It’s worth a look at The Guardian’s story about one of its reporters being blocked from filming the O2 from Millennium Way, with security guards wrongly trying to invoke “terrorist laws” because “this is an Olympic venue”.
Funnily enough, I saw this incident happen – I was travelling into North Greenwich station by bus a few days ago thinking “why’s that bloke filming a security guard and sniffer dog?” I wish I’d taken my own picture now…
I can’t help thinking that “because of the Olympics” is going to be the new “‘elf and safety” cliche, as well as being used by jumped-up berks who are well exceeding their powers.
While I’m well aware that the O2 security guards make the Ravensbourne bike racks among the safest in London, I’ve had my own issues with them. Two years ago, a photographer pal tried to take some pictures of me in Peninsula Square (“this new London square, the largest in 150 years”, “a dramatic new public space“.) before some idiot came over to stop the outrageous photography activity. Taking photos without permission is not allowed in this area that us locals are all commanded to be proud of, it appears. For it’s not public space at all, it’s private property.
Odder still, a pal tonight told me of a recent visit inside the venue: “They demanded my 12 year old niece take down her hood the min we stepped in, it was raining outside, she was with 2 adults and a toddler and it was 11am! What did they think she was going to do? They may have a policy but you can at least be nice about it.”
The guards may have a legal right to enforce what goes on inside the Dome, or in Peninsula Square (“a superb place to socialise“) – but out on grim Millennium Way? They’re on very sticky ground. I’d lay odds on there being a photographers’ flashmob there by the end of the week.
Of course, it’s almost a heresy in the “royal” borough to criticise something at the
Dome O2, but that’s not stopped this website before…
Anyway, take one two-bob crap club which can’t be arsed to clear up its’ punters’ junk, and add to that a local council which can’t be arsed to sweep its streets properly, and combine with a glorious spring Sunday.
The result – scores of people walking and cycling along the Thames Path, somewhere which makes you feel lucky to be from this corner of London, and finding it’s covered with rubbish from the Proud2 club.
Ladies free? Tim Westwood*? Classy. Still, it’s at the O2 so it’s got to be brilliant, eh?
(* video may be unsuitable for work viewing. Tim Westwood is 54 years old.)
A pal of mine used to live near Brixton Academy, and used to have to negotiate crowds of ticket touts on gig nights. But every now and then, he’d turn up at 9pm, and get into gigs for a fiver because the touts couldn’t shift their wares for full price.
I can’t help wondering if we’re about to get the same opportunities at the Dome, with the opening of “secondary ticketing” company Seatwave’s first shop just around the corner. It’s tucked away in Pier Walk, just behind Wagamana, so isn’t exactly in a prime spot, but bosses at the O2 aren’t impressed…
The O2 distanced itself from the firm and encouraged people “wanting to attend gigs to buy tickets through the official O2 website”.
The venue said it did “not allow third party sellers or touts on the premises” and that it policed the Peninsular Square area outside the O2 to stop the practice.
I peered through the window on Sunday afternoon and tickets for last night’s Snow Patrol show looked to be selling for about £6 below face value. I don’t know what hours the shop will keep, but if you’re passing through on an event night soon, it might be worth taking a look to see if there are any bargains.
The doors fling open today on Stratford City’s newest attraction, a huge casino within the shiny shopping centre next to the Olympic Park. Aspers Stratford City will be the UK’s biggest, with 40 gaming tables, a 150-seat poker room, 150 slot machines and 92 electronic gaming terminals. Here’s a surprise – the Evening Standard fawning over the rich man who owns it.
If Greenwich Council and one of the world’s richest businessmen had their way, though, all this – and more – would already be up and running inside the Dome. A casino was a central part of the business plan for what became the O2 – and the failure of that plan is still being felt nearly five years on.
Here’s the entrance to the O2 arena, seen last week during the ATP tennis finals. The big “Sky Backstage” hoarding marks the space where the casino would have been. The plan was to build a “regional casino” (or “super casino”) here, which could play host to up to 1,250 slot machines. The casino plans were part of the Tony Blair government’s liberalisation of gambling laws. Originally, eight were to have been built nationwide, but this was whittled down to just the one.
Local councils were invited to bid to play host to super casinos, and Greenwich was among eight shortlisted. The only other London bidder, Brent Council, had Wembley Stadium in mind, but pulled out at the final stage. But Newham Council was bidding for something smaller – a “large casino”, of up to 150 slot machines.
Greenwich’s bid was controversial and deeply divisive – a foretaste of the rows to come over the Olympics in Greenwich Park. A campaign group, South East London Against The Casino, was formed, claiming three-quarters of locals were against and it would bring crime and local youngsters into gambling. A report commissioned by PriceWaterhouse Coopers for the council – which it initially refused to make public – said “close proximity to casinos increases the prevalence of problem gambling”.
It wasn’t just Greenwich Council that wanted the super-casino, though. Then-mayor Ken Livingstone, the Greenwich Society and the local chamber of commerce, were all for it, claiming it would help regenerate the area. It had that look of a “done deal” that local cynics have grown used to – not least when it emerged deputy prime minister John Prescott had stayed at the Colorado ranch of Philip Anschutz, the billionaire behind Dome owners AEG. Another scandal erupted when AEG were caught out claiming local religious groups were behind the casino – they most certainly weren’t.
With claims that the council and AEG – never mind senior national politicians – had far too close a relationship, the whole thing was causing an unholy stink. The much-missed Greenwich Watch’s archive of stories – including its exclusive on the “faked” support from local churches – on it is well worth reading.
But the bid continued, and by January 2007, it was widely believed the casino would go to either Greenwich or Blackpool. Neither got it – the bid was won by Manchester, which planned to build it at Eastlands, home of Manchester City’s stadium. It was never built, though – Gordon Brown cancelled the scheme after becoming prime minister.
Over the water, things were more successful. Newham won its bid for a “large casino”, and that’s the same one that opens today at Stratford City, a short hop on the Tube from North Greenwich.
So, five years on, what are we left with? That big gap inside the O2 and a gaming college at The Valley are the legacy of Greenwich’s little flutter on having a casino. There was a section buried deep in the council’s website devoted to Freedom of Information requests about the scheme and the associated PwC report, although that vanished in the recent revamp of the site.
The failure still echoes around the O2, though. Before 2007, AEG planned two hotels for the Dome site, with dreams of turning the tip of the Peninsula into what seemed like a mini-Las Vegas. At the end of 2011, work has yet to begin on the one hotel given planning permission earlier this year.
While the O2 arena itself has been an undoubted success, the “entertainment avenue” next to it hasn’t been such a hot destination. Film premieres on the windy peninsula have been few and far between. Years of Jubilee Line disruptions have dented its appeal to the rest of London. Despite being on a clutch of bus routes, this collection of suburban chain bars and eateries under a mucky roof remains difficult to reach from the suburbs without a car. It’s recently gained a private members’ club but apart from after-show parties, why on earth would anyone want to join an exclusive venue there?
To be fair, it is busy at weekends, but has the unwanted prize of the highest concentration of alcohol-related crime in Greenwich borough.
It all feels a bit like a highly-fortified Bluewater but without the shops. But AEG is now planning to fix that – by turning the casino space into a shopping centre. Early papers submitted to Greenwich planners propose a “retail outlet village” inside the O2, stretching around the southern side of the Dome. Could it work as a shopping centre? Well, the Westfield Stratford City horse has bolted, and Canary Wharf’s malls have steadily built up over the years. But some shops would provide a reason to linger in the Dome, and maybe get a bite to eat too. Full details will no doubt hit the Greenwich planning desk soon.
But until the rest of the peninsula is built up – and that’s more than a decade off yet – it’s unlikely a shopping centre will bring the windfall for AEG – and possibly further investment in the area – that a casino could have done. Then again, considering the amount of alcohol-related crime there, perhaps we dodged a bullet by not having a mini-Vegas by the Blackwall Tunnel. Whatever your view, the O2 casino is one of the great local “what ifs” of our time.
Oh dear. Late mayors aside, the tennis brought a good buzz to the Dome last week. It wasn’t well-publicised, but you could wander in and watch action on the practice courts for free if you wanted to. So long as you got there on time. Adam at The Scoop has more about the mayor’s recent confusion in south London. I just hope he took the Jubilee Line there and back.
I completely forgot about Saturday’s “open day” (three hours) at the cable car site – but Diamond Geezer didn’t, thankfully, and brings news that we’ll be seeing the towers within a couple of weeks. If you went, I’d be interested to hear what you thought of what you saw.
I went over to Trinity Buoy Wharf‘s open weekend the other day (thanks to Diamond Geezer for the reminder). I’d only been there once before – for a work thing on a cold day about 10 years ago – so it was good to go back and have a proper wander around in the sunshine.
If you’re not familiar with it, Trinity Buoy Wharf is directly opposite the Dome, and the location of London’s only lighthouse. Climb the narrow stairs to the top of the lighthouse, and you can peer back across the river while listening to the eerie Longplayer.
Once the place where the river’s buoys were made, Trinity Buoy Wharf is now a thriving community of artists and small businesses. It’s a little bit cut off from the surrounding area, tucked away at the end of an old street called Orchard Place. Once home to the isolated community of Bow Creek, its residents were moved out following the flood of 1928.
So there’s a ferry from North Greenwich Pier, run by an old police boat called Predator II. Its main job is as a crew shuttle for Thames Clippers, which is based at Trinity Buoy Wharf. But it’s also available if you need to visit Trinity Buoy Wharf, running between 5am and about 7.30pm, charging a £2 fare. Trips were free at the weekend, and if it’s choppy it’s not for those prone to seasickness – but it’s a quick way to get across the Thames. It’s hardly advertised, though – there’s a tiny timetable and phone number at the western end of North Greenwich Pier – and it’s probably best to give Thames Clippers a call first to check it’s running.
The big displays around the Dome were showing off a new big brand last night. Stella Artois has joined the venue’s sponsors. An appropriate choice considering the O2 has the highest level of alcohol-related crime in Greenwich borough, according to statistics issued by the council earlier this year. See you in A&E.