouncing around, no more swerving around great dents or slowing down to absorb the bumps. Safer, and with fewer surprises for drivers. (Other areas of Lewisham borough haven’t been so lucky, mind.)

Together with Greenwich Council putting down a new surface at Blackheath Standard, it’s made a kilometre-long stretch a simple ride.

New cycle lanes on Charlton Road as well as Woolwich Road and Trafalgar Road have helped too. They’re not perfect, the deathtrap that is the Woolwich Road flyover is still being swerved while more radical ideas like redesigning side streets are being ignored. And the less said of the leadership’s road-building policies, the better. But they’re encouraging moves in the right direction.

Thames Path, Greenwich

Greenwich Council’s done some more super, simple cycling things recently. Nearly four years ago, I grumbled about the 1990s cobbles that interrupted the Thames Path at Greenwich Millennium Village. A couple of months back, they were finally sorted.

Now, all they need to do is indicate the pedestrian and cycling sides of the path a bit more clearly, and it’ll be nearly perfect (which is more than you can say for pedestrian and cycling provision in the rest of GMV).

Charlton Road

Back up in Charlton, the wider cycle lane was blighted by a dangerous build-out into the road at the Charlton Road/Wyndcliff Road junction, just as you approach a zebra crossing.

Build-outs – where the pavement juts into the road – are a 1990s thing. But with cyclists encouraged to ride on the left of the road, this can bring bikes into conflict with motor vehicles – particularly as many drivers have an unfortunate habit of trying to race you to a point where the road narrows. One – to assert the primacy of buses on the A206 – was removed from a bus stop on Woolwich Road when the new cycle lanes were put in last year.

Now, the Charlton Road horror has been fixed – though it could do with resurfacing – and the street is much safer.

So, at least in the north-west of the borough, some positive’s action’s being taken to make cycling safer. Sadly, though – the reverse is happening in the deep south. Head out to Eltham, go down Avery Hill Road – a hairy stretch treated as a racetrack by many drivers – and you’ll find a brand new build-out…

Avery Hill Road, 24 August 2014

From what I can gather, it’s to make it easier for Greenwich University students to cross the road after they’ve taken the 286 bus to their Avery Hill campus. But the first time I came across this, I found myself with a speeding berk bearing down on me as I moved to avoid this new obstruction in the road.

It’s not safe, and considering the good work being done in the north of the borough, it’s baffling as to why this would be installed in the south.

But it’d be churlish to ignore the good work that’s being done in areas like Greenwich, Charlton and Blackheath. If Greenwich Council really wants to encourage cycling – and there is a strategy now in place – then it needs to be consistent across the borough, and its highways engineers need to checking their “improvements” against this, rather than going for the first solution they can think of.

Berkeley Homes and Boris Johnson’s £500 ceremonial trowel

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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.

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