Legal cycling in Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels moves a step closer after council vote

The prospect of cycling being formally allowed in Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels moved a step closer last night after Greenwich councillors unanimously backed plans to change the bye-laws governing the river crossings.

Cycling has always been officially banned in the tunnels, although the rules stopped being enforced after Greenwich Council, which controls the crossings, stopped using lift attendants as part of a refurbishment scheme which saw user-operated facilities installed.

The growth both in cycling and of Canary Wharf as a major employment centre has, however, seen the Greenwich tunnel become a major commuting route for riders.

The Greenwich tunnel is now being used for a trial where cycling is permitted at quieter times, with electronic signs telling riders to dismount at busy periods when bikes can cause a hazard.

Tunnel user group Fogwoft has raised concerns that the law regarding rollerskaters and skateboarders needs to be clarified, and that the new law still technically prohibits unicycles.

The law change was passed without discussion at last night’s Greenwich Council meeting (see it here, 1 hour, nine minutes and 19 seconds in).

This is not the end of the process – Tower Hamlets Council has to agree to the change for Greenwich Foot Tunnel at one of its meetings, with Newham councillors needing to vote on the Woolwich tunnel. This website understands there is some unhappiness on the Isle of Dogs about cycling being permitted in the tunnel, leading to the possibility of some Tower Hamlets councillors objecting.

It’s not all easy going for cyclists in the tunnels right now – the Greenwich tunnel’s south lift has only recently reopened after being out of action for some time, a consequence of problems dating back to the botched 2011 refurbishment of the tunnels.

Greenwich Mercury and South London Press sold to leaflet firm as owner goes into administration

Greenwich and Lewisham Mercury

The Greenwich Mercury and South London Press have been sold to a Romford-based leaflet distribution firm after the company that owned them went into administration.

Street Runners, which operates from an industrial estate at Hainault, has taken on the two titles after Capital Media Newspapers called in administrators last week.

Penge-based Capital Media was formed only last year after the titles were among a group given to their management by local newspaper baron Ray Tindle. The group has now been broken up, with a collection of titles in Dorset being sold last week.

The Mercury, which is London’s oldest title, is distributed free – if very patchily – in the boroughs of Greenwich and Lewisham. The twice-weekly South London Press is sold in newsagents. The SLP traditionally covers Lewisham, Southwark, Lambeth and Wandsworth boroughs, although that remit has been blurred somewhat since Capital Media took over.

Under Tindle, the group was expanded while resources were cut – short-lived “hyperlocal” Mercury titles for Charlton, Blackheath and Greenwich were then replaced by ones for Abbey Wood, Plumstead and Catford, before being closed when Capital Media took over the titles. Similar “hyperlocal” South London Press editions were also opened and closed, with Capital Media boss Hannah Walker telling a London Assembly meeting that they “confused” readers.

Capital Media also had to take on a series of west London papers set up by Tindle – these have not been included in the sale to Street Runners.

The papers are now run by a skeleton staff, with departing reporters not being replaced. The operation also appears to lack a strategy for the web and social media. Last week’s edition of the Mercury led on a story about the new Greenwich Ikea which was simply taken from a press release put out by the Swedish retailer, with no reference to the controversy caused by the proposed store (which had been covered by the paper in the days when the staffing was a little better).

1991: The Mercury in its pomp

It’s a far cry from the Mercury’s 1980s and 1990s pomp, when the paper was a campaigning title regularly getting its teeth into both Greenwich and Lewisham councils. Since then, the paper has been passed from owner to owner, forced to merge its newsroom with its old South London Press rival, booted out of its old Deptford HQ and exiled to Streatham, then shunted to Penge. While the paper’s sole reporter/editor does an admirable job keeping up with local issues, there is no capacity for investigative journalism while most of that newsroom’s resources for original reporting are directed to its traditional strength of sports coverage.

Street Runners was founded in 2005 and is controlled by Slav Ibelgaputas. Its last company accounts showed it had net assets of just £838, although further financing was provided by Lloyds Bank earlier this year. It’s understood the company is planning to invest in its new acquisitions.

While the Mercury and SLP now have the chance of a fresh start under new owners, the outlook for the rest of the legacy local media in the area remains grim. The News Shopper is also now run by a skeleton staff from Sutton and has effectively ceased to be a local paper, while Greenwich Weekender – which launched earlier this year after signing an ad deal with Greenwich Council – has now dropped its news coverage after a promising start. Greenwich borough’s two independent papers, Greenwich Visitor and SE Nine magazine, have to compete with council fortnightly Greenwich Binfo for advertising, as well as Google and Facebook.

1.50pm update: Companies House records show a new company, South London Press Media, formed by Slav Ibelgaupt [sic] on 10 July. He then resigned on 13 July, with a Marina Ibelgaupt in now charge of the company. Companies House records show directorships registered in a number of similar names – Slav(a) Ibelgaupt(as) and Mar(yna/ina) Ibelgaupt(as) – with dates of birth varying between 1972 and 1977, mostly registered to the same address in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex.

Save Avery Hill Winter Garden: Campaigners start petition to protect Eltham landmark

Avery Hill Winter Gardens

Eltham residents have set up a petition to demand Greenwich University and Greenwich Council secure the future of the historic Winter Garden in Avery Hill Park.

The petition comes days after the council’s deputy leader accused one of the area’s local councillors of playing politics in questioning its attitude to the building.

Built for Victorian mining magnate “Colonel” John Thomas North, the Grade II-listed structure is said to be the largest temperate winter garden in the country after Kew Gardens.

But campaigners say the university, which announced plans to sell the Winter Garden and surrounding teaching facilities in December 2014, is threatening to leave the adjacent mansion boarded up when it vacates the building at the end of 2018.

Already, large areas of the structure are in a poor state of repair, and neighbours are fearing for the building’s future.

University and council ‘stalemate’

Campaigners say the stalemate is down to a disagreement over what to with the building, which the university bought from Greenwich Council for £1 in 1992.

Many of the university’s teaching facilities on the site have moved to a new home in Greenwich, and it abandoned a lottery bid aimed at restoring the Winter Garden after deciding to leave.

While the university had hoped to build some housing on the site, the council is said to be insisting it says in educational use – reportedly wanting to relocate a secondary school on the site. Campaigners say it is unlikely a secondary school could raise the funds needed to restore the Winter Garden.

The Save Avery Hill Winter Gardens Campaign, which is holding a public meeting at Christ Church Hall, Eltham High Street at 7.30pm on Thursday 27 July, want the council and university to come up with a “mini-masterplan” for the site to help determine its future.

‘Election issue’

The matter was raised by Eltham South councillor Nuala Geary at last week’s full meeting of Greenwich Council. In a written response, deputy leader Danny Thorpe said a meeting had been arranged for this month between the council, the university, and Historic England, adding: “It is the university’s responsibility to ensure they meet their obligations in respect of the Winter Garden and the wider site.”

Greenwich Council meeting response

But asked by Cllr Geary if a representative of the Friends of Avery Hill Park could attend the meeting, Cllr Thorpe said it would be “inappropriate at this point”.

And pressed on whether his response meant the council had no obligation to protect the Winter Garden, Labour’s Cllr Thorpe accused the Conservative of “twisting my words in public”, saying the council had “a keen interest” in keeping the Winter Garden open, but it was the university’s responsibility.

He added: “Please stop trying to turn this into a little election issue in advance of the next election, because we’re standing up for people, and holding people to account, and I can only hope you are too, Councillor Geary.” (You can watch the exchange here, 36 mins 40 secs in.)

Cllr Geary later said she was “stunned by the sarcasm” of Cllr Thorpe’s response.

The Avery Hill Winter Garden petition is hosted on 38 Degrees and can be signed here. A hard copy version is in the park’s cafe.

Lewisham helped Labour win Eltham – Greenwich should repay them by funding Blackheath fireworks properly


We’ve been here before, and I make no apology for raising it again. As this website’s long-suffering readers will be aware, Greenwich Council embarrassed its residents in 2010 by withdrawing funding from the long-running Blackheath fireworks display, claiming it couldn’t afford it because of Conservative government cuts. Greenwich and Lewisham used to fund the display jointly, then Greenwich left its neighbour in the lurch.

However, while Lewisham Council has struggled to raise the money to keep the display going, Greenwich has been freely spending on its own events – fireworks to mark becoming a royal borough, fireworks to impress Tall Ships Race chiefs, private mayoral inauguration ceremonies (at £20,000 a pop), and last year, a £17,000 Hollywood-themed parade to publicise the forthcoming cinema in Eltham.

Eltham cinema launch

Eltham MP Clive Efford, Greenwich Council leader Denise Hyland, deputy Danny Thorpe and friends. Photo: Eltham Labour Party

A couple of years back, Greenwich started paying £10,000 towards the £87,000 display. Last year, it refused to increase that sum, despite pleas from Lewisham.

It’s created a lot of bad feeling, even at the highest levels in Lewisham Council.

When the general election was called, and help was needed to save Clive Efford’s seat in Eltham, Lewisham Labour could have told their colleagues in Greenwich to get stuffed, and gone to help colleagues in Bermondsey and Croydon instead.

But they didn’t. They crossed the border in force, marching past Leegate and into their neighbouring borough to help keep Eltham a Labour seat. And they won – handsomely.

How to pay them back? It should be a no-brainer. As Labour activists will have realised in the past few weeks, us south-east Londoners are better and stronger united rather than divided by boundary lines. It’s time for Greenwich Council to finally right a wrong committed in the bad old days of Chris Roberts – and pay its fair share towards Blackheath fireworks again.

Six thoughts after June 2017’s general election in Greenwich borough

Polling station sign in a puddle in Westcombe Park Road

The dust may never settle on the 2017 general election until the next one comes along. But the result was clear-cut in this part of south-east London – a big “up yours” to the woman currently barricading herself inside 10 Downing Street with the help of strange men in bowler hats.

So, only a few days late, and with the caveat that I spent the final week of the campaign sat reading Roger Moore’s autobiography in the Barcelona sunshine instead of attending hustings, here are a few observations on what election night meant for Greenwich, Woolwich, Eltham and beyond. (Declaration videos are from Sky News.)

1. Matthew Pennycook is now the King of Greenwich (and Woolwich)
Look at the size of that. 64.4% of the vote. Matt Pennycook scored Labour’s highest vote share since the Greenwich & Woolwich seat was created in 1997 (in Greenwich, you have to look to the 1971 by-election to see a higher share), beating anything his predecessor Nick Raynsford achieved. That’s a Lewisham-style share, for heaven’s sake. Voters evidently forgave his Brexit votes – or didn’t care that much anyway or prioritised other issues. Or maybe voters just hated the Tories.

His campaign saw him open up a little bit of space between him and his Labour colleagues – let’s call them the Berkeley Homes Party – running the council. His election literature referred to his anti-Silvertown Tunnel stance and his work in trying to amend the Berkeley Homes Party’s mistake of doing developers’ bidding at the Enderby Wharf cruise liner terminal, things Raynsford would never have done. Whatever, this win should silence his local critics and remind the Berkeley Homes Party what Labour should be about in this area.

2. Clive Efford’s return means little change at Greenwich Council… for now
The result in Eltham mattered almost as much in Greenwich & Woolwich (and Erith & Thamesmead) as it did south of the A207. Clive Efford’s stunning victory almost – but not quite – matched the levels of his first win in 1997, landing 54.4% of the vote, up from 42.6% last time. Labour didn’t just throw the kitchen sink at Eltham, it threw the cooker, fridge, microwave and cutlery to leave the local Tories badly wounded. It was aided by the Tories slashing local school budgets – sprinkling Matt Hartley’s faltering campaign with poison from the off – but most of all by hordes of activists, notably from Lewisham. (However to pay them back?)

But the win also consolidates Efford’s vice-like grip on the Eltham Labour Party, which in turn consolidates the Eltham Labour Party’s vice-like grip on the Greenwich Council Labour group. While Matt Pennycook will be much stronger as a result of last week, anyone hoping for power to drain from the stale leadership currently running the council may have to wait a little while longer.

3. Matt Hartley has himself to blame for losing Eltham
Did the Tories take Eltham for granted? It was their 29th target seat. Their candidate failed to show up at hustings, and failed to defend local schools from cuts. But perhaps the problems started a year ago, when Matt Hartley was putting leaflets through doors insisting Britain was about to be flooded with Syrian refugees via Turkey, and breezily insisting that the Vote Leave campaign wasn’t fronted left, right and centre by lies and liars.

The EU referendum ushered in a period of huge political turmoil, of which last week’s poll – “only Theresa May can make these Brexit negotiations a success” – was just a part. In the end, the chaos that Hartley helped unleash also consumed his parliamentary ambitions – in this area, at least – and it’s made the local Tories look rather silly.

Would his predecessor as council leader and candidate, Spencer Drury, have done better? Maybe not – Hartley still added 3,100 votes to the Tories’ share, while Drury saw a small fall in 2015. But for now, Eltham is Labour territory once again, and it’ll take an earthquake – or a boundary change – to shift them.

4. The Liberal Democrats blew it with bullshit
Pardon the language. In Greenwich and Woolwich, this wasn’t an election for great political literature. The Labour leaflet was too wordy, the Tory one vacuous, the Green one vague. But the Lib Dem took the biscuit for bullshit. It was unfortunate that candidate Chris Adams had to move home shortly before the poll – his old SE8 address (even if on the Lewisham side) would have looked better on the ballot paper than “address in the Dulwich and West Norwood consituency”.

Actually, Matt Pennycook has been the most outspoken of all Labour MPs on the Silvertown Tunnel – despite this Lib Dem claim.

However, his literature let him down. Even if Brexit turned out to be a bigger issue, most people who feel stronger about remaining in the EU tend to be a bit more engaged and would never have fallen for “Jeremy Corbyn and Matthew Pennycook back the Tories’ hard Brexit”. It even featured a dodgy graph. And while the Lib Dems’ opposition to the Silvertown Tunnel was welcome, them getting key facts about it wrong in two separate leaflets wasn’t. (As someone who’s campaigned against the tunnel, they’d have been very welcome to ask.) It was idiotic not to have featured their key electoral asset in this field – their excellent London Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon, who has actually done things to help the anti-tunnel cause – and just  looked like a weird vendetta against Matt Pennycook. It backfired, and deservedly so.

5. The Greens actually need to tell people to vote for them
There’s no disguising that this was a terrible election for the Greens. It was always going to be tough. They were smart to stand down in Eltham, but the problem with pushing for a “progressive alliance” was identified by former London Assembly member Darren Johnson, who observed that if you keep standing down, that’s what all the headlines will be about, rather than your policies.

And so it proved, with the Greens getting terrible London results, even in their heartland constituencies. In Greenwich & Woolwich, the Berkeley Homes Party’s antics should have provided Dan Garrun with an open goal and a chance to hold Matt Pennycook’s feet to the fire. But their national problems were made worse by vague election literature (not living in the target Peninsula ward I didn’t see it all, but their website contained very little) and tweets that suggested they really weren’t bothered if people didn’t vote for them. So they didn’t – resulting in just 3% of the vote and a lost deposit. Pay attention next time, Greens.

6. In Greenwich borough, this was only the beginning
In inner London, Labour is an awesome, even fearsome machine. Their get-the-vote-out teams prowl the streets on election day, and the party’s stuffed full of old hands who know just how to run an election. You don’t know them, but they have a pretty good idea of just how you might vote. For them, much of this was a dry run for next May’s council election. Greenwich’s selections start now – always entertaining in a party where they largely hate each other, but with the added spice of Momentum-backed candidates ready to pounce. (There’s also the influence of the Pentecostal New Wine Church, but that’s for another time.) For Greenwich’s Labour (and Berkeley Homes Party) councillors, and those who want to replace them, the battle is only just beginning.

Bonus news from elsewhere: Millwall relegated at the polls
In 1990, Charlton Athletic fans who were enraged at Greenwich Council’s refusal to allow the club to return to The Valley formed their own political party to fight that year’s council elections. The Valley Party got 10.9% of the vote, unseated the chair of the planning committee, and forced the council to change its mind. This year, Millwall fans who were enraged at Lewisham Council’s plans to compulsorily-purchase part of the club’s land at The Den decided to follow suit.

But they cocked it up in fine style – standing in the general election (why?) in Lewisham East (some way from The Den, and – Downham/ Grove Park excepted – not really a heartland of Lions support) against Labour’s Heidi Alexander. But Alexander is a hugely popular figure locally, and has been effectively fire-proofed ever since her part in the campaign to save Lewisham Hospital from cuts. Candidate Willow Winston, an artist with a studio close to the Den, lost her deposit, netting a derisory 355 votes (0.75%) and showing that £500 is a big price to pay for securing some sympathetic Guardian coverage. Millwall may have been promoted back to the Championship last month, but their fans’ political nous remains in the relegation zone.

Your comments on the local issues raised here are welcome…

Dead cat on the line: How the Cannon Street train ‘plan’ distracts from the real issue of who runs our rail

Blackheath station by Julie Kertesz

Fears about new train timetables have focused on services from Blackheath station (photo by Julie Kertesz)

In political campaigning there’s a tactic known as the “dead cat strategy“. It’s best associated with the Conservatives’ campaign manager, Lynton Crosby.

Boris Johnson, no less, once explained it: “Let us suppose you are losing an argument… Your best bet in these circumstances is to perform a manoeuvre that a great campaigner describes as ‘throwing a dead cat on the table, mate’.

“Everyone will shout ‘Jeez, mate, there’s a dead cat on the table!’; in other words they will be talking about the dead cat, the thing you want them to talk about, and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief.”

Well, a dead cat’s been thrown on the railway line that goes through Eltham and Blackheath. And it’s stinking out any chance of having a sensible discussion about how to make south-east London’s rail network work more efficiently.

It starts with Transport for London having an idea…

Last year, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling refused to allow Transport for London to take control of Southeastern’s metro train network. TfL had correctly identified the flaws that beset our trains, and wanted to set about fixing them.

Those flaws included:

  • A fares system which means we pay more for a worse service than those on the Tube
  • The network is too complicated, which makes it unreliable, and needs investment to make it simpler (through altering junctions and improving interchanges) into identifiable “lines” – reducing the number of terminal stations each line serves.
  • There isn’t enough capacity on the network, but making it simpler would improve capacity
  • Some services aren’t frequent enough, but could be more frequent if the network was made simpler

The plan was universally applauded, but Grayling ignored all this, stuck his fingers in his ears and decided to reject TfL’s proposal.

Instead, he’s putting a new Kent franchise up for grabs, which includes local London services, There’s a consultation on right now into what to do with it.

It includes the suggestion that the network is too complicated and could be made simpler – one line, one terminal station. It’s not a million miles from what TfL proposed. But there’s been outrage.

SE London’s train service is complex

Thameslink map

Thameslink (seen here at Catford) tries to colour-code its different services

The Southeastern metro lines through Lewisham and Greenwich are fiendishly complicated. Just heading to Dartford alone there are four different routes, with three different central London terminals.

  • Cannon Street to Dartford via Greenwich and Woolwich – 6 trains per hour, evenly spaced out – this one is the simplest, as it can now only run to Cannon Street.
  • Charing Cross, Cannon Street or Victoria to Dartford via Lewisham and Bexleyheath – 6 trains per hour, but unevenly spaced out and heading to/from different London terminals.
  • Charing Cross or Cannon Street to Dartford via Sidcup – 4 trains per hour, half go to Charing Cross without calling at Lewisham, half to Cannon Street via Lewisham and New Cross.
  • Charing Cross to Gillingham via Lewisham, Woolwich and Dartford – 2 trains per hour. This is the one that goes through the tunnel under Blackheath, and a service TfL wouldn’t have taken over as it runs far beyond London.

And then there are the trains that run to Hayes and Orpington/Sevenoaks, some of which also skip Lewisham and New Cross. Confusing? Imagine if you could untie some of the knots and make this easier to understand.

Rail and tube map

Try colour-coding this…

Already, there’s been some simplification. As we’ve dealt with already, trains through Greenwich now only go to Cannon Street. This is currently inconvenient as their London Bridge platforms are being rebuilt, but should be much less of an issue once the job’s finished next year.

In the document for the new Southeastern franchise, there is a suggestion for a natural progression – that maybe all trains via Bexleyheath should also go to Cannon Street.

And it’s all kicked off, because people like their direct trains to Charing Cross and Victoria. But hang on…

Shoddy service on the Bexleyheath line

The current train service on the Bexleyheath line is pretty crap compared to what Greenwich line users enjoy, which (outside rush hours) is a train every 10 minutes in both directions. (Note: I’ve tweaked the examples here as I’d got the directions wrong earlier.)

At Lewisham, there are trains to Kidbrooke at 02, 08, and 14 past the hour – then nothing for 18 minutes before another flurry at 32, 38 and 44 past each hour. Then another 18 minutes with nothing, and so on. Not much fun if you’ve just got off the DLR and you’ve missed the 14 past. (It’s more even in the other direction, granted.)

If you’re coming from central London, then one train leaves from Victoria, one leaves from Charing Cross, one from Cannon Street. You’ll have to plan your going-home time pretty carefully, compared with Greenwich line users who can just rock up at Cannon Street (or London Bridge from next year) and be on a train within 10 minutes. (This is also useless if you want to start a business in this area – where will your staff/clients go if they want to come to you by train?)

So, making the service consistent and basing it around Cannon Street means our passenger at Lewisham waiting to go to Kidbrooke would benefit from a train every 10 minutes. That makes train travel attractive and takes pressure off local buses. And someone coming home from central London can just turn up at Cannon Street or London Bridge and be on their way home reasonably quickly, rather than pick one of three terminals and hope they get there on time.

The trade-off is that if you were heading into central London from Kidbrooke and you didn’t want to go to Cannon Street, you’d have to change at London Bridge for Charing Cross, and Lewisham for Victoria.

Let’s assume – and this is a big assumption here – that all Sidcup line trains end up being routed into Victoria via Lewisham. The Sidcup line is only just down the road. If you live in Eltham and have a hospital appointment at King’s College Hospital, you can get a train from Mottingham or New Eltham to Denmark Hill. Or you can change at Lewisham. It shouldn’t be too bad.

Unfortunately, the Department for Transport has offered no detail, so it’s tough to come to an informed decision. But the principle isn’t a bad one – it needs investment to do right, though. And this is what TfL wanted to provide.

How do you solve a problem like Lewisham?

Lewisham station by Stephen Colebourne

The terrible junction at Lewisham which restricts capacity. Head left for Victoria or Charing Cross, right for Cannon Street. Photo by Stephen Colebourne.

Why simplify? Go to the London ends of the platforms at Lewisham and the answer will stare at you in the face – a junction where two sets of lines (from Blackheath and Hither Green) cross and go different ways (to Victoria/Charing Cross, and to Cannon Street).

A couple of years ago, this “diamond crossing” failed and services were disrupted for four weeks because the parts had to be specially-made.

So, if you’re Network Rail, you don’t want to be depending on it too much. Simplify the service, and if things do go wrong with this junction, there are fewer repercussions.

Transport for London talked about rebuilding this junction in its bid to take on Southeastern’s metro lines – which would enable more trains to get through, although it’s likely the flexibility of the current arrangement would go.

But the Department for Transport have no plans to rebuild this junction – this is essentially doing a chunk of what TfL wanted to do, but on the cheap. (Bidders for the new franchise are being told “no significant infrastructure projects are planned”).

And Lewisham station is, let’s be honest, a crap interchange. Some of the internal walls were knocked down a couple of years back to make things easier, but it needs flattening and rebuilding (and hopefully with the dangerous gap in the Hither Green/Ladywell-bound platform sorted out), with the interchange tunnels widened. Not a peep from the DfT about this either.

The TfL proposal

TfL Southeastern

What we could have won: Transport for London’s proposed network – taken from its business case

TfL’s suggestion wasn’t quite one line, one terminal. But it did involve pulling Charing Cross trains from the Bexleyheath line (except during peak hours). With a rebuilt Lewisham, it planned to offer six trains to Cannon Street and three to Victoria each hour.

The Sidcup line would have six trains to Charing Cross and three to Victoria, with extra rush hour trains to Cannon Street.

A rebuilt Lewisham would mean changing trains wouldn’t be a hassle. But this row means nobody’s demanding that.

The problem isn’t simplifying the lines – it’s that TfL isn’t doing it

Blackheath Society

So there’s a genuine problem that TfL has tried to solve – it even gave it a name, “metroisation” – and the DfT is also pondering it, albeit in a more cack-handed, tight-fisted manner.

So cue the outrage. Early out of the traps were the Bexley Tories, launching a campaign to Keep Bexley On Track – even though Bexley Council leader Teresa O’Neill wrote a foreword to the document proposing what she is opposing. (The tweet below also pictures Labour’s Teresa Pearce, representing Erith & Thamesmead.)

All this achieves is to shield the Tories from being criticised over Grayling’s refusal to let TfL have the train service.

Then Eltham MP Clive Efford joined the angry brigade. This became about “Tory cuts” – not about Grayling’s refusal to work with Sadiq Khan to give us all a better train service.

None of this screaming and shouting is going to get anyone to work on time. It’ll just perpetuate a run-down, knackered network that needs a revamp. None of this is going to take a single car off the road or relieve pressure on buses and other forms of transport. It won’t cut our fares to the level that the rest of London pays.

And none of this is going to get any more trains through Lewisham, which is what’s badly needed here. And the only people who were going to get this done were TfL. And this row has neatly distracted attention from Chris Grayling’s failure to give Londoners control over our trains.

I would have expected our local politicians to have seen through this and taken the opportunity to campaign on this and tell us all to tell the DfT to just hand them over. But instead, with one exception (Greenwich & Woolwich’s Labour candidate Matt Pennycook, who has taken a more nuanced view) they just went on about trains from Blackheath, Eltham and Bexleyheath. It’s disappointing, to put it politely.

A more sensible answer would simply be to demand no simplification takes place until Transport for London is given control of the Southeastern Metro network.

Rowing over trains at Blackheath allows the government to dodge more serious issues

In any case, there are a heap of more serious issues that aren’t being addressed. In effect, the “no trains to Victoria” issue is a dead cat, stinking out issues that are more pressing.

But no, the conversation has been derailed because of a row over where trains go from Blackheath and Eltham.

Have your say, and do it now

So there’s a consultation about all this, and a long questionnaire. It’s worth taking some time to read and respond. Replies need to be in by Friday 30 June (the deadline has been extended).

If you want to reply yourself, feel free to add to and play with this version of the response I’m sending. That’s if you want to try to shoehorn in as many references to TfL as possible, which is something you should be doing. The actual online form is restrictive, so it’s better if you send your response to the email address given.

In short, tell the government not to simplify Southeastern services unless they are handed to Transport for London, so the necessary improvement works can be carried out at Lewisham.

Oh look, a Tory candidate claims to be saving the day

On Wednesday, Bexleyheath & Crayford’s Tory candidate David Evenett posted that he had written to Chris Grayling. And guess what Grayling’s response was?

“To be clear, we are not proposing to reduce or change specific services.”

So, yes, dead cat. Of course, it’s only a consultation – any proposal to change services would come later. But this row has served its purpose in getting Chris Grayling off the hook for not devolving our trains so that Londoners can make decisions about their own trains. And MPs, councillors, passenger groups and amenity societies have fallen for it.

Towers now dominate the skyline near Lewisham station – how will their residents get around?

This isn’t about you – or me. It’s about the neighbours we don’t yet have

It’s easy to see how this came about. There have been various consultations and documents about rail in south-east London (and Kent) over the past year or so, and many have been poorly and ambiguously presented.

Add this to the fact that many of our local politicians are simply clueless on infrastructure matters and are happy to parrot whatever they’re told, then you can see why a poorly-explained proposal can suddenly become a smokescreen for others to avoid scrutiny for their own clueless and dangerous decisions.

And frankly, this is about fairness. These campaigns are often led by people who have never had to avoid zone 1 to save money, or traded down to the bus to avoid Southeastern’s fares altogether. The vitally-important issue of TfL taking over and making our fares fairer often doesn’t even occur to them.

We may get a new transport secretary in the reshuffle that will follow the general election. And that may put a TfL takeover back on the table. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

The future of transport in our part of London isn’t about your right to get an uninterrupted journey from Blackheath to your well-paid job near Victoria, nor is it about my right to cruise to from Charlton to Charing Cross. Even if you live in Eltham or Blackheath, you’ll be getting new neighbours soon, who’ll want to travel just as you do. It’s about the coping with fast-rising populations – and shifting me, you, and our new neighbours around the capital as quickly and efficiently as possible.

The days of gentlemen turning up in pin-stripes to get one of the three daily trains to Holborn Viaduct have long gone. We need frequent and reliable services that don’t rely on junctions that are shot to pieces.

If the price of extra trains and extra capacity is you or I having to wait five minutes at Lewisham for another train, then so be it. Our train network will be simplified eventually because it’s the only way to cope with greater demand. The real battle is over who’s in charge of it – people who understand London transport, or people who don’t.

So, please make time to read the document and respond to the consultation (here are some points worth making – please customise and add your own concerns – will work better if you email your response rather than use the online form). Demand TfL runs our railways, and gets the chance to sort out the tracks at Lewisham. It’s not the sexiest of rallying cries, but it might make all our lives easier in years to come.

Update 21 May: I’ve made a few tweaks to the response as the online form is very restrictive in how you can answer (and seems to think we all live near the high speed line…) Incidentally, below is an example of a well-meaning politician campaigning on this issue but getting it hopelessly wrong; Lewisham East Liberal Democrat Emily Frith prioritising the demands of well-heeled Blackheath over the needs of Hither Green and Lee.

Emily Frith election address

Update 22 May: Lewisham East Lib Dem candidate Emily Frith has been in touch to say she has responded to the consultation and said TfL should take over Southeastern’s London services. See also her comment below.

It’s just a shame, though, that candidates seem to be prioritising the demands of narrowly-focused amenity societies in their campaigning rather than taking a broader view. What’s this? Oh, no, not the Greens as well…

Election 2017: Three to challenge Pennycook in Greenwich & Woolwich

Matthew Pennycook

Our mate Matt: Labour’s Matt Pennycook meets some chums in Woolwich

Just three candidates are taking on Greenwich & Woolwich’s sitting MP Matt Pennycook at the coming general election – with the Liberal Democrats hoping his stance on Brexit will revive their local fortunes.

Realistically, the only real question is how big Pennycook’s majority will be – in 2015, the former councillor romped home with 52.2% of the vote. He came a thumping 11,946 ahead of Tory challenger Matt Hartley, who has now crossed the Shooters Hill Road to stand in the more promising territory of Eltham.

Caroline Attfield

Caroline Attfield stood in the European Parliament elections in 2014

Rather than field one of their better-known local names, the Tories have picked Lewisham-based banker and management consultant Caroline Attfield to run in an area that hasn’t seen a Conservative victory since the 1930s. Fun fact: A Greenwich-based company registered in the name of a Caroline Attfield, Clackers Ltd, used to trade under the name of Shut Up Blackheath Ltd – she’ll be hoping for the opposite on the doorstep over the coming weeks.

Dan Garrun

The Greens’ Dan Garrun during the junior doctors’ dispute

The Greens are fielding local party co-ordinator Dan Garrun, who lives in Woolwich. He’ll be hoping their campaigning on the Enderby Wharf cruise liner terminal and Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park will have kept them in the public’s mind.

But maybe the most intriguing question is whether the Liberal Democrats can improve on their  2015 result, where they got just 5.7% of the vote, leaving them in fifth. Candiate Chris Adams is making Brexit his main campaign theme – after Pennycook, Labour’s shadow minister for exiting the EU, supported triggering Article 50 back in February, in contrast to neighbouring Labour MPs Heidi Alexander and Vicky Foxcroft, who opposed it.

Chris Adams and Tim Farron

Smile if you’re a Lib Dem: Chris Adams with party leader Tim Farron

“Matthew Pennycook has given a green light to a hard Brexit, by voting for it despite the express will of his constituents in Greenwich and Woolwich who voted decisively to Remain in June last year,” Adams says.

“I will commit here and now to do everything in my power to keep Britain in Europe and in the Single Market.”

Pennycook set out his reasoning ahead of the vote: “To seek to nullify the referendum result by parliamentary means risks, in my view, creating further social division, fuelling the rise of the far-right, adding to the alienation already felt by a significant section of the electorate and perhaps even sparking civil unrest in some parts of the country.

“As such, I respectfully disagree with those who maintain that, whatever the potential negative social and political implications, MPs should seek to overturn the result.”

Pennycook is adamant he will fight for Britain’s interests – it’s a discussion that will surely continue at hustings planned for Mycenae House, Blackheath on 31 May and Charlton Assembly Rooms on 4 June.

Despite a healthy rise in local party membership, the Lib Dems have picked a candidate from outside the area – Adams’ address is given as being in the Dulwich and West Norwood constituency.

The Lib Dems’ vote will no doubt reflect how big an issue Brexit is for local people: but there are other issues, not least Labour’s own leader, with party volunteers reporting plenty of grumbling about Jeremy Corbyn on the doorstep.

It’s the first time just four candidates have stood in Greenwich & Woolwich since the seat was created in 1997 – and it may be the last, as the constituency is due for the chop under a boundary review. Rumours that the Monster Raving Loony Party were to stand ex-Green activist Trevor Allman proved to be baseless – despite a posting from a Twitter account purporting to be from a local branch of the party.

Greenwich & Woolwich candidates: Chris Adams (Liberal Democrats), Caroline Attfield (Conservatives), Daniel Garrun (Green), Matthew Pennycook (Labour)

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