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.”
A little bit of Greenwich history came to an end today, quietly swept under the carpet after decades of neglect.
East Greenwich Library, which first opened 110 years ago, shut its doors on Friday evening, ahead of its shiny new replacement at the Greenwich Centre opening today.
Without this place, I’m not sure I’d have developed a keenness for digging out facts and a general curiosity about the world around me. I was brought up just around the corner – never mind Wikipedia, I could have a pop at finding out stuff in the library. And I’d usually end up finding out a lot me.
Later on, I used to read its copies of Time Out. I’ve got its London news coverage and Jon Ronson columns to thank/blame for my decision to go into journalism.
This handsome building – donated to the community by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie – was the old central library of the Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich. Some of its old books are used as props in rooms at Charlton House, with century-old labels in and warnings that the library must be told if your home housed people with infectious diseases.
In the 1980s, what was then called Greenwich Library still carried the pomp of its heyday – a proper reference library at the side, a large children’s library at the back, and rows and rows of big, wide shelves. A particular mystery for me were the stairs at the centre of the library – where did they lead to?
Of course, this heyday wasn’t to last. The rot – quite literally – started to set in at the end of the 1980s.
Greenwich Council stopped maintaining the building properly, and shortly after a new library opened a mile up the hill in Blackheath, closure was proposed. A local campaign saw it off, but the library only survived in an emasculated state, with opening hours slashed, part of it walled off and effectively left to crumble.
Five years ago – during my run as a Green Party council candidate – I was shown around the basement, which at the time was being used by Greenwich Community College’s music classes. It was prone to flooding and in a bad way.
Now, with the move down the road, the council can finally get the library off is books – something it’s wanted to do for at least a quarter of a century. Sorting out all the structural problems will be somebody else’s responsibility. It’s going to look ugly for a while, with shutters put up to stop squatters.
The building’s now going to be up for sale.
but, I’m told, with a covenant that keeps it in community use. I’m pleased about this, as that was something we campaigned on five years ago. We’ll just have to watch to make sure Greenwich Council are as good as their word. (Update 29 June: There is no covenant on the building.)
The new library opens on Saturday in the Greenwich Centre, along with a new leisure centre – replacing the Arches, which also closes today – and a new council service centre.
There’s a very strange bit of public art outside, though. Forget the proud industrial history of east Greenwich, and never mind the health services which occupied this site for more than a century – there’s an artwork based on Nelson and Darwin.
Nelson’s links are with the posher end of Greenwich, and as for Darwin – that’s Woolwich, where his HMS Beagle was launched from. It’s all a bit Royal Borough™ Theme Park.
A spacious, open library gives east Greenwich a facility of the standard I enjoyed when I was young, and it’s good to see the old hospital site back in public use after 14 years. Hopefully, the old library’s contribution to the community won’t be airbrushed out of history. One to watch.
The event came less than three weeks before Labour councillors met to discuss the prospect of future government budget squeezes, which are likely to see services cut further over the next five years.
Councillors and guests attended the event, on 19 May, which marked long-serving councillor Norman Adams replacing Mick Hayes as the borough’s first citizen. Representatives from Berkeley Homes and Ikea were also invited, according to details released under the Freedom of Information Act.
The cost of the event, which came to £19,300, excluding VAT, has shot up following the decision of the Greenwich Foundation, which runs the old naval college, to charge the council for the first time in some years. Last year’s event cost £13,385.
Greenwich negotiated free venue hire with the foundation, as well as began using cheaper PA systems, after this website revealed that 2010’s ceremony had cost nearly £30,000.
Last month’s ceremony was the 10th the council has held at the Old Royal Naval College, bringing the total bill over the years for council taxpayers to £220,000, according to responses to various Freedom of Information Act requests.
Most boroughs do not hold these lavish bashes. The same night Greenwich councillors and their guests were living it up at in the Painted Hall, Camden inaugurated its new mayor at a simple event at its town hall.
Indeed, Adams formally became mayor at the council’s annual general meeting the previous week – with a ceremony similar to this one at Waltham Forest – meaning there was no need for the Naval College event at all.
Southwark uses Southwark Cathedral for its mayor-making, but declares it an official council meeting, meaning the public can come and watch. It also combines the inauguration with a civic awards ceremony.
In Greenwich, the public are shut out, despite paying a £9,000 bill for food and drink (red wine was Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Moncaro 2012; white wine was Galassia Garganega/Pinot Grigio 2013).Instead, while community representatives are invited, the event has traditionally been used for networking.
The invite list includes representatives from Ikea – whose plans for a store in east Greenwich have caused uproar – and property developers Berkeley Homes and Durkan. It is not known which of the 350 invitees actually attended.
Greenwich Peninsula developer Knight Dragon was also invited, as was the firm behind the Greenwich cruise liner terminal – two major planning schemes which have also angered local people. Indeed, just a few hundred yards from the ceremony, the East Greenwich Residents Association was discussing the effects of these schemes at its regular public meeting – without their Peninsula ward councillors present.
Despite blowing large sums of money on celebrating themselves at a time of cutbacks, Greenwich councillors have been largely oblivious to criticism of the Naval College bash, although some do deliberately stay away.
Indeed, in 2013, the council’s weekly newspaper Greenwich Time lied about its location, claiming for two successive weeks that it was held at Woolwich Town Hall.
The borough’s Tories have generally gone along with the ceremony, while occasionally pushing for it to be made more open to the public.
Labour councillors met at this weekend to discuss the effects of another five years of cuts under the new government. Can they really justify blowing another £20,000 on a private party?
The answer will lie with this year’s deputy mayor Olu Babatola, who will take the main job next year. Already a mould-breaker as the borough’s first African mayor, he could set an equally-welcome precedent by scrapping next year’s ceremony. Will he do it? It’s over to you, Olu.
An outdoor theatre production celebrating the life of Mexican surrealist artist Frida Kahlo has gained £100,000 in funding from Greenwich Council after backing from council leader Denise Hyland.
Greenwich has already committed £100,000 to GDIF, of which £20,000 was already earmarked for The Four Fridas.
Now the council is paying an extra £80,000 to festival bosses to secure the 45-minute long display of music, dance and flight, with a further £250,000 coming from Arts Council England and £60,000 from other sources.
Audiences will be able to stand and watch the show for free, with seats costing £16.
Kahlo, who died in 1954 aged 47, took up painting after being seriously injured by a trolleybus as a teenager. Her tempestuous personal life was explored in the 2002 film Frida, for which Salma Hayek was nominated for an Oscar.
An animated film will explore Kahlo’s “legacy as a disabled artist”, while the show “will feature a unique and powerful pre-hispanic Mexican cultural tradition by a group of young women from the village of Xochiapulcho in the Sierra Puebla, enacting the flight of the Voladores” – a ceremony that involving participants flying around a pole.
While the show is bound to pull in the crowds, the generous grant is likely to raise eyebrows at a time when the council is continuing to plead financial hardship. Over recent years, funding has been diverted away from smaller arts and cultural projects into larger, big-ticket events under the Royal Greenwich Festivals banner.
Smaller-scale grants have now been made available for community projects, and the council made a minor contribution to the Blackheath fireworks last year for the first time since 2009. But the Plumstead Make Merry festival is still struggling to survive while there remain fears for the future of Charlton’s Maryon Wilson Animal Park, an early victim of council cuts.
In any case, the funding decision continues a pattern of the council suddenly awarding extra funding to GDIF once programmes have been printed and press releases already sent out – the council found £100,000 at short notice in 2011.
“During a time of increasing financial pressures, Royal Greenwich is unique in making a significant investment in arts and culture to stimulate regeneration and access to the arts,” the council report says.
It adds the Four Fridas funding “strengthens Woolwich’s case as London’s newest cultural destination”, citing a decade of regeneration including new transport links, significant investment in residential, leisure and business development and evidence of grass roots arts-led development”.
How much this is actually apparent to the world beyond Woolwich Town Hall is worth questioning, though – an Evening Standard feature on the show describes Woolwich as “a part of London that is in desperate need of improvement”.
Other big arts events getting council funding – “developing awareness of ‘brand Greenwich'” – this summer include Greenwich Dance Festival (May-July £30,200), Greenwich International Book Festival (21-24 May, £12,000), Greenwich Children’s Theatre Festival (23-30 May, £17,000), Greenwich Music Festival (June 2015 – March 2016, £25,000), Parksfest (May – July, £26,400) and the one-day Greenwich World Cultural Festival (£20,800).
Update, 7.50pm: After writing this, I took a trip down to the open studios at Woolwich’s amazing Second Floor Studios & Arts, a community of 400 artists tucked away by the river (next door to where Ed Miliband’s notorious pledge stone is being stored).. Having a wander around, I couldn’t help wonder why Greenwich Council doesn’t take advantage of this if it wants to turn Woolwich into a creative hub.
Instead of blowing £100,000 on marching people up to the barracks for a show that will be gone in four days, why not use that money to help artists actually set up shop in Woolwich town centre? Greenwich town centre isn’t a year-round cultural hub despite having had GDIF events for years – so why would Woolwich be any different? Amazing as The Four Fridas may be, will it really have any lasting effect once the last visitor has walked back down Grand Depot Road? Or is this just one big, ever so alluring, ego trip?