Local residents in Plumstead are putting up an independent candidate in a Greenwich Council by-election to show their anger over what they say is the borough’s neglect of the area.
Ebru Ogun is running in the Glyndon ward by-election on 5 May – the same day as the London mayoral and assembly poll – against candidates from the five major parties.
The poll has been called following the resignation of low-profile Labour councillor Radha Rabadia. No reason was given for the resignation of Rabadia, known for her loyalty to the council leadership.
A public notice of the poll was only published in this week’s edition of council weekly Greenwich Time – despite the fact that many residents did not receive the paper until Thursday, the same day nominations closed.
Glyndon ward stretches from Plumstead Common down to Thamesmead’s Broadwaters estate. It’s a rock-solid safe Labour seat – the Greens came a very distant second in 2014, getting a quarter of the Labour vote.
But Ogun is the frontwoman for a number of Plumstead residents who feel their area is neglected by the council. Issues such as the state of Plumstead High Street, arson attacks on Plumstead Common, cuts in funds to the Plumstead Make Merry festival, the ruling Labour group’s support for the Gallions Reach river crossing and plans to demolish the interior of Plumstead Library as part of a revamp of the facility have raised the ire of local people in recent years.
While the council has responded with a scheme to rebuild the library as a “district centre”, many locals still feel patronised and ignored by the council leadership – a feeling many outside the main centres of Greenwich, Woolwich and Eltham will share. In Plumstead, the feeling is exacerbated by the area not having a single MP – the wider district is split between the Greenwich & Woolwich, Eltham and Erith & Thamesmead constituencies.
Ogun says: “Having lived in Glyndon for over ten years I am passionate about our area and the well being of its residents.
“If, like me, you care about Plumstead and want your voice heard please vote for me. I will do my best to raise your issues, represent all individuals and make Glyndon and Plumstead a happier place to live and work in.'”
Ogun and her fellow residents will face the might of the local Labour machine as it fights to win the London mayoralty for Sadiq Khan, with the party likely to concentrate its resources there to get the core vote out in a City Hall poll where every vote counts. But they are hoping for a strong vote to tell the council to up its game in the area.
Anyone who wants to help with the campaign – whether they live in the ward or not – can email ebru4glyndon[at]gmail.com to offer their services.
Labour is putting forward “mumtrepreneur” Tonia Ashikodi – also known as Tonia Tiel-Ash – as its candidate.
The Greens, Tories, Ukip and Lib Dems are also putting forward candidates along with the All People’s Party, a group set up in 2014 by disgruntled Labour members in Southwark, which is making its debut in Greenwich politics. The party, which is also fighting for London Assembly seats, is fielding Plumstead-based youth leader Abiola Olaore.
GLYNDON WARD BY-ELECTION CANDIDATES – 5 MAY
Tonia Ashikodi, Labour Party
Matt Browne, Conservative Party
Stewart Christie, Liberal Democrats
Dan Garrun, Green Party
Rita Hamilton, Ukip
Ebru Ogun, Independent
Abiola Olaore, All People’s Party
It’s been a big few days for Cllr John Fahy, de jure deputy leader of Greenwich Council and, when all is said and done, one of the few senior councillors on the Berkeley Homes Party’s benches who is open and approachable. For being open and approachable, he’s found himself the subject of constant investigations designed to throw him out of the party, and perhaps to hand his prized deputy role to a younger figure.
He’s one of the good guys – happy to goof around for a photocall, like this one for the ill-fated Dutch Olympic campsite planned for 2012 – and this website likes him for it. They don’t make many like that any more.
But such is his commitment to the Labour Party – the national political group led by Jeremy Corbyn that the ruling group in Greenwich still has some tenuous association to – that he has to contort himself into terrible positions to keep himself in his life’s work.
Take last week. Ex-council leader Chris Roberts, who oversaw a regime in Greenwich where councillors were routinely threatened and bullied, was given the freedom of the borough. Victims of Roberts’ wrath included Fahy, given a four-letter tirade by voicemail after he questioned the wisdom of holding a half-marathon that benefitted a charity the Dear Leader was involved in.
You can see the ceremony in the video below (from 1h 15m). After Roberts’ drinking pal Steve Offord proposed it, it was seconded by… John Fahy.
Roberts, of course, accepted along with praise for Berkeley Homes chief Tony Pidgeley and an apparent dig at his predecessor Len Duvall for apparently leaving council services in a state. Classy. It’s all in the video.
Of course, the trouble is with honouring a man who oversaw a regime of bullying and threats is that when you go and eulogise over mental health services a week later, it makes you look very silly indeed.
Until the end of last year, Fahy was also in charge of children’s services – education and a lot more – before he was quietly shunted out of his role without explanation. Cllr Fahy, an old-fashioned Labour man who abhors the Westminster Government’s plans to force schools to become academies, was replaced by Miranda Williams, whose political views are less pronounced. She duly wrote to schools ahead of the Budget suggesting they all become academies.
Now it’s emerged Cllr Fahy has got himself a new job – turning Greenwich into a “co-operative council”. Only a question at Wednesday night’s council meeting (watch it here) gave the game away, when Tory leader Matt Hartley congratulated him and asked if he would need a longer business card (see page five).
According to the newly-minted Cabinet Member for Development of Co-operative Council and Social Enterprise (phew), it’s all about building “on the Royal Borough’s strong track record of engaging local communities”. Stop laughing at the back.
But “co-operative council”? There is a network of co-operative councils, and old Labour hands like to hark back to the glory days of the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society, once a huge force in Woolwich and beyond and responsible for the creation of Abbey Wood as a suburb.
But in south London, it’s become a toxic term. Here’s why…
Lambeth Council adopted the “co-operative council” banner a few years back under former leader Steve Reed. Lambeth’s a very different council to Greenwich – dominated by the Blairite Progress wing of Labour rather than the old-fashioned, if curdled paternalistic attitudes that have ruled Greenwich for many years.
Essentially, Lambeth’s co-op council caper was an answer to David Cameron’s Big Society (remember that?). On the surface, it sought to get local people involved in the running of services, which would save the council money. Here’s an example that seems to have worked – getting locals involved in redesigning the council website.
But Lambeth has been less than co-operative in other fields, damaging its relationship with its community. When it sought to revamp the Cressingham Gardens estate in Tulse Hill, residents put together a fully-costed plan to save their homes. Lambeth rejected it – opting to demolish the whole lot.
More worrying for Greenwich – which has managed to protect and even enhance its library service, albeit through a controversial outsourcing deal with GLL that’s raised questions over workers’ conditions – is the fate of Lambeth’s libraries.
One of the affected libraries, Carnegie Library in Herne Hill, closed on Thursday night, and at the time of writing, protesters are into the second night of occupying the building.
With the “co-operative council” concept in tatters elsewhere in south London, why on earth would Greenwich belatedly rush to embrace it? It’s hard to see how “co-op council” values have been lived up to in Lambeth. As for Greenwich, where machine politics has long dominated, talk of “working cooperatively with communities” will raise a few hollow laughs – the legacy of Chris Roberts that many in the town hall are keen to step away from.
There’s been a mixed record in residents taking over community facilities in Greenwich – the under-fives’ centres in East Greenwich Pleasaunce and Charlton Park are now flourishing as The Bridge and The Big Red Bus Club. But the Maryon Wilson Animal Park in Charlton has struggled, in part because the council badly under-estimated the cost of the community taking it on. More broadly, there’s already excellent support for community co-ops through Greenwich Co-Operative Development Association.
So perhaps this is about working more closely with existing organisations. It’s been long-rumoured that GLL could have some kind of involvement in a replacement for propaganda newspaper Greenwich Time, for example. Handily, John Fahy remains a trustee of a charity called Meridian Link, which develops education and sporting opportunities in Ghana, alongside GLL boss Mark Sesnan. (Of course, GLL itself was created out of Greenwich’s old leisure department as an answer to 1990s cuts.)
Austerity means council funding is drying up quickly, so Greenwich and all the rest will need to find imaginative solutions to keep services going. And, of course, making a big show of working with residents and social enterprises is a good way of stepping out of the shadows created by Chris Roberts’ toxic legacy.
But if Cllr Fahy wants to make all this “co-operative council” stuff work, he should take a look at the hash his colleagues in Lambeth have made of it. Unless he wants to look as silly as he did praising his old boss last week, he might want to bin the term before it comes back to bite him.
(Want to ask John about his new job? Ask him on Twitter on Saturday evening.)
(PS. Thank you to all who have got in touch since my accident four weeks ago – particularly those from inside the town hall. Things are still slow-going and may be for some time yet, but I’ll still try to highlight some interesting things here and there in the meantime.)
Greenwich Council is facing a judicial review over its decision to back a cruise liner terminal at Enderby Wharf in east Greenwich – and local residents are appealling for help in funding the challenge.
The council’s planning board backed the scheme last July, ignoring objections from neighbours on both sides of the river, as well as Tower Hamlets Council and Greenwich & Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook.
Residents fear pollution from ships berthed at the terminal, on the west side of the Greenwich peninsula. As the terminal will have no means of generating its own electricity for ships, the vessels will have to power themselves – burning at least 700 litres of diesel an hour.
A single ship will generate the same emissions as 688 permanently-running HGVs, residents say, using far dirtier fuels. Residents want to see power for the terminal provided on shore, as happens at at ports in New York and Amsterdam, but the developers say this will cost too much.
Now a crowdfunding campaign has been launched to raise £6,000 to challenge the council’s decision in the High Court. If you’d like to chip in, visit www.crowdjustice.co.uk/case/cruise-liner.
The council is already defending the challenge, Dr Paul Stookes of legal firm Richard Buxton says. The High Court will now decide whether to allow the judicial review.
Dan Hayes, chair of the East Greenwich Residents Association, says: “We believe that the planning decision is short-sighted and ruinous to Londoners’ health. Nearly 10,000 people die of air pollution in our capital each year and far more suffer ill-health because of bad air.
“We have been constantly exhorted to use public transport, buy cleaner cars or cycle, only to have dirty developments thrust on our communities. It’s time to call a halt on decision-making that makes air pollution much worse for Londoners, and the cruise terminal proposal, without on-shore power, is a striking example of this.”
Why did council leader vote on issue?
The terminal has been vehemently defended by council leader Denise Hyland – who sat on the planning board that gave the terminal the go-ahead. She is the only council leader in London who regularly sits on their borough’s main planning committee.
Hyland chose to sat in judgement on the cruise liner terminal despite having previously publicly endorsed the scheme. In the months before the planning board meeting, she held four meetings with terminal promoters and their associates without most other board members being present – including one just five days before the planning board meeting, according to information provided in response to a Freedom of Information request submitted by this website.
Advice from the Local Government Association says that “members of a planning committee… need to avoid any appearance of bias or of having predetermined their views before taking a decision on a planning application or on planning policies”.
Regeneration cabinet member Danny Thorpe – regarded as Hyland’s effective deputy on the council – also chose to sit on the planning board, despite being present at three of those meetings.
Thorpe joined Hyland on a trip to inspect a cruise liner terminal in Southampton. Hyland spoke about this during the meeting, saying she could not “see” any air pollution there – despite the fact that it is usually invisible.
Hyland also criticised residents for not bringing up air pollution fears when the proposals first came before the planning committee some years back – even though plans for the terminal have substantially changed since then.
The court challenge has the potential to embarrass both Labour and Conservative candidates in this spring’s mayoral elections, since outgoing Conservative mayor Boris Johnson has joined Labour’s Hyland in defending the terminal, to the discomfort of grassroots members of both parties.
Green mayoral candidate Sian Berry and Lib Dem counterpart Caroline Pidgeon have both supported the legal challenge.
Isolated on cruise liner and Silvertown Tunnel
Indeed, this website understands Hyland’s ambivalent attitude to air pollution – an issue which remains high on the political agenda – is causing unease within her party’s ranks. As well as leading Greenwich to an isolated position on the cruise liner terminal, she has now been left in a similar position on the Silvertown Tunnel.
Greenwich is now the only one of the three boroughs closest to the tunnel to remain offering unconditional support; with Lewisham, Southwark, Hackney and Waltham Forest opposing the scheme on air pollution and congestion grounds, and Newham withdrawing its support over congestion fears.
Asked at a council Q&A in December about Southwark’s opposition, she said she continued to support the tunnel because “it arrives in Greenwich and it helps our residents”.
She also told the Q&A she believed air pollution would not be an issue by the time TfL plans to open the tunnel, in 2023, even though the current Conservative government is showing few signs of wanting to tackle the issue, and plans for a central London ultra-low emissions zone do not cover Greenwich.
If the residents’ judicial review over the cruise liner terminal is accepted by the High Court, it will put her stewardship of the council on this issue under a harsh spotlight.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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?