I couldn’t face the crowds in Greenwich, so nipped down to Woolwich on Sunday afternoon to see what the fuss was about.
And you know what? The Tall Ships Festival looked rather decent. At least in Woolwich, anyway.
A big crowd, nice atmosphere – it looked like a good job, well done. And it’s been lovely watching the ships go up and down the river this weekend.
I did pass on the opportunity to buy a £16 Royal Greenwich Tall Ships t-shirt for half price, mind.
And here’s the most graphic demonstration of why the Firepower museum is closing down – its doors were locked on one of the busiest days the Royal Arsenal complex has ever seen. Madness.
It was a funny experience watching the ships by bike, though. Nowhere to park in sponsor Berkeley Homes’ Royal Arsenal compound – well, apart from this one rack…
Greenwich Council later tweeted me to say there was bicycle parking in Beresford Square, but there were no signs from the Thames Path to indicate this. Which mattered, because loads of cyclists were using the path on Sunday.
At least there was some parking at Woolwich, however hidden it was. I thought I’d peek at the ships moored at sponsor Barratt Homes’ Enderby Wharf. But security guards were ushering cyclists off the recently-installed bicycle path.
So I trundled down Tunnel Avenue, surprised by the numbers of people coming away from Enderby Wharf towards North Greenwich. Was there anywhere to park the bike? Well, I could have taken my chances here…
After a couple of minutes trying to get a D-lock through a wire fence, I gave up and went home.
So that was my Tall Ships Festival. I know there’s been some gripes about it in Greenwich (see the comments on Friday’s post), and the traffic’s been murder this weekend, with packed roads and overcrowded buses. But it was fine in Woolwich.
Imagine it being called the Woolwich Tall Ships Festival, acknowledging where most of the action was…
Remember, though, it’s all about reputation-building. Here’s a naughty slip from Greenwich Council’s Twitter account.
Retweeting praise aimed at the council leader? Cheeky.
Even cheekier, because the original tweet, sent on Friday night, was it was amended the following night by Mehboob Khan, who juggles being a Labour Party adviser to London Councils with being a councillor in Kirklees, West Yorkshire. Very naughty. The original tweeters weren’t impressed.
Enough of what I saw, how were the tall ships for you? Share your praises or gripes below.
If you follow Greenwich Council’s media, you’ll have heard of little else for the past year. If you bin its weekly propaganda rag Greenwich Time and shun its Twitter feed, this weekend could come as a surprise to you. It’s the Royal Greenwich Tall Ships Festival and it’s actually rather a big deal.
The first many would have known that this was actually something rather big was when parking permits started falling onto doormats last month. “Tow away zone” signs have sprouted up (even though many of the Olympics ones are still in place) and parking restrictions are in place all weekend.
Isn’t this all a bit much? Maybe not. A similar event in Dublin in August 2012 attracted over a million people to the Irish capital. And Falmouth, where this year’s event started (below), has been packed out, by all accounts.
It’s a baffling thing, because nobody was really asked or consulted about the festival. Nobody put “tall ships” in their manifesto for May’s election. After Run to the Beat was finally given the bum’s rush, few would have expected another event to cause such major disruption the following year.
This one could be worth it, though, with plenty happening:
- 50 ships will be berthed at Greenwich, Greenwich Peninsula and Woolwich and Canary Wharf between Friday and Monday. The Greenwich Peninsula location is Victoria Deep Water Terminal, which has been decked over and landscaped (above). You’ll be able to climb on board the ships and take a look.
– There’ll be fireworks in Greenwich on Friday and in Woolwich on Saturday.
– A “crew parade” will take place through Greenwich town centre on Saturday afternoon, to congratulate all those who sailed from Falmouth.
– There’ll be “festival villages” at Greenwich and Woolwich over the weekend with shows, music, and other events.
But there’ll be disruption, too:
- Greenwich town centre will be closed to traffic for much of Saturday. Buses will be diverted well away from the area.
– Transport for London is warning of disruption from crowds to rail, Tube and DLR services. Southeastern is promising extra services, though isn’t detailing just what it’s offering.
So how did we get here? It all seems to have started three years ago. Remember the ill-fated Peninsula Festival? That was part of a mini-Dutch invasion for the Olympics that included the similarly-cursed Oranjecamping campsite (above) and Sail Royal Greenwich, a series of hospitality cruises along the Thames, itself based on Sail Amsterdam, which takes place every five years in the Dutch capital.
Only the tall ships actually made it to the end of London 2012. The Peninsula Festival folded after a few days – oddly enough, the Greenwich Peninsula Tall Ships site is adjacent to where Frank Dekker wanted to put his beach – while Oranjecamping moved to Walthamstow. But Sail Royal Greenwich has been based in Greenwich Council’s offices at Mitre Passage, North Greenwich ever since.
By November 2012, Greenwich had decided to bid for a Tall Ships Race, which involved this trip to Latvia, so this weekend’s Tall Ships Festival is an important staging post if it’s to achieve that ambition. Here’s a report prepared for former leader Chris Roberts which outlines the council’s plans, which put the costs at £175,000.
In December 2013, the costs had ballooned to £500,000, plus £2.1 million in pier refurbishments. The council will be hoping to recoup the costs in sponsorship (including from Barratt Homes and Berkeley Homes) and merchandise (including programmes at £5/pop).
Sail Royal Greenwich has a good deal from the council – it’s paying a service charge of £100/month towards each desk, while a games company based in the same office, which is aimed at digital businesses, pays £450/month, according to a Freedom of Information request made last year.
In 2013, the council paid £20,000 towards fireworks for Sail Royal Greenwich at Greenwich and Woolwich, and a further £19,000 for events to mark the ships’ arrival in Woolwich. With the council planning to bid for the 2017 Transatlantic Tall Ships Race, the ships’ll probably be sticking around for a while yet.
So what does the area get out of the tall ships? Well, if there are hundreds of thousands of people over the weekend, then it’ll be a huge boost to tourism – and one that’ll go some way of compensating for cock-ups during the Olympics. The ships and the fireworks promise to be a spectacular sight – there’s no denying any of that.
But what the council gets out of it is more interesting. It’s all about the brand, baby…
The Royal Greenwich Tall Ships Festival is, frankly, about pushing the “Royal Greenwich” brand. But this is also about how a depressingly secretive council sees itself – referring to itself in the third person as “the Royal Borough” even though the council itself is not royal.
It’s almost as if the council is trying to depoliticise itself, to portray itself as some kind of benevolent landlord/ events manager like the (barely-elected) City of London Corporation, rather than the highly political beast which it actually is.
Sooner or later, Greenwich’s 51 councillors will have to make some very difficult decisions about budget cuts. But while next-door Lewisham is asking residents to weigh up some of the dilemmas themselves, Greenwich residents are told “look at the tall ships!”
Yet with many of the tall ships berthing themselves in SE18, why not apply the high-sailed magic to one of the borough’s more battered brands? The Woolwich Tall Ships Festival, anyone? Falmouth-Woolwich Tall Ships Race?
Tall ships also make fantastic corporate entertainment venues. So the festival also offers some glorious opportunities for jollies, and for councillors and officers to be wooed by property developers and the like – Barratt Homes is a lead sponsor, while Berkeley Homes, Cathedral Group and Knight Dragon have also paid to be associated with the event.
In fact, all this is already evident in the pages of Greenwich Time, with two plugs for Morden Wharf developer Cathedral in this week’s council paper – one featuring council leader Denise Hyland larking about with sailing trainees sponsored by developers; another featuring Hyland, Cathedral boss Richard Upton and other trainees who, well, fancy that, are nicknamed the Cathedral Five.
I’ve been told Greenwich Council is terrified the tall ships will be a flop. Judging by the crowds elsewhere, it’ll almost certainly be a big hit. There were even photographers out on Greenwich Peninsula early yesterday evening to watch a trio of ships sail through the Thames Barrier and past the Dome.
It’s going to be an interesting weekend. If you’re well-disposed to the council, there could be plenty to congratulate it on. If you’re not, there’ll be plenty of bones to pick over the following weeks. There are many reasons to celebrate the tall ships’ arrival – but just as many reasons to be sceptical of what’s going on below deck. If you live anywhere near the river, get set to be swept along over the next few days…
Greenwich Council is to trial “shared use” of the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels, which will mean cyclists being officially allowed to use them at quieter times, it has emerged.
The council’s put in a bid for £100,000 of City Hall money to develop technology to record pedestrian and cyclist movements in the tunnel, to warn cyclists when the narrow passages make it unsafe for riding.
The Friends of Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels have been asked to act as partners on the bid, along with Tower Hamlets and Newham councils.
Fogwoft says: “The proposal would allow shared use between pedestrians and cyclists at times when the tunnel is fairly empty. It would require cyclists to walk when necessary. It would allow them to cycle when safe.”
Any proposal to allow cycling in the tunnels will be a hugely contentious issue – while there is a blanket ban on riding bicycles, it is widely flouted, especially in the Greenwich tunnel, which is a major link for cyclists between south-east London and Canary Wharf. Since lift attendants were withdrawn some years ago, there has been little enforcement of the ban.
If Greenwich’s bid to City Hall is unsuccessful, the council says it will fund the scheme itself.
The council says: “The proposal will be to use state of the art technology to trial shared use in the tunnel. It will monitor cycle and pedestrian flows (and cycle speeds) at all times, and use this to regulate the cycling ban; at times of low pedestrian flow, considerate cycle use will be permitted, and conversely during high pedestrian flow periods cyclists will be required to dismount and push through the space. In other words, the permission levels would respond in a timely manner to conditions in the tunnels at all times.
“This will be enforced through clear, digital signage triggered by the flow levels during each period, which will be tracked throughout the tunnel. The visual signage could be backed up by audible messages, and reinforced through additional monitoring via CCTV and other means.
“Technology will also be used to monitor the speed of any person cycling through the tunnel, flashing up clear signage to anyone travelling quicker than a recommended limit (to be defined) in a similar way to speed warning signs used on highways.”
The bid document says a trial would last for 12 months and be “rigorously monitored”.
“In using digital technology to track, monitor and regulate permissions at various times of the day, users will feel that a sensible use of the space is allowed at all times. If successful, the trial has potential to be extended to other similar spaces throughout London,” it adds.
A further £10,000-£25,000 would fund “behavioural change” measures – enforcement, in other words.
It’s believed that a system would be trialled in the quieter Woolwich tunnel before being moved to Greenwich by 2016/17.
Fogwoft has invited users to discuss the issue at its annual general meeting on 2 October. (See more on Fogwoft’s website.) The council will also have to consult the public directly about the scheme, which will involve a change to a by-law.
The announcement comes as the long-delayed refurbishment works on both tunnels enter their final stages, after long delays caused by poor management of the project, both by the council and contractor Hyder Consulting.
While deep cleaning hasn’t taken place, the lifts at Woolwich are now working, though anecdotal evidence suggests the Greenwich lifts are still bedevilled by breakdowns. Indicators have been placed in the Greenwich tunnel to warn of lift problems, although they are difficult to read in sunlight.
In December 2012, a poll on this website showed 51% of voters would back cycling in the tunnel at all times, with just 16% favouring the current ban and 18% backing the kind of compromise Greenwich is going for. This may indicate something about the readership of this website, though.
But with Greenwich Council backing the motor vehicle-only Silvertown Tunnel, and with even more intensive development planned for the Isle of Dogs, the foot tunnel issue shows it’s clear there is still a massive, unmet demand for safe pedestrian and cyclist crossings from south-east to east London.
Monday update: Here’s an interesting project – the echoey sounds of the Woolwich Foot Tunnel captured in Waves of Woolwich.
A petition’s been launched to ask Transport for London to move Woolwich Arsenal station from zone 4 to zone 3. It’s currently approaching 250 signatures….
“As the opening of Crossrail gets closer and closer, and as the regeneration of Woolwich gains momentum, we think it’s important to help the area further benefit from all these positive changes. The number of commuters is growing and this trend is only going to continue.
“Moving Woolwich Arsenal station from 4 to zone 3 will help make Woolwich even more attractive and slightly less expensive for workers commuting west. There are talks of moving Stratford, a stone’s throws from Woolwich, into zone 2. Also Battersea is poised to be moved from zone 2 to zone 1. Gallions Reach, just north of the river and further east than Woolwich, is already in zone 3.”
I wrote about the absurdity of Woolwich being in zone 4 back in 2010, travelling out to leafy Chigwell, Essex, which is also in zone 4. Last week it was announced that Stratford station is being moved to the boundary of zones 2 and 3 to “boost regeneration” – a similar move would put Woolwich Arsenal on the boundary of zones 3 and 4, so passengers travelling from the east wouldn’t lose out.
Of course, there’s a cost to it and the popularity of the Docklands Light Railway from Woolwich would seem to indicate that the market can bear costly zone 4 fares – but a symbolic change could help attract travel *to* Woolwich, rather than from it.
(There’s a wider argument that London’s fare zones, which date back to 1983 and predate the development of Canary Wharf, need a complete overhaul as perceptions of “central London” have changed over the years – but that seems to be something nobody dare touch.)
It’s a simple change that could end up paying for itself over time if it boosts perceptions of Woolwich – but sadly, local politicians seem to have much more time obsessing over the Thames Clippers service to Berkeley Homes’ Royal Arsenal development instead.
During every World Cup, there’s always somewhere to go in London if you want to follow a particular team. For Ghana, one of those places is the Castle Tavern, by the Woolwich Ferry.
As far as I can gather, it’s run by an English-Ghanian couple – so when the Black Stars are in action, the local Ghanian population flock to the pub. There’s not so much drinking going on – though big bottles of Nigerian Star lager go down a treat at a fiver each – but there’s plenty of singing, drumming, dancing, and laughter.
It’s a side to Woolwich that’s not talked up by the property developers. Nor will you find it in Greenwich Time, the council’s weekly propaganda paper. It’s a world away from the sterile gentrification of the Royal Arsenal and it overpriced, understaffed Dial Arch.
And when the Black Stars play, you won’t find a friendlier welcome anywhere else in south-east London.
So, after a tip-off from the Dulwich Hamlet fans’ forum, I thought I’d have a wander down for Saturday night’s match against Germany. Would people mind if I took loads of photos and filmed loads of videos, like a tourist? Then I realised everyone was filming each other anyway, so didn’t worry about it.
And you know what? It was just fun. No cynicism, no slagging off your own side, just fun. After a tense first half, it was outside for some fresh air – and more singing, dancing and drumming.
Back inside, the game livened up in the second half. But nobody was going to let a small thing like Germany’s opening goal stop everyone having a good time.
Three minutes later, though, the Castle went wild as Andre Ayew headed in an equaliser for Ghana. Less than 10 minutes after that, Asamoah Gyan fired the Black Stars into the lead and pandemonium broke out…
Miroslav Klose put Germany back level again – but could Ghana get a third?
It wasn’t to be. But a draw against one of the World Cup’s most fancied team deserves a celebration – so it was back outside again.
So long as the USA don’t beat Portugal tonight, Ghana will still have a shout at qualifying for the World Cup’s knockout stages. But even if they don’t get through, I reckon there’ll still be a party at the Castle anyway. So if you want to see what it’s all about, then get down there this Thursday at 5pm for Ghana v Portugal.
The development containing Woolwich’s giant Tesco store has been nominated for the Carbuncle Cup, architecture’s prize for the UK’s worst new building. The whole block has been developed by Spenhill, a subsidiary of the retail giant.
The store, which opened in November 2012, and its associated Woolwich Central housing development have been shortlisted for the prize by architects’ trade journal Building Design.
BD’s Ike Ijeh writes:
Woolwich might have thought that its days as a military outpost were over. Wrong. Somehow what looks like the world’s largest shooting range gained planning permission right in the middle of the town centre, presumably after masquerading as housing above a Tesco supermarket.
Camouflage comes in the way of some truly diabolical cladding and a massing strategy that seems to have been directly inspired by the 1948 Berlin Blockade; we can only hope that residential leases come with free airlift. Tesco may be the world’s third largest retailer but clearly when it comes to this untactical offensive, every little hurts.
“If you approach it from Angelsea Road, it towers above the pub and small shops on Woolwich New Road – this isn’t a development that’s going to be held in much affection outside the town hall and Tesco HQ. Look out for it in next year’s Carbuncle Cup,” I wrote when the store opened 19 months ago.
Greenwich Council were enthusiastic backers of the store when it opened – the authority gained a new civic HQ and library out of the move – yet it’s unclear whether the store has been the shot in the arm that Woolwich town centre needed. Many of the other retail units in the development remain unlet.
Earlier this month, Marks & Spencer announced plans to close its store there.
It’s not the first time the award’s judges have condemned a Greenwich borough development – 2012’s award went to the “disastrously conceived restoration” of the Cutty Sark.
Last year’s prize went to a student block on Caledonian Road, Islington, which features windows facing onto a brick wall. 2010’s award went to the Strata tower at Elephant and Castle, blasted for its “Philishave stylings”.
The other week I found myself in Woolwich’s Marks & Spencer. An underpant crisis does that to a gentleman, you see. I stood for a minute, and looked around me. The shelves looked tatty. Wires hung down from the wall. The decor had barely changed since I was a kid, making 2014 fashion displays look like something out of 1974.
There couldn’t be many stores left with that proud, golden “MARKS & SPENCER” lettering on the front, I mused. Yet the main entrances had been locked up for years, presumably a last-ditch move against shoplifters. While down the road, Woolwich was shiny and new, here was the Woolwich that was still in decline. I must write about this some day, I thought, before remembering I had undercrackers to purchase. That’s the good thing about an M&S outlet shop – cheap pants.
But I’m going to have to go somewhere else for my discount drawers now, because Woolwich’s century-old M&S is for the chop. And it’s the first big headache for Greenwich Council’s leader-elect Denise Hyland, deputy-elect John Fahy, and regeneration cabinet member-elect Danny Thorpe.
They aren’t alone. Down in Gravesend, the council’s furious at the loss of their M&S. Up, way up in Redcar, the council’s planning talks – as is Greenwich. And with good reason. In South Shields, they say even charity shops are being hit by the loss of their store.
“[They] clearly have a lack of commercial judgement,” fumed John Fahy. But let’s be honest here – that M&S has looked doomed since the day it became an outlet store over a decade ago, when the main doors were bolted shut and the wires started hanging down from the ceiling. And the steel frame of the new Charlton M&S has started to emerge in recent weeks, ahead of its opening late next year. Did the arrival of Tesco bang the final nail in the coffin of M&S Woolwich? It’s a moot point after decades of decline.
But just as the national economic recovery is only being felt in a few places, Woolwich’s own re-emergence isn’t all that clear to all either.
Yup, shiny new-ish Tesco (tick), some coffee bars (tick), nice square that everyone likes (tick), but then the rest of it’s all behind the brick walls of the Arsenal. While Wellington Street, between the town hall and the council HQ, is immaculate and bedecked in “ROYAL GREENWICH” propaganda banners; Powis Street and Hare Street look as miserable as ever. If you had a choice, why would you do your shopping there?
And frankly, who’s left to do their shopping there? Big employers have moved out of Woolwich in recent decades and haven’t been replaced. Right opposite M&S on Thomas Street is the Island Site, once home to Thames Polytechnic/Greenwich University, now let out to small colleges. Over the road was Morgan-Grampian Publishing, whose offices are now flats. In the 1960s, according to the Survey of London, Woolwich’s M&S carried lines you’d usually only find in the West End. Today, there aren’t enough people around during the day to even buy heavily-discounted pants.
What to do? A council can’t work miracles, and you can’t force a business to stay, particularly one with shareholders to please. But it’s clear M&S hasn’t got much confidence in a real upturn in Woolwich’s fortunes, and judging by the state of the store, it probably hasn’t done for years. There are no easy answers, but one sign of what’s going wrong in Woolwich was in Greenwich Council’s weekly newspaper last week…
The outgoing Dear Leader’s still in charge until Wednesday, so here’s Chris Roberts bigging up a plan for a “cultural quarter” behind the Royal Arsenal brick wall, without mentioning it’s an attempt to replace the ailing Firepower military museum.
Yet who’ll really benefit from this scheme? Roberts’ mates at Berkeley Homes, of course, who own the residential land surrounding the Firepower site. While Powis Street and Hare Street continue to decay, the council is still at Berkeley’s service.
Even more bafflingly, the “cultural quarter” plans seem at odds with the council’s own Woolwich masterplan, which envisage another cultural quarter, this time opposite the current M&S store.
Stroll along Polytechnic Street and you’ll find the neglected and empty-looking original Woolwich Polytechnic building, with intricate decorations around the windows; a mysterious “town hall annexe” which has seen better days, the original Woolwich swimming baths, and the crumbling first town hall from 1842. It’s a ghost street right in the heart of Woolwich.
Yet nothing’s happening to bring this back to life – indeed, the Woolwich Grand Theatre looks set to be replaced by flats. Fill this block with creative businesses, as promised in the masterplan, and you’d at least generate some daytime trade in Woolwich that had some money to spend.
But instead, Greenwich Council remains focused on pleasing Berkeley Homes above any other business, and while that continues, it’s hard to see the rest of Woolwich really getting much of a look-in.
Once Chris Roberts leaves on Wednesday, maybe the new leadership might change tack and look at ways to make sure the effects of Woolwich’s revamp are felt more evenly. At a hustings event for Woolwich Riverside ward, Labour’s Jackie Smith even suggested the wall surrounding the Arsenal come down – “if it happened in Berlin, it can happen in Woolwich”. It’s time to talk and find new ideas for Woolwich, instead of the old approach of painting over locals’ views.
And maybe for that Arsenal “cultural quarter”… what about a nice new M&S outlet store? Otherwise, I’m going to have to start stocking up on cut-price undercrackers very soon…
8.05am update: John Fahy has written to M&S: “The alternative to this proposal should be to dispense with the Outlet brand,restore the M&S brand and extend the Simply Food floor space.”