Travellers set up camp at Greenwich’s Ikea site

If you’re the kind of odd person who writes about local issues, and then you suffer a broken ankle, it means you miss some things. It means that you miss the complete disappearance of one of the area’s best-known buildings while you’re propped up not able to do very much.

So, where the “eco” Sainsbury’s in Greenwich once sat, there’s now an empty plot of land. Ikea took ownership last year, ahead of submitting its full planning application for a new store, and demolished the old store in the spring.

Instead of doing some landscaping to protect the land and make look a bit nicer (think of the green mounds outside Woolwich Tesco, awaiting redevelopment; or the green mounds that sat on what’s now the Lewisham Gateway building site), or even finding some ingenious use for the redundant store, Ikea left it empty. And we all know what happens with empty plots of land in this part of town.

IMG_3148

Still, at least the travellers are making use of the site – as Ikea wasn’t – and might be able to keep an eye on the motorcyclists that recently started to race around the site.

None of this will be of any comfort to the site’s neighbours. Nor will this weekend’s news of four-hour delays around the new Ikea in Reading.

But never fear – despite this, despite the Silvertown Tunnel, despite the cruise liner terminal, despite the creation of new retail warehouses on the Charlton riverside – there is money for “the Town Centre and Trafalgar Road Low Emissions Neighbourhood proposal, [which] includes a series of car-free days in the town centre, an incentive scheme to encourage walking and cycling and an extensive series of mini parks throughout the area”.

Too little, too late feels an understatement. It’s like locking the gates once the travellers have moved their vans in…

All change: 108 bus to link SE London with Olympic Park from October

108 bus
Greenwich and Lewisham’s only bus service to east London, the 108, will be re-routed to run via the Olympic Park from October.

The current service runs through the Blackwall Tunnel to Stratford bus station, via the A12, Bow Flyover and Stratford High Street.

From 1 October, it will run via Chrisp Street in Poplar and Campbell Road in Bow, before running through Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to Stratford International station, with stops outside the London Aquatics Centre, Stratford station and the Westfield shopping centre. While the 108’s connection at Bromley-by-Bow tube station is lost, it gains a new one at nearby Bow Road.

But while 108 passengers will escape jams in Stratford town centre as well as on the A12 heading towards the Blackwall Tunnel, they could face new hold-ups due to traffic congestion on the East India Dock Road, which links Chrisp Street with the tunnel.

In its response to a consultation into the proposals – which sees the 108’s north-of-the-river route swapped with another service, the D8 – the agency admits that congestion could affect both routes.

TfL says: “We note this is a risk. However, in developing the scheme, regard was had to existing traffic conditions and it is considered possible for both routes to offer a good quality service to passengers. We will continue to monitor service quality on both routes to ensure a service is being provided.”

It’s also not known what will happen during West Ham home matches at the Olympic Stadium – the current D8 service is diverted during stadium events.

Larger buses, which can hold 70 people, will be used, providing some very limited relief for those caught in the 108’s notorious rush-hour overcrowding. There are no plans as yet to increase the number of buses, although details of a new contract to run the route are yet to be released.

Neither Greenwich nor Lewisham councils responded to the consultation, while Tower Hamlets objected to the changes.

This website mentioned the idea in 2013 as a partly tongue-in-cheek response to Greenwich Council’s “all out” campaign to build the Silvertown Tunnel. It was followed by a surprisingly high number of responses suggesting the switch to a TfL consultation into which routes should serve the Olympic Park.

Stop the propaganda press: Greenwich Time’s final edition published

Greenwich Time, 27 June 2016

Greenwich Council’s weekly newspaper – Greenwich Time – has published its final edition, bringing to an end a lengthy battle with the Government over its existence.

The council spent £80,000 fighting a Government order to close it (with the Government spending £23,770), before the two parties reached an out-of-court settlement in December.

This week’s edition brings the title to a close after 32 years, of which its final eight were spent as a weekly. It launched in 1984 as a monthly publication, going fortnightly in 1991.

It was the last weekly council paper in England, following the closure of Tower Hamlets’ East End Life earlier this year.

You’ll have to read carefully to spot it’s the final paper – its closure is mentioned in a letter to residents on page two from council leader Denise Hyland, claiming it was “a reliable source of local information… reflective of the incredible history and characteristics of our area”.

Greenwich Time, 27 June 2016

But the paper, long targeted by a Government which aimed to outlaw “council Pravdas”, had been limping on for years following the sacking of chief reporter Peter Cordwell and assistant editor Rod Kitson.

Indeed, in its final years, the paper looked increasingly like the Soviet propaganda paper its detractors accused it of aping – a long way from the original intention of emulating genuine local newspapers.

The final front page features a bland statement on the council’s reaction to the EU referendum result and one of the council’s regular obsessions – the army, with a photograph of veterans at its Great Get Together event.

Inside, the redevelopment of estates in Woolwich is reannounced, while the Greenwich Heritage Trust’s creation of an exhibition commemorating the history of the Royal Artillery in Woolwich is featured – without mentioning it is a replacement for the failed Firepower museum, which closes next month.

It is not clear what comes next – the council is keeping its cards very close to its chest. We do know that Greenwich has put its statutory notices – planning applications, highway works, etc – out to tender again.

For now, the council leadership has lost a tool it used to paint a portrait of a borough that many simply didn’t recognise. It could have created a genuine community paper, allowing dissenting views and helping fill a vacuum left by the slow demise of the independent local press. But its leadership didn’t trust its residents, and instead used Greenwich Time to attempt to set the agenda – possibly angering as many as it persuaded.

Hyland’s letter continues: “I hope that the enormous legacy left by Greenwich Time will continue online in digital communities.” Well, hello!

Divided borough: How Greenwich voted in the the EU referendum

imageResidents in Greenwich borough voted by 55% to 45% to remain in the European Union yesterday – but the rest of England didn’t follow its lead. The referendum result has set in play a tumultuous series of events that will eventually touch all our lives.

Too often, Londoners like to think that they’re above the provincial masses in terms of their political awareness. But one strong cue that the game was up for the Remain camp came between 1.30 and 2am with the turnout figures across Lewisham, Greenwich and Bexley. 63% in Lewisham, 69% in Greenwich… and 75% in Bexley, which was always going to vote Leave.

By breakfast time, Lewisham was 70% Remain, Greenwich 55%, Bexley just 37%.

The closeness of the vote should have come as no surprise – remember, Greenwich voters narrowly backed Boris Johnson for mayor in 2008.

Officially, that’s as detailed as it gets. But thanks to Lib Dem campaigner Stewart Christie, who was at the count in Woolwich, for posting this ward-by-ward Greenwich breakdown on Twitter…

These are the 17 Greenwich wards in alphabetical order. A health warning – postal ballots were thrown into the mix, so they may not provide the full picture.  But nonethless, the results provide an interesting insight into the communities that make up the borough.

  • Abbey Wood (3 Lab): Remain 45.70%, LEAVE 54.23%
  • Blackheath Westcombe (2 Lab, 1 Con): REMAIN 70.47%, Leave 29.45%
  • Charlton (3 Lab): REMAIN 58.53%, Leave 41.41%
  • Coldharbour/ New Eltham (3 Con): Remain 42.04%, LEAVE 57.91%
  • Eltham North (2 Lab, 1 Con): Remain 48.21%, LEAVE 51.74%
  • Eltham South (3 Con): Remain 44.29%, LEAVE 55.69%
  • Eltham West (3 Lab): Remain 43.96%, LEAVE 56.00%
  • Glyndon (3 Lab): REMAIN 54.02%, Leave 45.94%
  • Greenwich West (3 Lab): REMAIN 76.31%, Leave 23.65%
  • Kidbrooke with Hornfair (3 Lab): REMAIN 51.85%, Leave 48.11%
  • Middle Park & Sutcliffe (3 Lab): REMAIN 50.73%, Leave 49.23%
  • Peninsula (3 Lab): REMAIN 69.06%, Leave 30.90%
  • Plumstead (3 Lab): Remain 49.30%, LEAVE 50.63%
  • Shooters Hill (3 Lab): REMAIN 55.86%, Leave 44.11%
  • Thamesmead Moorings (3 Lab): REMAIN 55.36%, Leave 44.59%
  • Woolwich Common (3 Lab): REMAIN 61.05%, Leave 38.92%
  • Woolwich Riverside (3 Lab): REMAIN 59.40%, Leave 40.51%

No surprise to see the (mostly) more prosperous Greenwich West and Blackheath Westcombe wards leading the remain vote, along with Peninsula ward, which has changed utterly in the past two decades.  Strong votes around Woolwich and Thamesmead will be testament to strong Labour “get the vote out” operations – opponents mess with the Labour machine at their peril.

But it’s also telling to see the four Eltham wards voting out. Eltham’s always voted more like the rest of England than London.

Coldharbour & New Eltham, Eltham North and Eltham South bucked the trend and backed Zac Goldsmith rather than Sadiq Khan in May – it’s arguable that these areas have more in common, politically, with Bexley and Bromley than the rest of Greenwich borough – while Eltham North and Eltham West (which also includes a chunk of Kidbrooke) polled strongly for Ukip.

None of this should have been a surprise. But it will cause unease for those in charge of – or with great influence over – Greenwich Council,  who mostly live in this area, even if they don’t represent it.

Leader Denise Hyland, deputy Danny Thorpe, recently-deposed deputy John Fahy – all SE9 residents – will be shifting a little more uncomfortably today in the knowledge that a campaign based – despite Greenwich Tory leader Matt Hartley’s good intentions – mainly around immigration fears and false claims on NHS funding can sway a majority of their immediate neighbours.

Should the UK’s instability lead to an early general election, MP Clive Efford – who only last week helped mastermind Labour’s victory in the Tooting by-election – will be looking anxiously over his shoulder. The council project to rejuvenate Eltham High Street may suddenly have rather a lot riding on it.

It won’t come as much comfort for them that the areas that backed “remain” most strongly are in the north-west of the borough, the area that pushes back most strongly against council-backed development schemes such as the Enderby Wharf cruise liner terminal. Still, on that and the Silvertown Tunnel, who needed European laws on air pollution anyway?

But the strongest “leave” votes came in Labour strongholds – Eltham West, which has seen the Ferrier Estate demolished and replaced with a largely private development; and Abbey Wood, Denise Hyland’s ward, utterly neglected until the arrival of Crossrail, and now also seeing the arrival of the developers building as fast as they can until the bubble bursts.

Just as in the deindustrialised towns of northern England and south Wales, you can’t help feeling chickens have come home to roost for complacent local establishments – however much this may feel like turkeys voting for Christmas.

Was there a positive EU story to tell the people of Eltham West and Abbey Wood, or anywhere else in Greenwich borough? If there was, it wasn’t forthcoming. It wasn’t coming from their councillors, and it wasn’t coming from the local Stronger In campaign.

Actually, Greenwich University benefits from EU funding for small businesses;  as have arts projects such as Greenwich Dance and Greenwich & Docklands International Festival.

The Woolwich Arsenal DLR extension had £100m in European Investment Bank loans, while EU projects part-funded the Emirates Air Line (will they want their money back?) and the driverless cars project in Greenwich Peninsula. There must be more (here’s a list of small projects in Lewisham),  but information on them isn’t easy to find.

The failure of the Remain campaign wasn’t just at a national level, but at a local one too, with local councillors and campaigners unable or simply unwilling to communicate local benefits of EU membership that will now be lost forever.

Whether they, in time,  will be replaced with new opportunities remains to be seen. This wasn’t a regional vote, and pointing fingers at council wards, boroughs, regions or countries is futile.

But this disastrously divisive referendum has reminded us that politics is much more complicated than simple questions of left and right. It’s shown there are areas of Greenwich borough that don’t understand each other, never mind London’s relationship with England or how England can look Scotland in the eye again.

Whatever the future brings, the fiercely tribal establishment in charge of Greenwich borough will do well to remember this. Whether they will or not is another story altogether.

Village people: What’s the fingerpost at Blackheath’s Royal Standard all about?

Blackheath Standard
Normally, this website likes to tell you things you didn’t know. But with normal service disrupted and not much time at present to keep this going, here’s something you can tell me. What’s that new village-style fingerpost sign at Blackheath Standard all about? And is it just me that thinks it looks a little bit odd? It looks less strange since Greenwich Council attached its sign to the front of it (does this mean everywhere is getting one?) but it still looks a tad weird to me.

Maybe it’s the Charlton arm pointing into a tree, perhaps it’s the design, or maybe it’s that faux-village street furniture always seems a bit peculiar in urban London. But it always has me scratching my head whenever I pass it. How did it come about?

Update, 21 June: A bit late with this, but thanks to Thomas Turrell for this explanation…

Greenwich Time ad team takes on Hackney as council weekly axe looms

Greenwich Time

Thankfully, Greenwich Time was on hand to deal with a domestic accident

Greenwich Council’s weekly newspaper, Greenwich Time, has only weeks left to live – but the council’s communications empire is actually expanding by taking on work for another London borough.

GT will close in its current format next month after an out-of-court settlement with the Government, which has outlawed “town hall Pravdas”.

But, weeks before the end, Greenwich Time’s advertising team has started selling ad space in Hackney Council’s fortnightly paper, Hackney Today.

The names of GT’s highly-regarded ad team, Nicola McGuire and Gaynor Granger, appear as advertising contacts in recent editions of the east London council’s paper.

Independent local paper Hackney Citizen reports that this is a  “temporary arrangement” while Hackney looks for a new ad sales person for its fortnightly paper, with Greenwich receiving a cut of the revenue.

Greenwich’s insistence on publishing Greenwich Time weekly saw it become an early target for former communities secretary Sir Eric Pickles’ war on such papers, which can now only be published four times a year. The only other council weekly in England, Tower Hamlets’ East End Life, closed this week.

Hackney is one of a band of councils who continue to defy the law by publishing  fortnightly, and have been threatened with action by chancellor George Osborne, who recently allowed local newspaper premises to allow for business rate relief in an attempt to boost the sector.

It’s not thought any premises in Greenwich borough will qualify (neither Lewisham nor Bexley have any local newspaper premises either) and with Greenwich Council still active in seeking advertising for council publications – and strongly encouraging partner organisations not to place ads with rivals – any new entrant will still find life difficult.

As for Greenwich Time, it remains stubbornly wedded to the agenda of council reputation management over information, with the current edition even ignoring the sinkhole that appeared in Charlton last week, along with printing an out-of-date “what’s on” guide. With some residents not getting the paper until Friday, five days after publication, much of what’s inside is old news by the time it limps onto doormats.

The council leadership is keeping its cards close to its chest on plans for the future. For all the Tories’ bluster over council papers, it took several years to kill off weekly town hall papers and it will no doubt be looking to push the out of court settlement to the letter.

The settlement says the council can publish “regular and frequent communications to those residents who choose to receive such information by whatever medium they they decide (eg, paper or electronic) providing it does not have the appearance of a newspaper, newsletter or similar publication”.

Neighbouring Lewisham has published a weekly email for some years (you can subscribe here and have a chance of winning a trip to Diggerland, the inspiration for the Lewisham Gateway scheme) supported by quarterly magazine Lewisham Life. A tie-up with Greenwich Leisure Limited, the not-for-profit group that runs leisure centres and libraries, has also long been mooted.

Council information... for the wrong borough

Council information… for the wrong borough

Another option is a tie-up with an existing local paper. The Mercury’s publishers have long been keen on recapturing the council’s advertising budget, lost many years ago.

The Mercury was recently bought from octogenarian local news baron Ray Tindle by its South London Press management, quietly reversing his eccentric policy of publishing “hyperlocal” editions for certain areas of Greenwich and Lewisham boroughs and more recently giving the ailing paper a much-needed redesign.

Smiling kids on the front page... look familiar to you?

Smiling kids on the front page… look familiar to you?

The Greenwich edition of the Streatham-based paper now carries the words “Royal Borough of Greenwich” above the masthead, while it also recently featured a worthy “get fit and stay healthy with Royal Greenwich” supplement – also inflicted on Lewisham readers – no doubt intended as a demonstration of what it could do. This week’s edition features a similar supplement, “Let’s do business in Royal Greenwich”.

Whether this will lead to a tie-up between the council and the Mercury remains to be seen. Greenwich residents will find out by the end of June. But for now, Greenwich Time’s ad sales department doesn’t seem to be going away.

Former Civil Service boss to lead Greenwich fairness commission

Connaught Estate, Woolwich, August 2015

Woolwich’s Connaught Estate comes down… but many residents are being left behind by the pace of change in the area

Greenwich Council has drafted in the UK’s former top civil servant to lead a commission to recommend policies to help it combat poverty in the borough.

Lord Kerslake, who as Sir Bob Kerslake was the head of the Home Civil Service for five years until 2015, will chair the Greenwich Fairness Commission, which will have “a particular focus on tackling child poverty and making Greenwich a fairer place for our residents”.

The council’s decision to launch the commission is an acknowledgement that developers’ investment in the area isn’t trickling down to those who need help – or in Woolwich’s case, across the A206. While unaffordable residential towers sprout up by the Thames, the council report announcing Kerslake’s appointment notes “a sharp increase over the past two years in the number of people presenting to the council as homeless”.

Five other London boroughs – Islington, Camden, Tower Hamlets, Croydon and Redbridge – have already set up commissions, making recommendations aimed at making sure disadvantaged residents have the best chance of improving their lives and getting out of poverty.

For example, Islington’s recommendations aimed to tackle issues such as childcare, literacy, poor health, use of community space, and public safety.

The appointment of Kerslake, who was also the permanent secretary to the Department of Communities and Local Government under Sir Eric Pickles, will no doubt be aimed at hushing grumbles from local Tories that the commission will simply be a stick to beat the government with. One council cabinet member – likely to be community wellbeing member Denise Scott-McDonald – is likely to sit on what is otherwise billed as an independent panel “drawn from the local private, voluntary and further/higher education sectors”.

That said, Kerslake is not an entirely disinterested party – these days, he is chair of Peabody, the housing association which is now redeveloping much of Thamesmead, on the borough’s eastern boundary.

The commission will hold four or five meetings to gather evidence and is expected to cost £20,000. It will report back to the council by the end of the year.

In a separate development, a vital stage in attempting to rejuvenate Woolwich’s fortunes has been reached, with Greenwich Council’s cabinet set to ratify a decision to sell the crumbling block containing Woolwich’s covered market to developers St Modwen and Notting Hill Housing Association to build 650 homes, a cinema and a new public square.