Greenwich cruise liner terminal: The night Greenwich councillors ignored air pollution – again

London City Cruise Port

Worth noting the London City Cruise Port’s graphic, taken from this year’s application, doesn’t show the impact of other developments on Greenwich Peninsula

Hugely controversial plans for a cruise liner terminal at Enderby Wharf, east Greenwich, were approved on Tuesday night after a marathon four-hour session of Greenwich Council’s planning board – with councillors dismissing fears of air pollution from the ships.

I couldn’t be at Woolwich Town Hall, so have to leave you in the hands of those who were and who tweeted from the meeting. The plans were approved 6-3, with one abstenion, after a motion calling for approval to be deferred was defeated.

This Storify page contains just about all the tweets from the meeting – and a few from afterwards.

The crucial issue is that the ships will be generating their own power, using much dirtier fuels – critics say it’ll be the equivalent of having 50 lorries running their engines all day and night, and that the terminal should use its own power sources, as used in New York and Amsterdam and demanded by an EU directive.

But these fears were dismissed by councillors, who also heard the terminal will only provide 88 jobs – down from the 500-odd previously mooted.

It’s not the first time air quality concerns have been brushed aside on a major planning application – this happened most recently in March 2014, when outline plans for an Ikea store, also in east Greenwich, were approved.

Those that were there also managed to hear leading councillors make hugely simplistic assumptions about the effect of the terminal.

Forget the charms of the West End – leisure cabinet member Miranda Williams claimed the development will bring tourists to Woolwich and Eltham…

(Worth noting that Stewart Christie is in the Greenwich Lib Dems, Simon Edge in the Greenwich Greens.)

Regeneration member Danny Thorpe claimed the only sources of air pollution in east Greenwich came from Blackwall Tunnel queues and buses – conveniently ignoring the horrendous westbound traffic through Greenwich town centre, which in the 1990s led the council to consider building a bypass under the Thames.

And to top the lot, council leader Denise Hyland told residents that they should have raised air quality issues when the terminal first came before planning some years back – despite the fact that the new plan envisages cruise liners staying for longer. It’s also worth pointing out that Greenwich Council wasn’t making its readings from nitrogen dioxide tubes public at the time.

Peninsula ward councillor Chris Lloyd defended residents, along with colleague Stephen Brain, and local MP Matt Pennycook asked for the matter to be deferred. Conservative councillor Matt Clare also spoke against the scheme, along with his Tower Hamlets counterpart Chris Chapman.

As I said, I wasn’t there, but here are tweets from the night, while The Wharf’s Rachel Bishop was also there.

I suspect we’ll be returning to this issue before too long.

9am update: Any Greenwich resident who wishes to ask a question of Greenwich Council regarding this can submit a question to next Wednesday’s council meeting – email committees[at]royalgreenwich.gov.uk by noon today.

Reaction from Tower Hamlets Labour councillor Candida Ronald…

…and local MP Matt Pennycook.

18 comments

  1. Little Plum

    Just why did a councillor, who argued against, then vote in favour? Why were they trembling?

  2. Ken Welsby

    Just to clarify. Ports which provide shore power are mostly big ports which have a constant flow of ships all year round, or – like some of those in California – operated by local government (or other public authorities). When hooked up, the auxiliary engines – which must, by international regulation use low-sulphur fuel and/or be fitted with exhaust scrubbers – are turned off, making them simply lumps of “cold iron”. Hence the term cold ironing.
    The cost of the equipment on the berth would be about £1million, but this is dwarfed by the multi-£million cost of connecting it to the Grid, since the nearest suitable connection is apparently a substation at Shooters Hill.
    But that’s only half the story. It’s no good having power on the berth if the ships aren’t equipped to use it. And the hard fact is that most cruise ships operating in Northern Europe are NOT so equipped. People who know more about it tell me that converting a mid-sized cruise ship to cold iron involves a week or more in dock and costs at least £200,000. Having seen more than a few estimates and bills for marine electrical work, I am surprised it’s not more. That’s way beyond the reach of the smaller cruise lines which currently operate to and from the Thames.
    No wonder the cruise port company says such a solution – for a single-berth terminal operating mainly in the summer – is simply not viable. Unless some lucky East Greenwich or Isle of Dogs winner has scooped the Euromillions jackpot and wants to make a big gesture?
    I say, Well Done, the Planning Board.

  3. Chris

    Do you live close to the proposed terminal Ken?
    I say, shame on the Planning Board.
    This cruise terminal was supposed to be up and running for the bloody Olympics. Something reeks here, and it’s not just cruise ships belching out harmful chemicals 24/7.

  4. ThePirateKing

    Ken – Thanks for the more detailed info. If that is indeed the case then surely that’s an argument just not to have a cruise terminal at all. After all, it’s hardly required or essential. Surely the health of locals is more important? Companies run ships to make profit for their owners or shareholders. If they are unwilling or unable to fund a cleaner way of powering their ships then they shouldn’t come.

  5. Larry Poulton

    Shame on the council.
    Previously, I was in favour of the project as long as the pollution fears were addressed. However, I have now changed my mind. I do not want the terminal. If all the reasons for not cold ironing are true i.e. its only one berth and its only open in summer and in addition only create 88 jobs, then I don’t see the overall project as boosting the local economy anyway..

  6. The Hebridean

    I heard that councillors complained about only getting documents half an hour before the meeting. Is that true and which documents? I’ve been to a planning meeting and the papers are all put online a week in advance so it’s a poor show if councillors depend on hard copy on the day instead of reading stuff in advance. 0r was it supplementary papers they were complaining about as these often don’t get circulated until the last minute. Either way something is wrong. How can far-reaching decisions be made on incomplete evidence and speed reading? Unless it has been decided in advance of course.

  7. Ken Welsby

    Total documentation including the application and supporting info (about 500 pages) plus the officers’ reports, professional advice, responses from statutory consulates and interested parties (another 250 pages) were all available ahead of time as usual. The supplementary info issued on the night was another 10-20 pages, but the other document issued on the night was the viability assessment, which was supposed to explain why the proportion of affordable homes on the site was less than half the council’s target. At present, that is confidential – so only officers and councillors have seen it – but that may change!

  8. Simon

    The two Tories on the Planning Board voted against, plus one Labour member. I couldn’t see who that was from where I was sitting. Board chair Mark James abstained.

  9. The Hebridean

    So the viability report was not available for councillors to even read thoroughly and discuss among themselves before the meeting. No wonder affordable housing targets (should be 35% for developments over a 10 homes) are never met. Smells rotten to me.

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  11. Brad

    And yet these councillors seem to get voted in again and again.
    Greenwich is in the position of being able to pick and choose between different types of investment in the area.
    For some reason, the council seems to behave as if all planning applications from larger firms are by default approved, and need to have extraordinary levels of opposition to be declined.
    A very sad state of affairs.

  12. Rafal

    I beg to differ with Ken. Nearly all big cruisers are equipped with a proper main for shore electrical supply and they are obliged to connect to shore by law and port regulations in many West European ports (certainly at ALL newly build terminals that must comply with stringent environmental requirements) and in fact most civilised countries around the world. What’s quoted for technical conversion (£200,000) is 4 days bunker steaming cost for such a vessel – peanuts.

  13. Ken Welsby

    Sorry, Rafal, but “nearly all” big cruise ships [a cruiser is a type of warship from WWII, similar to HMS Belfast] are NOT fitted for shoreside power.

    Princess Cruises has specified/adapted all its fleet, which enables lower-cost berthing in US Pacific ports – but as for the rest of the Carnival group’s fleet, the policy can be summed up as “it ain’t necessarily so”. Carnival is the largest cruise company in the world with brands including Carnival, Costa, Cunard, P&O Cruises, Princess and Seabourn. But for many smaller operators, with older ships operating on tighter margins, even £200k would be a big hit on costs, with no immediate payback in passenger revenue.

    In any case the new terminal will not be catering for the biggest cruise ships – none of the world’s 50 longest will fit. But the real bugbear is the capital cost of the shoreside installation for cold ironing, which would be many millions.

  14. Rafal

    I think there is no need to sorry-me. I would insist most vessels of any type are fitted (from the day of delivery/modidications are not required) with an appropriate main, which is also handy when you dry-dock the ship and need to rely on shore electricity entirely at times. This includes even small tankers or ferries. I find a cost as given an exagerration too – it is worth saying though that when we speak of small cruisers, they will not pose such an environmental issue whilst the large one will – and perhaps a way of detaching the attention from the real planning failure on the quay side. Is it tool late now? I don’t know. Millions are needed? Millions go a short way in London and can be found. It’s somebody’s job to find them. The job funded from our taxes. The fact is, air and noise pollution are destroying the quality of our life. We will give ground no more.
    I am seeing 50 large diesel buses idling and waiting for passengers at the quayside with the equivalent of another 50 running full speed in the engine room so close to the apartments, living grounds and parks and find it acceptable in 2015
    One of the reasons we are moving to Denmark in October.

  15. Ken Welsby

    Several points arise.

    I don’t understand the basis for your statement that “most vessels of any type are fitted (from the day of delivery/modidications are not required) with an appropriate main, which is also handy when you dry-dock the ship and need to rely on shore electricity entirely at times).”

    That’s simply NOT the case. Let me give you two examples.

    Hong Kong’s Kai Tak has shelved plans for a £25million shore power system because fewer than 40 big cruise ships would be equipped for cold ironing by the end of this year.

    MSC Cruises, which is the largest privately-owned cruise operator (No2 in the market after Carnival Corp) is watching developments carefully – but is in no rush to retrofit its fleet. Here’s what the company’s environmental chief had to say on the subject:

    “An itinerary where every port of call had a land-based electrical power facility would be a great incentive for cruise ships to invest in retrofitting their ships without having to wait for a return on investment. But at the moment, technical limitations such as the availability and cost of secure power, the difference in land and onboard power frequency, and the need for frequency conversion remain unsolved.”

    He puts the price tag of conversion at about $1.5million per ship, and explains why: “The modification process is a complex one. It involves power management systems, the creation of a new shore power switchboard room, and other safety and automation systems. You’ve also got to train the ship’s technical personnel to use the equipment, which can be challenging.

    “So I think cruise liners are carefully discussing the pros and cons, studying the best practices and verifying their reproducibility.”

    The other point to remember is that the cruise port is a private business. So I don’t understand what you mean by saying that the job of finding the cash for cold ironing is “funded from our taxes” . Do you mean that Greenwich Council, or the Mayor of London or Whitehall should pay the cost of the installation – £10million or more, perhaps? So the cost of going green on a short stretch of the Thames should be paid by taxpayers in Twickenham, Towyn or Torquay? Or simply that a civil servant should be tasked to find a source of funds – which would still wreck the economics of the cruise port.

  16. Rafal

    I see your point and accept that argument. While any of the vessels I worked on or commanded – all types of tankers and ro-pax vessels – had had mains to accommodate shore electricity, I acknowledge that large cruise ships might need special arrangements since they must flood giant cinemas, restaurants, discos and night clubs with a steady flow of energy. Pity the exhaust gases will eject right into the face of Greenwich, and technical management of the ship should have already taken care of this during last intermediate or renewal survey. Conveniently, most shipowners when enquired about the cost will always include off-hire to offer a more striking and discouraging figure. This is the case here.

    I am impressed with a determination shown in defending billion revenue businesses, but at the same time disappointed the plight of inhabitants living on overdraft and expected to take a pollution hit passes unremarked. I can’t help but imagine an officer on a fiery charger, sword in his hand where a mile ahead of him seried ranks of hundreds of peasants are killing themselves – and by no chance I mean you, but the whole picture. It’s Cavalry Club of Piccadilly against local pub in Dartford (which is as far on the Thames as those cruise vessels should reach anyhow). Super-rich against poor.

    I do not agree it is always cheaper to use shore electricity for an oceangoing vessel whilst moored, too. On the contrary, it was more expensive in California, but against the law to use bunkers at the quay. Americans don’t care. If you are unable to plug in, go to Africa or the Carribbeans where no one cares about the air quality or noise pollution. And you cannot afford not to plug in Long Beach or San Francisco. So you comply and pay for an energy supply to a local basket, rather than for a diesel you bought more cheaply in Panama. Or you pay hefty fines – again to the domestic budget. The US of A. is like that.
    I would love to see Port of London Authority implementing similar legislation in the near future all along the Thames, with isolated exemptions and reliefs for smaller vessels and terminals mirroring those of state of California.
    I believe change will come and it will be made the law.
    While I respect your economic count, I fear profit maximization here may simply entail unacceptable social bill. Let’s not over-pamper giant private companies. I think the days when big ships were permitted to park in the city centre are gone. Forever.
    PS. I did mean, naturally, that either the Council or the government ought to woo investors who would sponsor/contribute towards a new electric main. Cruise ships – or any other vessel in fact – trading in the Far East is not subject to comparably stringent air quality requirements at present, albeit Hongkong alone started to do sth about it.

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