Greenwich Council might have approved the Olympic test events in Greenwich Park last week – the News Shopper’s Mark Chandler has done a great job in summing a fiddly issue up – but another decision taken at Thursday’s planning meeting shows how perilous planning around London 2012 can be.
Also on the agenda was a tower which will provide access to the Cutty Sark when it reopens. To quote one of the councillors on the panel, the design presented to the board was “hideous” – looking like it had come from an industrial site. It’s actually meant to evoke what a dockyard looks like. Unfortunately, it will also be sited on the narrower King William Walk/naval college side of the ship, where it will blight views from a street full of Georgian houses.
Papers presented to the planning board said the ship was due to reopen later this year. After all, that’s what the hoardings surrounding the Cutty Sark are still saying. This information was wrong – the Cutty Sark Trust website now says the the ship will reopen in spring 2012. Local councillor David Grant pointed this out to the meeting, slipping in a dig that the new viewing structure beneath the ship will look “like a B&Q greenhouse”.
Asked why the access point had to be the King William Walk side of Cutty Sark Gardens, rather than the wider foot tunnel side, councillors were told it was because of “plant” – essentially, the need to have a disabled toilet. But the Cutty Sark Trust could have worked with the council to find a solution to this, rather than presenting the planning board with a fait accompli After all, Greenwich is paying £3m of our money towards their scheme – where’s our say in what’s going on there?
Any delay to the plans, the board was told by the trust’s representatives, could delay the Cutty Sark’s re-opening by up to a year – missing the all-important July 2012 deadline.
The councillors weren’t happy. Labour’s Hayley Fletcher: “This is hideous and out of proportion. We’ve got to live with this for years to come.” Conservative Dermot Poston: “I can’t believe it’s got this far.” Labour’s Denise Hyland: “It’s too big, I don’t know why we have to have toilets there…it goes against my better judgement in terms of aesthetics.”
So with a 2012-shaped gun to their heads, the planning board approved the tower by five votes to two on the proviso that the design presented to them was not the final one.
But this episode – and the latest delay to the scheme – is just a small example of what a shambles the Cutty Sark redevelopment is turning out to be. The Heritage Lottery Fund has stumped up £23m, the government’s chipped in £3m, and the GLA’s paid £1m towards a project that’s lurched around since the fire of 2007, and whose adminstrators don’t seem interested in involving the local community.
With so much public money at stake, hopefully when the job is done there’ll be a full investigation into just why it’s taken so long, and why Greenwich Council is being bounced into risky decisions like this.