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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 ‘silvertown tunnel

Bridge East London: Come Labour bombs and fall on Plumstead?

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London Chamber of Commerce - Bridge East London
The road lobby’s getting itchy. Monday saw the London Chamber of Commerce publish a new design for the road bridge it’s desperate to see built between Thamesmead and Beckton. The Evening Standard obligingly spun it as a “bicycle-friendly” bridge, because it has a pedestrian and cycle lane beneath the dual carriageway taking it across the windy Thames. Even the BBC fell for it, The Guardian’s architecture writer piled in with another sycophantic piece, proving that if you come up with a pretty picture of something and call it “bike-friendly”, you can flog any old crap in London.

Nobody bothered to ask any questions like how this bridge would fit into the road network, how it’d be paid for, what effect it’d have on the area, or whether there were any better ideas than digging up a road scheme that’s been around since the 1940s.

All the talk is of supposed benefits to “east London” – so let’s see the effect on south-east London…

Gallions Reach pollution/congestion map

Map created by Stewart Christie for May’s Greenwich Council election campaign.

This map shows the projected traffic impacts of a Gallions Reach bridge, based on a study commissioned for Newham Council last year. The thicker the yellow line, the more traffic. The numbers represent levels of nitrogen dioxide captured in January’s No To Silvertown Tunnel air pollution study. So, going anti-clockwise, there’s a fair chunk of traffic using the only existing infrastructure, the Thamesmead spine road. Then the horrors start – another chunk of traffic using Brampton Road, Bexleyheath, then crossing the A206 to enter a side street – Knee Hill in Abbey Wood, on the Greenwich/Bexley borough border. Here’s how it looks on Google Streetview.

Knee Hill, SE2, Google

It simply won’t cope. It gets worse, though, with another load of traffic using Wickham Lane in Welling, emerging into Plumstead Common – which is buried under a yellow line – and using the side streets there, principally Griffin Road, the last leg of the 53 bus route, to reach the one-way system at Plumstead station before heading towards Thamesmead.

Griffin Road- Google Streetview

Quite frankly, the road network simply won’t be able to cope. And that’s before you get to the known phenomena of “induced traffic”, where new roads encourage new journeys by car or existing journeys to be switched to cars, which is the main problem for the Silvertown Tunnel.

So, if the infrastructure doesn’t exist, does it have to be built instead? Much of Plumstead was blighted for years by the threat of the East London River Crossing, linking the North Circular Road with the A2, which would also have carved up Oxleas Woods and Woodlands Farm on its way to Falconwood.

Either way, Plumstead is squarely in the firing line. Greenwich Council claims to have moved its position slightly to acknowledge fears of congestion and pollution, both from here and the Silvertown Tunnel proposals. Here’s the Greenwich Labour group’s manifesto:

Greenwich Labour manifesto, 2014

Indeed, the Labour campaign in Shooters Hill was very proud of this, judging by this exchange with Stewart Christie, the Liberal Democrat candidate who created the map above.

Shooters Hill Labour Twitter exchange

Nobody seems to have told their colleagues at City Hall, though.

City Hall Labour Twitter feed

Some reward for the Labour voters of Plumstead, eh?

Then, one by one, Labour’s mayoral wannabes started coming out in favour. Sadiq Khan called it “exciting” and said it was “desperately needed”. David Lammy called it “interesting” and “new”. “22 road crossings to west of Tower Bridge and two to the east,” parroted Margaret Hodge, ignoring the Dartford crossing and five railway tunnels, two foot tunnels and a cable car. “Looks brilliant”, she added, although for who, she didn’t say.

I wonder what questions they asked about the scheme and their effects? But let’s face it, as for many of London’s politicians of all colours, Plumstead may as well be on Mars. Even assembly member Val Shawcross managed to undermine her pro-cycling credentials by backing a scheme that’s going to flood the streets with more motorised traffic.

So how did the London Labour Party end up falling for this, ending up taking a more extreme view than its Greenwich outpost? To be fair, a bridge at Thamesmead has been Labour policy for some years, but there’ll be many Labour members locally who’ll be furious to see the London Chamber of Commerce scheme – which contains less for public transport than Ken Livingstone’s Thames Gateway Bridge – backed by Labour at City Hall.

Nobody’s suggesting a “do nothing” option. There are many other ways to get Thamesmead properly connected to the rest of London. A DLR extension from Beckton. A rail link from Barking. Yet this isn’t about Thamesmead, this is about a belief that regenerating the Royal Docks requires a new road connection.

Should Plumstead be sacrificed for some imagined benefits north of the river? A fancy design may be enough to impress ambitious politicians, but it won’t disguise the congestion and blight that will be visited on the area. The 2016 mayoral election should have been an easy win for Labour in this part of SE London. Now they’re looking like they’re making things needlessly hard for themselves.

9.20am update: Today marks 138 years since the Plumstead Common riot to protect common land.

Buried Greenwich Council report criticises Silvertown Tunnel

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Bridge The Gap relaunch

853 exclusive: Greenwich Council suppressed a report which criticised Tory mayor Boris Johnson’s plans for a new road tunnel between the Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks – while the council’s Labour leadership was launching a campaign to push for the tunnel to be built.

Published in May 2012, the Hyder Consulting report into a possible DLR extension to Eltham warns of “exacerbated congestion on the local road network” if the Silvertown Tunnel is built. But this didn’t stop cabinet member Denise Hyland, outgoing council leader Chris Roberts and his deputy Peter Brooks, together with MP Nick Raynsford, launching the Bridge The Gap campaign six months later to campaign for the tunnel, attempting to hijack a public consultation into the scheme.

The document was hidden for nearly two years. Labour councillors were not shown it when they were asked to endorse the Bridge The Gap campaign in December 2012. When a Freedom of Information request to see the report was submitted in April 2013, it was refused as the council was “drafting a report into the matter” and so it was “unfinished”. In the end, it was never presented to Greenwich Council’s cabinet.

It still hasn’t been published on the council website, but this website is now publishing the report for the first time, after it emerged following an enquiry from former Liberal Democrat councillor Paul Webbewood at a council meeting earlier this year.

Greenwich Council has supported the Silvertown Tunnel on the grounds it would provide congestion relief, as expressed in this answer from “Greener Greenwich” cabinet member Harry Singh in January 2013:

Harry Singh response to question about Silvertown Tunnel, Janaury 2013

But seven months earlier, the Hyder document had repeatedly warned that the Silvertown Tunnel would not be able to cope with increased traffic levels, and would actually draw new traffic to the area.

Suppressed Hyder Consulting report into Eltham DLR extension

This reflects established thinking among traffic planners that road building actually generates new traffic rather than relieves it.

But what of those plans for new public transport to take traffic off the roads? Long-term readers of this website will remember the original “DLR on stilts” report from 2011, proposing a DLR extension via the Silvertown Tunnel through east Greenwich, Blackheath, Kidbrooke and Eltham to Falconwood, largely built above the A102 and A2.

At the time, Chris Roberts said it was about “changing the mentality” of Transport for London, justifying the £75,000 cost of the two reports. The first report wasn’t publicly available until this website submitted a Freedom of Information request.

Well, the second, suppressed report reveals that there’s two hopes for Eltham’s DLR extension – after the town’s most famous son, there’s Bob Hope and no hope.

Quite simply, the plan’s been shelved – with the council urged to back an extension only going as far as Kidbrooke on cost/benefit grounds.

DLR report, Hyder Consulting

But what’s more, TfL doesn’t seem interested. An email from project manager Tony Wilson is included in the report. It states: “If the desire is to bring more passengers to North Greenwich to access the westbound Jubilee line, it is not clear whether this is desirable from a crowding perspective or attractive from a customer perspective.

“At the moment it is unclear what the proposed line is trying to achieve and what alternatives means of achieving this have been considered. That’s not to say that I can’t see any merits in it, but they appear to be fairly minor given the available capacity on the existing DLR options via Lewisham and Greenwich, while it would carry a very high price tag, and would be competing for funding against a great many other capital projects which have established cases.”

Further notes from meetings with TfL staff suggest they still weren’t impressed with the plans – with overcrowding at North Greenwich one of the key worries.

So the report was suppressed. It wasn’t presented to the council’s cabinet as promised, and wasn’t sent to Transport for London as planned – much to the anger of Greenwich’s Conservative leader Spencer Drury, an Eltham councillor.

But perhaps Spencer should have asked just why the report wasn’t submitted to Greenwich Council’s cabinet, never mind TfL. Perhaps the answer’s in another part of Tony Wilson’s email.

Email from TfL's Tony Wilson

Was the Kidbrooke/Eltham DLR extension killed off so Greenwich could pursue the Silvertown Tunnel that’s criticised in the report?

Indeed, cabinet member Denise Hyland and outgoing leader Chris Roberts have some questions to answer over this issue – particularly as to why Greenwich Labour councillors were cajoled into supporting a road scheme that a council report had said would just exacerbate congestion. Rank and file members in the Greenwich and Woolwich party rejected the scheme in January 2013, rebuking their own councillors.

It remains to be seen what line the post-Chris Roberts council will take on the Silvertown Tunnel – the Greenwich Labour party has yet to publish any kind of manifesto for 22 May’s election, although some Labour candidates are privately promising voters they’ll fight to reverse the council’s position.

In the meantime, while the “DLR on stilts” lies dead in the Quaggy, here’s some amazing mock-ups of what it could have looked like – including building the line over homes in east Greenwich.

DLR extension mock-up

DLR extension report mock-up

DLR extension report mock-up

From yesterday: Air pollution and SE London – the No to Silvertown Tunnel study.

Written by Darryl

6 May, 2014 at 6:30 am

Air pollution and SE London: The No to Silvertown Tunnel study

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The southbound traffic queue that the Silvertown Tunnel will exacerbate

It’s been a little bit quiet on this website over the past few weeks, and one of the reasons why is that I’ve been busy with the No to Silvertown Tunnel campaign.

The results of our latest air pollution study were released last Thursday, and they’re horrifying – with nearly all of the 150 sites we monitored across south-east and east London recording nitrogen dioxide pollution above European Union legal limits.

A tube is installed on Hither Green LaneMost personally shocking for me was the result at Bramshot Avenue, Charlton – by a subway under the A102 used by schoolchildren to get to and from schools in both Blackheath and Charlton. I used it myself 30 years ago. We recorded a level of 104 microgrammes per cubic metre – well over two and half times the EU limit of 40 ug/m3. People’s homes back onto the A102 at this stretch.

Worse results were recorded at the New Cross one-way system (110 ug/m3) and Lee High Road, Lewisham (109 ug/m3) – again, right in front of people’s homes.

There were also dreadful results right along the A2 through Deptford and New Cross, and along the A206 through Charlton and Greenwich – the latter just as it was when we did a similar study last year.

This year, we decided to expand our study to sites across Greenwich borough – but we expanded out to get coverage of SE London’s wider road network, which meant covering areas in parts of Lewisham borough (Hither Green Lane shown on the right), as well as stretching up to the Rotherhithe Tunnel and down the A2 to Bexleyheath.

We also covered areas north of the river, such as the proposed northern exit of the Silvertown Tunnel.

We joined forces with the campaigners at Don’t Dump on Deptford’s Heart, who are objecting to Thames Water’s plans to build a construction site for a sewer tunnel at Crossfields Green, Deptford Church Street, which allowed us both to expand our coverage and set our results in a wider context.

Indeed, it allows us to show that Greenwich Council’s uncritical backing for the Silvertown Tunnel will have dangerous consequences for its neighbouring boroughs.

With London facing EU fines for its dangerous air quality, other London boroughs fear they may have to pick up some of the tab – does this not worry anyone at Greenwich?

Study results around Greenwich, Blackheath and Charlton. Here, only one result - in Pelton Road, Greenwich - came in at under the EU legal limit.

Study results around Greenwich, Blackheath and Charlton. Here, only one result – in Pelton Road, Greenwich – came in at under the EU legal limit.

You can see a map of all the results at the No to Silvertown Tunnel website. It’s worth remembering that the study was carried out in the wettest January since records began – it’s likely the results would have been higher if the rain had held off.

We plan to update these results when we get local authority data, to give an even fuller picture of air pollution across the area.

Of course, you may be thinking that a new tunnel would ease all this pollution by clearing traffic jams. It won’t – it’ll merely bring new traffic to the area, encourage people away from other crossings, and exacerbate bottlenecks such as the southbound queue from the A2 at the Kidbrooke interchange.

Thursday's fire by the A102Indeed, it’ll put more pressure on the already fragile A102/A2 corridor – the delusion that Silvertown will fix this was exposed in spectacular fashion last Thursday when a fire next to the planned Silvertown Tunnel slip road closed the A102, bring traffic to a standstill across south-east London. The tunnel will be bad news for drivers too – and that’s before you consider TfL’s plans to toll both it and Blackwall.

Of course, the air pollution isn’t just about the Silvertown Tunnel or a huge construction site in Deptford – our results highlight poor air quality around east Greenwich’s proposed Ikea store, as well as in areas of Plumstead and Welling that will be affected by any bridge at Gallions Reach, Thamesmead.

But while our results will be open for anyone to use, we’ll be sticking with the battle against the Silvertown Tunnel.

(By the same token, it’s not just about Greenwich Council and Transport for London. Lewisham Council’s record in monitoring air quality is patchy, while Newham’s monitoring also misses out whole areas of its borough.)

We’ll be spending the summer talking to people about the results, spreading the word and refining our arguments – both on pollution and traffic levels. We’ve been reliant on a fantastic team of volunteers, we don’t have a weekly council newspaper and we’re not rich property developers, so any offers of help or donations would be gratefully accepted.

But the simplest thing you can do is to spread the word – tell your friends and neighbours. And if someone pops up on your doorstep over the next couple of weeks looking for your vote, why not ask them what their view is on the Silvertown Tunnel, and what they’ve done to oppose it?

After all, I’ve been spending my past few weeks doing what some of them should have done long ago – opposing this crazy plan. In Greenwich, it’s time councillors and party activists faced some awkward questions.

Tomorrow: How senior Greenwich councillors were warned about the risks of mayor Boris Johnson’s plans for the Silvertown Tunnel – but chose to ignore the advice.

Written by Darryl

5 May, 2014 at 6:30 am

Silvertown Tunnel will cause ‘pressure’, Boris Johnson admits

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Charlton Road/A102 bridge, 2 April 2014
London mayor Boris Johnson has admitted his proposals for the Silvertown Tunnel will cause “much more pressure and much more traffic” on local roads – despite his allies at Greenwich Council claiming the opposite.

Johnson’s admission also gives campaigners against a new Ikea in Greenwich a new line of argument while the mayor considers whether or not to ratify Greenwich Council’s decision to back the new store.

All this comes in a week London’s been enveloped in a smog which is actually visible thanks to it including some Saharan dust particles – with the capital’s politicians paralysed by inaction.

Johnson’s comments about Silvertown were made in a phone-in on LBC with breakfast host Nick Ferrari on Tuesday morning. Thanks to Boriswatch’s Tom Barry for the heads-up and transcript of this conversation with a caller called Mark from Dagenham, 25 minutes into the programme:

“What we’ve got to do, Mark, actually, is build not just one bridge but a series of river crossings, we’re starting with the Blackwall 2 tunnel… that will be going by 2020, or 2020-2021 – not so far away! Erm, only six years or seven years to go, we’re going for the Blackwall 2 tunnel at Silvertown, but we will also need a series of crossings to the, to the east and actually there’s a there’s a there’s loads of sites that er, are we are looking at and, um, I think the important thing for people of um both on both sides is that you shouldn’t just do one, because if you do one then you’re going to get much more pressure, much more traffic on, on that area and if you if you you can dilute the traffic if you have if you have several crossings.”

Yet the current proposals from Transport for London, which Johnson chairs, are just for the one crossing – at Silvertown. And Johnson has been happy to push the merits of this one crossing in the past – calling it “a major new crossing east of Tower Bridge”.

(Update Friday 8.30am: A spokesperson for Johnson has also told the Mercury that Silvertown will DOUBLE capacity at Blackwall. Past TfL statements have put the planned increase in traffic at 20%.)

So not only has Boris Johnson torpedoed his own argument, his friendly fire has also shot down some of the nonsense spouted by his partners-in-roadbuilding at Greenwich Council, such as this classic from “Greener Greenwich” cabinet member Harry Singh.

Harry Singh's written response, Greenwich Council meeting January 2013

It’s increasingly looking like the mayor is starting to soften up for a U-turn on the Gallions Reach crossing – which would flood Woolwich, Plumstead and Abbey Wood with new traffic, as well as for more roadbuilding in general. But where else along SE London’s riverfront would Johnson swing his wrecking-ball to build yet more road crossings?

Meanwhile, while voicing doubts on putting too much pressure on the road network on the Greenwich Peninsula, the mayor is currently deciding whether or not to approve Greenwich Council’s decision to allow Ikea to build a new superstore there.

GLA letter on Ikea

Of course, an Ikea will bring the same problem – an increase in traffic, something that was ignored when it was bulldozed through planning last month.

So it’s possible to use Johnson’s words to argue the case against Greenwich’s decision, as well as the GLA’s 2004 objection to a store in Sidcup. If you want to write to City Hall to object, use reference number D&P/3283/PR and write to planning[at]london.gov.uk before 9 April.

Beyond the Silvertown Tunnel: TfL eyes Ringway road revival

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With smog levels high in London this week, you might think that anyone proposing major new road schemes for the capital would be laughed out of town.

But Transport for London is considering reviving long-dead proposals for new orbital roads around the capital – raising the spectre of decades-old plans which threatened Blackheath Village and other parts of SE London.

The transport authority is already planning a new road tunnel under the Thames to feed into the A102 at the Greenwich Peninsula. But the plans don’t stop with the Silvertown Tunnel or possible plans for a bridge at Gallions Reach, near Thamesmead.

City Hall is currently consulting on proposals to change the capital’s planning guidance, The London Plan. These include taking on board the recommendations of the Roads Task Force as planning policy.

London Plan alterations

The Roads Task Force was set up in 2012, after Boris Johnson’s second election win “to tackle the challenges facing London’s streets and roads”. Dubbed an independent body, it includes representatives of haulage, transport and motoring groups as well as the London Cycling Campaign and Living Streets. Its first report was published last summer, and recommended a “feasibility study of tunnelling to remove ‘strategic’ traffic from surface and free-up space for other uses”.

This month, a progress report has appeared, where this has become…

RTF March 2014 report

TfL’s enthusiasm for digging tunnels hasn’t just been sparked by Silvertown – Boris Johnson is backing proposals by Hammersmith & Fulham Council to build a Hammersmith Flyunder, which would replace the existing flyover.

While the plan’s being sold on revitalising Hammersmith town centre, options being pushed by the council involve effectively creating a buried urban motorway from Chiswick to Kensington.

So what’s meant by the “orbital tunnel”?

As both the Silvertown Tunnel and Gallions Reach/ Thames Gateway Bridge are, essentially, revived versions of long-dead transport plans, this could well mean the resurrection of Ringway 1.

Ringway 1

Here’s the leaflet which sold the Blackwall Tunnel Southern Approach to locals when construction started in 1967. (Thanks to The Greenwich Phantom for the scans.) The BTSA was originally planned to be part of Ringway 1, which would have featured an interchange at Kidbrooke, roughly where the current A2 junction is now.

A new road, the South Cross Route, would have continued at Kidbrooke, following the railway line and ploughing through the Blackheath Cator Estate and tunnelling under Blackheath Village, through Lewisham town centre and featuring an interchange roughly where St John’s station is for a slip road to New Cross. It would then have follow the railway line through Brockley, Nunhead and Peckham and on a flyover through Brixton, where the famous “Barrier Block” of flats was built in anticipation of a motorway which, thankfully, never came.

The Ringways project would have been Britain’s biggest ever construction project. They were proposed by Conservative politicians on the Greater London Council and tacitly backed by Labour opponents – sound familiar? The GLC also planned Ringway 2 – which threatened Oxleas Woods, and still does today in the form of the Gallions Reach Bridge proposal.

But the Ringways caused such public outrage that they never happened. It led to an upsurge in local activism, such as this community group in Grove Park, channelled through the Homes Before Roads group. The Tory GLC considered burying the roads to pacify locals. But when Labour won the 1973 GLC election, it scrapped the Ringways – public protest and oil price hikes were too much.

But now the plans are back. In January, Transport for London’s managing director of planning, Michele Dix, gave a presentation to the Institution of Engineering and Technology. She discussed TfL’s plans to extend tolling on London’s roads, and how this may be applied to the Blackwall Tunnel and Silvertown Tunnel (if built).

Whereas the proceeds from Ken Livingstone’s congestion charge went into public transport, these new TfL tolls would pay for… more roads. Which could include, she said, orbital tunnels.

Michele Dix TfL presentation

Looks familiar, doesn’t it?

Ringways compared with orbital tunnel

Essentially, TfL is looking at using the A102 through Greenwich, Charlton and Blackheath – and a Silvertown Tunnel – as part of a resurrected Ringway. And areas such as Blackheath, Lee, Lewisham, Brockley and Catford would be in the firing line for a tunnel.

Even if we bury the damn thing, the traffic has to come off the roads somewhere – and London simply can’t cope with the number of vehicles as it is. Any more would be a disaster. Why a road? Why not an orbital rail line?

New roads fill up as soon as they’re built. The last major road to be built in London, the A12 through Leytonstone, is the UK’s ninth most congested road, 15 years after it opened.

This is why opposing the Silvertown Tunnel is so important. It’s the thin end of a very dirty wedge. And it’s why Greenwich Council’s decision to endorse an Ikea next to the Blackwall Tunnel approach is so dangerous – because the last thing we need is extra traffic, even on grounds of congestion alone.

But it’s on health grounds where this also counts. Paris is also suffering from high pollution at the moment, so is making public transport free to all this weekend. London’s politicians, led by its mayor along with its footsoldiers like Greenwich’s councillors, just seem to want to encourage even more people to get in their cars. Choked, congested and polluted – is this really the sort of city we want to live in?

(I’m indebted to Steve Chambers, who’s researching Homes Before Roads and the Ringways plan, and Tom Barry, who’s been posting about the Hammersmith plans at Boriswatch.)

Written by Darryl

14 March, 2014 at 12:19 pm

Congested Greenwich: Too many cars, or Trafalgar Road’s fault?

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Lord Adonis's Twitter feed, 19 February 2014Labour peer and former transport secretary Lord Adonis is travelling around London by bus this week.

It’s widely thought he fancies a crack at the mayoralty in 2016, so hopping on the bus is smart politics when the current mayor has hiked up fares while declining to invest in new services.

He’s been tweeting his travels at @Andrew_Adonis all week, and it’s been quite a ride.

On Wednesday, he showed off pictures of him travelling around with Greenwich & Woolwich MP Nick Raynsford. They had a look at the Old Royal Naval College, looked at some bus timetables in Greenwich, took a 386 through Kidbrooke (they clearly weren’t in hurry), and pointed at Tesco in Woolwich.

To get to Greenwich, they took a 188 along Trafalgar Road. And Adonis made this very odd comment…

Lord Adonis's Twitter feed, 19 February 2014

“Nick Raynsford tells me typical narrow Victorian High St leads to congestion” – really? Nothing to do with too many vehicles trying to use it, then? Or even the Maze Hill traffic lights, for that matter? It’s not even that narrow, for heaven’s sake.

If this was Upper Street in Islington, I very much doubt the local MP would observe that a normal-sized main road “leads to congestion”. But as it’s Trafalgar Road in Greenwich, the shops are clearly getting in the way of increased traffic flows. What would they rather have, a dual carriageway?

Among the baffled responses was one from the Evening Standard’s property writer Mira Bar-Hillel:

Mira Bar-Hillel on Twitter

Adonis also backs the Silvertown Tunnel, so perhaps this sort of thing’s not such a surprise after all. But it’s depressing that both Conservative and Labour politicians seem to see Greenwich as a place to slap down tarmac and build the new roads they could never get away with anywhere else in inner London.

In just over 15 months, of course, Nick Raynsford will be an ex-MP. Here’s hoping his successor takes a more enlightened view and defends us against demands to accommodate more traffic – and from mayors who who want to further clog up our streets.

10.40am update: Lord Adonis responded on Twitter this morning.

Sadly, that’s exactly what the Silvertown Tunnel will do, particularly for Greenwich.

For comparison, here are some pictures of Trafalgar Road in May 1968.

10pm update: “Time for a bus bottleneck buster”Lord Adonis on his trip through Greenwich.

Written by Darryl

20 February, 2014 at 7:30 am

Greenwich Council forced to reveal Silvertown Tunnel report

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Bridge The Gap relaunch

Greenwich Council has been made to release a secret report to Labour councillors about its backing for the Silvertown Tunnel under freedom of information legislation, after nearly a year of refusing to publish the information.

The document reveals that Greenwich’s Labour councillors decided to back the Silvertown Tunnel proposals with no evidence that it would do any good – and one year on, there is still no business case to back up the council’s claims that building what is effectively a third Blackwall Tunnel will help regenerate the area.

Greenwich Time, 4 December 2012The report was presented to Labour councillors in November 2012, ahead of the launch of its Bridge The Gap campaign, promoting both a road tunnel from Greenwich Peninsula to Silvertown and a new road bridge between Thamesmead and Beckton.

London mayor Boris Johnson wants to build the Silvertown Tunnel, along with a ferry at Thamesmead.

After a request was submitted under the Environmental Information Regulations Act, the council refused to release the report, claiming it would affect “its ability to develop policy out of the public gaze”.

But the Information Commissioner’s Office ruled in November that the council had been wrong to refuse to release the information – pointing out Greenwich had already made and publicised its decision – and ordered the council to publish it before Christmas.

“There is an inherent argument for transparency and accountability in any spending of public money, and the Commissioner considers that this is relevant for a campaign designed to influence public debate on an important subject,” the ICO said.

“Furthermore, whilst the Royal Borough of Greenwich is not bearing the brunt of the costs for the new river crossing it still has significant influence over how the project evolves, and this has serious ramifications for the people in the borough.”

It added: “There is a strong objection to RBG’s position. Evidence of this can be found on-line, such as a petition with over 400 signatories.

“In the Commissioner’s view this shows there is a legitimate public debate around the subject and also public support for learning how RBG reached its position.”

Greenwich Council Labour group report, 26 November 2012

Three weeks ago, almost a year to the day that I submitted the request, Greenwich finally sent me the report by post. So, the first time, here is the November 2012 Labour group paper on the Silvertown Tunnel and Gallions Reach Bridge.

Councillors voted to endorse the report, which outlines how the council planned to campaign for the Silvertown and Gallions Reach crossings, although some have since said privately they feel they were misled by leader Chris Roberts. What striking is how little there is in the report.

The report does not contain a shred of evidence that either crossing will do any good – merely an assertion that “the potential associated with [developable] land [in the ex-Olympic boroughs] can only be realised by investment in major transport infrastructure in an acceptable timeframe”.

It also failed to anticipate hostility from local residents – merely saying that “environmental groups against an increase in vehicle crossings are rehearsing previous arguments”.

Furthermore, the report said the council would need to develop a business case for the crossings, and a “conference and/or public meeting” – neither of which happened.

So what did happen to the business case? I asked regeneration cabinet member Denise Hyland at this month’s council meeting.

Her response? “TfL will be required to present a regeneration business case as part of their proposals. However a study has been undertaken by independent consultants employed by the London Borough of Newham, for which the Royal Borough provided data to inform the study, which is now in the public domain and demonstrates a clear regeneration case for a new crossing [sic].”

In other words, Greenwich didn’t bother. But does Newham Council’s report justify supporting the Silvertown Tunnel? Let’s have a look at its cover…

Newham Council Gallions Reach Bridge business case

That’d be a no, then.

Oddly, among the few times that Silvertown is mentioned, the report’s potential traffic figures claim it would attract no new vehicles at all – which is optimistic, to say the least, and flies in the face of a body of evidence which states that new roads attract new traffic. Indeed, the Newham report even concedes that new developments will lead to more traffic.

It’s even slightly sceptical about Silvertown, saying it is “surprising that TfL report a higher benefit cost ratio for the Silvertown tunnel than the Gallions Reach bridge”.

So, there is no evidence, and no business case for Silvertown. Its own Labour party members won’t back it, and neither will neighbouring Labour councils.

So why is Greenwich Council continuing to support a policy on Silvertown which can only continue to cause it grief? Answers on a pre-paid Bridge The Gap postcard to the usual address.

Want to help the No to Silvertown Tunnel campaign? The No to Silvertown Tunnel campaign, of which I’m a part, is going to be running a new pollution study over a wider area early in the new year. If you can spare either a) time to help put up and take down tubes on weekdays in January and February or b) money to help fund them, then drop info[at]silvertowntunnel.co.uk a line.

We’re also interested in hearing from local firms who’d like to get involved – tech firm Scale Factory, based in Catford and Woolwich, is our first business backer. There’s more on the No to Silvertown Tunnel website.

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.

Greenwich Council bullying: A night in denial at the town hall

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Greenwich Council meeting, 30 October

Fans of dark comedy would have been richly rewarded by Wednesday night’s torturous meeting of Greenwich Council. In fact, it’s hard to know where to start.

But running through the meeting were themes common to anyone who’s read this website over the past couple of years – the lack of transparency and an unwillingness to listen.

Labour mayor Angela Cornforth, who is on the longlist to be Greenwich & Woolwich’s next Labour candidate, announced she had refused permission for the meeting to be filmed. It’s understood the BBC wanted to bring a camera into the meeting, but the doors were closed to the corporation and so Greenwich residents won’t be able to see their councillors’ inaction.

Pavement tax demonstratorsCouncil leader Chris Roberts’ bullying voicemail hung over the meeting like a cloud, but it wasn’t just the local Labour outpost having problems.

The Tories’ attempts to capitalise on the issue were hampered by deselected councillor Eileen Glover consistently making digs at her former colleagues. When the Tories complained about another attempt by the Labour leadership to make changes to the way the council does business, Glover, sporting the biggest poppy in the room, turned on her own colleagues, saying they should have “tracked the changes” themselves.

“It’s past their bedtime,” she spat at youthful ex-colleagues Nigel Fletcher and Adam Thomas. Hell hath no fury like a Tory scorned.

The Tories plan to get Roberts hung on a clutch of motions designed to smoke any dissent on the Labour benches. One was about the way the council runs its scrutiny panels (no Tory ever gets to run one), hung on the back of a tweet from another wannabe MP, Matt Pennycook, declaring “the decades-old culture of machine politics must change”.

Challenged by Tory leader Spencer Drury to explain what he meant, Pennycook kept quiet. The situation was a lose/lose one for the Greenwich West councillor. Speak out and get disciplined, or keep schtum and look silly? Short-term embarrassment was the easier option rather than face the long-term difficulties of being ostracised by Roberts and his helpers.

With his own councillors staying quiet, Roberts made one of the oddest contributions himself – presumably to try to protect Pennycook. Talking about his early days in Greenwich Labour, during the days of rate-capping rows, he recalled how he and other young upstarts vowed to change matters.

“The most embarrassing political question you can be asked is ‘what’s the average age of your councillors?’ I’d be really worried if we didn’t have a group of talented twenty- and thirtysomethings saying ‘this is our time’. And believe me, after [the elections] in May, you will see some of those in this chamber.”

Nobody thought to ask why twentysomething councillor Hayley Fletcher is stepping down because of bullying.

Pennycook’s Greenwich West colleague, David Grant, wasn’t going to keep quiet – intervening several times to defend the embattled leader. When Drury made a passing reference to Roberts referring himself to the council’s standards panel, Grant blurted out “cheap!”. Greater love hath no man than this, that a Greenwich Labour councillor lay down his dignity for his Dear Leader.

Roberts did try to fight back, though – inserting motions into the evening which had barely even been discussed beforehand by his own councillors. The Tories made sport of this, inserting a sarcastic amendment into one attacking David Cameron and Boris Johnson.

Sarcastic Greenwich Conservative amendment

Eileen Glover, who’d earlier treated the council to a lengthy complaint about councillors’ IT woes, branded her former colleagues’ effort “a waste of time”.

But the Tories did leave a ticking timebomb. Another “get Roberts” motion, from Nigel Fletcher, suggested the council investigate the possibility of electing its leader by a secret ballot – it’s currently done by a show of hands.

But Labour mayor Cornforth, heavily guided by council chief executive Mary Ney showing her various bits of the council rulebook, withdrew it “for further advice” on the legality of electing a leader by secret ballot – despite it appearing in the agenda. Fletcher recorded the discussion himself – it’s very technical, but it’s illuminating nonetheless, especially towards the end. No wonder why they didn’t want it filmed.


Fletcher has now launched a formal complaint over the issue.

All of which overshadowed two significant bits of news. Firstly, the council voted to review its new “pavement tax” on shops’ outdoor displays, introduced earlier this year with no discussion or debate. Indeed, an unusually sheepish Chris Roberts even apologised for the way things had been handled.

Yet the bungled introduction of the charge goes to the heart of the political culture in Greenwich. One answer from Roberts suggests key decisions are being taken at weekly informal cabinet meetings, rather than in the monthly public meetings.

If the council leadership wasn’t so scared of debate, it might have got the charge right in the first place.

And the council is finally meeting Andrew Gilligan to talk about belatedly signing up to City Hall’s big cycling plans – indeed, I understand regeneration cabinet member Denise Hyland is due to meet him today. It’s another U-turn from the council’s troubled leader, who had refused to allow officers or councillors to talk to the journalist-turned-cycling advocate. Three months ago, Roberts and mayor Cornforth seemed desperate to stop his name even being mentioned.

Thankfully, sense has prevailed. What about that “irresolvable conflict of interest”? “Well, that was the situation at the time,” Hyland responded.

So, in the world of Greenwich Council, what was an outrageous suggestion in July becomes normality three months later. Maybe that’ll be the case with the Silvertown Tunnel. But clearly not yet, for the council is still in its denial phase. (Full disclosure: I’m involved in the No to Silvertown campaign.)

A question asking who knew what about the council’s pollution figures was “lost” by the council and wasn’t asked. Written answers about the tunnel told a questioner he was “misinformed” about the council not publishing air quality stats from its 42 monitoring sites. Yet it doesn’t – go looking on its website, and you won’t find a thing.

Greenwich Counciil response on Silvertown/ News Shopper story

Even madder, another questioner was told he had “failed to properly convey the response given” from the council to the News Shopper about its support for Silvertown on economic grounds – appearing to deny telling reporter Mark Chandler that the tunnel would bring economic benefits, even though that’s the whole basis of its Bridge The Gap campaign.

When asked by Nigel Fletcher if the council would reconsider its policy given independent evidence of the damage the tunnel would have, Denise Hyland commented “a group that calls itself ‘No to Silvertown’ is hardly independent, is it?” What counts as “independent”, though, was not explained.

There are big problems at Greenwich Council. The council leadership’s bullying is out in the open, and it’s clear how it’s not just ruining the lives of those who entered local politics to do good, it’s also resulting in bad policy. Or it’s resulting in incoherent policy, like the current mess on air pollution and the Silvertown Tunnel. Treating people with legitimate questions like enemies to be vanquished isn’t healthy.

Those with the most power to do something are still sitting on their hands, though, content either to let others do the dirty work of trying to decapitate the leadership or to wait until May’s elections and see what happens. Yet while this happens, the bullying row is infecting the more high-profile battle to be the next Labour candidate for Greenwich & Woolwich, and causing problems outside the borough too. But that’s another story…

PS. You can hear/download audio of the public questions and councillors’ questions, if you want to. Thanks to Clare for cleaning up the audio and hosting it.

Eltham MP Clive Efford brands Boris Johnson’s family ‘imbeciles’

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Clive Efford

A curious outburst of unparliamentary language after the pubs closed last night from Eltham MP Clive Efford, who branded London mayor Boris Johnson’s family as imbeciles.

Efford is a vocal backer of Johnson’s plans to build a third road crossing feeding into the A102 and the A2, so long as a Silvertown Tunnel includes a Docklands Light Railway link to his constituency. Indeed, he’s even left Eltham to pose next to a traffic jam in Greenwich to claim a Silvertown Tunnel would reduce congestion.

This is despite established studies which suggest building new roads attracts new traffic – which would have a big impact on Eltham, where the A2 leading to and from the proposed tunnel is reduced to two lanes, creating a polluting bottleneck at the heart of Efford’s constituency. Labour’s former mayor Ken Livingstone has disowned the scheme.

TfL has no plans to extend the DLR to Eltham – despite Greenwich Council helping Efford out by commissioning a £70,000 study into his idea. The current Silvertown Tunnel proposals only include space for road traffic, and nothing for pedestrians, cyclists or trains.

Just after midnight, Efford, who’s also the shadow minister for sport, tweeted these remarks about the mayor’s father after seeing him on BBC1′s political talk show, This Week.

clive_efford_imbecile

Nothing wrong with a bit of robust argument, and we’ve all been rude about politicians, but if you’re backing something proposed by your political opponent, and want to negotiate for the best outcome, it’s probably best not to brand their family imbeciles.

Although, that said, the Silvertown Tunnel is an imbecilic idea.

But while we’re on Clive Efford, he’s a former Greenwich councillor, and still carries great sway within the local Labour establishment. Yet he’s remained silent on accusations of bullying by leader Chris Roberts.

This is despite the emergence of a voicemail where Roberts threatens cabinet member John Fahy, telling him he has a “fucking thick skull”. In case Efford hasn’t heard it, here it is…

There’s also been the decision by one of the Eltham ward party councillors, Hayley Fletcher, to stand down, complaining that the “bullying culture is rife and I see little prospect of that changing anytime soon”.

What has the shadow sports minister done about bullying in his own local party? I asked him myself last week, but got no reply.

Before Clive Efford flings insults at his opponents, perhaps he might like to sort his own party’s problems out first. And maybe, just maybe, he might like to set a better example…

PS. There was practically too much to report on from Wednesday’s Greenwich Council meeting, although the News Shopper’s Mark Chandler has had a good stab at the bizarre atmosphere where the bullying accusations against Chris Roberts hung over proceedings. More on the meeting will follow here, hopefully.

Written by Darryl

1 November, 2013 at 7:30 am

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