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news, views and issues around Greenwich, Charlton, Blackheath and Woolwich, south-east London – what you won't read in Greenwich Time

Posts Tagged ‘lewisham council

Will Ukip help Labour tighten its hold on Greenwich?

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One thing’s clear about this Thursday’s council elections – Labour will gallop to victory again. It’s 50 years since the first elections for the London Borough of Greenwich, and Labour has won all but one poll, in 1968, when a stunning London-wide landslide saw it fall to the Conservatives. Business as usual resumed in 1971, and there’s no reason to expect Thursday’s 14th election to be any different.

Most of the action’s going to take place in wards in Eltham, New Eltham and Mottingham, away from this website’s usual north-of-the-borough focus.

One factor which could affect the result will be the European Parliament election taking place the same day, and the near-blanket coverage given to the UK Independence Party and its leader Nigel Farage.

A vandalised Ukip poster in East Dulwich. But how will voters in Greenwich borough treat the hard-right party?

A vandalised Ukip poster in East Dulwich. But how will voters in Greenwich borough treat them?

To a smaller extent, the same could be said for the Greens, who should benefit from Euro coverage too. But with Farage barely off our screens for what’s felt like months, it’s Ukip who have the potential to wreak havoc at the local polls too – despite the unpleasant views of many of their candidates.

The London Communications Agency predicts the hard-right party will return up to 50 councillors across the capital – will any of them come in Greenwich?

Greenwich borough’s comprised of 17 wards, which elect three councillors each. Ukip is standing a single councillor in 13 wards – a 14th candidate, in Glyndon ward, failed to get enough nominations in time.

Standing a single candidate means the Faragists can quietly hoover up protest votes from across the political spectrum. So where in the borough is the party’s support strongest?

According to the breakdown of votes from 2012′s London mayoral and assembly elections, Eltham North is Ukip’s happiest hunting ground, scoring 279 votes in the poll for the London-wide member, against 1,385 for the Tories and 1,172 for Labour, and beating the Greens (261), BNP (172) and Lib Dems (159).

I’ve picked this vote as it’s a straight party poll, not distorted by mayoral personalities or Ukip’s accidental rebranding in the mayoral poll (due to a party cock-up) as “Fresh Choice for London”.

Eltham North is represented by Tory leader Spencer Drury and his deputy Nigel Fletcher. The Tories have a slim-ish majority over Labour of 379 – if they lose a chunk of their votes to Ukip, Labour could benefit.

Paul Oakley's tweet

Of course, this theory depends on you believing that Ukip will hoover up disgruntled Tory votes rather than Labour ones. Considering Ukip’s manifesto looks like a Sun editorial from 1983, I suspect they will pick up votes from the right rather than the centre – risking a high-profile scalp for the Labour party. The local Tories agree, and are worried about what the rise of Ukip will mean for their embattled Eltham enclaves.

Ukip are also strong in Coldharbour & New Eltham, in the far south of the borough, where Labour were 353 votes to claiming a scalp in 2010. In 2012, Ukip polled 248 votes here, coming third to the Tories on 1,104 and Labour on 794. Ex-Tory candidate Peter Whittle is standing for Ukip there.

But it’s Eltham South where the Tories could face a horrific squeeze, with similiar levels of Ukip support and rejected councillor Eileen Glover standing against her old party colleagues as an independent. 2012′s assembly vote had the Tories just 240 votes ahead of Labour, which could well come through the middle to seize power.

Greenwich borough’s other strong ward for Ukip, according to the 2012 data, is Abbey Wood, home seat of mayoral contender Denise Hyland.

Don’t be surprised if Ukip beat the Tories out in the east, while the party is also campaigning in the Labour stronghold of Eltham West – which could be vulnerable now the Ferrier Estate has gone.

Gary Port's tweet

Ukip candidate Gary Port was found by the Evening Standard to have ‘liked’ a far-right group’s Facebook post. By this weekend, his social media activity had become more benign.

Why does all this matter? Well, just what shape Greenwich’s next Labour council will take could well be determined by how big Labour’s majority is on the council. An increase in Labour’s 29-seat majority will be seen as vindication of how Chris Roberts did things – and will strengthen the hand of his preferred successor, Denise Hyland. A decrease will show discontent with the Dear Leader’s style – and will give strength to Jackie Smith’s case for taking over.

So it’s well worth keeping on eye on Eltham on Thursday. Of course, if Ukip can grab Labour votes as well, they could even take a seat or two – council elections can be prone to wild fluctuations, although Greenwich seats have been relatively stable. Whether Ukip really want a miserable life as a minor party in the Greenwich Council chamber, with one or two powerless councillors, is another matter, mind. But what of the others?

Stephen Brain's tweet

LABOUR. Seats in 2010: 40/51. Current seats: 39/51. Candidates: 51/51 (See manifesto)
Nobody really knows what Labour party will take charge in Greenwich after 22 May. Will it be the Berkeley Homes Party, guided by the demands of developers, hammering home a heady mix of regeneration schemes, tall ships and road-building? Or will it be something closer to the community politics espoused by the likes of John Fahy and Blackheath Westcombe candidate Cherry Parker? Nobody knows.

Spot the difference?

Spot the difference?

Rivals complain that Labour is fighting on national policies rather than its local record. Indeed, my local Charlton Labour Twitter feed has told me nothing about the council’s record – although I now know Terry the local ward organiser’s phone number, should I fancy a spot of canvassing. (Hello, Terry.) That said, this election has seen the first manifesto emerge for eight years – the 2010 version was never published in public – but without the launches seen in other boroughs.

This poll has even seen Labour candidates disown the Labour council’s own policies – Woolwich Common candidate David Gardner claiming that building the Silvertown Tunnel was “not a Greenwich Labour policy”, despite three Labour councillors and a Labour MP launching a campaign to get it built.

The current manifesto position, which I understand was bitterly fought over, merely says “we will consider our position further based on our view of the economic and environmental impact assessments” – leaving plenty of wriggle room. Will a Greenwich Labour council trust a Tory mayor’s assessments, which has been the position so far? “Bridge The Gap is dead,” one Labour insider told me – but what if Denise Hyland takes over?

There are many good candidates standing for Labour – but will there be enough of them to force change? A vote for Labour on Thursday would certainly be a leap of faith.

Wards to watch: Blackheath Westcombe, the Eltham seats.
New candidates to watch: Peninsula ward candidates Stephen Brain and Chris Lloyd, telling voters they’ll fight Silvertown; ambitious Woolwich Common candidate and IT systems analyst Ambreen Hisbani, closely connected to the current leadership (oddly, her Portuguese husband Rui Dias lurks on Twitter watching critics from a locked account); heavyweight Blackheath Westcombe trio Paul Morrissey, Damien Welfare and Cherry Parker, locked in street-to-street combat with the Tories; Shooters Hill’s Chris Kirby and Sarah Merrill, involved in a bad-tempered fight with Lib Dems.

Eltham Tories' tweet

CONSERVATIVES. Seats in 2010: 11/51. Seats now: 10/51. Candidates: 51/51 (Read the manifesto.)
If Labour are riddled with splits and in-fighting, the Tories have their own problems too – the rejection of Eltham South councillor Eileen Glover by her local party triggered her to stand as an independent and colleague Neil Dickinson to quit. Marginal seats such as Kidbrooke with Hornfair lie neglected as the Tories fight to shore up what they’ve got, and possibly nick an extra seat in Blackheath Westcombe, where Labour won’t benefit from long-standing councillor Alex Grant’s personal vote. But their majority over Labour in Blackheath Westcombe is just 22 votes – so this could go any way.

Peninsula ward candidate Harry Methley (right) shows 'em some leg

Peninsula ward candidate Harry Methley (right) shows ‘em some leg on a sunny Sunday

As detailed above, there’s a real fear that Ukip could wreck the party’s Eltham heartland. Blackheath aside, the party’s long been a spent force north of the Shooters Hill Road, although judging by Peninsula ward candidate Harry Methley’s Twitter feed, the party’s giving east Greenwich another shot.

While Harry’s unlikely to be a councillor come Friday, the party’s results both here and in Woolwich Riverside will be interesting – will plush new riverside developments give the Tories a boost?

Wards to watch: Blackheath Westcombe, Eltham North, Eltham South, Coldharbour & New Eltham.
New candidates to watch: Blackheath Westcombe’s Thomas Turrell seems to have had an effect in winding up the local Labour establishment, while local credit union trustee Matt Hartley is bound to be a prominent figure if he is elected in Coldhardbour & New Eltham.
Ex-candidates to watch: Eileen Glover in Eltham South. Can she unseat her old colleagues?

Charlton Lib Dems tweet

LIBERAL DEMOCRATS. Seats in 2010: 0/51. Candidates: 40/51 (Read the manifesto.)
Currently ranked just below leprosy in the national polls, with every utterance from Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander making their lives harder, the local Lib Dems’ coalition pains were compounded when Greenwich party boss Chris Smith quit just weeks before the poll.

All this upheaval has seen the Lib Dems slip to just 40 candidates this time around, with Labour activists claiming that the party’s old power base in Middle Park & Sutcliffe lies neglected.

libdemSo all the action’s taking place up on Shooters Hill, where candidate Stewart Christie (who is also involved with No to Silvertown Tunnel, as are volunteers from Labour and the Greens) has mounted a campaign focusing squarely on Greenwich Council’s support for the Thames Gateway Bridge, which is likely to put Oxleas Woods and Woodlands Farm under threat once again as TfL seeks to link the bridge to the A2.

The result’s been a bad-tempered fight over the seat, best summed up by this Twitter exchange on Saturday, after Shooters Hill’s Labour candidates spotted Christie rummaging in his boot…

Undateables tweet

The “Undateables” tweet, probably the best gag of the election, was deleted by Charlton candidate Paul Chapman after one respondent complained it was cruel to use others’ physical appearance for humour.

Chapman’s online output’s been worth following, though – a change from the usual party tweets aimed solely at the already-converted. I hope he stays contributing to the local debate once the poll’s done and dusted.

Ward to watch: Shooters Hill.

jean_lambert

GREENS. Seats in 2010: 0/51. Candidates: 19/51 (Policy page / London council manifesto.)
I should, of course, state that I stood for the Greens in Peninsula ward in 2010. I’m no longer a member of the party, though the Greens are targeting Peninsula once again.

In March, five Labour councillors handed the Greenwich Greens a publicity gift by giving Ikea outline planning permission to build a store right in the heart of the ward – but have they been able to capitalise on this?

The Greens’ performance to beat came in 2006, when candidate Lucy Early came 250 votes behind Chris Roberts in the ward, terrifying the Dear Leader into creating a nonsense “Greener Greenwich” portfolio on his cabinet. Bad feeling over Ikea and Silvertown, plus an uplift from the European election, could give them every chance of matching that, despite limited resources.

Their biggest problem tends to be in communication – after I complained about their local tweets being full of waffle, I had the novel experience of being told by the Twitter feed that I set up that once I understood “economic story told by media is a fallacy… you may want to vote Green”. The Ikea issue seems to have given them some much-needed local focus – and they’re the only ones publicly raising it.

Peninsula was the Greens’ third-strongest performing seat in the 2012 assembly vote, after Blackheath Westcombe and Greenwich West, with Charlton coming fourth. They comfortably beat the Lib Dems in most Greenwich wards then – so this could be a pivotal election for them, if the Lib Dems really are on a death spiral.

Beyond Peninsula, the party’s fielding one candidate per ward – of these, Trevor Allman, a one-time Labour councillor from the 1980s, has a big personal following in Blackheath Westcombe. He’s cheerfully off-message, even admitting not voting for the Greens’ local London Assembly candidate two years ago.

Wards to watch: Peninsula, Blackheath Westcombe, Greenwich West.

And elsewhere… Greenwich’s neighbouring boroughs are also likely to also stay the same.

Over in Bexley - very much the Tory Shelbyville to Greenwich’s Springfield – the Tories are assured of victory, though Ukip will be a big threat and could gain seats. At least Labour here has a sense of humour, standing three candidates called O’Neill against council leader Teresa O’Neill in Bexleyheath’s Brampton ward. One to watch here will be three independent candidates standing under an anti-corruption banner in Blackfen and Lamorbey ward, next to the Greenwich boundary at Avery Hill. Despite candidate Michael Barnbrook’s past connections with the far right, the result here will be worth watching – not least because they’ve been pushing flyers for the Bexley Is Bonkers blog through local letter boxes.

In Lewisham, the big question is how many Lib Dem councillors will remain – Labour’s Sir Steve Bullock being set for an easy win in the mayoral poll. Campaign low-light so far has been People Before Profit (which abandoned plans to stand in Greenwich) appropriating the name “Save Lewisham Hospital” for one of its candidates, after trying to take over the campaign of the same name. Will Lewisham go 100% Labour on Thursday? Probably not, but it’ll be close. Bob from Brockley and Alternative SE4 have more Lewisham coverage.

If you’ve read this far down, head to the Charlton Champion for what happened in last week’s Charlton and Woolwich Riverside hustings. Polling stations are open from 7am-10pm on Thursday. See a full list of Greenwich candidates.

Lib Dems endanger Lewisham Hospital – and themselves

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Lewisham Hospital is back in the firing line after parliament voted last night to give the health secretary powers to close local hospitals – a clause inserted after Jeremy Hunt’s failure to close Lewisham Hospital.

Despite talk of concessions, there’ll now be renewed worries for the future of Lewisham, which now forms a joint NHS trust with Queen Elizabeth in Woolwich.

The bill was voted through with support from Liberal Democrat MPs, including Southwark & Bermondsey’s Simon Hughes – a slap in the face for local Lib Dems in south-east London who joined in the battle to save Lewisham Hospital (Lewisham Lib Dem leader Chris Maines is pictured above).

Beckenham’s Conservative MP Bob Stewart was among those who joined Labour MPs and rebelled against the government.

While the Lib Dems were never likely to win seats in Greenwich, they form the opposition on Lewisham Council – and last night’s vote, which comes ahead of elections in May, surely now increases the possibility that they’ll be completely wiped out in nine weeks’ time.

In fact, I’d like to know what the odds are on Labour winning every seat on Lewisham Council. While that result will delight local Labour activists, who see the Lib Dems as worse than dirt, a lack of opposition could prove dangerous in the long run – they don’t have to look far to see what can go wrong when councils are dominated by one party.

So the Lib Dem MPs could have put a lot more than healthcare at risk in SE London last night. If I was one of their council candidates, then this morning I’d seriously be wondering why I was bothering.

Written by Darryl

12 March, 2014 at 8:59 am

Blackheath fireworks: Senior Greenwich councillor breaks ranks

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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:

airbrush_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.

Written by Darryl

30 January, 2014 at 10:48 am

Lewisham tells Greenwich: Cough up for Blackheath fireworks

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Lewisham Council is asking Greenwich Council to start paying towards the annual Blackheath fireworks display again, after revealing fundraising for this year’s event fell nearly £30,000 short of covering its costs.

Greenwich withdrew its £37,000 share of funding for what was a jointly-run display in 2010, with council deputy leader Peter Brooks claiming it would be “inappropriate in this financial climate” to fund the event, which takes place right on the border between the two boroughs.

But Lewisham has continued to hold the event, which attracts up to 100,000 people and boosts trade to local businesses in Greenwich, Blackheath and Lewisham.

Lewisham has continued to set aside £36,000 each year for the display, which this year cost £108,673, and has relied on public donations and private sponsorship to make up the rest.

Lewisham Council meeting response

But a cut in private sponsorship money this year has meant the shortfall has widened from £7,919 to £29,656 this year, according to an answer from Lewisham’s culture and community services cabinet member Chris Best given at a council meeting last Wednesday.

Responding to Blackheath councillor Kevin Bonavia, she said in a written reply: “Officers continually look for different ways to attract funding for the event. We will continue to request financial and other support from the Royal Borough of Greenwich.”

At the time Greenwich Council’s Peter Brooks was claiming the borough was too hard-up to pay for Blackheath fireworks, Greenwich was paying £30,000 each year on a private party to inaugurate the borough’s ceremonial mayor.

While that cost has come down to £10,000 – thanks to the Royal Naval College no longer charging – this summer the council contributed £20,000 to fireworks displays to support Sail Royal Greenwich, a private company working out of the council’s Mitre Passage offices in North Greenwich.

In 2011, it effectively bailed out Greenwich and Docklands Festival with a £100,000 payout, and spent £110,000 on events to mark becoming a royal borough in 2012.

And while supporters of leader Chris Roberts point to Lewisham’s controversial decision to cut library funding in response to a government funding squeeze, Greenwich has been cutting under-fives’ play centres, outsourcing youth and library services and trying to cut funding from Charlton’s Maryon Wilson animal park.

Relations between the two Labour groups have got worse recently, with Lewisham councillors looking on in alarm at the bullying accusations levelled at Greenwich leader Chris Roberts, with the bad smell drifting across the border.

Greenwich councillors complained to their Lewisham counterparts after Bonavia referred to the accusations in his unsuccessful campaign to be the parliamentary candidate for Greenwich & Woolwich, demanding he be disciplined for disloyalty. They were flatly turned down.

Lewisham council also reaffirmed its reservations about the proposed Silvertown Tunnel – which is backed by Greenwich – at the same meeting.

Deputy mayor Alan Smith said: “The proposed Silvertown Tunnel relies on the same southern approaches as the existing Blackwall Tunnel. These routes, including the A2 area and the South Circular, already suffer from daily congestion. As the only primary alternative to the Dartford crossings, these routes come under extreme pressure when the M25 is not operating smoothly. The council therefore has reservations about the impact of an additional 6,000 vehicles per hour on these routes.”

Other London boroughs, including Southwark, Tower Hamlets, Barking & Dagenham and Redbridge, have also voiced opposition or reservations about mayor Boris Johnson’s plan. In the affected area, only Greenwich and Tory Bexley are wholly for it.

Convoys Wharf: Deptford in dread after mayor Boris takes charge

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Convoys Wharf from Greenwich
It’s a development which will have massive implications for Greenwich, yet there remains surprisingly little concern east of the creek about the enormous plans for Deptford’s Convoys Wharf, which will tower over the views from Greenwich Park and Cutty Sark Gardens (above).

With three enormous towers of 26, 32 and 40 storeys, the plans would change the skyline forever; and by squeezing 3,500 homes onto the site (3,000 likely to be sold abroad, just 12% going to the local community), riverside Deptford would be transformed. Into what, though, nobody quite knows.

Furthermore, this isn’t just any old patch of derelict land – this is the site of the first royal dockyard, founded in 1513, and arguably the beginning of Greenwich’s links with royalty. The site’s now on the World Monuments Fund’s watch list.

So, it was right and proper that Lewisham Council took its time on the scheme. Until Hong Kong-based developer Hutchison Whampoa threw a wobbly and went running to Boris Johnson, that is.

Now the mayor has decided to call in the application himself, taking the decision away from Lewisham Council and putting it in his hands. Considering Johnson’s track record in backing big developers, and his recent trip to China, you could forgive those who think this one of the more whiffy decisions to come out of City Hall.

It’s not as if critics don’t have alternative ideas for the site. Diarist John Evelyn once kept a legendary garden here. Campaigners want the site to include a recreation of Sayes Court Garden. Most excitingly of all, the Build The Lenox project wants to have a visitor attraction here, centred around building a Tudor era warship in the old dockyard.

At the moment the historic dockyard at Deptford has no working links with its wonderful history. Building a ship which was a significant part of the dockyard’s past would regenerate the area and help restore the eminence Deptford once enjoyed. It would also help bridge the maritime cultural gap with Greenwich. For a modest entrance fee, visitors would be able to see the ship being built and some of the traditional skills used to build her. They would experience all this in close proximity to structures that were contemporary to her construction, such as the Master Shipwright’s house and other surviving buildings.

While locals were hoping Lewisham Council could force Hutchison Whampoa to incorporate these ideas into the Convoys development, Johnson’s intervention puts all this at risk.

As well as the Lenox site, there’s also an excellent analysis of the issue at Deptford Is…. Anyone who cares about Greenwich should be caring about this issue too – because the consequences of what happens at Convoys Wharf will be felt far beyond a small corner of riverside Deptford.

Written by Darryl

3 November, 2013 at 8:06 pm

Fancy starting Blackheath fireworks? You could for a fiver…

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There are two events which make living in this part of London like no other. Both of them involve big crowds and take place on Blackheath. One is the London Marathon, the other is Blackheath fireworks. This year’s event is less than three weeks away – it’s on 2 November at 8pm.

Of course, the continuation of the Blackheath fireworks display is no thanks to Greenwich Council, which yanked its £37,000 funding away from the event three years ago, leaving Lewisham Council in the lurch.

Lewisham could have scrapped the event, which attracts up to 100,000 people, or moved it to another open space. But to its credit, it’s continued.

Back in 2010, deputy leader Peter Brooks claimed Greenwich Council couldn’t afford it, a whopper so big it could be seen from space.

This poverty didn’t stop the council handing over £20,000 towards the cost of fireworks to help promote a private company, Sail Royal Greenwich, back in August, according to an answer given under the Freedom of Information Act. And last year, it blew £114,000 on fireworks and other public events to mark royal borough status. Three years on, the decision still rankles, and the real reason for pulling out has never been given.

So ever since then, Lewisham Council’s shouldered the responsibility of raising the cash for the event on its own – even if the firing site’s been outside its borders. The event’s always had some kind of sponsorship, but Lewisham has tried to come up with fundraising wheezes that make the community feel part of the event – something its self-styled “royal borough” neighbour singularly fails to do.

This year’s is simple. Pay a fiver, and you’ll get put into a prize draw where you can win the chance to press the plunger to start the display, along with getting a behind-the-scenes look at how it’s all done. You can enter as many times as you like, and it doesn’t matter where you live.

Of course, it’d be GREAT if someone from this side of the border won the prize – so go on, stick a fiver in and remind our neighbours we’re not all hypocritical miseries over here.

New Cross and Woolwich fire stations: A tale of two councils

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Woolwich Fire Station, 10 July 2013Sighs of relief in New Cross today, as its fire station has escaped closure under revised plans to make £29m of cuts to the London Fire Brigade.

But the news isn’t so good for Woolwich fire station, tucked away in the back streets – one of 10 stations still due to shut by October, although fire chiefs now plan to give East Greenwich a second engine to partly compensate for the loss.

The Fire Brigades Union says the campaign against the remaining closures, which also include Downham fire station, will go on; while the political fall-out is bound to continue.

But it’s worth comparing and contrasting the approaches taken by both Lewisham and Greenwich councils with emergency services under threat in their patches. They differ somewhat – and, as we can see, ended up with differing results, too.

Lewisham fired off a seven-page response to the proposals from a senior council officer, after inviting its borough commander to two council meetings. Lewisham had two stations under threat on its patch – New Cross and Downham. Its response takes each point in turn, and contains a wealth of statistics and real examples of how the borough and its neighbours would be affected by the proposed closures (51% of New Cross call-outs are in Southwark, with a small handful in Greenwich).

That latter point’s an important one – borough boundaries are irrelevant in the fire cuts debate, as many stations predate even the old metropolitan boroughs, never mind the current ones; indeed, east London tenders are sometimes called to fires on this side of the Thames, and vice versa.

So we learn from Lewisham’s document that one in 20 of Downham’s stations call-outs go into Greenwich borough – presumably towards Eltham and Mottingham.

Greenwich sent a two-page letter from cabinet member Maureen O’Mara. It focuses solely on Woolwich and contains two glaring errors.

The first is in a strange example given to demonstrate traffic congestion…

Woolwich often experiences serious traffic congestion particularly when the Woolwich Ferry is busy with large lorries queuing to cross the river or when only one ferry is in operation. For example, the mean weekday run time on bus route 472 (which runs on the Woolwich side of the ferry), over a six month period (January to June 2012) is 1.1 minutes. However the maximum run time (during congested periods) is 42.6 minutes.

And the other seems to get Plumstead and Greenwich fire stations mixed up…

There is a major chemical factory in the Plumstead area which the Fire Brigade has committed to attend within six minutes in the event of a fire. If appliances based at Greenwich had already been called out to a fire elsewhere, the next closest ones would be in East Greenwich and would not be able to arrive within the agreed time frame.

Hopefully a corrected version was sent. There’s no mention of Downham, even though it serves Greenwich borough residents. It also misses the fact that Woolwich fire station serves a small part of London City Airport’s crash zone – a big argument on its favour.

The response largely falls back on the same old stuff about population growth, but there’s no research into how the fire brigade serves Greenwich borough. Compared with Lewisham, it’s a very limp response indeed.

The question’s got to be asked – how serious was Greenwich Council about saving Woolwich fire station?

LFEPA report

The London Fire Brigade report into the consultation says the council refused to put up posters publicising a consultation meeting held in Greenwich on 28 May – forcing it to rely on editorial in the council’s weekly Greenwich Time instead. Why on earth would any council decline to put up posters for a public meeting about something which could have such grave consequences for its residents?

It’s worth pointing out that local Labour party members – including local councillor and cabinet member John Fahy – actively campaigned to retain the fire station. But why didn’t the council that their party supposedly runs back them with something meaningful, rather than a token letter?

Still, if Greenwich Time is stil limping on in a year’s time, there might be a nice little puff piece for some luxury flats in an old fire station in Woolwich, with some quote about how it’s a pleasing sign of the area’s regeneration. We’ll just have to hope a fire doesn’t break out…

Written by Darryl

11 July, 2013 at 7:30 am

Death on Lewisham’s scrapped cycle superhighway

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Loampit Vale, 24 June 2014

The worst of news to start the week with, as a cyclist died after a collision in Lewisham town centre during Monday morning’s rush hour.

The car involved did not stop at the scene of the incident in Loampit Vale, but a man has since has been arrested on suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving and failing to stop at the scene of an accident.

This is the stretch of A20 which was originally going to be included as part of a cycle superhighway from Victoria, until route CS5 was cut short to New Cross Gate last November.

Loampit Vale, 25 June 2013At the time, Transport for London said “opportunities to introduce Cycle Superhighway-type infrastructure are limited” – essentially, it didn’t want to tackle the New Cross one-way system and the A20 into Lewisham.

Earlier this month, TfL announced that initial work between the Oval and New Cross Gate will be finished this autumn, with the lanes to be “semi-segregated” during 2014, but also that “various options” were being considered to restore the Lewisham leg of the route as well as links to other areas east of New Cross Gate.

At the time, that looked like a bit of a fobbing-off, but Monday’s tragedy is a reminder of just how important that original idea was.

Hopefully it will also concentrate the minds of local politicians, with the Lewisham Cyclists group complaining that Lewisham Council has been ignoring its attempts to start a dialogue about much-needed improvements. (In Greenwich, such a dialogue does exist, but the council’s leadership isn’t interested.)

The site of the Loampit Vale collision – between the junctions with Thurston Road and Elmira Street – is also on one of south London’s best-known leisure cycling routes – the Waterlink Way, which runs from Deptford to South Norwood.

Incidentally, there’s still no news on what’s happening with CS4, the planned cycle superhighway from London Bridge to Deptford, Greenwich and Woolwich, although Greenwich Council has undertaken some works on the A206 through Greenwich and Woolwich to make cycle paths more prominent.

However, buried in a TfL press release last Friday was news that Greenwich Council had been given £200,000 for “pedestrian and public realm improvements” in Greenwich town centre, billed as a “package of measures to improve air quality including widening and improving the quality of footway linkages in Greenwich Town Centre and smoothing the flow of buses and taxis”. This doesn’t seem like a revival of the shelved pedestrianisation scheme, but what it means for cyclists, walkers and drivers remains to be seen.

Thanks to Clare Griffiths for the picture of the scene from Tuesday afternoon.

On Blackheath – will Greenwich Council fight music festival?

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(Update 31 May: Lewisham councillor Kevin Bonavia reports the festival has been postponed for a further year.)

It’s been a long wait, but first details of the On Blackheath music festival, due to take place on 7 and 8 September, will be revealed in the next few days. Long-suffering 853 readers will remember the festival was initially due to make its debut in 2011, but was derailed by a costly court battle brought by the Blackheath Society, which aimed to overturn Lewisham Council’s decision to award it a licence.

The ruling upholding Lewisham’s licence came in July 2011, too late for a festival that year, and the heavy demands on Blackheath during the Olympics kiboshed any chance of a festival in 2012.

While it won the court case, Lewisham Council was criticised by magistrates for a lack of transparency in consulting over the event. It failed to formally tell Greenwich Council about the application, which magistrates called “astonishing”. The festival site, at Hare and Billet Road, runs metres from the boundary between the two boroughs, and all six Greenwich councillors for the Greenwich West and Blackheath Westcombe wards formally objected to the event.

But Greenwich may try to fight the festival again. At a council meeting in March, Blackheath Westcombe Tory councillor Geoff Brighty asked environment cabinet member (and Greenwich West councillor) Maureen O’Mara if the council had heard anything from Lewisham about the festival.

Her response: “Both of us lodged a very strong response against this matter, and if anything happens, we will you know – and I’ll see you at Bromley Magistrates Court!”

It’s difficult to know on what grounds Greenwich could object – the magistrates’ decision in 2011 dismissed fears over noise and public order. But with Greenwich boasting of its own festivals down the hill, it’d be sad to see an attempt to stop an event that organisers hope could pump a much-needed £1 million into the local economy.

In fact, it’d be downright hypocritical to claim disruption from On Blackheath when Greenwich Council remains determined to host unloved half-marathon Run To The Beat a few hundred metres away on the same weekend, a date pencilled in by On Blackheath for 15 months, an event which is likely to cause many more problems.

Sadly, there’ll be no Greenwich Summer Sessions to run alongside On Blackheath this year – just as the Greenwich Festivals lost the comedy festival, the music festival was also kicked out by the Old Royal Naval College, and has been brushed under the carpet by the council which once funded it.

But its organisers determined to stay in SE10, and are putting on Deptford boy Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel at the Borough Hall on Royal Hill on 19 July – it’s good to see a criminally under-used venue put to good use, and hopefully GSS will be back next year.

Finally, anything about festivals in SE London would be a incomplete without mentioning Leefest, at Highams Hill Farm near Biggin Hill, about as far away from Greenwich as you can get while still staying (technically) in the capital. I went in 2011 and it was a fantastic day out – now it’s ballooned to three days (12-14 July) and has raised £50,000 from fans to fund its future expansion. Tickets are still available, and it’s well worth the trip.

Will On Blackheath build up such a dedicated following? We’ll have to wait and see…

Evening Standard damns Deptford to back Convoys Wharf

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Evening Standard, 2 May 2013
New plans to redevelop Convoys Wharf in Deptford are about to be submitted to Lewisham Council, so London’s monopoly evening newspaper very kindly copied and pasted one of the developers’ press releases.

Why would London want another Shoreditch, for heaven’s sake?

(Cliche watch: It’s nine years since the Standard called New Cross “the new Hoxton“.)

Anyone on the east side of Deptford Creek who hasn’t been keeping up with the Convoys story should be brushing up on it now. With 46-storey towers looming over the riverfront, and 3,500 new flats – with the only new transport infrastructure being diverted bus and river bus routes – this makes recent plans for Greenwich and Woolwich look like child’s play.

It’ll have a huge impact on the Greenwich town centre heritage site, but the wider effect on the local infrastructure threatens to be even more damaging than some of the other poorly thought-through developments in this area. See the Deptford Dame for more.

But hey, new Shoreditch!

Evening Standard, 2 May 2013

“Not kept pace with those of other riverside areas,” eh? Silly Deptford for being Chelsea Harbour. Well, not yet.

Deptford Is… has much more informed Convoys commentary than I could ever provide, while for imaginative ideas of what to do with the Convoys site, take a look at the Sayes Court Garden project (which wants to recreate John Evelyn’s 17th Century garden) and Build the Lenox – a scheme to get the old dockyard building a ship again. Both ideas aim to build on the tourist appeal of Greenwich, and deserve support.

Written by Darryl

3 May, 2013 at 7:30 am

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