Greenwich Council suggested cutting the frequency of one of the borough’s few north-south bus links to help pay for its plans to pedestrianise Greenwich town centre, according to documents released by Transport for London.
The scheme was shelved after objections from Transport for London, and the documents outline TfL’s worries – including its estimate that the scheme could have cost up to £1.5m in maintaining bus services through the town centre area.
In response, council consultant Brian Hanson suggested in a briefing on 4 February 2011 that it could cut the frequency of route 286, which runs from Greenwich through Blackheath and Kidbrooke to Eltham and Sidcup – despite the fact that the council has long said north-south public transport links in the borough need to be improved.
At its most frequent, the 286 runs every 12 minutes, with single-deck buses between Greenwich and Blackheath often packed to capacity at rush hour. It also provides a link to shops at Eltham and the University of Greenwich campus at Avery Hill, as well as Queen Mary’s Hospital at Sidcup, outside of the borough.
Hanson also suggested cutting the frequency of the 129, which runs from the town centre, through east Greenwich and on to North Greenwich station.
Route 199, which runs from Bellingham to Canada Water station, would not be able to serve Greenwich town centre at all heading northbound, which TfL estimated would cost it up to £713,000 in lost revenue alone.
The plans would have seen College Approach and part of King William Walk pedestrianised, and a gyratory system installed running clockwise from Greenwich High Road, Norman Road, Creek Road to Greenwich Church Street. It was proposed to extend routes 129 and 286 to a new terminus at the Norman Road/ Creek Road junction, which TfL said would involve running extra buses.
TfL said this alone would cost it £392,000 a year. But Greenwich disputed the cost, with Hyder Consulting‘s Hanson – who is contracted to the council to work on transport schemes – stating “there is sufficient capacity on these routes to reschedule both services to run at a reduced frequency”. “This should be investigated in more detail,” he added.
Passengers would have to “accept extra waiting times”, Hanson said in a table outlining how the costs of rerouting routes 129 and 286 could be reduced to nil.
The documents also show that Greenwich Council had not yet produced a final business case for the project by the time it was shelved in March, despite initial plans to have a trial scheme up and running by then, with an eye to getting it completed by the Olympics.
An e-mail from Transport for London’s senior borough programme officer Tim Williams to Brian Hanson dated 9 March warned the council’s assumptions that trips to Greenwich town centre would double following pedestrianisation would need to be justified, and said claims that it would lead to a cut in accidents ignored areas where traffic would increase if the scheme was put in place.
He added: “The cost of extending bus routes 129 and 286 plus the lost revenue to buses generally in Greenwich Town Centre resulting from increased journey times are actual costs (as opposed to notional values of time etc…) which someone will need to meet.
“This is obviously an issue which will need to be discussed further.”
Hyder has been employed by Greenwich Council to work with it on transport projects including the ill-fated Greenwich scheme.
However, the study has yet to appear, and an Eltham route did not appear on a map of proposed DLR extensions unveiled by TfL earlier this month.
Greenwich Council has refused to answer how much Hyder is being paid for its work. However, figures published under new transparency regulations state that Hyder Consulting (UK) Ltd was paid £657,147 between December 2010 and March 2011, the most recent figures available.
Some of the cash which was due to fund doomed plans to create a gyratory system in west Greenwich has been reallocated to Woolwich town centre, according to mayor Boris Johnson.
London Assembly member Darren Johnson asked the mayor about the scheme’s funding, as it appeared delays to the project would mean Greenwich Council losing a grant from Transport for London to fund the scheme, which was due to create a pedestrianised area at College Approach and King William Walk. The Green Party member posed the question before the scheme was shelved last week.
In a written response, the mayor said the council had planned to use part of two years of funding under TfL’s Local Investment Plan – money distributed to boroughs every year for their own schemes.
With the current financial year about to run out, it had been agreed that the money could be used to fund reconstruction of General Gordon Square in Woolwich, instead.
The full answer reads:
The London Borough of Greenwich proposed to use 2010/11 and 2011/12 Local Implementation Plan (LIP) funding from TfL for the design and implementation of its Greenwich Town Centre (GTC) improvement scheme. Greenwich is currently working with TfL and other stakeholders, which include local residents, to develop a scheme that is acceptable to all parties. Whilst these discussions continue, it has been agreed between Greenwich and TfL to reallocate the 2010/11 GTC LIP funding to the Woolwich Town Centre public realm improvements – this ensures the funding is not lost and enables Woolwich Town Centre to be completed ahead of schedule.
So, at first sight, it looks as if the money may not be lost after all. The gyratory scheme was shelved after TfL objected to it because of “significant concerns about its impact on bus passengers and operations”.
There’ll be cheers in west Greenwich this weekend as the hated plans to create a huge gyratory system have been “suspended” by Greenwich Council – you can read the full story over at greenwich.co.uk, along with an exchange of e-mails between the three local councillors and leader Chris Roberts.
It’s good news, if not entirely unexpected – the plan was effectively dead the moment a senior TfL official wrote to Greenwich indicating it could not support the scheme, intended to create a pedestrian area along King William Walk and College Approach. The scheme was due to be funded with TfL money – and affected its “strategic routes” – so needed its approval.
In fact, the fatal blow came when it moved from “pedestrianisation” to “gyratory”, as the council and its contractor, Hyder Consulting, inexplicably chose an option which involved creating a one-way system around Greenwich High Road, Norman Road, Creek Road and Greenwich Church Street.
Transport for London has been steadily ripping out gyratories over the past decade, starting in Shoreditch in 2001 and continuing last year with the scrapping of the New Cross one-way system. It was very unlikely to approve going back on this policy for Greenwich, particularly with a scheme which still hadn’t taken into consideration the effects on the bus network.
The whole affair raises more questions than answers, though. Here’s a few I’d like to see answered.
- What happens to the £2.5m in TfL money earmarked for this scheme? Does it get reallocated to other schemes within Greenwich borough? Or does it find its way to another London borough instead?
- Will any of the other schemes be looked at? The gyratory wasn’t the only idea kicking around to improve Greenwich town centre’s environment.
- How much has Hyder Consulting been paid for its work on a scheme which has delivered precisely nothing? Hyder is working with Greenwich on other schemes in the borough, but this will have been by far the most high-profile. Last year, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to discover how much Hyder’s contract was worth. The council refused to answer, citing commercial confidentiality. There’s a bigger question here – on a day when Labour leader Ed Miliband is addressing hundreds of thousands of people opposed to cuts in public services, how much did one of his party’s councils blow on this failed scheme when the money could have gone elsewhere?
- Why does Chris Roberts dismiss TfL’s head of borough projects David Rowe as “junior staff”? Is it because he put the mockers on the gyratory proposal?
- However, Roberts does refer to a meeting with Boris Johnson’s deputy Richard Barnes and “senior TfL officials”. There’s a vague reference to traffic proposals which will “affect areas of the borough to the east of the town centre“. It’s unclear what this means. (A wild guess – something to do with the run of traffic lights around Maze Hill?) Some clarity from Greenwich Council or TfL would be handy.
Greenwich will no doubt return to the pedestrianisation idea in coming years – which is a good thing. But I suspect the gyratory is dead. By the time the council gets to look at it again, Norman Road will be home to big developments, and won’t be a street where you can hide a racetrack.
But the questions surrounding the council’s doomed scheme, and the costs, will echo for a long while to come yet.
(UPDATE 1.35PM MONDAY: A council statement fails to mention the gyratory proposal, further suggesting the scheme is almost certainly dead.)
Last month this blog reported on Transport for London’s objections to Greenwich Council’s plans to create a massive one-way system in west Greenwich to enable it to pedestrianise a small part of the town centre, following revelations from a local residents’ group, West Greenwich CARA.
Now the full objections can be revealed, with the release of TfL documents detailing those objections. Without TfL backing, the scheme fails – and puts at risk nearly £2.5m of funding which will simply be allocated to traffic improvement schemes in other London boroughs.
To refresh your memory, this is what is planned. College Approach and the northern part of King William Walk would be pedestrianised, with Nelson Road becoming a two-way street. As part of this, a gyratory system is planned running clockwise around Greenwich High Road, Norman Road, Creek Road and Greenwich Church Street. The upside is gaining a car-free zone between the market and the river. The downsides, though, are numerous – TfL is ripping out gyratories all over London, there’s nowhere for buses to terminate and some routes would be severely delayed, and gyratories are considered dangerous for cyclists.
Here’s the documents – a letter from TfL to Greenwich Council outlining its objections, and partially-redacted minutes from a meeting of TfL’s Network Management Group from November 2010.
The minutes refer to concerns about the “ambitious timescale” of the scheme – particularly a plan to have a trial scheme up and running by March. This should be well under way by now.
But nothing has happened, and so far nothing looks like happening. Enquiries from locals are being met with silence from Greenwich Council. The Greenwich Society has proposed an alternative scheme, involving improving pavements. There’s another idea kicking around about covering over the railway cutting between Stockwell Street and King William Walk to free up some pedestrian space. But still, nothing from the council. There’s also been no formal contact with Lewisham Council, whose roads will also be affected by this scheme.
So, with 16 months to go until the Olympics, will this, or any other scheme to improve Greenwich’s streets actually happen?
UPDATE 3.35PM: London Assembly member Darren Johnson has also tabled a formal question to Boris Johnson about the issue.
News from West Greenwich CARA, the residents’ group fighting plans to pedestrianise Greenwich town centre by creating a gyratory to the west of it via Greenwich High Road, Norman Road and Creek Road. The scheme is dependent on £2.4m of money from Transport for London – “local implementation plan” funds which each of the capital’s 32 boroughs bid for each year. This money has survived City Hall’s cost cutting, and has contributed to schemes like the redevelopment of Woolwich’s General Gordon Square (£1.4m from TfL), and the installation of electric car charging points (£20,000).
However, these schemes need TfL’s backing to get its money – and what’s not in favour at City Hall is gyratories. Last year, the New Cross one-way system was the latest to be taken apart, returning New Cross Road and Queen’s Road to two way traffic.
So this was TfL’s response to Greenwich’s plans to create a new gyratory, according to CARA…
TfL cannot approve the scheme as currently proposed, as we have significant concerns about its impact on bus passengers and operations, as well as other matters such as the performance of the network, safety, severance and urban realm.
The point about buses should have been obvious to Greenwich Council and its contractor, Hyder Consulting. Buses on routes 180, 199 and 386 will face long diversions heading north – with the 199 unable to serve Greenwich town centre – while routes 129 and 286 will have nowhere to terminate. It’s not clear whether “the network” is the bus network or the road network, but it’s pretty clear that TfL thinks the scheme, as it stands, is a crock.
Even more worryingly, if Greenwich Council/ Hyder Consulting can’t come up with a scheme TfL approves of by June, that £2.4m will simply be allocated elsewhere in London. (At a time when Greenwich is trying to boost cycling, just think of what £2.4m could have done there…)
Indeed, contrary to local Labour councillor Matt Pennycook’s promises that the council will listen to local concerns, CARA members claim they have been deliberately obstructed, with chief exective Mary Ney deciding that pedestrianising the borough’s best-known town centre is not a “key decision”, making it harder for residents to scrutinise decision-making. This is a story I’ve neglected in recent months, but I hope to return to it soon, because it’s a sorry example of how poorly Greenwich Council interacts with those who pay for it.
What did I know about the traffic calming consultation? Nothing until I saw that sign outside the Greenwich Union yesterday. But I do know about it now – some ideas to ease the anger of the residents of some of Greenwich’s nicer back streets after the council unveiled its flawed plans to turn most of west Greenwich into one big gyratory system so part of the town centre can be pedestrianised.
The West Greenwich Conservation Area Residents Association has shared its thoughts on the proposals, and they’re not particularly impressed. You can see an exhibition at Devonport House between now and Tuesday, and the CARA group are holding a meeting at the Prince of Greenwich pub on Monday (that’ll be a busy night in there with the Greenwich Union shut for a day…)
A quick heads-up to let you know Greenwich Council’s consultations on its plans to part-pedestrianise the town centre – and create a flaming great gyratory through west Greenwich – and to do up Cutty Sark Gardens end this weekend.
I’ve already voiced my feelings about the pedestrianisation scheme – and you can have your say here. However, there’s a small problem with the Cutty Sark questionnaire…
Incidentally, if you went to see the Enderby Wharf exhibition on Thursday or Friday – how was it? I managed to miss it like an idiot, thinking it would stretch into the weekend. Frustratingly, there’s nothing on the web to look at.
On a London-wide basis, the consultation on the western extension of the congestion charge – which was meant to fund the new central London bike hire scheme – also ends this weekend.