Posts Tagged ‘woolwich foot tunnel’
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 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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
A Christmas present from Greenwich Council – and no, not the three copies of Greenwich Time that appeared on my doormat on Wednesday. Woolwich Foot Tunnel reopened at 6am yesterday after being completely closed for at least 15 months. The news came out of nowhere – particularly as Greenwich had claimed the tunnel wouldn’t be open until spring 2012, and that its cabinet member in charge of the project didn’t appear to have a clue what was going on.
In fact, the sign on the Woolwich entrance still says the tunnel is closed until spring 2012.
As with Greenwich, there’s still no lifts in place, but serious problems with the stairs forced Woolwich’s complete closure in the autumn of 2011. Finally, they’ve been fixed.
If you’d missed the cut-and-pasted press-releases churned up by news websites yesterday, you’d have no clue it was back in business. It’s still covered in scaffolding, while he south entrance is tucked away next to the back door of the Waterfront Leisure Centre. The north entrance leads straight out onto the North Circular Road instead of to the adjacent bus stop. When I went to have a look, it was eerily deserted. (Although at least one other walker went down there yesterday…)
But what improvements would I find within? Would it be sparkling clean, with a new lighting scheme? Would I, as press reports indicated, I find shiny new stairs? I thought back to when Tube stations had been revamped, and stepped downstairs…
It’s pretty much the same as it was when it closed in September 2010. Maybe filthier. The treads on the stairs are the same – and broken in parts – and the tiles are as dirty as they always were. At the foot of the stairs, you’ll find the same obsolete signage that’s been there for years, and it feels a bit like you’re walking through – well, a tunnel that’s been closed for 15 months.
There is no initial sign of the “substantial refurbishment” promised when the council first talked about the works here and at Greenwich in 2009. There’s still those always-slightly unsettling patches where water has got in. It feels a little like being locked in a disused Tube station – rather than an underground tunnel that’s had half of £11.5m spent on it.
So where has the money gone?
Well, you can see where new cabling’s in for lighting, as well as a CCTV system, speakers and help points – although the latter haven’t yet been commissioned. No sign of the new lifts as yet, though.
Granted, the shabbiness, along with its amazing acoustics, is part of the Woolwich Foot Tunnel’s charm (although I don’t remember it actually being that dirty) along with that of its Greenwich neighbour.
But when the new, passenger-operated, lifts come in, the tunnel isn’t going to feel particularly welcoming without staff in there if it’s still as grimy as it is at the moment. The lack of obvious signs to improve the ambience of the tunnel only raises more questions about what’s been a farcical refurbishment operation.
If Greenwich had been more open about the issues facing the tunnels from the start – hey, how about some before/after pictures of these broken stairs? – perhaps people wouldn’t be annoyed about this long, drawn-out process that should have been finished nine months ago.
It’s good to have the Woolwich tunnel back, though, and at least this saga has taken a happy turn. Despite the lack of lifts, it’s now open 24-hours a day, including throughout Christmas.
There’s some more happy news on the tunnel front, with the Greenwich Foot Tunnel – usually closed weekday evenings – open from now right through to January 3. (Thanks to Greenwich’s communications team for confirming that.) So unlike last year, both tunnels will be open on Christmas Day, when no other transport runs.
Now, will both tunnels both be fully up and running by the Olympics? We have seven months to find out…
You might remember my post a month ago about the continuing fiasco of the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels, whose refurbishment has turned into a long-running saga. Asked by Greenwich Cyclists’ Anthony Austin, cabinet member for regeneration, enterprise and skills Denise Hyland put the delay down to the discovery of “hidden structures”.
None of this made much sense, so I put in a Freedom of Information request to find out just what these “hidden structures” were. Here’s the response – which isn’t actually about hidden structures at all, but about issues with the stairs not picked up in initial surveys.
I’ve edited it slightly for sense – the original is here. Stringers support the stairs, treads are the bits you tread on and a soffit is the underside.
The comment related to the stairs in both locations. In all four shafts, these have corrosion of the load bearing faces and ends of the cast iron treads and corrosion hidden behind the stair stringers that could not be detected until the stringers were removed. In addition, many of the individual treads have been found to be completely fractured and these have been replaced with specially-cast replacements.
This hairline-fracture damage was not detectable until the holding bolts on the stair soffits had been removed.
Removal of chequer-plate flooring to the machine rooms has revealed structural repairs required to the structural members before the re-installation of the lifts and motors, and at high level on the Greenwich cupolas. Fractured and broken cast iron elements have been removed and re-cast or repaired ready for replacement.
Again, these problems were not apparent to the pre-contract survey and inspection either because the structures and components were inaccessible or they only revealed themselves as components were accessed for conservation.
So, the problems are less about “hidden structures”, which bring to mind all sorts of riverbed horrors (remember, there’s World War II bomb damage on the north side) but more about hairline cracks on the steps and in the machine rooms. Which was perhaps the answer Denise Hyland should have given to Mr Austin last month. Or maybe it would make a feature to fill up the pages of council weekly Greenwich Time instead of another photo-op for the council leader. But never mind. We know now.
There are some positive signs at Greenwich – the scaffolding is down at Cutty Sark Gardens and in Island Gardens, although the last time I passed Woolwich, it looked as if the site had been abandoned. Whatever is going on down there, hopefully we’re nearing the end of this saga.
Naturally, it wasn’t an elected politician who brought it up – but Anthony Austin of Greenwich Cyclists. He asked just what the hell is going on with a project that should have been finished this spring, but now looks like it’s running a year behind schedule, with one tunnel liftless and shut at night, and the other completely closed.
“Who at Greenwich Council is managing the refurbishment of the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels, and what was the original stated schedule of works and by how much has it been delayed?,” he asked in a written question.
Cabinet member for regeneration, enterprise and skills Denise Hyland responded:
“Firstly, I would like to apologise for the continued inconvenience to the public as a result of the partial closure of the tunnels and the shutdown of the lift service.
“The works to the foot tunnels are being carried out by contractors and consultants, whp also manage the works on a day-to-day basis, engaged by the Director of Regeneration, Enterprise and Skills. The original programme for the works as known at the time for these century-old structures was estimated to be complete in the spring of 2011. Additional works and site complexities will mean the tunnels are unlikely to open fully before early 2012.
“The funding for the project has come from Government and no council funds are involved.”
Mr Austin then asked a follow-up question, the response to which you can hear here…
Listening to that response, I’m not sure if Cllr Hyland is really on top of the situation – it sounds like a painful piece of improvisation. At present, Greenwich Foot Tunnel is open daytimes only, with no lift service, and Woolwich Foot Tunnel is completely closed.
“May I thank Mr Austin for his supplementary… and reassure him that we are doing our absolute level best to bring these tunnels back into full operation, with the Greenwich tunnel early in 2012. This has been a heritage project, bringing the 100-year-old tunnels back into full use, and we have had decisions to make where we have had hidden structures have been uncovered and further work has been necessary.
“Private contractors manage the work on a day-to-day basis… and we have put pressure on our contractors and worked with them in a positive partnership to bring a swift resolution to the tunnel [sic].
“Can I say – absolute apology on behalf of the council to pedestrians and cyclists, because although the tunnels are open [sic], they haven’t had the proper lifts functioning in the way that they should. So, er, y’know, complete apologies for that, and we are working hard for a quick resolution.”
There’s no mention of Woolwich Foot Tunnel at all in that statement, which gives the impression that Cllr Hyland believes it is still open. And what on earth are these “hidden structures”? Shouldn’t one of the only councils in the country to publish its own weekly newspaper be telling us what’s happening?
It’s also interesting to hear the tunnels now described as a “heritage project”. The Woolwich Foot Tunnel celebrates its centenary next year, the Greenwich tunnel opened in 1902. Yet when Transport for London started refurbishing the Blackwall Tunnel, built in 1897, that wasn’t called a “heritage project”. TfL’s work there is running ahead of schedule, while Greenwich’s work is now a year late.
So we’re still no further ahead with understanding just what the hell is going on in those foot tunnels. With the Greenwich tunnel’s stairwells looking largely untouched – and the Woolwich tunnel’s southern portal boarded up and deserted – what are the odds on the project being finished by the Olympics?
(For later readers: The tunnel reopened – without lifts – just before Christmas 2011. The signs still said it was closed though. Read on for a tale of woe and secrecy, if you like.) (Hello LFGSS forum.)
Woolwich Foot Tunnel will now be closed until spring 2012, pushing its reopening a year beyond schedule, according to notices placed at the shut-down river crossing by Greenwich Council.
Work began in April 2009 on both the Woolwich tunnel and its sister crossing at Greenwich as part of a refurbishment programme originally costed at £11.5 million, with the job due to be finished within two years.
But the work at both tunnels, which is being carried by contractors Balfour Beatty, has been beset by problems and delays.
While both tunnels were meant to stay open while work was taking place, the Woolwich tunnel closed altogether last autumn, firstly because of problems with its stairs, and later because of “additional works to the crown of the tunnel”, according to Greenwich cabinet member Denise Hyland, who said in March that the tunnel would re-open in June.
Pedestrians and cyclists at Woolwich are able to use the Woolwich Ferry during daytimes, with walkers also able to pay to use the Docklands Light Railway as an alternative.
The council’s website still claims the Woolwich tunnel will reopen in August 2011, and no news of the delay has been published in its weekly newspaper, Greenwich Time.
Greenwich Foot Tunnel has been closed at night since February while its lifts are being replaced, following a period of regular sudden closures and a period when it was shut altogether because the old lifts kept breaking down while the stairs were out of service. There is no alternative for cyclists at Greenwich, although pedestrians can pay to use the Docklands Light Railway or a limited river boat service.
There is no news at the moment on whether delays have also affected work at Greenwich.
Meanwhile, the London Assembly’s transport committee chair has formally complained to Greenwich Council after it failed to respond to her questions on the foot tunnel repairs.
Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon first contacted leader Chris Roberts in 2009 on the issue, only to receive a reply refusing to answer, and telling her to ask her Labour colleague Len Duvall for information.
A further letter in February 2011 received no response, and nor did a letter to council chief executive Mary Ney – whose £190,000 job is supposed to be apolitical – in April 2011.
She said: “The record of Greenwich Council in upgrading these tunnels and keeping users updated has been appalling.
“The situation over Greenwich Foot Tunnel has been bad enough, but they have taken incompetence to new heights over the Woolwich Foot Tunnel.
“How can a council say on its website that a public highway will finally be re-opened by the end of this month and then have signage at the entrance to the tunnel saying it will be another six months before it is actually open to the public?
“There would be uproar if motorists were treated like this. The fact that Greenwich Council think they can treat pedestrians and cyclists in such a poor manner says everything about the low priority they give to walking and cycling.”
She added that she was “appalled” that her own enquiries into the issue had been ignored, and was prepared to take her complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman.