Posts Tagged ‘greenwich foot tunnel’
City Hall officials have been asked to investigate the handling of Greenwich Council’s botched £11.5m redevelopment of the Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels, where work has been stalled for over a year.
Greenwich & Lewisham assembly member Len Duvall has referred the matter to auditors at the Greater London Authority to establish what went wrong with the project, which had been funded by the Government’s Homes & Communities Agency (HCA) before being switched to City Hall last year.
It’s emerged an HCA official signed off the project after a site visit in March 2011, handing the project over to Greenwich Council the following month, on the understanding work would be finished by September 2011.
The HCA stopped scrutinising the project after the site visit, and the matter was not looked at again until City Hall took over the HCA’s work in London in April 2012. Now Duvall has asked the authority’s audit panel and district auditor to investigate. The London Assembly’s budget and performance committee has also been asked to look at the issue.
Duvall’s move comes after campaigning from Greenwich Cyclists on the issue.
Both Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels remain in a poor state after the collapse of the project in late 2011, at around the time cabinet member Denise Hyland was blaming the problems at both tunnels on “hidden structures” which didn’t actually exist.
The council itself, which sacked the three contractors in charge of the job, admitted in October 2012 that there was “an unacceptable and deteriorating environment for users” in the tunnels.
Last November, it emerged Greenwich Council had previously told the HCA the work had been completed – even though that simply wasn’t the case, and that should have been clear on any site visit.
Indeed, when the Woolwich Foot Tunnel reopened in December 2011 after at least a 15-month closure, the poor state of the tunnel demonstrated the difficulty the project was in. When Greenwich’s lifts reopened in early 2012, lights were failing and lifts kept breaking.
In a letter to Duvall seen by this website, the GLA’s Housing and Land executive director David Lunts says “the project remains a concern for the GLA”, and says it is now in “regular dialogue” with the council as it struggles to complete the project.
No work has taken place at either tunnel for over a year, with no new contractors appointed to finish the job. Woolwich Foot Tunnel remains without lifts, Greenwich had new lifts fitted but they have been plagued by breakdowns.
Greenwich Council commissioned an independent report from John Willmoth into the fiasco six months ago. After completing a report into the council’s handling of big projects in general, he has yet to report back on the foot tunnels issue.
11.20am update: Len Duvall has told this site:
“What took place over the work on the foot tunnels work should not have happened.
Greenwich are learning from this experience internally and I look forward to the publication of the second of John Wilmoth’s independent reports examining what happened in this case more closely.
My intervention is to make the GLA take its responsibilities seriously, not just ‘shrug their shoulders’ when public money from bodies that have since become part of the GLA is involved. There are lessons for us to learn at the GLA and I hope that Greenwich Council are equally keen to ensure that events like this don’t occur in the future. Most importantly Greenwich need to press on with the completion of the works – monitored closely by the GLA – to ensure that both foot tunnels are accessible to everyone.”
For the end of 2012, we were promised shiny and revamped foot tunnels at Greenwich and Woolwich – but they never happened. The Woolwich tunnel’s been left to rot, the Greenwich tunnel has gained new lifts which still aren’t working properly. It still looks a mess as well.
Funnily enough, the foot tunnel fiasco doesn’t make it into Greenwich Council’s back-slapping review of the year, available for a fiver – sick bags not included.
One thing that struck me before Christmas was the heated debate about cyclists in the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, after this website revealed nobody had been prosecuted for cycling in there for three years. Ticketing errant cyclists would raise more than a Dear Leader’s Greatest Hits DVD ever would – but should, as some commenters suggested, the council officially adopt a more tolerant attitude to those who want to nip through on two wheels, rather than just unofficially doing so?
So, in place of any leadership from the council, let’s have a poll and see what you really think. I’ve taken some of the suggestions and tried to combine them into a series of options that’d work for both Greenwich and Woolwich tunnels. Maybe by this time next year, we could have a radical new policy that both cyclists and walkers could agree with.
Or maybe we could just have working lifts, and fixed-up tunnels instead…
There are two things that annoy people about the Greenwich Foot Tunnel. Firstly, it’s a mess. But secondly, it’s people riding bikes through it.
Just like bad driving annoys drivers, bad cycling winds cyclists up, too. Sometimes, bad road design might force someone on a bike to nip across a pavement rather than compete with juggernauts – I have to do it most mornings for about 10 seconds to lessen my risk of being squashed under a lorry.
But there really isn’t the excuse in the Greenwich Foot Tunnel. The morning I spent with BBC London down there was enlivened by watching one cyclist bawl out another for riding in the tunnel’s shadows. The miscreant shrugged it off, and muttered under his breath as he took his bike into the lift.
But will the law ever catch up with him? Clearly not, as a Freedom of Information Act request reveals that in the past three years, Greenwich Council has prosecuted nobody for cycling in the tunnel.
This comes despite the fact that earlier this year, the council’s mysterious yellow-clad wardens were out “mob-handed” trying to stop cyclists cycling through Cutty Sark Gardens, suddenly rediscovering long-disused bye-laws which prohibited… cycling on a national cycle route. Pressure from Greenwich Cyclists forced the council to stop its clueless caper, and there’s been some slow progress towards a resolution.
But even though the council would be on much firmer ground, would be lauded to the skies by many, and could possibly generate a small windfall in fixed penalty notices, it’s not bothered to do the same inside the tunnel. Instead, it has installed barriers, which just annoy everyone.
While the council has made a mess of the £11.5m refurbishment of the Greenwich and Woolwich tunnels, it’s staff cutbacks that have led us to this situation. The former lift attendants have been given the boot, and replaced by passenger-operated lifts. In the past, attendants would merely refuse to let people who’d been riding bikes use the lift. That sanction’s not available now, despite the council’s claim that it’s using CCTV and PA announcements to police the tunnel.
We’re waiting for a report into the tunnels fiasco (a preliminary one, about big council projects in general, was presented last week), but while it’s clear that Greenwich Council screwed up on the nuts and bolts of the scheme, it also seems to have no idea of the kind of environment it wants to create in there.
With work still at a standstill at Greenwich Foot Tunnel, Greenwich Cyclists has set up a Facebook page to collect people’s experience of the stricken Thames crossing, laid low by a botched refurbishment scheme. Whether you’re on bike or on foot, I’m sure they’d be grateful to hear of your experiences. Expect to see it full of gripes about berks riding bikes through the tunnel in three, two, one…
There’s still no news from the council on who is leading its inquiry into the screwed-up revamp, which has burned its way through an £11.5m government grant, with council tax-payers footing the bill for the rest.
Greenwich Council told a Government agency that the unfinished Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnel works had been completed, a minister has said, even though it now admits the tunnels are in a poor state of repair.
The project, which has been beset by delays, remains unfinished after the contractors were sacked last year, and last month Greenwich Council commissioned an independent investigation into what went wrong.
But local government minister Mark Prisk told Bermondsey MP Simon Hughes that Greenwich Council said the works, which had been funded by an £11.5m grant, had been finished – and any further work would have to come from the council’s own funds.
The cash was awarded by the Department for Communities and Local Government in November 2008. But the project moved to the Homes and Communities Agency, which took charge of monitoring progress on the project.
In a written response to the Liberal Democrat MP, Mr Prisk said: “The borough confirmed that all eligible works funded by the Homes and Communities Agency were completed as per the conditions of contract and that any remaining works would be funded from their own resources.”
However, contractors Dean & Dyball, Hyder Consulting and Swett were sacked in December 2011 following slow progress on the project, with the council issuing a series of misleading and evasive answers about the project until it finally owned up to the problems four weeks ago, and announced plans to take legal action against the firms.
The funding letter, signed by Greenwich’s assistant chief executive John Comber (and obtained by this website under the Freedom of Information Act), outlines the schedule of works.
It’s clear to anyone who uses either tunnel that the works are nowhere near finished – only the lifts and south rotunda in the Greenwich tunnel have been completed, along with the stairwell in the Woolwich tunnel. Greenwich Council refuses to publicly discuss what hasn’t been completed for fear of inflating new tenders to finish the work.
It’s also worth recalling Greenwich cabinet member Denise Hyland’s answer at a council meeting when asked, bluntly, if the Government’s money had run out.
“The budget is considered sufficient to complete the project, subject to the contractual issues being resolved with the contractors involved in the first phase of the works,” she said, despite the fact the council had claimed the works were completed and all the money had been spent.
I’ll leave it down to you to decide whether that, in retrospect, was a misleading answer. Incidentally, Greenwich has still not announced who will lead its investigation into the foot tunnel fiasco, and other big projects.
Whether or not the council misled the HCA – it’s certainly clear the government agency wasn’t taking enough notice of what was happening with its money.
To make matters more complex, the HCA’s functions in London were taken over by the mayor’s office earlier this year, which now means the responsibility for keeping track of the grant falls to a certain Boris Johnson, who has consistently batted away requests that he put pressure on Greenwich to finish the project. City Hall may now have to sit up and take more notice of what’s going on beneath the Thames.
If you saw BBC London News cover the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels fiasco today, here’s how this site has followed the issue over the past couple of years.
No new answers on Greenwich & Woolwich foot tunnels (18 October 2012 – now with meeting audio)
Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels: Unanswered questions (15 October 2012)
Foot tunnels fiasco: Greenwich Council launches inquiry (12 October 2012)
‘Contractual issues’ now delaying foot tunnels (27 September 2012)
A strange smell at the Greenwich Foot Tunnel (27 August 2012)
Lifts breaking, lights flickering in ‘revamped’ Greenwich foot tunnel (16 April 2012)
Christmas surprise – inside reopened Woolwich foot tunnel (22 December 2011)
Those ‘hidden structures’ revealed (sort of) (29 November 2011)
The mystery of the ‘hidden structures’ (28 October 2011)
Woolwich Foot Tunnel now closed until 2012 (26 August 2011)
Yet more delays for Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels (8 June 2011)
Foot tunnel closures drag on until June (31 March 2011)
Greenwich Foot Tunnel closed (17 February 2011)
Nick Raynsford on Greenwich Foot Tunnel fiasco (2 February 2011)
Greenwich Foot Tunnel shambles continues (31 December 2010)
Exclusive: Greenwich Foot Tunnel closed 16 times in one month (23 December 2010)
The shambles of the Greenwich Foot Tunnel restoration (24 November 2010)
Woolwich Foot Tunnel closed until March 2011 (4 November 2010)
More woe for Woolwich Foot Tunnel users (19 October 2010)
Trouble on, and under the water at Woolwich (6 June 2010)
… and, of course: Greenwich Council spin chief bags 25% pay rise.
Leader Chris Roberts declined to answer questions last night as Greenwich Council’s cabinet met to discuss the collapse of the scheme to refurbish Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels.
The cabinet met to agree on a course of legal action to recover funds from the three contractors involved in the £11m project, who were kicked off the job in December last year.
Conservative leader Spencer Drury criticised a report into the failure, saying it lacked “clarity about what had and hadn’t been done” in the tunnels since work began early in 2010.
He pointed to the frequent breakdowns of the new lifts at Greenwich, installed at the beginning of this year.
“I got the implication you thought the lifts were furnished, but that’s not the experience of tunnel users,” he said.
However, Cllr Roberts said he would ask officers to write to him with answers, adding he did not want to discuss what would be in a new contract to complete the work.
“We will publish full figures when they’re agreed, but I don’t to big the contract up,” he added.
Chief executive Mary Ney said the identity of who will lead the council’s review of the project should be known by the end of the week.
Under questioning from cabinet member John Fahy, she added the council’s role in the fiasco will be thoroughly examined.
Saturday update: Apologies for the lateness of this, but here a recording of the discussion, chaired by Chris Roberts, featuring assistant chief executive John Comber, Conservative leader Spencer Drury, chief executive Mary Ney, and cabinet member John Fahy.
It’s Greenwich Foot Tunnel that gets all the attention, but if you want a graphic example of the chaos that’s surrounded Greenwich Council’s handling of the foot tunnels fiasco, now to be the subject of an independent inquiry, you need to head to Woolwich. For months after the tunnel was reopened, it still bore a sign claiming it was closed. It’s finally been replaced, with the quality of information that you’d expect of an authority with a generously-funded communications department.
See, the government’s beastly cutbacks meant the felt tip ran out before they could colour in the arrow properly.
But there are several questions left unanswered by the unusually damning report into the botched refurbishment programme. I’ve a few, have you got any more?
Why didn’t council officers undertake “intensive scrutiny” of the project fron the start? After all, the report makes clear this was a “uniquely complex and specialist project”, yet “intense scrutiny” only took place 17 months into the scheme, when it was clear things were going wrong. Why was this?
Has the £11 million from the government run out? The funding came from a government programme. Last month, the cabinet member in charge, Denise Hyland, was asked in a council meeting if the money had run out. Her answer was that the budget was “considered sufficient to complete the project, subject to the contractual issues being resolved with the contractors involved in the first phase of the works” – the first, tiny hint of a problem. Yet this didn’t answer the question – has the money run out?
Did cabinet member Denise Hyland knowingly mislead the public? On 26 October 2011, Denise Hyland blamed the delays on “hidden structures” in an answer to the co-ordinator of Greenwich Cyclists. We now know this answer was nonsense. This was at least a month after council officers started “much more intense scrutiny” of the project. As someone that’s a full-time cabinet member with a big portfolio (“regeneration, enterprise and skills”) she must have known what was going on. If not, why not?
Will heads roll as a consequence of this inquiry? Again, as the politician in charge, and the one that should be giving direction to council staff, what exactly was Denise Hyland’s role? After all, big projects in other parts of the council (such as schools) have gone smoothly, once work has begun. Her lead council officer, John Comber, who earns £155,000 per year, also surely has questions to answer.
Will we ever get to see the results of this inquiry? Will the report be published? The two foot tunnels are important crossings used by hundreds of thousands of people from across London and far beyond. Will Greenwich Council try to cover up the findings?
The issues surrounding the foot tunnels fiasco go to the heart of the way the council is run. This isn’t a party political issue – the opposition Conservatives have also failed to ask questions in council meetings about this. (Away from the council benches, local Lib Dems* and Greens have also failed to apply pressure.) The failure of the foot tunnels project should shame every Greenwich councillor. But what are they going to do to put things right?
(* I should acknowledge that Lib Dem assembly member Caroline Pidgeon has pursued the issue from City Hall.)
Greenwich Council is to launch an independent inquiry after the collapse of a £11m project to refurbish the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels, it has been revealed.
Both tunnels have been left uncompleted and in a poor condition following the failure of the scheme, which began in April 2010.
Now Greenwich Council is taking legal action against three contractors, after it was forced to step in and run the scheme itself.
The report says the two tunnels provide “an unacceptable and deteriorating environment for users”.
Both tunnels should have been refurbished, with new lifts, lighting and security measures, by April 2011.
However, the project ran late and over-budget. Two and a half years after it started, both tunnels are in a poor condition, with no lift at the Woolwich tunnel – which appears closed to passers-by – and unreliable new lifts in its Greenwich counterpart.
The report reveals contractors Dean & Dyball Civil Engineering, Hyder Consulting and Sweett were sacked on December 2011, three months after council officers began “intense scrutiny” of their performance.
Hyder already has a sorry record in Greenwich town centre, having been behind botched proposals to pedestrianise it in time for the Olympics which were shelved in 2011.
Council contractor Lakehouse was drafted in to get the tunnels into a usable condition in time for the royal re-opening of the Cutty Sark, but no work has been carried out since then.
The council is to take legal action against the three sacked firms to recover its costs in clearing up the mess – but just how much these costs are is being kept secret.
While the report says the council has “a good track record in managing large scale projects”, an “independent person” is to review the council’s management of such schemes, reporting to chief executive Mary Ney.
It adds that any further work should take just four months to complete.
The report is the latest twist in a saga, but is also Greenwich Council’s most open admission to date of failures in the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels project.
Already, a damage-limitation exercise has begun, with the extremely rare step of the council issuing a press statement drawing attention to the report – albeit on a Friday night, after the deadlines of the local newspapers, but in time for its own propaganda weekly Greenwich Time.
Even before the refurbishment started, rumours spread in 2009 of lengthy closures. When she tried to investigate, council leader Chris Roberts told London Assembly transport chair Caroline Pidgeon she should ask a Labour member of the assembly instead. The council later “lost” further correspondence from her on the topic.
During 2010 and early 2011 the Greenwich tunnel was plagued by sudden closures as the old lifts broke, while the Woolwich tunnel was closed altogether due to problems with the stairs. Its reopening in December 2011 demonstrated the difficulty the project was in, but there was no word from Greenwich Council explaining what was going on.
Indeed, a hint at the chaos came last year when Denise Hyland, the cabinet member in charge of the project, blamed the delays on “hidden structures“. This comment was later revealed to be nonsense after a Freedom of Information request put in by this site.
New lifts appeared in Greenwich in 2012, but remain plagued by breakdowns. In August, seven people were treated by medics after an “unusual smell” at the tunnel – but the council dismissed it as “a false alarm”.
Finally, last month Denise Hyland referred only to “contractual issues”, but added there was still government funding available to complete the project.
Problems with contractors are the latest delay holding up refurbishment of the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels, it was revealed at a council meeting earlier this week.
An £11.5m programme to revamp the two tunnels, which began in April 2010, was supposed to be finished well before this summer’s Olympic Games, but visitors instead found the two tunnels filthy, covered in hoardings, and with an unreliable lift service (with none at all at Woolwich).
Asked at Tuesday’s meeting whether the money had run out, cabinet member Denise Hyland said the budget was “considered sufficient to complete the project, subject to the contractual issues being resolved with the contractors involved in the first phase of the works”.
However, her written answer did not elaborate on the contractual issues involved.
Original contractors Dean & Dyball, part of Balfour Beatty, were replaced late last year with Lakehouse, the council’s regular contractor for construction works.
Currently the Greenwich Foot Tunnel is open with lifts – which regularly break – and the Woolwich tunnel is open without lifts, although access to it is very hard to find.
Click here for Denise Hyland’s full answer and the written public questions and answers from Tuesday’s meeting, which I couldn’t make. Neither of the borough’s newspapers bothered to attend either, but a full report should appear on greenwich.co.uk soon.