Mayor Boris Johnson’s deputy has backed Greenwich Council’s decision to allow a cruise liner terminal to be built at Enderby Wharf, east Greenwich, despite residents’ fears that it will increase air pollution in the area.
The Conservative administration at City Hall sided with the Labour council on last month’s go-ahead for the scheme, even though locals are demanding the terminal is fitted with on-shore power generation to save the area from being exposed to emissions from the dirty fuel that cruise ships usually use.
A version of the scheme was originally approved in 2011, but new plans put forward this year propose ships staying longer at the site, using their own fuel, rather than shore-side power as recommended by the European Union.
Despite councillors hearing last month that the scheme will actually only create 88 jobs, a City Hall press release persists with the original claim that the scheme will lead to 500 jobs.
Deputy mayor Edward Lister – a former leader of Wandsworth Council – took the decision, saying: “We have worked with the local authority and the developer to ensure the new terminal and surrounding infrastructure will meet the needs of thousands of tourists coming to the city each year.
“It will provide a major boost to tourism, benefit the local economy and further contribute to London’s status as a world leading city.”
City Hall said it relied on an separate independent assessment to the one revealed to Greenwich councillors just days before last month’s planning meeting.
“While it recognised there could be some moderate adverse impact on occasion, it also acknowledged the height, speed and heat of ship emissions disperse more efficiently in comparison to motor vehicles,” it said.
“Recognising the levels of background pollution already experienced in the borough, £400,000 has been secured towards ongoing environmental monitoring or improving air quality through the Royal Borough of Greenwich’s Air Quality Action Plan.”
For Greenwich Council, regeneration cabinet member Danny Thorpe said: “This landmark cruise liner development will bring many thousands more visitors to the borough, and provide a major boost to tourism.
“The council is committed to improving air quality in the borough, and recognises that this was an area of concern for local residents. I hope that it will be reassuring for residents to learn that the Mayor has submitted our measures to independent scrutiny and found them to be satisfactory.”
Residents in the area already complain of feeling under siege by politicians and developers, and many may find hearing a Labour councillor endorse Boris Johnson’s administration on air pollution – not the Conservative mayor’s strongest point – represents a new smack in the face.
Last week, the East Greenwich Residents Association called on council leader Denise Hyland to step down from its main planning committee after it emerged she was the only one of London’s 28 council leaders to take a direct role in deciding whether new developments should go ahead.
Hyland’s comments during the meeting were also leaked to Private Eye magazine, leading to the council’s first appearance in the satirical publication for many years.
It’s sure to annoy the image-conscious
Royal Greenwich Greenwich Council press office, while it’ll no doubt cause sniggers among the Labour councillors who are unhappy with their leader’s performance. After all, her bullying predecessor managed to keep himself out of the Eye…
(Thanks to the Greenwich Green Party for scanning it in.)
Not much time for new stories at the moment, but a quick word about something old that’s just a teensy bit annoying, which may be the dullest post this site has ever featured..
Last night, the Twitter feed of Greenwich Council’s deputy leader John Fahy – it’s the only place to find him these days, he seems to have been airbrushed out of the weekly Greenwich Time again – sprang to life with a strange little comment.
Rachel Blundy? Who’s that? Man the borders! Guards, stop her!
Actually, it turns out she’s a journalist at the Evening Standard, who had the exciting job of writing up a story about nine out of the 10 most miserable places in the UK being in London. Greenwich comes seventh – one place more miserable than Luton.
Of course, she never had to leave the paper’s Kensington HQ to write it – it’s purely based on a survey of 25,000 people conducted by Rightmove. It’s the sort of stuff that’s easy clickbait, and people who rarely look deeper than the headline get really excited by this kind of thing.
I wonder how statistically sound this survey is – you’re looking at no more than 200 people per council area surveyed, for a start. We also don’t know where in each borough these people live – in Greenwich, you’re likely to be vastly more satisfied if you live on the Ashburnham Triangle conservation area than if you go home on the 177 to the Abbey Wood Estate.
But in terms of getting lovely, lovely clicks, there’s no room for this kind of question. And no time. So, essentially, it’s a councillor blaming a journalist who’s been told to write a fairly rubbish news story. So far, so typical.
Even the Tories are getting defensive.
But hang on a minute. Let’s dive into these figures. Asked about the upkeep of their local area, respondents rated Greenwich 119th out of 130 council areas – 27/33 in London. As a local council, you’ve got some direct input over this. I’d be asking some questions here. So perhaps the good councillor Fahy shouldn’t be so dismissive. And maybe there’s something for new Tory leader Matt Hartley to get his teeth into.
Too often, Greenwich is dismissive of those who claim the place looks like a dump – even while a contracting cock-up means weeds are threatening to displace puny humans from many parts of the borough.
To be fair, they are making efforts to change – finally embracing the FixMyStreet app for reporting faults (erstwhile Dear Leader Chris Roberts is said to have actively discouraged techological fixes like this), and using a 25-year-old law to finally get tough on shopping trolleys.
But if you live in well-tended Eltham avenues as the council leadership does, you may not see the fly-tipping that blights other areas. And you also may not see these…
Abandoned street sweepers’ bags started cropping up a year or so in my own neck of Charlton. They also appear in parts of east Greenwich, while I’ve had reports of them in Abbey Wood too. They come and go – I remember them being left out all over Christmas in many areas. We seem to be in a summer of them here, left lying around for anything up to a week, blocking pavements and getting in the way. More often than not, they’re left out for a whole weekend. Essentially, the council is flytipping its own streets.
They’re not the only ones – cross into Lewisham, and you’ll often see huge piles of blue bags shoved up against walls awaiting collection. It’s the same in Southwark. But in Greenwich, half-empty bags are just left in seemingly random places to moulder for days on end. It happened today in my part of Charlton – I’m pretty fearful they’ll be left out for the weekend, making the place look a dump for the first day of the football season.
Personally, I’ve complained plenty of times, only really getting anywhere when local MP Matt Pennycook gets involved. Otherwise, reports are often ignored, both by council staff and by councillors. (I accept this is probably because it’s me doing the complaining.)
But today, I got some answers. I bumped into a street sweeper leaving these bags out, and asked him about how it works. I won’t say where to protect his identity. It does seem, though, that this practice shouldn’t be happening. If you come home from work in the evening and your street is littered with bags, then chances are they shouldn’t be there.
Apparently, these bags should be collected within two hours. However, the vans that do the collecting often don’t get round to them – some staff are more “efficient” than others, according to my man with the broom. So, it appears that they just get abandoned. The bags are half-empty because otherwise staff can’t throw them onto the van otherwise (!), and staff are told to leave the bags on the edge of the pavement – even though it often blocks the pavement.
It looks like something’s gone wrong at Cleansweep, the council’s in-house litter service – nobody’s really monitoring whether this relatively new way of working is actually successful. And, I’d argue, because people are often used to poorly-kept streets, they aren’t really pressing the council on it. It also doesn’t appear that councillors are doing much work on this either.
So, ladies and gentlemen – we have some work to do here. If you see a bag that’s been left out for a day or so, report it. The FixMyStreet app is great for this if you have a smartphone. Ask it to send you updates on your problem. They’ll ring you back sometimes to check details. If the council comes back and tells you it’s “awaiting collection”, politely ask them to collect it. Hopefully, they’ll get the message and fix this.
Because otherwise, the next step is seeing if the council can be fined for flytipping its own streets – and that would be a bit embarrassing, wouldn’t it?
Greenwich Council’s cabinet agreed to sell a “pocket park” off Blackwall Lane to a developer on Wednesday night, despite 54 complaints about the plan.
Councillors agreed the plan to dispose of the open space to the company building flats on an adjacent plot of land that had formerly been used as a car wash.
The vast majority of complaints came from streets close to the open space, which has been tended to by council street maintenance staff for many years.
Most of the complaints were about the potential loss of open space, while 38 were concerned about increased noise and air pollution levels at a site which is close to the Blackwall Tunnel approach.
They were all given the same reply: “The planning process deals with local consultation and issues relating to the potential loss of public open space and the impact of any new development.”
The cabinet was asked to consider a quick sale because “a decision in September 2015 will be too late to enable the Royal Borough [sic] to seek to secure the best possible receipt”, according to documentation released earlier this month.
The sale price was not made public, but the council says it is trying to address concerns by ensuring that 20% of the receipts would “be used for the purpose of environmental improvements to other areas of public realm in the vicinity”, to be decided by regeneration cabinet member Danny Thorpe and senior council officer Pippa Hack. No role is mentioned for the area’s local councillors or residents.
The cabinet paper adds: “There may also be an opportunity for further public realm improvements to be secured under any section 106 agreement linked to a planning consent for redevelopment of the site.” This will also be something for local residents to stay vigilant about, as section 106 deals in Greenwich are usually used to fund borough-wide projects.
The other 80% of the sale cash will go into the council’s general funds. Wondering where that’s going? Well, Wednesday night’s cabinet meeting also agreed a £12.2 million budget for a scheme to build a cinema in Eltham High Street, and heard that the latest budget for the 2017 Tall Ships race is £1.8 million.
I couldn’t be at Woolwich Town Hall, so have to leave you in the hands of those who were and who tweeted from the meeting. The plans were approved 6-3, with one abstenion, after a motion calling for approval to be deferred was defeated.
The crucial issue is that the ships will be generating their own power, using much dirtier fuels – critics say it’ll be the equivalent of having 50 lorries running their engines all day and night, and that the terminal should use its own power sources, as used in New York and Amsterdam and demanded by an EU directive.
But these fears were dismissed by councillors, who also heard the terminal will only provide 88 jobs – down from the 500-odd previously mooted.
It’s not the first time air quality concerns have been brushed aside on a major planning application – this happened most recently in March 2014, when outline plans for an Ikea store, also in east Greenwich, were approved.
Those that were there also managed to hear leading councillors make hugely simplistic assumptions about the effect of the terminal.
Forget the charms of the West End – leisure cabinet member Miranda Williams claimed the development will bring tourists to Woolwich and Eltham…
(Worth noting that Stewart Christie is in the Greenwich Lib Dems, Simon Edge in the Greenwich Greens.)
Regeneration member Danny Thorpe claimed the only sources of air pollution in east Greenwich came from Blackwall Tunnel queues and buses – conveniently ignoring the horrendous westbound traffic through Greenwich town centre, which in the 1990s led the council to consider building a bypass under the Thames.
And to top the lot, council leader Denise Hyland told residents that they should have raised air quality issues when the terminal first came before planning some years back – despite the fact that the new plan envisages cruise liners staying for longer. It’s also worth pointing out that Greenwich Council wasn’t making its readings from nitrogen dioxide tubes public at the time.
Peninsula ward councillor Chris Lloyd defended residents, along with colleague Stephen Brain, and local MP Matt Pennycook asked for the matter to be deferred. Conservative councillor Matt Clare also spoke against the scheme, along with his Tower Hamlets counterpart Chris Chapman.
I suspect we’ll be returning to this issue before too long.
9am update: Any Greenwich resident who wishes to ask a question of Greenwich Council regarding this can submit a question to next Wednesday’s council meeting – email committees[at]royalgreenwich.gov.uk by noon today.
Reaction from Tower Hamlets Labour councillor Candida Ronald…
…and local MP Matt Pennycook.
Last summer, this website revealed Greenwich Council was planning to sell a small piece of green space on Blackwall Lane in east Greenwich.
In other areas, it’d be called a “pocket park” and cherished – it soaks up some of the terrible pollution in this area of SE10 and provides a valuable bit of green space. It also offsets the grim-looking block of flats going up next door.
Local residents and at least one councillor protested about the council’s plan – but their complaints have fallen on deaf ears.
Greenwich Council’s cabinet is set to approve a quick sale of the land… to the developer of the ugly flats next door. The cabinet is being asked to rush through the sale at a higher price to suit the developer, according to this document:
“The adjoining owner/developer has offered a sum in excess of Officers’ opinion of the market value. The building works on his adjoining site are progressing to completion and, to justify the offer, he is requesting the Royal Borough finalises the deal soon. The concern is that a decision in September 2015 will be too late to enable the Royal Borough to seek to secure the best possible receipt.
“With Member’s [sic] approval to the disposal in principle, the process to secure the best receipt will be established and implemented by the Director of Regeneration Enterprise & Skills. Any development of the site will be subject to the usual planning requirements to ensure the delivery of a sustainable development.”
Meanwhile, contrary to what library staff were telling customers, the old East Greenwich Library is also set for sale to the highest bidder.
At the last full council meeting, regeneration councillor Danny Thorpe confirmed that the building – donated to the community in 1905 by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie – was not protected by a covenant.
Greenwich Council leader Denise Hyland has admitted its legal fight to save its weekly newspaper Greenwich Time is set to cost £120,000.
Hyland accused the government of wanting to “censor democracy” by trying to force the closure of GT, one of only two weekly council papers in the country.
The admission came during Wednesday’s council meeting, when new Conservative leader Matt Hartley pressed her on the costs in a written question.
Hyland revealed the council has spent £30,000 on the action so far – including £22,320 on outside legal advice, with total costs expected to reach £120,000.
The answer also indicates that the council, which claims publishing GT weekly saves it money, is planning to claim that a government ban on publishing its own paper would be against its freedom of expression, as enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights.
Greenwich is seeking a judicial review of the decision by former communities secretary Eric Pickles to direct it to close GT, following a new law prohibiting councils from publishing newspapers or magazines more than four times a year.
As well as undercutting ad rates in existing local newspapers, Greenwich Time has been accused of bias and misleading information. The only other council to publish a weekly newspaper, Tower Hamlets, recently saw its elected mayor ejected over charges of corruption.
Hyland told the council chamber: “I’m just amazed, actually, that the Conservative group over there are so against the democracy of Greenwich Time to be untrue, that you will actually support the Department of Communities and Local Government in censoring information going out to residents.
“It is beyond belief, frankly.”
She added that the council would be studying the results of its recent tender for advertising, a possible replacement for GT.
Speaking slowly, she said: “We will make our decisions strategically, and be advised by coun-sel – a QC – and we will take each stage as it comes. We have been assured by our QC that we have a strong case and we expect to win.”
The legal process is set to take some months yet, meaning residents will still get GT for the time being. At the last council meeting in March, Hyland mocked those who signed a petition against the newspaper, accusing them of being Conservatives or Liberal Democrats. “I didn’t know they had so many members,” she said.
Also at Wednesday’s council meeting… a motion protesting about the 53 bus being cut short at Lambeth North turned into a political squabble.
Hyland also defended the £20,000 private mayor-making event held for new mayor Norman Adams, saying any attempt to open it up to the public would increase costs.
In a written answer to Matt Hartley, she called it “a good opportunity for key players and residents to meet”, adding that “a broad range of partners and community groups and residents from across the spectrum of Greenwich life were represented at the event”.
“I would be happy to explore ways that the event could be opened up but, should we wish to retain the current community involvement, it could further increase costs.”
When asked by fellow Tory Matt Clare if representatives from political parties not represented on the council were invited, she replied: “The Mayor’s inauguration is not a political event. It is a civic reception with an invited audience of guests from across the spectrum of Greenwich life. including: Faith Leaders, businesses, community representatives, Civic Award winners, voluntary groups, Borough tenant
representatives, MPs, stakeholders, representatives of the Armed Forces, all members of the Council as well as a broad range of partners and community groups and residents from across the borough.
“All members of the Council are the elected representatives of local people – the public have made their choice of who they want to represent them.”
Regeneration and transport cabinet member Danny Thorpe said he would welcome an extension of the London Cycle Hire scheme to Greenwich town centre, following Boris Johnson’s backing for the proposal last week.
But told Conservative councillor Matt Clare the council would not pay the £2 million other boroughs – such as Tower Hamlets and Hammersmith & Fulham – have paid to see the bikes, now formally known as Santander Cycles, extended to their areas. When the scheme was first implemented in 2010, boroughs did not have to pay.
Thorpe said it would be “a fantastic opportunity”, adding he had discussed the idea at a scrutiny meeting last year, joking: “I know you call them Santander bikes because they’ve gone red, just like City Hall will next year.”
He added: “We’re open for business, we’re always happy to chat to Andrew Gilligan, the cycling commissioner, but Greenwich will not go above and beyond in terms of paying for what other boroughs have had for free.”