Posts Tagged ‘greenwich council’
Greenwich Council’s planning board ignored well over an hour of public criticism last night to back outline plans by furniture giant Ikea to build a store in east Greenwich.
The seven-strong board split on party lines to endorse the proposal, with the council’s Labour leader Chris Roberts among the five members backing the scheme – despite Labour councillors and candidates joining opponents to speak out. The two Conservatives opposed the scheme.
The decision is just an outline approval – Ikea will have to return to the council at a later date with detailed plans before construction can go ahead on the site currently occupied by the “eco-friendly” Sainsbury’s store, which is relocating to Charlton.
Greenwich planning officers said Ikea was considering subsidising delivery for those who use public transport to get to the store, although neither they nor Ikea representatives were clear about what this would mean.
Members of the public spoke for an hour and quarter on the scheme, with nobody supporting it. Opponents included Labour councillors Mary Mills and Alex Grant.
“So many people have got in touch with me – there’s so much wrong with this, I can’t go into detail,” Peninsula councillor Mills said.
“When I was elected 14 years ago, it seemed as if Greenwich had taken on board sustainability. It seems like we’re running away from that now.”
Blackheath Westcombe councillor Alex Grant also recalled approving the original Sainsbury’s scheme as “a rookie councillor”, branding traffic predictions “nonsense”. He suggested Ikea be invited to select a more suitable site.
Greenwich & Woolwich parliamentary candidate Matt Pennycook acknowleged the promised 400 jobs – “the people who will benefit are not in this room” – but added he was “extremely concerned” about traffic and pollution.
“Too much rests on underlying assumptions which may not be realised,” he told the planning board.
One resident of Greenwich Millennium Village told the board: “Common sense tells me this will be a nightmare for the area if it goes ahead. We’re not an out-of-town shopping centre, we’re a thriving community.”
Other residents questioned why Ikea was unwilling to compromise its business model, with one pointing out that the store operates a car-free model in Hong Kong.
Charlton Society chair (and Labour council candidate) David Gardner questioned why Ikea aimed for 35% of visitors using public transport in Greenwich, when the Croydon store – which lies off a tram line – only has 28%.
Another local resident, Martin Stanforth, said the Croydon Ikea could not cope with the traffic, adding: “Our streets are not designed for massive amounts of traffic.
“You cannot approve this store until you’ve been to Ikea Croydon on a Saturday afternoon. What’s your legacy going to be?”
But councillors on the board were unmoved – indeed, regeneration cabinet member Denise Hyland asked planning officers from the start of the meeting how the council could enforce conditions if the application was approved.
Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts said he was aiming to reverse the legacy of 1980s car-centric development – but backed the scheme regardless.
Abbey Wood Labour councillor Clive Mardner backed the scheme, emphasising the importance of working with local people and adding: “I assume they’re taking on board air quality.”
Both Conservative councillors on the board opposed the scheme. Blackheath Westcombe councillor Geoff Brighty called the traffic predictions “laughable”.
Veteran colleague Dermot Poston (Eltham North) called the existing Sainsbury’s store “revolutionary” and “beautiful” – which led to him being accused of “playing to the gallery” by Roberts in a meeting which is supposed to be non-partisan.
Poston also questioned the lack of environmental impact assessment, and accused the council of arrogance for ignoring the 20th Century Society’s application to have the Sainsbury’s building listed.
But in the end, the board appeared determined to back the scheme – no matter how shaky the case, or how much Chris Roberts’ own Labour councillors and candidates opposed it.
For tweets from last night’s planning board, take a look at this Storify page.
Votes for: Steve Offord (Lab, Abbey Wood/ housing cabinet member), Clive Mardner (Lab, Abbey Wood), Denise Hyland (Lab, Abbey Wood/ regeneration cabinet member), Chris Roberts (Lab, Glyndon/ council leader), Ray Walker (Lab, Eltham West/ chief whip).
Votes against: Geoff Brighty (Con, Blackheath Westcombe), Dermot Poston (Con, Eltham North)
Some people have strange hobbies. They might collect odd things, or have peculiar enthusiasms. Me, I go to Greenwich Council meetings. I often even ask questions, because it’s the only way I’ll find things out.
Actually, it’s not that strange. We all should take an interest in how we’re governed. We can watch, and be depressed by, Prime Minister’s Questions each week. But in the borough of Greenwich, there’s no such facility for us to do the same for our own local council. Yes, we can trot along to Woolwich Town Hall to take in a showcase full council meeting, study scrutiny panels, or watch planning decisions being made. But for most people, real life gets in the way.
I’ve sneakily recorded bits of meetings in the past, and they’ve seemed popular, even though to be frank, the quality’s crap. Woolwich Town Hall is due to undergo a £1.5m refurbishment soon, which will – in part – attempt to fix some of the notoriously bad acoustics in the committee rooms.
But even then, there’s no promise to start webcasting meetings, as Camden does. Here’s cabinet member Denise Hyland last month: “The proposal for the refurbishment of the Town Hall does include the delivery of improved meeting facilities for the public, and [we] will investigate the use of such technologies. However the decision regarding broadcasting committee meetings has yet to be considered by the Council.”
Last October’s council meeting was a particularly dramatic one, as the row over Greenwich Council’s pavement tax came to a head, and allegations over the leadership style of Chris Roberts were raised. But how to get hold of a decent recording?
The answer, as ever, came in the Freedom of Information Act. Greenwich Council records each meeting so minutes can be taken. Could I get hold of one of these recordings?
So, on 10 November, I emailed the council. On 12 February, three months later, I finally got the response I wanted – the council was going to send me a CD. I got it last week – it contains a 3-hour MP3 of the full meeting, from start to finish. The quality is crisp and clear, except for contributions from independent councillor Eileen Glover, whose microphone was switched off the whole way through. One of her (silent) contributions has been cut out, as well as one of the two short adjournments – otherwise, this is the whole thing.
Now the council’s found a way to convert its recordings to MP3, there’s no reason why it can’t do this for future meetings – such as this week’s one.
But in the meantime, here’s the council meeting of 30 October 2013, broken up into chunks. You can read all you like about what goes on at the council, and get a gutful of mine and other people’s opinions, but this will give you an insight into just how the Labour council leadership defends and promotes its policies, and how the Conservative opposition group holds them to account.
The recording may be nearly four months old, but the issues are still current – particularly the pavement tax, a belated consultation into which has recently opened. Indeed, I’d recommend listening to part 6, and comparing it with the way the council’s weekly newspaper, Greenwich Time (that week’s cover pictured on the right) covered it.
COUNCIL – WEDNESDAY 30 OCTOBER 2013, 7.00PM (See full agenda and minutes)
Silent parts in the recording are where Councillor Eileen Glover’s microphone was not switched on.
PART 1. Apologies for absence, minutes, mayor’s announcements, declarations of interest, petitions.
This includes mayor Angela Cornforth mentioning that a request had been made to film the meeting “by a commercial operator”. This was for the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme, on bullying allegations against Chris Roberts, aired in December and made by Juniper TV. It also includes Peninsula councillor Mary Mills handing in the 2,500-strong pavement tax petition.
PART 2. Public questions. (See written answers to questions.)
Here, questions can be asked by members of the public if they’re submitted at least a week in advance. If you turn up, you get to ask a supplementary – and these are what you hear here. Includes questions on the pavement tax, Run To The Beat and the Silvertown Tunnel.
PART 3. Questions from members. (See written responses.)
A similar format to the public questions, except from councillors. These are almost always from opposition councillors. Includes questions on council computer system issues, publishing recordings of council meetings, Silvertown Tunnel, severe weather preparations, car parking income, war memorials, Well Hall Pleasaunce, Andrew Gilligan, Blackheath fireworks and zero hours contracts.
PART 4. Oral questions to members of the cabinet.
More questions from councillors. Includes the pavement tax (including Chris Roberts’ admission of “informal” cabinet meetings), storm damage, World War I huts in a school in Eltham, and Denise Hyland declaring: “A group that calls itself ‘No to Silvertown‘ is hardly independent, is it?”
PART 5. Petition responses.
A member of the public speaks on speeding traffic on Westcombe Hill, Blackheath. Includes debate on Charlton Lido parking and speeding traffic on Sparrows Lane in New Eltham.
PART 6. Motion on the ‘street trading policy’ (pavement tax). (motion text)
Conservative and Labour councillors debate the controversial tax on shops placing items on the pavement outside their premises, and the way it was introduced. Worth a listen, and also worth seeing how council weekly Greenwich Time covered the debate.
PART 7. Labour motion on “management of public services by the Mayor of London and the Coalition Government”. (see motion text)
Chris Roberts lays into the Tories. Spencer Drury says “it reflects some brass neck”, and issues a sarcastic amendment about Roberts’ “interpersonal skills”.
PART 8. Revised code of conduct, Treasury management report, council functions on scrap metal dealers, “changes to the executive functions scheme of delegation”.
The dry drudgery of regular council business. But it picks up at the end, as opponents claim constant tinkering with the way the council works makes it harder to track just what the council is doing. Includes Eileen Glover having a pop at her former Conservative colleagues (well, it would if her mic was switched on).
PART 9. Labour motion on smoking and tobacco control.
Charlton councillor Janet Gillman speaks.
PART 10. Conservative motion on culture of politics in Greenwich. (see full item)
This motion followed comments made about the way Greenwich Council is run made by Greenwich West councillor (and now parliamentary candidate) Matt Pennycook and Lewisham councillor Kevin Bonavia, which themselves followed allegations of bullying in the Labour group. Notably, Pennycook does not speak in the debate. It proposes changes to the council’s scrutiny functions.
PART 11. Conservative motion calling for secret ballots for council leader.
Another motion designed to smoke out allegations of bullying in Greenwich’s Labour group. Mayor Angela Cornforth withdrew the motion “for further consideration”. It has not yet re-emerged.
So, there were are. Audio of a Greenwich Council meeting has been published. And nobody’s been hurt by it. I’ve also asked for recordings of the past two meetings, which I can only assume Greenwich is sitting on, now it knows how to convert these to MP3 – it’s made a habit of being late with responding to Freedom of Information requests, particularly those which cause it difficulty.
But when they come, if people find this recording useful, I’ll be happy to publish them here.
Planners are recommending the board, which includes council leader Chris Roberts and regeneration cabinet member Denise Hyland, approve the scheme, subject to conditions, calling the site “a sustainable out-of-town-centre location”.
The council’s decision to rush the application through comes as the 20th Century Society asks English Heritage to list the 1999 Sainsbury’s store which currently sits on the site. A petition against the demolition of the supermarket, lauded at the time for its eco-friendly credentials, has reached 915 signatures.
If you’ve a strong view on the scheme, the planning board meeting starts at 6.30pm on Monday 3 March at Woolwich Town Hall. If you want to speak at the meeting, get in touch with the council.
Two things are striking about the council’s decision to decide the application early – its speed, and the lack of consideration given to potential traffic issues. The council has already decided an environmental assessment isn’t needed, despite high existing levels of air pollution in the area. Ikea has claimed its development will improve air quality.
Notably, the planning report talks up Ikea’s home delivery service – but without citing its cost, and it does not make offering free or even discounted deliveries to local homes a condition.
As discussed here last year, a plan to build an Ikea on a more suitable site which really is out of town – next to the A20 at Sidcup – was abandoned after a City Hall report criticised its potential to clog up the local road network. That report was written under Labour mayor Ken Livingstone – his Tory successor, Boris Johnson, will have the final say in this scheme.
Even in this scheme, Transport for London calls Ikea’s claims for the number of people who will use public transport to get to the store “ambitious”.
Greenwich Council conditions include financial contributions to try to improve traffic flows in the area, but little more concrete than changing signs so drivers leave the site at the exit closest to Greenwich Millennium Village and cash for public transport improvements.
But why so quick? Well, Sainsbury’s does want to vacate the site next year. The sister application, to rebuild the Sainsbury’s store in Charlton, took 16 months to progress from public announcement to planning decision, with a planning application going in after six months. That level of consideration is simply not taking place here.
While planning decisions are officially taken on a non-political basis, that’s frankly not going to happen when a nine-strong planning board includes the council leader, the regeneration cabinet member and chief whip Ray Walker. Fellow cabinet members Sajid Jawaid and Steve Offord are also on a board whose decisions often split on party lines.
The other planning board members are Tories Geoff Brighty and Dermot Poston, and Labour backbenchers David Grant and Clive Mardner. The latter two’s votes are likely to be critical.
It’s likely that outgoing leader Chris Roberts will see the 400 jobs on offer as a legacy, while a conscious decision to back a scheme which will increase traffic – particularly from north of the river – would, in some minds, make the controversial Silvertown Tunnel an easier sell, although the crossing is not mentioned in the planning document. That said, any scheme which increased traffic on the A102/A2 could kibosh council dreams of the DLR on stilts to Eltham, which would take away some road space.
The decision to rush the scheme has meant councillors have had very little opportunity to comment on the scheme – and denies new councillors, who will be elected in May, the chance to shape what happens.
But with the application in to list the existing Sainsbury’s store, and significant bewilderment locally at just how Ikea’s plans for the site will work in practice, the decision to rush the scheme through could yet backfire on the council.
This Guardian website comment piece caught my eye…
“The public think Westminster is dominated by a London-centric, elite class but they are also not oblivious to the fact that a municipal mafia frequently dominates their town halls. These are often run by an elite which even backbench councillors can’t penetrate never mind the public.
“I know of councils that still refuse to allow their full council meetings to be filmed. Senior councillors who avoid social media like the plague and cabinet members who actively avoid or aren’t capable of interacting with the media. Open and accessible politics it isn’t. (more)
You’d think it was written about Greenwich, wouldn’t you? Interestingly, the piece was written by Simon Danczuk, Labour MP for Rochdale and a member of the local government select committee. And he must have known that his own party has a fair few councils like that.
Do pieces like this suggest Labour’s getting set to reform councils like Greenwich? Danczuk is only a backbench MP, so it’s hard to say. But it’s good to know that at least some MPs are aware of what’s going on and are prepared to speak up.
Funnily enough, I’m told a former business partner of Danczuk, one Oswin Baker, was the chair of the Greenwich & Woolwich Labour Party who helped Chris Roberts to power way back in 2000. It’s funny how things turn out.
Speaking of the council leader, he’s barely been seen since the year began. He’s not been seen at a council meeting, nor has he been fulfilling his Labour party duties. Roberts is known for “going missing” from time to time, but this spell of absence has raised eyebrows.
In particular, he didn’t show for a scrutiny panel meeting last week, leaving chief executive Mary Ney to stand in for him. Since very little goes ahead at Greenwich Council without his say-so, rumour mills have gone into overdrive. He’s even not been seen in the past two editions of Greenwich Time (last appearance shown above).
There’s a new GT out today, a planning board tonight, and a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, so he may well reappear. But with elections due soon, Roberts’ own future undecided and potential successors quietly jockeying for position, these are strange times at Woolwich Town Hall. Well, stranger than usual, anyway…
(Real life’s got in the way of this website lately, but if you’re looking for some decent local reading, I can recommend From The Murky Depths on more iffy-looking Peninsula developments (which go to planning tonight), and new site Blackheath Revolt on the Blackheath Society.)
Greenwich Council cabinet member John Fahy has broken ranks on his council’s refusal to help fund the annual Blackheath fireworks display by declaring it should fund the event.
Since 2010, Lewisham Council has been left alone to raise funds for the annual event, which straddles the boundary of the two boroughs, after Greenwich pulled its £37,000 funding.
The issue has strained relationships between the two neighbouring administrations, despite them both being run by the Labour Party.
Fahy has published a post on his blog in which he declares:
Blackheath Fireworks is one of the largest community events in London. It attracts large numbers of residents from Greenwich and elsewhere. Local restaurants and businesses benefit from the number attending. It has a major impact on reducing the number of home firework parties and reduces any potential safety issues in the home. Families can enjoy the event in a safe environment.
“Clearly Local Government has many pressures on limited resources but supporting community events is extremely important. We spend significant resources on our Festivals and rightly so. Getting together with a neighbouring Borough builds positive relationships and I fully support Greenwich making a contribution to secure the long term future of the event.”
Fahy, who’s Greenwich Council’s cabinet member for health and older people, also links to a poll where he seeks to “test the views of the wider community” on the issue.
In October 2010, council deputy leader Peter Brooks claimed it would be “inappropriate in this financial climate” to cough up the £37,000 needed to co-fund the event.
“I could give 65 million reasons why we didn’t pay,” Brooks told a council meeting in October 2010, referring to government cuts in the council’s budget. “£37,000 is equivalent to a job and a bit.”
At the same time, Greenwich was spending £30,000 a year on private parties to inaugurate its ceremonial mayors. Thamesmead Moorings councillor Brooks also told the same council meeting that “it’s very difficult to get to Blackheath from my ward” – despite the fact there’s a direct bus, route 380.
Since then, Greenwich spent £20,000 last year on fireworks to promote the Sail Royal Greenwich event, and a further £110,000 on events to mark becoming a royal borough in 2012.
Despite Greenwich’s refusal, Lewisham has continued to raise funds for the event, even though it’s also had its budget slashed by the coalition, by seeking sponsorship from firms and donations from locals – indeed, it was Greenwich resident Douglas Parrant who started 2013′s display after buying tickets in a Lewisham Council-run raffle.
But after last year’s event, Lewisham councillors were told fundraising had fallen £30,000 short – and the council would be approaching Greenwich to help it fund 2014′s display.
Greenwich’s refusal to help out is especially embarrassing for the council’s Labour colleagues in Lewisham, who have pledged to protect the display in past election campaigns.
Of course, there’s some context to this surrounding the poisonous atmosphere in Greenwich Labour.
It’s worth pointing out that Fahy appeared to have slightly different views on the issue in October 2011….
…although it’s well-known within Greenwich Council circles that cabinet members don’t write their own responses – indeed, they often come from council leader Chris Roberts.
When Fahy stood against Roberts for the leadership of the council in 2012, he lost his role as cabinet member for leisure and literally found himself airbrushed out of Greenwich’s weekly propaganda paper, Greenwich Time:
And, as everybody knows now, Fahy was also subjected to this threatening voicemail from Roberts last autumn:
I expect Fahy might have his phone switched off for a few days. To read what he has to say and vote on whether you think Greenwich Council should fund Blackheath fireworks, head on over to his website.
Furniture giant Ikea claims its proposed Greenwich store would improve air quality in the local area, according to documents sent to Greenwich Council.
But its detailed figures show any improvement would be “negligible”, while pollution would actually get slightly worse at Greenwich Millennium Village.
It says its plans to encourage traffic to use travel to the store via Blackwall Lane and Bugsbys Way, rather than coming off the A102 at Woolwich Road, would help cut pollution around the notorious junction.
The company claims the store will not result in any extra traffic heading to the site, which is due to be vacated by Sainsbury’s and Matalan in 2015 – it actually claims “there will be a slight reduction in traffic generation compared with the previous use of the site”.
Letters were sent to residents who attended November’s consultation event claiming the development would be “beneficial” for air quality. Now it is asking for outline planning permission for the scheme, and residents have two weeks to get their views to Greenwich Council.
Ikea’s air quality assessment shows the company has not commissioned any air pollution monitoring itself. Instead, it is relying on figures estimated from Greenwich Council monitoring stations and diffusion tubes.
While all local sites will still break European legal limits of 40 micrograms per cubic metre of nitogen dioxide, Ikea’s figures claim a “slight beneficial” effect on areas to the south of the flyover along with a small worsening of quality around the Millennium Village.
Ikea’s plans to encourage consumers to use Blackwall Lane and Bugsbys Way to access the store would mean extra traffic passing to the south of Greenwich Millennium Village, as well as the site of a new primary school planned by Greenwich Council. Ikea’s estimate for Southern Way (42.6) is lower than figures recorded by the No to Silvertown Tunnel campaign in June 2013 of 50µg/m3.
Ikea’s transport assessment claims there “will be a reduction in vehicle trips during the weekday PM peak as a result of the development proposals, and only a slight increase in vehicle trips on the Saturday peak”.
It adds “a lower level of parking at the Millennium Retail Park will mean that trips generation will be more constrained compared to the existing London stores. This will encourage the uptake of sustainable means of travel”. It predicts 65% of customers will come by car.
It says the Greenwich store will have a smaller catchment area (of 2.17 million people) than its other stores. This roughly runs from the West End to Dagenham and Crayford, and from Orpington to Leytonstone. But other figures included with the application show areas as far out as Canterbury and Ashford, Kent, will be within an hour’s drive of the store.
Ikea says 39.1% of that figure will come from north of the river – a change to existing travel patterns which will put more pressure on the Blackwall Tunnel and the congested A12 through Poplar and Bow. 13.4% of trips would come from “Woolwich Road west” – largely via the central Greenwich world heritage site.
The application can be viewed at Greenwich Council’s planning site by entering reference number 13/3285/O. Comments need to be with Greenwich Council by 11 February.
Lots happening but not a lot of time to write anything here, so go and look at what someone else has written instead. Posts on From The Murky Depths are few and far between, but when they appear, they’re great. And this one about Greenwich Council and poor public spaces is great, as it reminds me that it’s not just me that despairs at how great areas of the borough I live in look like a dump, frankly, with badly-designed, cheaply-treated and poorly-maintained streets. Or “public realm”, to use the lingo.
“Street furniture is almost always installed with minimal thought or care, it is almost always the cheapest and most utilitarian, and maintenance poor. Often thousands will be spent on bizarre schemes that place guardrails across paving in areas with broken walls, bent street furniture etc which are not treated.”
The nicely-done squares in Woolwich are the exceptions which prove the rule – paid for and designed in association with other bodies such as TfL. Otherwise, everywhere else is a mess. Why can’t Greenwich do street design?
I took the picture above for something else, but it actually sums up the point quite nicely. Last year, some of the local bigwigs here in Charlton were patting themselves on the back for having got the council to install some flower containers to prettify the ugly metal railings outside Charlton station.
Once the summer went, so did the flowers… but the empty containers stayed for some reason. Now we have containers full of crap, and the idea’s backfired. It was a nice idea, but nobody really thought it through properly. This kind of thing’s typical, unfortunately.
When I visit areas across Greenwich borough I often hear people putting down their areas, and even appearing quite ashamed of them. Visitors are the same. And you can’t blame them given the state of many areas.
It may seem a small thing, but having to traipse through clogged-up, poorly-looked after streets day in, day out affects people’s well-being and sense of pride in the area, and makes them less inclined to put effort in to pitch in to help sort things out. Two years on, the borough’s regal status looks like a hollow joke when you see the state of the streets in some parts of the “royal borough”. Try Floyd Road in Charlton.
Maybe they’re counting on people being to docile and depressed to complain. But the local politician who has the brains and the guts to seize the issue and do something about filthy and cluttered streets will do more for Greenwich borough’s well-being than any number of tall ships parades or royal borough banners ever will.
There’s a new owner at Charlton Athletic – but the scale of the rebuilding job facing Belgian businessman Roland Duchâtelet became apparent yesterday when the team’s match against Barnsley was postponed less than two hours before kick-off due to ongoing problems with The Valley pitch.
But Charlton fans should be vigilant that the current problems with the pitch aren’t used as a pretext to move the club out of its historic home.
Last year, it was reported that the club was in talks with Greenwich Council about moving out of The Valley for a new stadium, to be built at Morden Wharf on the west side of Greenwich Peninsula, on land currently owned by developer Cathedral Homes. The club’s old site would become social housing, under this scheme.
What’s been unclear, though is where the impetus for the scheme has come from – whether it came from within the club, or from outside.
But what is known is that Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts was a frequent visitor at matches under the ownership of Michael Slater and Tony Jimenez, where he could be seen enjoying hospitality in the directors’ box.
Slater and Jimenez took over at Charlton at the end of 2010. They installed Chris Powell as manager, and secured the funds to secure promotion back to the Championship in 2012. But after that the funds dried up.
The pitch problems at The Valley are a symptom of that trouble. The club admits part of the drainage system has collapsed, and this can’t be rectified until the end of the season. No significant work has taken place on the pitch for years – and the end result of that neglect was Saturday’s fiasco.
Now Slater and Jimenez are on their way out, to be replaced by Roland Duchâtelet, owner of Belgian sides Standard Liege and Sint-Truidense, one-time East German giants FC Carl-Zeiss Jena and Spanish second division team AD Alcorcón. Quite a collection of clubs. He also fronts a small liberal political party in Belgium.
Duchâtelet has installed aide Katrien Meire onto Charlton’s board, but before they could get their feet under the table, a little charm offensive was launched from Greenwich Council.
“Royal Borough welcomes new Charlton Athletic owners,” trilled a press release on 3 January, adding ominously: “The borough will work with the new owners to further strengthen the Club.”
Oddly, Chris Roberts seems to be in a very small band of people who believes that Michael Slater and Tony Jimenez helped Charlton “progress”.
Councillor Chris Roberts, Leader of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, said: “The Council would like to welcome the new owners of Charlton Athletic Football Club to the Borough. At the same time, we would also like to place on record our thanks to the previous owners for the progress made by the Club during their tenure in which they secured promotion to the Championship.”
It’s a very, very odd statement – yes, Slater and Jimenez helped Charlton return to its natural level in the Championship. But the club haemorrhaged senior staff under their regime, and by all accounts was facing serious financial problems before its sale. Hopefully yesterday’s events will encourage football journalists to investigate their record a little more thoroughly.
So what exactly was Roberts thanking Slater and Jimenez for? For being receptive to a proposal to move ground, perhaps? We don’t know, but previous chairman Richard Murray (who returns to his role under Duchâtelet) didn’t get that kind of herogram when he sold up, despite all his achievements.
Neither did the council make any noise when it declared The Valley an asset of community value last November, which would put a six-month block on any sale. Why was that?
If Roberts is putting pressure on Charlton to move, then he’s now got to start again with Roland Duchâtelet and Katrien Meire. Will they be receptive? Nobody knows, but Duchâtelet did refer to The Valley as “a cherished stadium” in a statement to fans last week.
Greenwich Council has denied any formal discussions have taken place over a move. An answer to a Freedom of Information Act request made last year would only say:
“Occasional discussions have taken place between representatives of the Council and CAFC going back over many years. These discussions have included reference to the Club’s aspiration to stay in, or return to the Premiership, and as a result have included reference to the size and capacity of the existing stands and constraints on expansion posed by the physical limitations of the existing site. The discussions have been informal and conversational in nature, and have not been of a substantive nature.”
It’s very easy to make an educated guess that Greenwich Council is encouraging Charlton to move under the pretext that the ground is knackered. It then gets a high-profile occupant for a stadium on the peninsula, while social housing which would otherwise have been built up there gets shunted into Charlton. It’s a conspiracy theory, but with the lack of anything on the record, it’s one which makes sense.
Typically, not even those connected with Greenwich Labour know quite what Roberts’ intentions are towards Charlton. Even those who support the club seem hazy on the plans.
But a conversation I had with one yesterday worried me. “If there’s a continuing sense The Valley is awful, it makes the argument to move easier,” I was told.
Yet there is nothing wrong with The Valley. The pitch hasn’t been maintained properly, but that’s a management failure, not a failure of location. Indeed, The Valley was known as one of the best pitches in the country a decade ago. And it can be that way again.
If there’s an argument for moving, it surrounds the The Valley’s limited room for expansion. But with The Valley not even two-thirds full at present – and Greenwich Council having previously backed past expansion plans – that isn’t an issue.
Fixing the pitch should be relatively cheap. But perhaps the embarrassment of the postponement, and the way it was mishandled by the club might prompt Duchâtelet to show his hand on the long-term future of Charlton Athletic.
It’s 24 years since Charlton fans formed the Valley Party to fight Greenwich Council on the issue of the club playing at its traditional home. Nearly a quarter of a century on, it may well be time for a new generation to become just as vigilant and proactive towards the council’s intentions for Floyd Road.
Woolwich fire station closed this morning.
There was a small demonstration outside the graceful Victorian building, tucked away in the back streets, which now has prime redevelopment potential. About 20 people, including Greenwich Labour councillors and candidates, plus MPs Nick Raynsford (a former fire services minister) and Clive Efford, gathered outside for its final hour.
Woolwich fire station is the victim of budget cuts, yet there was still money in the GLA kitty for two private security guards, two policemen, a police van to lurk around the corner, another police van and the Greenwich borough commander to keep watch.
“All very peaceful, the local MP’s here,” one copper radioed back to base. This was no raging against the dying of the light. As the wind whipped up, this was a final farewell to London’s second oldest operational fire station, which seems to have been written off as terminal long ago.
When Shooters Hill fire station was closed (by a Labour government) in 1998, residents were assured they’d be safe because Woolwich fire station was still there. Now Woolwich is gone, too, thanks to Boris Johnson.
One of its tenders will move to East Greenwich fire station, but a gap in fire coverage has opened up around Woolwich, a district in the throes of redevelopment. More people will live in Woolwich, but they’ll have to wait longer for a fire engine.
With Woolwich fire station gone, could more have been done? I certainly wish I’d covered the issue more, rather than fearing duplicating what other local media were doing. But where was the community anger? It was an issue which seemed to struggle to get beyond local Labour party stalwarts. Local councillor and cabinet member John Fahy comes out of this with credit, organising a 433-strong petition against it.
But Fahy’s own council barely bothered to take up the cause. It can organise a petition to build a new road to please developers, but it didn’t back a petition to keep a fire station eyed by up developers.
As reported here in November, Greenwich’s only response to the cuts proposal was to fire off a two-page letter from cabinet member Maureen O’Mara, containing glaring errors. Neighbouring Lewisham did some research and sent off a seven-page document, detailing the impact on it and other boroughs, and saw New Cross fire station saved as a result.
Greenwich wouldn’t even put up posters for a formal public meeting about the closure.
The council belatedly joined a court action to stop the cuts – but it was too late.
John Fahy – recently given a warning by his party over allegedly leaking council leader Chris Roberts’ bullying voicemail to him – was there this morning. So were cabinet colleagues Denise Hyland and Steve Offord and a smattering of other councillors and candidates. No sign, though, of O’Mara, Roberts, or his deputy Peter Brooks – the ones who really could have done something.
But maybe the blame lies with all of us, for not kicking up a bigger stink. Perhaps not enough people even knew the station existed. Or it points to something nobody wants to face up to – how the public are now completely disconnected from local issues. Or maybe nobody really cared enough.
But now Boris Johnson will have leave a little bit of his legacy behind in Woolwich, when the old Woolwich fire station becomes a free school or luxury flats. Sadly, and despite the efforts of Labour activists, I can’t help thinking either result would meet few complaints from Greenwich Council.
Goodbye, Woolwich fire station. Sorry we didn’t try hard enough.
It’s always good to see an issue raised on this website taken up by politicians – so here’s a warm 853 welcome for a petition calling for a boost to the 108 bus service between North Greenwich and Lewisham, which suffers from chronic overcrowding during rush hours.
The petition comes from Greenwich Conservatives – in particular, their energetic candidate for Blackheath Westcombe ward, Thomas Turrell. Blackheath Westcombe’s the borough’s most marginal ward, represented by two Tories and one Labour repesentative, so what goes on here is worth watching.
The Tories’ petition wants a rush-hour only bus, numbered 108A, to supplement the packed-out 108 south of the river, giving passengers a service that is less affected by Blackwall Tunnel delays. Ignoring the fact that Transport for London no longer runs rush-hour only buses (nor ones with letters as suffixes – although with next year’s train woes in mind, a revival of the original 108A to London Bridge could be useful), at least the issue of the 108′s woes is being taken seriously.
Except… the Tories are addressing their petition to Greenwich Council. Not TfL, which runs the buses, but Greenwich Council. “We call on Royal Greenwich Borough Council [sic] to use the means at its disposal to work with Transport for London to introduce a new 108a bus route…”
So, effectively, Greenwich Tories are asking the Labour-run council to ask Tory-run TfL to fix our buses. Could they not, well, go straight to Boris Johnson instead? Perhaps not, with TfL bracing itself for deep cuts to bus services under its current administration. Awkward.
Anyone that’s ever been to a Greenwich Council meeting will know how it’ll treat the petition, anyway. Transport cabinet member Denise Hyland will act like the Tories have suggested selling a close family member, before Chris Roberts declares once again that the council should run bus services because
Berkeley Homes the council knows better than anyone else on the entire planet. Nobody will go home happy, not least those going home by bus.
Which is a shame, because the state of the 108 is worth addressing, and it’s a pity that local politicians have ignored the issue for so long. Unlike the 132, overcrowding on which has been raised three times in 14 months at City Hall.
But then the 132′s fate proves a point. Run a bus to North Greenwich from just about anywhere, and it’ll fill up.
So maybe the Greenwich Tories’ 108 petition will light a flame. Perhaps some bright spark will team up with politicians across the boundary, and suggest an entirely new route to somewhere new like Brockley or Bromley, or maybe just the Kidbrooke Village development, to help ease the 108 through Blackheath. Maybe they’ll even set up a petition, and maybe they’ll get somewhere.
But hopefully, they’ll remember to address it to the right people first.