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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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…
So the 2017 Tall Ships Regatta is over and the vessels are sailing off to the North Sea. How was it for you? It all seems to have gone well from the little I saw – you may be able to say more.
If you pay council tax in Greenwich borough, you’ve a direct interest in whether or not it was a success – it costs the council £2 million. They’ll have to have shifted a lot of £5 programmes to make that back. Local Tories have long grumbled that the event should be making money and it should be more heavily sponsored. Indeed, the list of sponsors did look like a roll-call of usual suspects – the developers and hotel firms that benefit from “brand Royal Greenwich”. You could have had your firm’s name all over the riverside walk for £19,000 plus VAT.
But for the council leadership this is an investment in local businesses – a good old-fashioned Labour intervention in the economy, like building a cinema in Eltham. (This argument never stretches to Blackheath fireworks, mind.)
The trouble with this kind of one-off event is that it’s hard to quantify any benefit. There’ll no doubt be a report within a few weeks that indicates the local economy benefitted by squillions, so there’ll be lots of back-slapping. Whether or not this is really the case will be harder to tell. That said, it certainly reinforces Greenwich’s position as one of the very few real tourist draws outside central London.
But it’s also meant to draw people to Woolwich, too. And this is a more difficult sell. Indeed, local business there weren’t impressed with 2014’s event, something this website reported on last year.
Essentially, because it takes place on the riverside, it benefits the businesses in Berkeley Homes’ Royal Arsenal development, and does nothing for those in the traditional town centre. A few plans were set out to fix this, including “a joined up event management plan that links the main town centre with the Arsenal Riverside Festival site”, “integrated way finding and high street dressing to link the town centre to the Arsenal Festival site”, and “animation of Beresford Square, Powis St and General Gordon Square”.
A draft business engagement report suggested the council should “host (non-competing) stalls and attractions in General Gordon Square and Powis Street to encourage footfall and dwell time in the main town centre”.
Except that there was – as far as I could tell – nothing outside the Royal Arsenal. I had a quick look in Woolwich on Saturday and – a few bits of bunting aside – it seemed to be a normal day. Nothing happening in General Gordon Square or Beresford Square, just the odd performer in fancy dress avoiding the costly food and drink in the Arsenal. General Gordon Square, with its big screen (pictured above on Saturday), was its usual mildly depressing self.
Instead, all the effort seemed to have gone into social media. Here, cabinet member Sizwe James pleads with us that if we visit the Earl of Chatham pub, his captors will set him free.
Woolwich being a hub for tall ships could be a brilliant thing – but the benefit seems to be flowing towards one particular developer rather than the town as a whole.
Now, I may have missed something – and if you saw a choir of Jack Russells performing sea shanties in front of the big screen, please use the comments box below – but by neglecting the traditional town centre again, I can’t help thinking the council has unwittingly made the divide between Woolwich town centre and the Royal Arsenal that little bit wider.
Anyway, the best place to watch Easter Sunday’s Parade of Sail wasn’t Greenwich, it wasn’t Woolwich, it was the Thames Barrier. If the tall ships return – and I’m sure they will – make a note for next time.
11pm update: Greenwich Council deputy leader Danny Thorpe says “loads happened” in Woolwich town centre “and all over the borough”. I’ve added an image of the report which made recommendations for Woolwich.
Much excitement today on the Greenwich Peninsula with the press invited to take a ride on the little driverless shuttles that have once again taken over the riverside path. Here’s BBC London’s Tom Edwards, going all Tomorrow’s World on us, except the future is here today, right before our eyes, with bicycle outriders.
“The council thinks sharing vehicles could reduce pollution and congestion…” – that would be a bus, right?
Yet in the boring real life Greenwich Peninsula, bus passengers are getting a decidedly shonky deal. The dedicated busway that takes double-deckers up to North Greenwich station has been out of action for nearly three weeks for utility works that nobody seems in a hurry to finish. This means buses end up being sent around the frequently-congested roundabout at the top of Blackwall Lane, holding up passengers and making them late for work.
This morning, this resulted in a whole heap of buses having to disgorge their passengers at Greenwich Millennium Village, leaving them to walk half a mile to the station. (Thank you to the frustrated commuter who sent me the photos.) It’s not clear what had caused the hold-up – the Blackwall Tunnel was flowing freely.
TfL and Greenwich Council recently confirmed plans to rip out the busway and replace it with a dual carriageway. But before claiming the Greenwich Peninsula is some hotbed of innovation, perhaps they might like to do something to assist the transport that already exists there.
Got a minute? Watch this video. It won’t take long.
The individual you can see spluttering “a minivan?!” like a south London Lady Bracknell is Greenwich Council cabinet member Maureen O’Mara. The person questioning her, off camera, is Matt Hartley, leader of Greenwich’s Tories.
This exchange, about why council meeting webcasts aren’t very well promoted, was probably the highlight of last month’s council meeting.
You might even have read about it in the Sutton-based News Shopper. Alright, you probably didn’t. So here it is.
Transparency, eh? What a waste of bleedin’ time! All this stuff’s for geeks and berks! But it’s not. And O’Mara, Hartley, and the Sutton Shopper are all letting us down here.
Greenwich Council started streaming full council meetings last year. It’s a very good idea – people should be able to see what their councillors are up to. It’s a really simple system – works a treat on mobile phones too, so you can watch wherever you may be. It costs the council £9,400 per year, plus £1,040 for every 30 hours of broadcast. Most council meetings are about two and a half hours long. (See question 7.)
Alright, you’re not going to watch it live. And in practice, these meetings are hard to follow unless you’ve a) an agenda paper (available a week beforehand); b) a list of questions from councillors and the public (available 10-15 minutes beforehand in the town hall, not sure if this is available to online viewers). Like any sporting event, you can’t beat being there.
But the recordings stay online, so you can watch back later. And that’s where the value is. The bits that are worth watching are questions from the public and questions from (usually Tory) councillors; most of these are submitted in advance, although the latter also has a section for new questions that can be asked on the night. Public deputations and petitions are also worth a look.
The rest of it’s often peacock-strutting nonsense, unfortunately. Even hardened Town Hall watchers usually head to the pub once the members’ questions are through. But the first hour or so of a council meeting usually contains something interesting.
It’s important that people can see how councillors act to the public and to their peers. Most people have better things to do than watch Prime Minister’s Questions or Mayor’s Question Time live. But they’ll often see clips on the news later.
And just like the Commons and City Hall showpieces, Full Council isn’t usually very impressive either. Too many cabinet members come across as sanctimonious or just plain rude, one or two come across as out of their depth. Others manage to answer questions simply and honestly and without blaming the Tories for everything.
But even the good ones aren’t utilising webcasting properly. Individual councillors’ contributions can be highlighted – here is deputy council leader Danny Thorpe being rude to Matt Hartley – and even embedded, like this:
(Unfortunately, I can’t embed council content due to me having a cheapo site set-up. That’s something I’d like to fix one day. Instead, Lady Bracknell will have to do.)
There’s nothing stopping our councillors from posting links to their own contributions in the days after meetings, just as MPs can link to their speeches in the Commons. People are more likely to watch these clips via social media than to sit through the tedium of watching the thing live.
Here’s Matt Hartley presenting the Tories’ alternative budget (and complaining about council leader Denise Hyland’s absence) and cabinet member Chris Kirby tearing it to shreds.
Nobody’s making use of these clips, and it’s a big miss. The local press isn’t – not the Mercury, and not the News Shopper, which is grumbling that nobody’s watching in the first place. To be fair on the papers, maybe they don’t know it’s available. (Even if they’re writing about it.) But what excuse do the councillors have?
Maybe the councillors are all a bit embarrassed by their performances. In some cases, they bloody well should be. This stuff is never going to attract huge numbers. But if you aren’t using it yourself to its fullest extent, you can’t complain when nobody watches. Perhaps they just want this to just go away, so nobody writes blog posts peppered with screen grabs of councillors pulling funny faces.
But a few more viewers might lead to a real breakthrough – getting the committee rooms sorted so they can be filmed too. Big planning meetings would certainly attract an audience. Cabinet meetings are where the real decisions take place. And while scrutiny’s often dull, it should be available on the record. Actually, sometimes scrutiny does attract big numbers.
A week after Maureen O’Mara implied nobody was interested in watching council meetings, there was a packed health scrutiny panel meeting looking into the controversial handing of local musculoskeletal physiotherapy services to private provider Circle Health.
By all accounts, the scrutiny panel did themselves proud. But there’s no recording of this that’s publicly available so we can see for ourselves. And that’s a real shame. I think the scrutiny panel would probably appreciate a recording, too, so they can look back over points that may have been missed.
Sure, some embarrassing performances may find their way onto a server (indeed, they already have done). But that should be a cue for councillors to raise their game, not lash out at those who want to see more transparency.
There was another council meeting this week, but the system was broken. So we’ll never see what this was about.
Cuts to school budgets are a massive issue, and people should have been able to see their local politicians’ responses to them, and engage with them.
The next normal council meeting won’t be until June – hopefully the cameras will have been fixed by then. But hopefully Greenwich councillors – both Labour and Conservative – will look again at webcasting. Who knows, with an election due next year, they might find their constituents like what they see.
You can see past council meetings at https://royalgreenwich.public-i.tv/core/portal/home.