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

Posts Tagged ‘woolwich foot tunnel

Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels report released

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Late to the party with this (see the News Shopper’s coverage) but in case you haven’t seen already, the independent report into the messed-up refurbishent of Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels has been released by Greenwich Council ahead of a cabinet meeting this Wednesday. As expected, there’s criticism for Greenwich Council’s oversight of the scheme, but the strongest words are for council contractor Hyder Consulting.

Readers with long memories will recall how Hyder was commissioned to work on plans to part-pedestrianise Greenwich town centre, but the scheme failed after it planned to introduce a huge gyratory system and cut bus services. Hyder’s still working on a detailed “DLR on stilts” proposal, for an extension along the A102 and A2 to Eltham, commissioned nearly two years ago. If it’s anything like Hyder’s work in the foot tunnels and Greenwich town centre, don’t expect much from it…

Meanwhile, the Friends of Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels are celebrating 101 years of the Woolwich tunnel with a ceremonial walk through it on Saturday at 11am - all are welcome.

Greenwich Foot Tunnel ‘could be finished by March 2014′

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Greenwich Foot Tunnel, July 2013

Long-delayed refurbishment works at Greenwich Foot Tunnel could finally be finished by next March, the inaugural meeting of a pressure group on the issue was told last week.

About 50 people filled the first gathering of the Friends of Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels, which aims to protect and promote the two cross-river links, both badly hit by a botched revamp managed by Greenwich Council.

At a council meeting in July, Greenwich regeneration cabinet member Denise Hyland, who is in charge of the tunnel scheme, announced work on to get the tunnels finished would be brought forward – but there was still no date as to when a report, commissioned last October, into the fiasco would be published.

Hyland, who is in charge of the tunnels, did not attend the packed meeting at the 10 Centre last Thursday. But Tower Hamlets councillor Gloria Thienel was there, and the Conservative representative for Blackwall & Cubitt Town said her own council’s officers understood that Greenwich planned to have the work done by March.

But she did add: “We’ve been told this before.”

If true, this would mean the work at Greenwich would be finished in time for May’s council elections. There was no news as to when work at Woolwich would be finished – indeed, users of that crossing were thin on the ground.

Much of the meeting, chaired by outgoing Peninsula councillor Mary Mills, was concerned with filling positions on its committee. Indeed, But a wide range of issues were raised, with the issue of cycling in the tunnels causing almost as much concern as their poor state of repair.

The other big issue was the lack of lift staff – made redundant by Greenwich Council, with passengers able to operate the lifts themselves. Dubbed the “guardians of the tunnels” by one speaker, their ability to control cycling in the tunnels merely by denying errant cyclists entry to a lift was much missed.

Crime and anti-social behaviour were brought up – with suggestions for closer working between Greenwich, Tower Hamlets and Newham councils and borough police forces. Others also feared the Greenwich tunnel was nearing capacity – and it was time to start looking at alternative pedestrian and cyclist links.

While no Greenwich cabinet members turned up, backbench councillors Alex Grant and Matt Pennycook were there for part of the meeting, along with parliamentary hopeful David Prescott. Shortly after the two councillors went, with perfect timing, London cycling commissioner Andrew Gilligan popped in for the end.

There were also representatives from the new Friends of Island Gardens group, formed to protect the park which faces Greenwich from across the Thames.

I’ve compiled some of the most pertinent points from the evening in this Storify page. For more information about the friends group, visit the FOGWOFT website.

‘We’ve had enough': Foot tunnels’ friends fight back

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Greenwich Foot Tunnel, July 2013
In case you haven’t seen this elsewhere, a friends group is being set up for the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels, badly damaged by a botched Greenwich Council attempt to refurbish them.

For more than a century the people of London have crossed the River Thames through foot tunnels at Greenwich and Woolwich which owe their existence to that great Victorian working class hero Will Crooks.

The Woolwich MP’s vision was of a free passage under the Thames for people commutng to work in the docks and factories on the north bank of the river.

The docks may have gone, but the tunnels, classed as public highways and therefore kept open around the 24 hours a day, are now used in large part by those working in the fnancial services sector in Canary Wharf, and by tourists wishing to sample the baroque majesty of maritme Greenwich. The tunnel at Greenwich is also part of Natonal Cycle Route #1, which links Dover and Inverness.

Taken together, the Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels are used by 1.5 million people every year.

Whether this be for work or leisure, the tunnels are a vital transport and cultural asset which, in the spirit of their creator, belong to the people of London.

Management of the Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels is the responsibility of the Royal Borough of Greenwich. For some years the tunnels have been in a poor state of repair, and for this reason they have been the subject of a renovation project funded by an £11.5m grant from central government.

Beset by delays, contractual issues and politcal obfuscaton, the tunnel renovaton work is far from complete. In 2011 the original contractors were sacked without explanation, and the Royal Borough of Greenwich has yet to release the report of an independent inquiry into what went wrong. The new lifts at Greenwich are subject to frequent breakdown, work on the staircases has halted, and new lifts have yet to
be installed at Woolwich.

The matter is now in the hands of auditors at the Greater London Authority, and
few expect the work to be fnished before the end of next year.

Local people have had enough of the mismanagement of this invaluable community asset. We are now rallying together in celebration and defence of the tunnels, and in early September will formally launch the Friends of Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels.

The aim of this new community group is to promote the use and enjoyment of the Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels, and to oversee and hold to account those responsible for them.

Together we will work to ensure a high standard of maintenance, appearance and access to the tunnels, represent all tunnel users – pedestrians and cyclists together – and, with the rapid economic growth of the Isle of Dogs and Newham, lobby for the importance of the tunnels as a transport facility.

The inaugural meetng of the Friends of Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels will take place on Thursday 5 September at the 10 Centre, Tarves Way, London SE10 9JU, starting at 7pm. The venue is located behind Greenwich DLR station, at the end of Straightsmouth.

All are welcome, and we look forward to seeing you there.

From last month’s council meeting, here’s Denise Hyland, the Greenwich councillor responsible for the foot tunnels fiasco, explaining why the council has changed tack to commission new work to finish the tunnels’ refurbishment, and why its inquiry into the mess won’t be reporting back any time soon.

Incidentally, a friends group is also being set up for Island Gardens, the park at the foot of the Isle of Dogs which contains the Greenwich tunnel’s north entrance. This follows the withdrawal of a mysterious attempt to build a “community centre” (see Tower Hamlets-watching blog Trial By Jeory for more). Campaigners there are meeting tonight at 7.30pm at Poplar, Blackwall and District Rowing Club, next to the park, to discuss next steps.

(For more information on FOGWOFT, call Francis Sedgemore on 07840 191336 or Ian Blore on 07900 253658.)

Greenwich Foot Tunnel works to drag into 2014

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Not exactly earth-shattering news, but City Hall isn’t expecting work on the Greenwich Foot Tunnel to be complete until next year. Work on revamping the Thames crossing, together with its sister tunnel at Woolwich, stopped last year after a Greenwich Council refurbishment project collapsed in 2011.

Last month, it emerged that Labour London Assembly member Len Duvall had asked auditors to investigate the supervision of the project. While the works were being carried out on behalf of Greenwich Council, the cash had come from a Government agency whose work has since been taken over by the Greater London Authority.

Now Green assembly member Darren Johnson has taken up the issue, asking mayor Boris Johnson:

Greenwich foot tunnel
Question No: 1923 / 2013
Darren Johnson

Although responsibility for the refurbishment of the Greenwich foot tunnel lies with the Royal Borough, and given that these works have been stalled for several years will you as the Mayor of London and Chair of TfL instigate an investigation into what has gone wrong and urge Greenwich to publish a timetable for the completion of these works?

Written response from the Mayor

The foot tunnels are important strategic links, which need careful management to refurbish, given their age. Work on the refurbishment of the foot tunnels has been suspended whilst Greenwich re-evaluates the required scope of the works, as it has become clear that the scale of the task is greater than previously anticipated.

The tunnels are currently safe and open for use at all times and I understand that Greenwich anticipates procuring consultants and contractors shortly, in order to review and complete the works as early as possible in 2014. Once the procurement process has been finalised, a timetable for completion of the works will be announced.

What Boris Johnson’s response didn’t say is that Greenwich isn’t going to be commissioning any new works until its own investigation, led by John Willmoth, is complete. Last month, Greenwich Council said the report wasn’t yet complete, but would be presented to the council’s cabinet “at the earliest opportunity”.

At least, however, the reply from the mayor indicates City Hall has woken up to the issue – past responses, to Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon, gave the impression it was shrugging off the issue and leaving it to Greenwich Council.

City Hall asked to probe Greenwich Council foot tunnels fiasco

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City Hall officials have been asked to investigate the handling of Greenwich Council’s botched £11.5m redevelopment of the Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels, where work has been stalled for over a year.

Greenwich & Lewisham assembly member Len Duvall has referred the matter to auditors at the Greater London Authority to establish what went wrong with the project, which had been funded by the Government’s Homes & Communities Agency (HCA) before being switched to City Hall last year.

It’s emerged an HCA official signed off the project after a site visit in March 2011, handing the project over to Greenwich Council the following month, on the understanding work would be finished by September 2011.

The HCA stopped scrutinising the project after the site visit, and the matter was not looked at again until City Hall took over the HCA’s work in London in April 2012. Now Duvall has asked the authority’s audit panel and district auditor to investigate. The London Assembly’s budget and performance committee has also been asked to look at the issue.

Duvall’s move comes after campaigning from Greenwich Cyclists on the issue.

Both Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels remain in a poor state after the collapse of the project in late 2011, at around the time cabinet member Denise Hyland was blaming the problems at both tunnels on “hidden structures” which didn’t actually exist.

The council itself, which sacked the three contractors in charge of the job, admitted in October 2012 that there was “an unacceptable and deteriorating environment for users” in the tunnels.

Last November, it emerged Greenwich Council had previously told the HCA the work had been completed – even though that simply wasn’t the case, and that should have been clear on any site visit.

Indeed, when the Woolwich Foot Tunnel reopened in December 2011 after at least a 15-month closure, the poor state of the tunnel demonstrated the difficulty the project was in. When Greenwich’s lifts reopened in early 2012, lights were failing and lifts kept breaking.

In a letter to Duvall seen by this website, the GLA’s Housing and Land executive director David Lunts says “the project remains a concern for the GLA”, and says it is now in “regular dialogue” with the council as it struggles to complete the project.

No work has taken place at either tunnel for over a year, with no new contractors appointed to finish the job. Woolwich Foot Tunnel remains without lifts, Greenwich had new lifts fitted but they have been plagued by breakdowns.

Greenwich Council commissioned an independent report from John Willmoth into the fiasco six months ago. After completing a report into the council’s handling of big projects in general, he has yet to report back on the foot tunnels issue.

11.20am update: Len Duvall has told this site:

“What took place over the work on the foot tunnels work should not have happened.

Greenwich are learning from this experience internally and I look forward to the publication of the second of John Wilmoth’s independent reports examining what happened in this case more closely.

My intervention is to make the GLA take its responsibilities seriously, not just ‘shrug their shoulders’ when public money from bodies that have since become part of the GLA is involved. There are lessons for us to learn at the GLA and I hope that Greenwich Council are equally keen to ensure that events like this don’t occur in the future. Most importantly Greenwich need to press on with the completion of the works – monitored closely by the GLA – to ensure that both foot tunnels are accessible to everyone.”

Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels: Did council lie over works?

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Greenwich Council told a Government agency that the unfinished Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnel works had been completed, a minister has said, even though it now admits the tunnels are in a poor state of repair.

The project, which has been beset by delays, remains unfinished after the contractors were sacked last year, and last month Greenwich Council commissioned an independent investigation into what went wrong.

But local government minister Mark Prisk told Bermondsey MP Simon Hughes that Greenwich Council said the works, which had been funded by an £11.5m grant, had been finished – and any further work would have to come from the council’s own funds.

The cash was awarded by the Department for Communities and Local Government in November 2008. But the project moved to the Homes and Communities Agency, which took charge of monitoring progress on the project.

In a written response to the Liberal Democrat MP, Mr Prisk said: “The borough confirmed that all eligible works funded by the Homes and Communities Agency were completed as per the conditions of contract and that any remaining works would be funded from their own resources.”

However, contractors Dean & Dyball, Hyder Consulting and Swett were sacked in December 2011 following slow progress on the project, with the council issuing a series of misleading and evasive answers about the project until it finally owned up to the problems four weeks ago, and announced plans to take legal action against the firms.

The funding letter, signed by Greenwich’s assistant chief executive John Comber (and obtained by this website under the Freedom of Information Act), outlines the schedule of works.

It’s clear to anyone who uses either tunnel that the works are nowhere near finished – only the lifts and south rotunda in the Greenwich tunnel have been completed, along with the stairwell in the Woolwich tunnel. Greenwich Council refuses to publicly discuss what hasn’t been completed for fear of inflating new tenders to finish the work.

It’s also worth recalling Greenwich cabinet member Denise Hyland’s answer at a council meeting when asked, bluntly, if the Government’s money had run out.

“The budget is considered sufficient to complete the project, subject to the contractual issues being resolved with the contractors involved in the first phase of the works,” she said, despite the fact the council had claimed the works were completed and all the money had been spent.

I’ll leave it down to you to decide whether that, in retrospect, was a misleading answer. Incidentally, Greenwich has still not announced who will lead its investigation into the foot tunnel fiasco, and other big projects.

Whether or not the council misled the HCA – it’s certainly clear the government agency wasn’t taking enough notice of what was happening with its money.

To make matters more complex, the HCA’s functions in London were taken over by the mayor’s office earlier this year, which now means the responsibility for keeping track of the grant falls to a certain Boris Johnson, who has consistently batted away requests that he put pressure on Greenwich to finish the project. City Hall may now have to sit up and take more notice of what’s going on beneath the Thames.

Foot tunnels fiasco on BBC London News

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If you saw BBC London News cover the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels fiasco today, here’s how this site has followed the issue over the past couple of years.

(The story’s also on the BBC News website.)

No new answers on Greenwich & Woolwich foot tunnels (18 October 2012 – now with meeting audio)
Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels: Unanswered questions (15 October 2012)
Foot tunnels fiasco: Greenwich Council launches inquiry (12 October 2012)
‘Contractual issues’ now delaying foot tunnels (27 September 2012)
A strange smell at the Greenwich Foot Tunnel (27 August 2012)
Lifts breaking, lights flickering in ‘revamped’ Greenwich foot tunnel (16 April 2012)
Christmas surprise – inside reopened Woolwich foot tunnel (22 December 2011)
Those ‘hidden structures’ revealed (sort of) (29 November 2011)
The mystery of the ‘hidden structures’ (28 October 2011)
Woolwich Foot Tunnel now closed until 2012 (26 August 2011)
Yet more delays for Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels (8 June 2011)
Foot tunnel closures drag on until June (31 March 2011)
Greenwich Foot Tunnel closed (17 February 2011)
Nick Raynsford on Greenwich Foot Tunnel fiasco (2 February 2011)
Greenwich Foot Tunnel shambles continues (31 December 2010)
Exclusive: Greenwich Foot Tunnel closed 16 times in one month (23 December 2010)
The shambles of the Greenwich Foot Tunnel restoration (24 November 2010)
Woolwich Foot Tunnel closed until March 2011 (4 November 2010)
More woe for Woolwich Foot Tunnel users (19 October 2010)
Trouble on, and under the water at Woolwich (6 June 2010)

… and, of course: Greenwich Council spin chief bags 25% pay rise.

Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels: Unanswered questions

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It’s Greenwich Foot Tunnel that gets all the attention, but if you want a graphic example of the chaos that’s surrounded Greenwich Council’s handling of the foot tunnels fiasco, now to be the subject of an independent inquiry, you need to head to Woolwich. For months after the tunnel was reopened, it still bore a sign claiming it was closed. It’s finally been replaced, with the quality of information that you’d expect of an authority with a generously-funded communications department.

See, the government’s beastly cutbacks meant the felt tip ran out before they could colour in the arrow properly.

But there are several questions left unanswered by the unusually damning report into the botched refurbishment programme. I’ve a few, have you got any more?

Why didn’t council officers undertake “intensive scrutiny” of the project fron the start? After all, the report makes clear this was a “uniquely complex and specialist project”, yet “intense scrutiny” only took place 17 months into the scheme, when it was clear things were going wrong. Why was this?

Has the £11 million from the government run out? The funding came from a government programme. Last month, the cabinet member in charge, Denise Hyland, was asked in a council meeting if the money had run out. Her answer was that the budget was “considered sufficient to complete the project, subject to the contractual issues being resolved with the contractors involved in the first phase of the works” – the first, tiny hint of a problem. Yet this didn’t answer the question – has the money run out?

Did cabinet member Denise Hyland knowingly mislead the public? On 26 October 2011, Denise Hyland blamed the delays on “hidden structures” in an answer to the co-ordinator of Greenwich Cyclists. We now know this answer was nonsense. This was at least a month after council officers started “much more intense scrutiny” of the project. As someone that’s a full-time cabinet member with a big portfolio (“regeneration, enterprise and skills”) she must have known what was going on. If not, why not?

Will heads roll as a consequence of this inquiry? Again, as the politician in charge, and the one that should be giving direction to council staff, what exactly was Denise Hyland’s role? After all, big projects in other parts of the council (such as schools) have gone smoothly, once work has begun. Her lead council officer, John Comber, who earns £155,000 per year, also surely has questions to answer.

Will we ever get to see the results of this inquiry? Will the report be published? The two foot tunnels are important crossings used by hundreds of thousands of people from across London and far beyond. Will Greenwich Council try to cover up the findings?

The issues surrounding the foot tunnels fiasco go to the heart of the way the council is run. This isn’t a party political issue – the opposition Conservatives have also failed to ask questions in council meetings about this. (Away from the council benches, local Lib Dems* and Greens have also failed to apply pressure.) The failure of the foot tunnels project should shame every Greenwich councillor. But what are they going to do to put things right?

(* I should acknowledge that Lib Dem assembly member Caroline Pidgeon has pursued the issue from City Hall.)

Foot tunnels fiasco: Greenwich Council launches inquiry

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Greenwich Council is to launch an independent inquiry after the collapse of a £11m project to refurbish the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels, it has been revealed.

Both tunnels have been left uncompleted and in a poor condition following the failure of the scheme, which began in April 2010.

Now Greenwich Council is taking legal action against three contractors, after it was forced to step in and run the scheme itself.

It is also commissioning an independent inquiry into the way it handles major projects, a report to be presented to the council’s cabinet on Tuesday says. (see the report here)

The report says the two tunnels provide “an unacceptable and deteriorating environment for users”.

Both tunnels should have been refurbished, with new lifts, lighting and security measures, by April 2011.

However, the project ran late and over-budget. Two and a half years after it started, both tunnels are in a poor condition, with no lift at the Woolwich tunnel – which appears closed to passers-by – and unreliable new lifts in its Greenwich counterpart.

The report reveals contractors Dean & Dyball Civil Engineering, Hyder Consulting and Sweett were sacked on December 2011, three months after council officers began “intense scrutiny” of their performance.

Hyder already has a sorry record in Greenwich town centre, having been behind botched proposals to pedestrianise it in time for the Olympics which were shelved in 2011.

Council contractor Lakehouse was drafted in to get the tunnels into a usable condition in time for the royal re-opening of the Cutty Sark, but no work has been carried out since then.

The council is to take legal action against the three sacked firms to recover its costs in clearing up the mess – but just how much these costs are is being kept secret.

While the report says the council has “a good track record in managing large scale projects”, an “independent person” is to review the council’s management of such schemes, reporting to chief executive Mary Ney.

It adds that any further work should take just four months to complete.

The report is the latest twist in a saga, but is also Greenwich Council’s most open admission to date of failures in the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels project.

Already, a damage-limitation exercise has begun, with the extremely rare step of the council issuing a press statement drawing attention to the report – albeit on a Friday night, after the deadlines of the local newspapers, but in time for its own propaganda weekly Greenwich Time.

Even before the refurbishment started, rumours spread in 2009 of lengthy closures. When she tried to investigate, council leader Chris Roberts told London Assembly transport chair Caroline Pidgeon she should ask a Labour member of the assembly instead. The council later “lost” further correspondence from her on the topic.

During 2010 and early 2011 the Greenwich tunnel was plagued by sudden closures as the old lifts broke, while the Woolwich tunnel was closed altogether due to problems with the stairs. Its reopening in December 2011 demonstrated the difficulty the project was in, but there was no word from Greenwich Council explaining what was going on.

Indeed, a hint at the chaos came last year when Denise Hyland, the cabinet member in charge of the project, blamed the delays on “hidden structures“. This comment was later revealed to be nonsense after a Freedom of Information request put in by this site.

New lifts appeared in Greenwich in 2012, but remain plagued by breakdowns. In August, seven people were treated by medics after an “unusual smell” at the tunnel – but the council dismissed it as “a false alarm”.

Finally, last month Denise Hyland referred only to “contractual issues”, but added there was still government funding available to complete the project.

‘Contractual issues’ now delaying Greenwich foot tunnels

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Problems with contractors are the latest delay holding up refurbishment of the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels, it was revealed at a council meeting earlier this week.

An £11.5m programme to revamp the two tunnels, which began in April 2010, was supposed to be finished well before this summer’s Olympic Games, but visitors instead found the two tunnels filthy, covered in hoardings, and with an unreliable lift service (with none at all at Woolwich).

Asked at Tuesday’s meeting whether the money had run out, cabinet member Denise Hyland said the budget was “considered sufficient to complete the project, subject to the contractual issues being resolved with the contractors involved in the first phase of the works”.

However, her written answer did not elaborate on the contractual issues involved.

Original contractors Dean & Dyball, part of Balfour Beatty, were replaced late last year with Lakehouse, the council’s regular contractor for construction works.

Currently the Greenwich Foot Tunnel is open with lifts – which regularly break – and the Woolwich tunnel is open without lifts, although access to it is very hard to find.

Click here for Denise Hyland’s full answer and the written public questions and answers from Tuesday’s meeting, which I couldn’t make. Neither of the borough’s newspapers bothered to attend either, but a full report should appear on greenwich.co.uk soon.


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