Category: greenwich council

Berkeley Homes 1, Powis Street 0 as M&S set to return to Woolwich

Marks & Spencer Woolwich, 5 June 2014
20 months after Marks and Spencer revealed it was closing its Woolwich store, it was revealed last week that it’s returning. But not to the traditional town centre.

It’ll be opening a food store by the new Crossrail station – good news for Royal Arsenal developer Berkeley Homes, but not so good for beleagured Powis Street, where a pound store now occupies the store giant’s old site.

Karl Whiteman, Divisional Managing Director at Berkeley Homes, said: “We are delighted to announce that Marks & Spencer will be joining our development in Woolwich, adding to the growing commercial and cultural offer in the area. Royal Arsenal Riverside is becoming a first rate destination for people to live as well as a place where visitors can shop, eat and relax, surrounded by historic buildings and the River Thames.”

Nothing, of course, about the rest of Woolwich. M&S’s arrival entrenches the growing division of Woolwich into two towns – the struggling one south of the A206, with the rich new one rising north of the dual carriageway.

The job of being Greenwich Council leader demands complete loyalty to Berkeley Homes, and Denise Hyland obliges in its press release announcing the move.

Cllr Denise Hyland, Leader of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, said: “We shared the disappointment of local residents when Marks & Spencer departed Woolwich town centre 18 months ago, and have kept in close contact with the company since then. News that they are to return so soon is a clear sign that they recognise that Woolwich is growing and developing – with the Crossrail link acting as a key driving force in that growth.”

It’s nothing of the sort. If anything, it shows that Woolwich is moving – not east towards Tesco as first envisaged, but north, across the Plumstead Road, leaving everyone else behind. Each evening, commuters scurry out of the DLR through deserted Beresford Market and across the road, without much of a reason to look up and notice the battered old town around them.

Absurd divisions between newcomers and established locals aren’t uncommon in London – try visiting Brixton or Peckham. But the Woolwich of 2016 is even more unsettling because the newer arrivals are tucked behind a big brick wall. Once Crossrail opens, how many will be crossing the A206 at all?

Woolwich borough crest detail

A rare bit of civic pride in Woolwich itself (rather than “Royal Greenwich”) – hidden inside a pub

How to fix it? Hyland herself floated a dramatic solution at a public Q&A held before Christmas – burying the A206 into a tunnel at Beresford Street.

But there appear to be simpler solutions – the rotting covered market could become home to a Lewisham Model Market-style venture (gentrification fears notwithstanding), new traders could be encouraged to diversify the traditional Beresford Square market.

Instead, though, the council seems to be reinforcing the divide, with propaganda weekly Greenwich Time regularly droning on about the “creative quarter” it is trying to create inside the Arsenal, filling the hole left by the failed Firepower museum. (This council press release talks about putting the area “on the map”, but doesn’t name Woolwich until the seventh paragraph.) With old buildings lying empty around Woolwich town centre – and the Woolwich Grand Theatre now rubble – opportunities to bring creative businesses to the area already exist. But they’ve just been ignored.

There’s no help from City Hall, either – there’s no interest from TfL in rezoning Woolwich Arsenal to zones 3/4, despite successful lobbying from Newham to get Stratford and nearby stations shifted to zones 2/3. If an incoming mayor freezes fares, it’ll reduce the scope for a similar move to be done to benefit Woolwich.

There’s also now an opportunity for new thinking on Powis Street itself. Around the time M&S pulled out of Woolwich, most of the freeholds around the town centre were sold by the secretive Powis Street Estates. They are now owned by investment firm Mansford, which promises “refurbishment” and “residential development”. What Mansford does with its estate will be worth watching – and will show if the decline is terminal, or if there’s life in old Woolwich yet.

‘Affordable’ housing on Greenwich Peninsula: The Channel 4 News investigation

Long-suffering readers will be aware that this website was the first to raise the issue of the diminishing amount of “affordable” and social housing on Greenwich Peninsula, back in April 2013. A year back, Greenwich Council lost a legal battle to keep secret the “viability assessment” council officers used to persuade councillors to increase the proportion of lucrative private housing on the peninsula.

It’s since been featured on the BBC’s Sunday Politics and on Radio 4.

Now Channel 4 News has looked into the issue, with a major investigation that’s taken some months to produce. It’s taken a broader view – revealing that just a quarter of new homes built under Boris Johnson on public land are “affordable”. As well as Knight Dragon’s Greenwich Peninsula, it also features Barratt’s Catford Green development (Catford dog track to the rest of us).

Shane Brownie, who took on Greenwich Council and features in the report, has also written about his experiences.

One thing missing from Channel 4’s investigation is the role of Greenwich Council in this – Labour assembly member Nicky Gavron criticises the actions of the Tory mayor, but isn’t quizzed about why one of her own councils allowed the Peninsula’s developers to railroad it into changing the housing mix there so it could grab £50 million in government grants. But otherwise, it’s a revelatory – and depressing – look at an under-reported aspect of London’s housing crisis.

Greenwich Council meetings to be webcast – here’s what you missed last month

Greenwich Council chamber

What are you doing tonight? There’s a pub quiz at the Crown in east Greenwich; comedy at the White Swan in Charlton; or a talk about researching local history in west Greenwich.

And of course, it’s the Brit Awards tonight up at the Dome.

Or you could make history and watch the first meeting of Greenwich Council to be webcast via www.royalgreenwich.public-i.tv. “Important local decisions can now be viewed online as they are made.” Woo!

This is a good thing, and it’s long, long overdue.

But let’s be honest, you won’t see the important decisions being made. They’re made behind closed doors – usually at the regular meetings of Greenwich’s Labour group of councillors. It’s all decided in advance. You’ll get to see a few things rubber-stamped – like the first council tax rise in years – but don’t dream you’ll see anything meaningful, unless a streaker rushes in and sits on the mayor’s lap.

The big ticket decisions are actually made at cabinet meetings (again, usually decided in advance) and planning board meetings (which aren’t supposed to be decided in advance). These aren’t being filmed.

But what you’ll see at full council meetings is still valuable. The early exchanges – public and councillors’ questions to cabinet members – are an important chance to find things out and get things on the record. I’m not sure how easy it’ll be to follow these online, as written answers only emerge in the hour before the meeting and don’t appear on the council website until the following day.

And you’ll see just what Greenwich councillors are really like. Sadly for them, I don’t think viewers will be too impressed. Think back to the year when Samantha Fox and Mick Fleetwood presented the Brits.

I went to last month’s, which was being filmed as a test. I never got around to putting anything up a the time so here’s some “highlights” as a preview, in case you’re thinking of watching live.

There’s been a few changes to the Woolwich Town Hall chamber over recent months. Councillors have now started using iPads for council meetings, rather than wielding huge bundles of paper. Together with some smart new lighting, the old place looks impressive these days. Just a shame that the proceedings displayed the same old petulance as usual.

Proceedings are now projected onto displays around the chamber, an effect slightly reminiscent of watching football at White Hart Lane, where you can also watch the match on screens above the stands. Sadly, there’s no Dele Alli or Harry Kane to liven things up in Woolwich.

Got a problem? It’s still your fault

That thing you care about? Chances are, they don’t care.

You may have heard about Greenwich Council applying to itself to increase the number of events held on Blackheath’s Circus Field – this would have been independent of what Lewisham does on its side of the heath. The application, which was snuck out before Christmas, has since been pulled after fears of increased noise and hassle.

Greenwich Council written response

But residents had misunderstood the licence application, according to a written response to Conservative councillor Geoff Brighty. Never apologise, never explain. According to cabinet member Denise Scott-McDonald, most people don’t realise it’s split between two boroughs. McDonald should have known better than that, since she used to write for the Westcombe News, the organ of the Westcombe Society, the organisation that led public concern on this.

Sadly, Brighty didn’t pursue the questioning.

Greenwich Council written response

Or what about the current crisis at Charlton Athletic, where an absentee owner’s mismanagement has even prompted local MPs to investigate the off-field goings-on at one of the borough’s biggest employers?

While nobody was asking council leader Denise Hyland (or Matt Pennycook or Clive Efford) to get involved with team selection, the farcical events at The Valley under Roland Duchâtelet and hapless chief executive Katrien Meire threaten the future of a cherished local institution.

But fans were better off doing this, council leader Denise Hyland opined in another written response. This is a genuine shame, as the council could use its influence to bring about openness at the troubled club – there might even be some votes in it. Instead, it seeks to stay cosied up to the richest person in the room, the default position of this administration.

And then there’s the water feature in Cutty Sark Gardens, a frequently-broken embarrassment that’s now being removed, a story – like the Blackheath one – broken in The Greenwich Visitor.

How much was this costing, asked Brighty? Regeneration cabinet member – and Hyland’s de facto deputy – Danny Thorpe wouldn’t say. Instead, he tried to deflect the blame onto Brighty’s question. “‘Cleaning up the mess’ isn’t how I’d describe it,” he said.

Brighty had another go. Thorpe tried to burble on about the council “investing” money instead.

Geoff Brighty’s since been in touch with the answer – £90,000. So why the petulance from Danny Thorpe?

I suspect that inside the Wellington Street bubble, these are just flippant concerns compared with the threats to social security and council housing posed by the current Westminster government.

But these issues are broadly-felt concerns too – everyone is affected by the local environment and the issues at The Valley worry many.

Few inside Woolwich Town Hall seem to realise it’s perfectly possible to be repelled by both a hard-right Westminster government and some Labour-branded local tantrum-throwers.

Bizarre intervention: Eileen Glover puts the boot into her former Tory colleagues

Bizarre intervention: Eileen Glover puts the boot into her former Tory colleagues

Greenwich Time – same old, same old

But for now, the delusions continue. On Greenwich Time, Tory leader Matt Hartley made the strategic error of suggesting that Denise Hyland might want to apologise for spending £80,000 on a court battle with the government that doesn’t appear to have won the council very much.

When you’re in the same party as Iain Duncan Smith, that’s not a wise idea. Viewers with an aversion to sanctimony might like to look away.

“Lies, lies and damned statistics, eh? Whatever, you will spin it your way,” Denise Hyland responded.

She plonked a bundle of old Greenwich Times on the unused press bench to sycophantic applause from councillors who happily criticise the paper in private, but are too terrified to come out and say anything in public.

Yet the whole Greenwich Time debate has been based on lies and spin the first place. The true finances of the council paper have always been hard to track down, as council departments subsidise the paper by placing ads there which wouldn’t go elsewhere.

What’s more, organisations that are funded by the council are “encouraged” to place their advertising exclusively in GT – making its finances look better than they actually are.

Not that the Tories are above mischief – GT isn’t necessarily a Labour-biased paper. Indeed, in constantly promoting the demolition of council estates and their replacement with partly-private housing, GT is actually pushing current Conservative policy.

Instead, the continuation of Greenwich Time is all about promoting the clique that runs the council, their allies, and their strategic ambitions – and making it much more difficult for dissenting or even independent views to gain traction.

Here’s how Matt Hartley presented his motion demanding Hyland apologise.

Then, an oddity, as a member of public got to speak in the debate. Heaven knows how this happened, but it reflected poorly on all involved.

Former Tory councillor Eileen Glover, long estranged from her former colleagues, was wheeled out to lambast them from the public gallery. Glover lost in her bid to be elected as an independent in 2014, but still got to speak anyway. At best, this was taking advantage of a tedious personal beef. At worst, this was something more cynical.

Hartley’s attempt to get Hyland to apologise for the £80,000 legal bills was “arrogant and foolish”, she declared.

Glover claimed it was “insulting” to suggest that Greenwich Time influenced voters. Yet that’s exactly what Labour councillors say it does, if you ask them privately.

The charade went on. Denise Hyland and de jure deputy leader John Fahy came out with a counter-motion.

“Don’t you shake your head at me,” Hyland growled at Hartley at one point, claiming the government had no problem with Greenwich Time’s content, just the frequency. “It did seem a bit ridiculous that we were seeking to resolve our differences through courts.” There was no apology for pursuing it through the courts, though.

She also praised the work of Mercury/South London Press reporter Mandy Little, sat in the public gallery, as “a good, independent journalist”.

Perhaps this is an indication of where some of the council’s ad spend will go without a weekly GT – the SLP’s management bought the papers from octogenarian press baron Ray Tindle last month. This may free the way for the papers to drop the massage ads that councillors object to – and for council notices for appear in the Mercury once again.

News Shopper reporter Jess Bell, sat behind Hyland, understandably looked a bit miffed at the lack of recognition.

But you could tell what really mattered to Hyland when a GT front page lauding Labour’s general election wins was raised. “It was factual reporting. You lost, we won.”

Next to her, John Fahy – still being pursued for cooked-up wrongdoings by party bullies who’d like to see him out – burbled on about the laws on council newspapers being “cooked up in the Carlton Club with the press barons”.

That may be so, but it’s hardly a defence for the council’s actions.

Danny Thorpe started demanding apologies for the Tories’ policy on the NHS – nothing to do with Greenwich Labour’s policies on self-promotion – while Eltham West councillor Mick Hayes said “tonight should be a vote of thanks for those who have produced Greenwich Time in an even-handed way” (ie, the council press office).

“When you walk the streets and talk to people, Greenwich Time will be missed by the people of the borough,” Hayes added. Presumably by those with cat-litter trays.

“Don’t think you speak for the people of this borough,” cabinet member Maureen O’Mara – chosen in 2014 by less than 20% of the population of Greenwich West ward – glowered at the Tories. “If you did, you wouldn’t be sat there.”

O’Mara then calmed down and made her usual point about council tenants needing Greenwich Time because housing ads are placed there. The fact that council tenants in every other Labour borough seem to manage without a weekly propaganda paper seemed to escape her, as always. This was just going through the motions.

As for the Tories, Coldharbour & New Eltham councillor Mark Elliott said the council needed to think more creatively about its communications – a silly thing to say in a Greenwich Council meeting, because it was sensible.

And former opposition leader Spencer Drury rightly pointed out how coverage of the bullying scandal surrounding Chris Roberts wasn’t covered in GT. Ah, hold on a second.

Crawling to a bully

Only an hour previously, Drury was telling the chamber how Roberts was worthy of the freedom of the borough.

“There will be people in this chamber who struggle to get it into their thick skulls how he’ll get this honour,” he quipped.

“Love him or hate him – and I know there are people in both groups in this chamber tonight – Chris had a vision for the borough,” he added. (You can see the rest from two minutes in below.)

In probably one of the most shameful votes in the borough’s recent history, councillors unanimously voted to give Roberts the freedom of the borough. Even John Fahy, recipient of the “get it into your thick skull” voicemail, stuck his hand up to endorse giving his tormentor an award. Party loyalty and dignity never fit together in Greenwich.

And with the possibility of a council advertising contract now hanging in the air, the issue has barely been reported in the local press – instead, it’s featured in the past two issues of Private Eye.

You’d have expected better from Spencer Drury, the man who moved a sarcastic motion about Roberts’ “interpersonal skills” at the height of the bullying row. But the Tories have been bounced into a corner, with long-standing former councillor Dermot Poston – who has been in poor health recently – also on the list to be honoured.

It wasn’t all dismal. There was a decent discussion on the government’s trade union bill – which directly affects the council – which managed to steer away from tedious grandstanding. Labour councillor Don Austen joked that if the rules had been in place in the 1980s, he’d have had “300 Asbos and a spell in Belmarsh”.

But it was really a wake for Greenwich Time. And when the paper finally goes, you’ll be able to see it all online when they do it again in the summer.

So what’s happening tonight?

Tonight’s meeting should be fairly uneventful. The council tax rise will be rubber-stamped and there’ll be some comments on it from either side. (The Tories have alternative ideas, such as diverting money from the council’s PR budget into street cleaning.)

There’ll also be a Labour motion endorsing the UK staying in the EU, which will be a cue for a pointless barney with Tory leader Matt Hartley, who backs leaving.

Hartley’s views aren’t shared by all his fellow councillors, so there’ll be some finger-pointing about how the Tories are all divided. Whether that’s any better than being bullied and cowed into submission is for you to decide.

The really interesting stuff is likely to come in public questions – I’d be surprised if there aren’t any protesting about local schools becoming academies, which the government wants all schools to be by 2020.

Campaigners are unhappy about a letter sent by education cabinet member Miranda Williams – who replaced John Fahy in mysterious circumstances late last year – to school governors which essentially dropped a heavy hint that Greenwich wants them to start forming academies as soon as they can, presumably so the council can still keep some informal influence over them.

This is either a sensible reaction to an imposition from Westminster or a dismal capitulation by a Labour council to Tory demands. The unexplained replacement of Fahy with Williams has already aroused campaigners’ suspicions that it’s the latter, with John Roan already planning to make the switch. This will be an issue to watch over the coming months.

Anyhow, if you tune in tonight, I’d be interested to know what you make of it. I’m sure they’ll be on their best behaviour…

Greenwich in roadbuilders’ sights as Mayor Johnson revives long-dead Ringway scheme

Two years ago, this website reported on vague Transport for London plans to revive Ringway 1, a controversial 1960s road scheme that would have demolished great chunks of inner London.

Here’s a video about the Ringways. The Blackwall Tunnel approaches are among the few parts of Ringway 1 that were built. The rest of it would have obliterated Brockley, built a huge junction at Lewisham, and carved through Blackheath. (And that’s before we get to Ringway 2, which would have gone through Oxleas Wood.)

Today, those plans to revive the Ringways have been firmed up a little. And Greenwich is in the roadbuilders’ sights. So I thought I’d put something together very quickly…

Johnson’s plan is for a northern tunnel from the A40 at Park Royal to the A12 at Hackney Wick (in other words, the Blackwall Tunnel northern approach), and a southern tunnel from the A4 at Chiswick to the A13 at Beckton.

Unfortunately, all we have to go on at the moment is this tiny map, nicked from the Evening Standard’s story, and ITV London’s assertion that the scheme involves two tunnels under the Thames.

TfL map of new roads

It’s interesting how TfL’s map de-emphasises the River Thames. I’ve blown it up, and it looks like it’s ploughing straight from a junction on the Old Kent Road through Deptford and the bottom of Greenwich Park. It certainly looks like it’s aiming for an interchange with the A102 at the Woolwich Road flyover, before heading towards City Airport and Beckton.

The Silvertown Tunnel was always going to be toe in the water to test the acceptance of new road schemes, and although the most recent consultation revealed massively increased opposition to the scheme, local politicians’ collaboration with the roadbuilders has helped give them the confidence to come up with schemes like this.

I wonder if Greenwich Council leader Denise Hyland, regeneration cabinet member Danny Thorpe and ex-leader Chris Roberts ever realised their unconditional support for the Silvertown Tunnel would lead to the Greenwich world heritage site sitting under a roadbuilders’ map?

My guess is that perhaps what the plan’s actually for is to build across the Isle of Dogs to meet Bugsby’s Way, a plan which appeared occasionally in the 1970s and 1980s as the Docklands Southern Relief Road, and in the 1990s in aborted ideas for a Greenwich by-pass. Although this would make four tunnels under the Thames, not two.

But who knows? TfL used today’s announcement to hide news that it’s formally applying for permission to build the Silvertown Tunnel, leaving it down to the next mayor to cancel the scheme. What we do know is that via the Silvertown Tunnel, the roadbuilders are back. Do we have the the politicians who can stop them?

The Dear Leader returns: Greenwich councillors to consider honour for Chris Roberts

Roberts with London mayor Boris Johnson at the opening of Ravensbourne college in 2010

Roberts with London mayor Boris Johnson at the opening of Ravensbourne college in 2010

Greenwich councillors are to consider awarding the rarely-awarded freedom of the borough to former leader Chris Roberts next week – despite the politician-turned-developers’ consultant being embroiled in a series of bullying accusations before he stood down 18 months ago.

Roberts ran the council for 14 years but stepped down as a councillor at May 2014’s election, finally relinquishing his role as leader the following month. He is still in frequent contact with his successor, Denise Hyland, multiple sources have told this website, with some claiming he still wields considerable influence over the council.

His final months on the council were blighted by bullying accusations, notably in October 2013 when he threatened current deputy leader John Fahy with the removal of his cabinet position in a row over the Run to the Beat half-marathon, which raised funds for a charity Roberts set up as council leader, Greenwich Starting Blocks. He was let off any council punishment over the voicemail, but did get a written warning from the party.

Two councillors – Alex Grant and Hayley Fletcher – stood down from the authority, complaining of a bullying culture in Roberts’ Labour group. Grant has since said that intimidation of councillors was normal practice, particularly in planning matters.

The leader himself was also accused of throwing his keys at a council cleaner who woke him up while he was asleep in his office early one morning in 2009, a charge he denies. His conduct was explored in a BBC Sunday Politics investigation in December 2013. A secret Labour Party investigation declared no further action should be taken on his conduct.

Now Roberts is in line for an award reserved only for councillors if they have “distinguished themselves beyond that level of service normally expected”. “Recipients should have demonstrated commitment to the principles of public life and adherence to the relevant codes of conduct,” the paper for next Wednesday’s meeting says.

Past recipients include Nelson Mandela, Neville and Doreen Lawrence, the Duke of Edinburgh, and local institutions such as Charlton Athletic Football Club, Royal Museums Greenwich and the Royal Regiment of the Royal Artillery.

Roberts with now-colleague Bob Neill after the Woolwich riot in 2011

Roberts with now-colleague Bob Neill after the Woolwich riot in 2011

Roberts was known for his close relations with property developers, and is now the deputy chairman of Cratus Communications, a local authority lobbying firm chaired by former Conservative leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council Merrick Cockell. Bromley & Chislehurst’s Tory MP Bob Neill, a former local government minister, is a non-executive director.

“His passion for regeneration will provide Cratus with a platform to move to the next level of support for our development clients,” the firm’s website says of Roberts.

Long-serving Labour councillors Janet and Jim Gillman are also on the list of consideration for the honour, as is veteran Conservative Dermot Poston, who also stood down in 2014. Retired teacher Poston was first elected to the council in 1968, serving under the only Tory administration in the borough’s history. The honour for the former Eltham North councillor, a genuinely popular figure at Woolwich Town Hall, may make it difficult for the Conservatives to object to Roberts’ award.

Tariq Abbasi, former director of the Plumstead-based Greenwich Islamic Centre and now director general of the World Muslim Congress, is also in line for an honour.

The decision will be made at next Wednesday’s council meeting. If you’re a Greenwich resident and want to ask leading councillors a question about the council and its policies, email committees[at]royalgreenwich.gov.uk before noon on Wednesday 20 January with your question, your name and address. 

Time’s up: Greenwich Council’s weekly newspaper to cease this summer

Abandoned copies of Greenwich Time left at flats in Charlton last week

Abandoned copies of Greenwich Time left at flats in Charlton last week

853 exclusive: Greenwich Council has agreed to stop publishing its weekly newspaper, Greenwich Time, by June, the government has announced.

Council leader Denise Hyland had planned to go to court to defend the paper, which is distributed to the vast majority of homes in the borough each week.

It is the only council weekly left in England following Tower Hamlets’ decision last week to phase out East End Life.

Greenwich has now agreed to comply with laws restricting local authority publications to four times a year, beginning from June.

A Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) spokesman said: “We have agreed that Royal Borough of Greenwich will be fully compliant with the Publicity Code from the end of June 2016, settling the matter without having to go to court.”

The department did not provide further details of the agreement.

A Greenwich Council spokesperson told this website: “We are pleased that Royal Borough and the Department of Communities and Local Government have settled the matter without having to go to court.

“We are pleased that the Department has accepted the Royal Borough’s need to continue to produce regular and frequent communication for residents, in order to keep them up to date on Council services, job opportunities and other important information.”

Greenwich says it will still be allowed to produce “regular and frequent communication of information” to residents who choose to receive it in whatever format, so long as it does not look like a newspaper, news-sheet or similar.

News Shopper and Greenwich Time front pages

Propaganda? The News Shopper and Greenwich Time compared

Last month, Hyland told a full council meeting that Greenwich had spent £35,350 on preparing for the court action, plus an estimated £12,893 on staff time.

The council has consistently claimed it saves money by publishing a weekly newspaper, as otherwise it would have to pay one of the local newspaper groups to carry its public notices advertising planning application, road works, and other formal announcements. In December, Hyland claimed it would save £21,000 per month.

But critics have dismissed the paper – which features council and community features rather than hard news – as merely a propaganda tool for the authority’s leadership.

Greenwich Time was a target of former communities secretary Eric Pickles, who announced plans to take legal action against the council last March. In response, the council announced it would seek a judicial review of the decision.

But Greenwich’s last line of defence – that government-appointed commissioners at Tower Hamlets were continuing to publish a weekly paper there – started crumbling last autumn, when its paper, East End Life, switched to fortnightly. Last week, Tower Hamlets’ elected Labour mayor John Biggs announced East End Life would cease publication altogether this spring in response to a direction from the commissioners.

Biggs said of East End Life: “In over 20 years of weekly publication the world has changed, particularly with the use of the internet, and it is time we looked again at it.”

Greenwich will now have to rethink its communications strategy, which largely revolves around the paper. For years, rumours have claimed Greenwich would attempt to transfer GT to Greenwich Leisure Limited, although Pickles’ direction to the council would appear to rule that possibility out.

Neighbouring Lewisham switched its Lewisham Life magazine to quarterly some years back, but also sends out weekly emails with information about council and community services.

The paper was first published in 1984 as a campaigning monthly, at a time when Labour councils were openly fighting decisions made by Margaret Thatcher’s government.

It went fortnightly in 1991, softening its tone during Len Duvall’s 1990s reign as council leader. But in 2002 it began to mimic the style of a local paper, going weekly six years later.

Greenwich Council set to plug Thames Path’s ‘missing link’

missinglink640

It’s been a very long time in coming, but walkers and cyclists could soon be able to use the Thames Path uninterrupted between Charlton and Woolwich – with plans to build a new path over the riverfront.

Currently, the Thames Path from central London stops dead at the Thames Barrier, with anyone wanting to continue eastwards having to continue via the busy Woolwich Road before walking through the King Henry’s Wharf housing development.

Westminster Industrial Estate

During the week, walkers in the know can sneak through an unsigned shortcut through the Westminster Industrial Estate – but these barriers prevent cyclists from using it.

Plans to plug the gap were first revealed in September, at Greenwich Council’s first “cycling forum”, after negotiations with landowners. Now they’re slowly starting to become reality, with one phase having already received planning permission, and another currently in the planning process.

The scheme is particularly good news for the enormous creative arts hub Second Floor Arts, as the new route will run right past its entrance. Greenwich hopes it will be complete by April 2017.

Heading from east to west… (apologies for the duff photos, which are of a display board at the cycle forum event).

Warspite Road
king_henry500

Phase 1 is currently going through the planning process (see application 15/3519/F), and consists of a ramp from Warspite Road which will then sit on top of the riverfront, taking the route round to the existing Thames Path at King Henry’s Wharf. Or, strictly speaking: “Construction of combined footway / cycleway bridge, a 1.4m high pedestrian parapet with lighting incorporated into the parapet posts, erection of a wooden fender structure in the foreshore area.” Comments on this need to be with the council by 29 December.

unity_way500

Phase 2 already has planning permission (see application 15/2972/F). It consists of a ramp between Unity Way, the street that leads to the Thames Barrier visitor centre, and Bowater Road, inside the Westminster Industrial Estate. This means there’ll still be a diversion away from the river (and the deteriorating Mersey ferry Royal Iris, moored here) but nowhere near as long and inconvenient as the current scheme. Greenwich hopes to start work on this before April.

While the scheme would make life easier for walkers, it also opens up the Thames Path as a viable cycle commuter route for people in King Henry’s Wharf, Woolwich Dockyard Estate and beyond – a twenty-minute pootle on a bike to North Greenwich being much quicker and more pleasant for those who are up for it than squeezing onto an overcrowded bus.

The money for this is coming from Transport for London – as mentioned last week in the post about hire bikes and Greenwich town centre, many of Greenwich’s cycle-friendly schemes are either coming either from TfL money, or through adapting renewal schemes when roads need resurfacing or reworking.

Separately, there is also a scheme to introduce a stretch of segregrated cycle lane on Plumstead Road, in an attempt to fix a botched road scheme from a decade back. “Light segregation” is also due to be installed on a cycle lane in Rochester Way, Kidbrooke, shortly.

Greenwich has a newsletter for people interested in cycling infrastructure in the borough – email cycling-strategy[at]royalgreenwich.gov.uk and ask to be put on its list.