Greenwich Council is quietly doing some very good things on cycling – like boosting cycle lanes, and experimenting with new on-street parking facilities.
But it’s still capable of doing some very dumb things – such as closing a cycle lane on the Greenwich Peninsula so it can be used for trials of driverless cars.
The council won a bid last year to test out the technology, getting an £8 million grant to carry out the tests.
In December, the council’s weekly newspaper Greenwich Time claimed the trials would not take place on public roads.
But a stretch of dedicated cycle path next to the Thames Cable Car has been commandeered for the tests, with riders told to share an adjacent footpath with pedestrians.
There was no consultation about the decision, instead there’s just a tiny notice on a lamp post and cycle markings scrubbed out and replaced with the word “SHUTTLE”.
The notice cites “danger to the public” for the decision. But if the trial’s organisers think they can avoid danger by closing off a length of cycle path, they’ve chosen the wrong place.
I cycle along this stretch regularly, and most days there are pedestrians wandering into the cycle track – often glued to tablets with headphones plugged in.
In fact, when I first saw the closure yesterday, there was a small child crawling over the “SHUTTLE” marking. Returning home in the evening rush hour, there were plenty of people wandering down the cycle path.
Nobody walking in the path this time, but sooner or later somebody’s going to get a shock when they look up from their phone. As driverless technology evolves, it’s going to have the potential to clash with other road users – four-wheeled, two-wheeled, or two-footed.
Greenwich’s decision to prioritise driverless cars over cyclists and pedestrians without consultation, while on a parochial level is pretty much typical of the way it does things, isn’t a good omen for the future.
In the meantime, if you’re walking along the Thames Path any time soon, keep an eye – and ear – out for a little driverless car…
Update, 17 February: The path has now reopened. So what was all that about, and was it really worth burning off road markings, putting on new ones, burning them off again and reinstating old markings? A weird episode.
Residents on Greenwich Peninsula have won an 18-month battle to force Greenwich Council to release a document that influenced its decision to scrap all ‘affordable’ housing on a key development there.
A tribunal has told the council it should release “viability assessments” which prompted it to cut a requirement for developer Knight Dragon to include affordable housing on Peninsula Quays, on the west side of the peninsula facing Canary Wharf, in exchange for building more on the east side.
Greenwich said its decision – backed by seven councillors, including current leader Denise Hyland – was taken after an independent assessment showed the scheme wouldn’t be viable if Knight Dragon had to build social housing, and that it needed to be approved quickly so Knight Dragon could get £50m in grants.
The plans include a private school, “high-end private residential” units at Drawdock Road, and a four/five star hotel at Ordnance Crescent.
But all affordable properties will now be pushed to the south, towards City Peninsula and Greenwich Millennium Village, rather than being spread evenly across the peninsula, which had been council policy since 2004.
To make up for this effective social cleansing of Peninsula Quays, new developments to the far south of the Dome – around where the City Peninsula tower now sits – will see levels of affordable housing shoot up to between 54% and 58%, mostly for social rent rather than shared ownership.
Residents of City Peninsula and Greenwich Millennium Village asked Greenwich Council to release the viability assessment under the Environmental Information Regulations – similar to the Freedom of Information Act.
But Greenwich refused, and appealed against an Information Commissioner decision that it should release the assessment.
Greenwich’s appeal meant the case ended up at a tribunal, which sat over three days last October and November. The council hired an external lawyer, Christopher Knight from 11 KBW, at a cost quoted in October at £2,200.
The council could appeal and take the case to a further tribunal – at further cost – but it may face an uphill battle considering the comprehensive nature of the judgment against it. You can read the full judgment here.
Key passages include:
First, the number of affordable homes to be provided on this enormous development, as well as their location, is an important local issue on which reasonable views are held strongly on both sides.
Second, this is a case where a company, robust enough to take on the development of a huge site over a period of 20 years… immediately asks to be relieved of a planning obligation freely negotiated by its predecessor. It justifies this change on the basis of a downturn in house prices it knew about at the time of purchase, using a valuation model that looks at current values only and does not allow for change in the many factors that may affect a valuation over time. It seems to us that in those circumstances the public interest in openness about the figures is very strong.
One argument against disclosure of the redacted information was that those receiving it would be unlikely to understand it. In our experience this is never a useful objection to disclosure under FOIA or EIR. It is increasingly open to question whether the public should be expected to accept the “expert view” without opportunity to see the supporting factual evidence.
Indeed, the final paragraph of the judgment is one that should ring alarm bells as to how Greenwich’s planning system works.
It points out that the eight-strong planning board – which included three cabinet members and was chaired by the Labour group’s chief whip – that approved the decision to cut affordable housing at Peninsula Quays had no more information than the general public.
Effectively, they were taking the decision on trust, and hadn’t been shown the viability assessment in question. Should they have asked for more details?
“It is not for us to say what depth of information Councillors should have expected or asked for, although we note that at least one Councillor would have preferred more detail about the appraisal,” the judgment says. That councillor, who is not named, was Hayley Fletcher, who voted against the proposal and later left the council citing problems with bullying in the ruling Labour group.
The tribunal’s decision comes as Knight Dragon consults on plans to increase housing on the peninsula from 10,000 to 15,000 – with big question marks over whether anyone will actually be able to afford the new properties. (Labour candidate Matt Pennycook and The Guardian’s Dave Hill have written about this.)
More broadly speaking, it’s also a significant decision in terms of councils’ relationships with developers as they struggle to cope with the demands of an overheated and little-regulated property market.
Last year, Southwark Council was told to release parts of a similar viability assessment for redeveloping the Heygate Estate near Elephant & Castle. The Greenwich decision may now give confidence to others who want to find out more about the relationship between their local councils and developers.
The members of the planning board who supported the decision: Denise Hyland (Labour, then cabinet member for regeneration, now council leader); Ray Walker (Labour, then chief whip, remains planning chair); Steve Offord (then cabinet member for housing), Sajid Jawaid (then cabinet member for community services, no longer a councillor), Clive Mardner (Labour), Geoff Brighty (Conservative), Dermot Poston (Conservative, no longer a councillor).
Hayley Fletcher (Labour, no longer a councillor) voted against, then-leader Chris Roberts (Labour, no longer a councillor) was absent.
853 exclusive: It had just four regular commuters last year – now the Emirates Air Line cable car appears to have NO regular users at all between Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks, according to figures issued by Transport for London.
No Oyster card holders used the £60m crossing more than five times during one week in October, which would trigger a regular users’ discount.
In the equivalent week last year, four people qualified for the commuters’ discount, while 16 used it regularly enough to get cut-price tickets in the same week in 2012.
Last year’s figures, published at Snipe, were widely covered in London’s media, with an LBC radio reporter even travelling to Greenwich to track down the four commuters. But now, it appears there are no commuters to speak of.
|Sun 12th||Mon 13th||Tue 14th||Wed 15th||Thu 16th||Fri 17th||Sat 18th|
Total Emirates Air Line journeys, starting at north and south terminals, 12-18 October 2014. Source: TfL
For the third year running, I used the Freedom of Information Act to get the figures from TfL, asking for hourly usage figures between Sunday 12th and Saturday 18th October.
Mayor Boris Johnson has called the link, which he opened in 2012, a “howling success” and insists it is a vital tool for regenerating the area. But critics have pilloried the cable car, which charges premium fares and does not accept travelcards, as a vanity project.
But while the cable car has clearly failed to attract regular customers – and ticket sales remain well down on its first year of operation – its overall usage figures are slightly up on last year, suggesting it has achieved some level of success with tourists and occasional travellers. 25,271 journeys were made during the week, compared with 23,029 the previous year and 42,463 in 2012.
Since last October, Transport for London has instigated a number of promotions to try to boost tourist usage of the cable car, including giving an audio commentary on routes; opening a promotional booth at North Greenwich station; and spending £1,200 on an electronic ad board at the station’s gateline. This month, the Greenwich Peninsula terminal has been turned into a “magical Christmas experience” as part of a tie-in with The Snowman and The Snowdog film.
One scheme, which offers discounted tickets to Newham and Greenwich borough residents, accounted for 106 ticket sales across the week, while 5,292 “full experience” tickets – offering a souvenir guide and admission to the neighbouring Emirates Aviation Experience – were sold.
28 multi-journey passes – a ticket valid for a year which offers 10 trips at a discount – were sold during the week, compared with 18 last year. (See update at foot of story for more on these, as regular travellers could be using these and not Oyster.) 354 children travelled for £1 each with a schools’ scheme, with 47 adults accompanying them for free – down slightly on on 2013’s figures.
Two parties booked private cabins for themselves, at a cost of £88.
Emirates Air Line passengers, hour by hour, between Sunday 12 and Saturday 18 October. Source: TfL.
See equivalent data for Tube journeys from North Greenwich to nearby DLR stations.
Closer analysis of the figures over three years show that already-weak weekday usage of the Emirates Air Line is down slightly on 2013. But passenger numbers continue to show relatively high numbers in the evening – suggesting the cable car could benefit from opening later than 8pm.
Saturday figures are slightly up on 2013…
…but the real growth has come on Sundays.
With figures in the Labour and Conservative parties now starting to talk about who will succeed Boris Johnson in the 2016 mayoral election, the future of the cable car – arguably the most visible legacy to the capital so far from Johnson’s two terms at City Hall – is likely to come under the spotlight.
Green and Liberal Democrat politicians have called for the cable car to be incorporated into the Travelcard scheme to boost its standing as a public transport link – but City Hall currently seems content with operating it as a tourist attraction with premium fares.
Since the opening of the cable car, TfL cash has also gone into other tourist-focused projects. The Garden Bridge between the South Bank and Victoria Embankment is likely to be given the go-ahead from the mayor this week along with £30m of TfL cash.
Also this week, TfL has changed the way its cycle hire scheme charges users, cutting the cost of lengthy hires taken by tourists while doubling charges for some shorter rides.
Wednesday 7.40am update: Thanks to Rob, who tweeted me to say he was commuting on the cable car that week – using the paper multi-journey tickets rather than Oyster, which is says is fiddly to use for regular commuters as it involves obtaining a refund after travelling a certain number of times.
28 of these paper tickets, which are valid for a year, were sold between 12-18 October. So it’s entirely possible there are a handful of people using these tickets rather than Oyster – again, making TfL’s claim that this is a public transport link rather shaky. However, their usage is impossible to track.
Thanks to Clare Griffiths for putting together the graphs in this story.
Media using this story, please credit Darryl Chamberlain or 853blog.com – thank you.
It’s been a long-running moan on this site – the sad waste of space between North Greenwich station and the Dome. Well, it’s being wasted no more.
Joining Meantime Brewing’s temporary Beer Box (due for a three-year stay) is a full-time bar/restaurant, Greenwich Kitchen, that’s billing itself as a “New York-style coffee shop”. It’s even open for breakfast, should you fancy a bacon sarnie on the way into work. There’s another unit being fitted out behind it too – we’ll have to wait and see what that turns out to be.
Next door is the Now Gallery and the new, plush marketing suite for Greenwich Peninsula owner Knight Dragon containing a champagne bar on the roof – which would explain the three bouncers who seem to be on permanent duty outside the building.
Of course, Knight Dragon has twigged that you’re not going to shift luxury pads if the surrounding area’s as empty and miserable as it has been for the past seven years. It’s a shame that it’s all come too late for the summer – but finally Peninsula Square looks like becoming a decent spot for delaying your journey home. Hooray.
In addition to all this action on the square, the old power station coaling jetty’s been taken over by immersive theatre company Shunt, whose show The Boy Who Climed Out Of His Face has another week left to run. It’s been poorly-promoted locally, but you can also pop onto The Jetty Greenwich for a drink in its bar. £4.50 for a pint of Tuborg in a plastic cup ain’t great, but it’s a lovely space and one with potential. Again, it’s all about making the place a but more lively than it was under the previous developers.
It doesn’t end there, though – there are plans to build a golf driving range at Delta Wharf, which long-suffering readers will remember was once due to be turned into an urban beach. There’s more about the Greenwich Peninsula golf range plan here, and on Greenwich’s planning website, reference 14/2161F. Again, this would be temporary, in place for 10 years before Knight Dragon gets around to developing the site.
Meanwhile, the actual business of selling property has begun, with queues of potential buyers outside the new marketing suite on Saturday. Of course, the property developers’ best friend, Greenwich Council, has chipped in this week with a handy plug in its propaganda weekly, Greenwich Time:
What Greenwich Time isn’t telling you is what “affordable” actually means, or that the phase after that – where the golf course is set to occupy for now – won’t contain any “affordable” housing at all…
10.30am update: See also today’s Evening Standard on the housing issue.
Seven years after the O2 opened, finally, finally, the miserable open space outside, Peninsula Square, has started to look like the “new leisure destination for Londoners and tourists alike” promised back then.
New York band We Are Scientists opened up Meantime Brewery’s Beer Box with a blistering free live show last night. It looks like the Beer Box, on empty land above the Jubilee Line tunnels, is only around for a little while – it was only erected over the last 10 days – but hopefully the shot of life it’s brought to this long-wasted space will last for a while longer.
Fingers crossed, it’ll stay and there’ll be more live events here. Keep the bar, sort out the big screen showing inane promos, and perhaps Peninsula Square will be something Greenwich can be proud of, instead of an embarrassment that’s walked through as quickly as possible.
A year ago, I wrote how Peninsula Square, the open space between North Greenwich station and the Dome, planned as “a buzzing, exciting place to visit”, had become a sorely disappointing spot – simply nothing more than a glorified holding pen for O2 Arena customers.
Twelve months on, and here was the scene as the opening ceremony of the 2014 World Cup got under way in Brazil. Directly below, people were passing through North Greenwich to watch the opening ceremony and the first match on screens large and small. But on a balmy June evening, all the big screen in Peninsula Square could muster were the same old crappy promos for the O2 Arena. What a waste.
Even the unfortunate Frank Dekker (remember him?) managed better on Olympics opening night with his ill-fated Peninsula Festival big screen. Oh well. In the meantime, Woolwich’s big screen might just be the place to head to (particularly for Iran v Nigeria on Monday and Ghana v Germany on Saturday 21st.)
PS. There won’t be any football there, but one open space in Greenwich is open for the community this weekend – the riverside garden at Ballast Quay, by the Cutty Sark pub.
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.