Greenwich has been pretty much alone among London boroughs in playing down the impact of Government cuts. It’s something that showed sharply last summer – while Greenwich was shouting and spending on tall ships, Lewisham was running The Big Budget Challenge, inviting people to play with the council’s budget and explaining the troubles ahead.
Last month’s Autumn Statement put an end to all that. So it’s good to see that Greenwich is holding a public meeting next Tuesday to discuss what happens next.
Despite us all having to pay council tax, most council funding comes from central government. Council tax rises don’t really amount to much extra in the kitty – especially since the government limited rises to 2% before local referenda have to be called. (The Autumn Statement allowed councils to whack an additional 2% on to cover rising social care costs, but this is seen as too little, too late.)
So councils can either defy the government (and end up with Whitehall staff taking over), or they have to cut. There have been dire predictions of councils going bust by 2020.
Cuts in Greenwich aren’t new. Greenwich has run cuts budgets for the best part of a decade. Stealthy cuts have included closing kids’ playschemes, quietly dispensing of Kidbrooke’s only library, cuts in grants to the voluntary sector, staff pay freezes, cutting senior council officers and threatening Maryon Wilson animal park.
People only notice cuts when they’re directly affected – like a certain Mr David Cameron of Witney, Oxfordshire. But so far, many cuts in Greenwich have been behind the scenes.
You can only chomp into those reserves so far. If you include “unusable reserves”, that figure rockets by almost a billion, but chipping into that sum means flogging off property, plant and other assets (such as the Blackwall Lane “pocket park”).
But with another £77m of cuts to the council’s annual budget expected to come, how long can that go on for?
So credit to Greenwich Council leader Denise Hyland and deputy leader John Fahy for holding a “question time” event about all this – to be held at 6pm at Woolwich Town Hall on Tuesday 15 December.
If you want to submit a question and go, you need to register. Hopefully a recording will be made available for everyone else.
It’s curious that it’s been announced with only six days to go, in the run-up to Christmas, held at a time of day that’s not hugely convenient for people in work, and hasn’t featured in this week’s Pravda, but at least it’s a tiny nod towards transparency.
So, what are you asking the council?
Greenwich Council’s Conservative group has asked Transport for London to halt the controversial Silvertown Tunnel scheme – so it can be assessed along with rejected plans for a Docklands Light Railway extension to Eltham.
The borough’s main opposition group has lined alongside the Labour council’s leadership in backing the new road “in principle”, despite widespread concerns it will increase rather than decrease pollution.
However, it wants the process – which is being rushed through so the planning process can begin before Boris Johnson leaves office – paused so proposals for a DLR link to Eltham can be included in the scheme.
Johnson’s successor can continue with, pause, or scrap the Silvertown Tunnel scheme after May’s mayoral election. A “final” consultation into the proposal ended at the end of November.
In their response to the scheme, the Tories say the tunnel – which relies on the same southern approach road as the Blackwall Tunnel – will be “a much-needed improvement to the resilience of our local transport network.
But the report – from local party leader Matt Hartley and transport spokesman Matt Clare – says that not including a DLR link to Eltham in the scheme is a “missed opportunity” that “would take a significant amount of traffic off the road network” as well as being “transformative for the South East London economy”.
“Our area of London is suffering from decades of under-investment in transport infrastructure because bold decisions were not taken in the past – and we fear that not including the DLR extension is a further example of this,” it adds.
For a scheme that has been flatly rejected by Transport for London, the mythical DLR extension to Eltham has an amazing hold over Greenwich borough politicians – with an ability, in their minds, to magic away the congestion and pollution new road schemes can bring.
The return of the DLR on stilts
So what went wrong? In 2011, Greenwich Council spent £75,000 commissioning two reports into a proposal to build a link from Canning Town to Falconwood, following the A102 and A2, providing a service to and from Stratford International.
Hyder Consulting’s first report, which outlined the idea and costed it at £1 billion, was never released publicly – despite being discussed in a cabinet meeting – until this website obtained it under the Freedom of Information Act. Here it is. It was submitted to TfL for comments.
But the follow-up – which aimed to answer TfL’s concerns – was suppressed by the council, hidden for nearly two years, with misleading answers given to anyone who asked about it. It was also never submitted to TfL. It finally emerged in April 2014 after a former Liberal Democrat councillor asked to see it. (Here it is.)
Why wasn’t the report submitted to TfL? Unfortunately for the council, Hyder report concluded that only an extension to Kidbrooke would be feasible – any further would face “disproportionately higher costs”. (It also said the Silvertown Tunnel itself would overwhelm local roads with traffic, expensive advice that Greenwich Council also chose to ignore.)
And TfL itself dismissed the scheme, pointing out that the Jubilee Line at North Greenwich may not be able to cope with interchanging passengers, and better capacity on the existing DLR services were coming.
But the report did contain some startling images of the DLR on stilts as it weaved its way above dual carriageways and homes. It’s worth a read just for those alone.
The Eltham DLR flame still burns for some…
Of course, councillors are paid to be parochial rather than strategic. Which is why Greenwich frets about north/south links within its own borough, and TfL isn’t so fussed. Although if Greenwich councillors were that bothered, you think they’d have pressed TfL on why travelling from Woolwich to Eltham by bus is so lousy.
But there are still keepers of the Eltham DLR flame. After all, Eltham is still a place that can change elections. Less cynically, one of the causes of the Blackwall Tunnel’s jams is the lack of orbital transport in this part of London. A scheme to Kidbrooke, as the report says, could be a goer. But both Tories and Labour want the full Eltham version of a scheme which TfL simply isn’t interested in.
In its 2014 Silvertown Tunnel consultation response, Greenwich Council placed the Eltham DLR as a condition of its continuing support for the scheme. TfL ignored this, Greenwich’s 2015 response still backs the Silvertown Tunnel. Treat ’em mean, keep ’em keen, eh?
The Tories have started banging on about the scheme too – which is how we’ve ended up where we are today, with the Tories backing a scheme which was discredited in a report commissioned by a Labour council which didn’t bother to submit it to a Tory-run transport authority. Phew.
The real shame is that while Greenwich was messing around with the DLR on stilts, Lewisham Council was pursuing a Bakerloo Line extension through Lewisham and Catford – a scheme that’s got every chance of becoming reality. Politicians in Greenwich have belatedly woken up to the benefits of this – but putting Eltham on the Tube would have been a big, big prize.
So what about Greenwich Labour? Don’t hold your breath…
Meanwhile, Greenwich Council’s response to the Silvertown consultation – in the name of regeneration councillor Danny Thorpe – might as well have been written by former Dear Leader Chris Roberts, whose Bridge The Gap campaign ushered in unconditional support for the tunnel. He’s now working for regeneration PR agency Cratus, which is fretting over whether the Tories will win the mayoral election.
The response, which uses the phrase “royal borough” 57 times, backs the tunnel without hesitation despite outlining a host of concerns, from inadequate air pollution monitoring to the effects on traffic through Greenwich town centre. This continued support suggests it may not be entirely sincere about these concerns, which have been repeated in every consultation since 2012.
It continues to demand that Greenwich borough residents get cheaper car trips through the tunnel while wanting express buses to North Greenwich with priority on the A102 as well – surely contradictory aims for a council that once wanted to persuade people to switch to public transport.
One of the more baffling aspects of the response is a claim that the “opportunity should be taken to improve cross river cycling connections, particularly those between Greenwich Peninsula and the Isle of Dogs”. This is from a council which, when it considered the Greenwich Peninsula masterplan earlier this year, completely ignored a call for a fixed crossing between the peninsula and the Isle of Dogs, even though the cost of it could have been covered by the planning gain.
Instead, it appears to go touting for business for Thames Clippers, owned by O2 owner AEG, putting forward a proposal already included in the masterplan: “The Royal Borough [sic] asks that TfL agrees to explore opportunities to introduce a cross river vehicular or boat ‘cycle shuttle’, to address that demand, as part of ongoing work.”
The dear old Dangleway’s not forgotten, either: “Similarly, the Royal Borough [sic] would expect definitive proposals for a reduction in charges for cyclists using the Cable Car to be contained within the DCO submission.” It’s unclear why cyclists should get a discount ahead of pedestrians, but there you go.
Fiddling while London chokes
So while councils elsewhere pass motions against the Silvertown Tunnel and raise the alarm about the scheme, in Greenwich we have councillors who know full well the scheme will do harm, and are just content to fiddle around the edges rather than take a stand.
Essentially, Greenwich residents are having to rely on Lewisham councillors to defend their interests at the moment – a crazy situation.
We’ve got a mayoral election coming up where both main parties’ candidates will claim to be the “greenest mayor yet”. Their party colleagues in Greenwich seem to be doing their best to sabotage these claims – if they get their way, we’ll all pay for it in the end.
Back in June, this website reported Boris Johnson giving his backing for cycle hire bikes coming to Greenwich.
A few weeks back, Greenwich’s Tories decided to put a motion before the council suggesting it talk to City Hall about introducing such a scheme in Greenwich town centre, where the bikes are a regular sight. The motion was thrown out, and a bit of a daft row ensued. I’ve written about it this week for Londonist – Will Cycle Hire ever come to Greenwich?
Here’s a spoiler, though – nobody wants to pay for them. Despite Johnson promising the scheme would be self-financing, London Cycle Hire is a gigantic loss-maker. That’s not a bad thing in itself – most public transport loses money, but the wider economic and social benefits tend to be judged worth it.
There’s a good debate on whether the cycle hire scheme – still largely used by affluent men – is actually worth having. I’d argue that it is, as it frees up space on public transport and gets you fit – I used it as part of my commute for a few months last year and found it very useful.
But the main failing is that at £95 for an annual membership it’s absurdly cheap, but the £2 daily hire if you aren’t a member is worse value than taking a bus. Recent figures show that problem still hasn’t been cracked, despite changes to the pricing structure.
But it’s probably less of a priority than investing in safe facilities for people to ride their own bikes in. And that’s something Greenwich Council has been quietly doing over the past couple of years – either with TfL money or when a bit of road needs renewing. The bad old days of the Dear Leader’s tantrums are, in this arena at least, long gone.
Indeed, next year it’s likely we’ll start seeing plans emerge for the first cycle superhighway to Greenwich – phase one of CS4 from Tower Bridge Road to the Old Royal Naval College. If the scheme survives May’s change of mayor, it could revolutionise thousands of commutes. Less revolutionary is Quietway 1, a long-delayed backstreet route from Greenwich station to Waterloo, which is finally due next year.
Ignoring the logistical difficulties of getting the bikes to and from Greenwich, and the absurdity of not having any stands anywhere else in south-east London, let’s take the Greenwich Tories’ scheme at its word.
They wanted four or five cycle stands in Greenwich town centre. Lambeth paid £200,000 for 11 around Stockwell a couple of years back, so let’s say Greenwich would have to pay £100,000 for five, plus an annual £20,000 (a mayor’s booze-up) towards running costs. Good value? You decide.
See also Will Cycle Hire ever come to Greenwich? at Londonist.
Lewisham Council voted unanimously last night to oppose TfL £1bn Silvertown Tunnel scheme, on the grounds that it risks increasing both congestion and air pollution in the area.
The Labour-run council endorsed a motion proposed by Blackheath councillor Kevin Bonavia, who mocked TfL’s claims on air pollution as “simply not good enough”.
Lewisham’s opposition follows that of Hackney, which passed a motion against the tunnel in July.
The tunnel is by no means a done deal – while the process is being rushed through so it can be ticked off before Boris Johnson leaves office, his successor as mayor can bin the project as soon as they take over.
All but one of Lewisham councillors will be hoping their motion helps to persuade Labour’s mayoral candidate, Sadiq Khan, to dump the scheme. The remaining councillor, the Green Party’s one-man opposition, John Coughlin, also spoke up for the motion. Green candidate Sian Berry is already against the tunnel.
Lewisham’s motion says the planned tunnel between Greenwich and the Royal Docks “risks exacerbating rather than dispersing” traffic congestion in the area, including on the A2 and the South Circular Road in the borough.
The resulting increase in congestion also risks “a deterioration of air quality in the London Borough of Lewisham”, affecting the health of residents, it added.
Particular worries for Lewisham councillors include the dreadful air quality around New Cross and Deptford – which even TfL admits will get worse under the Silvertown scheme – and the congestion blackspot of the Catford one-way system, which needs no help from the Blackwall Tunnel to become gridlocked.
“What TfL don’t say is how they’ll deal with the approach roads,” Cllr Bonavia, the council’s cabinet member for resources, said. “All they’ll have is a widening of the A102 near the tunnel – nothing about the approach roads further up.
“What does that mean for us in Lewisham, on the A2 and South Circular? More congestion.
“This proposal is poorly planned, poorly placed, and can only harm the poor congestion and poor air quality our residents face.”
Seconding the motion, fellow cabinet member Rachel Onikosi accused TfL of “over-egging” claims that the tunnel would be a “congestion killer”.
So Lewisham’s councillors have made it clear they won’t be taken in by TfL. So have Hackney’s. But what about Greenwich?
This website has written before about the dire perils of trying to appease TfL on the Silvertown Tunnel.
The No to Silvertown Tunnel campaign began from a petition on this website three years ago.
It’s since gained a life of its own, conducting three air quality studies, submitting evidence to parliamentary and City Hall inquiries, meeting politicians and doing its damnedest to get this thing stopped. (So I should point out that this post does not represent the views of the campaign, whose members have views of their own.)
Some of the Greenwich political figures who have been asking why this website hasn’t been properly updated for weeks will hopefully have been spending their time reading up on the scheme.
There are thousands of pages of consultation documents to sift through – full of contradictions and dodgy assumptions – but it remains clear that this is a botched scheme that needs to be opposed.
Whether or not you believe new road-building somewhere is what’s needed (generally it’s only a short-term fix at best), the tunnel is looking like a costly, under-scrutinised disaster. It’s all very well crying “something must be done” – this ain’t it, and TfL has played many people for mugs. There’s no one, satisfying big bang solution to getting rid of those jams.
Despite the glossy propaganda which has somehow turned up in scores of community venues across Greenwich borough, TfL has consistently admitted some areas will see increased pollution and congestion because of the scheme.
Tolling is likely to end up being the worst of all worlds, with fees too low to deter HGVs and Kent commuters, but enough to send increasing amounts of more local traffic to Rotherhithe. There are no plans to toll at weekends, despite heavy congestion on Saturdays and Sundays.
Meanwhile, the cost has crept up to £1bn, up from £600m three years ago. Desperate talk about boosting cross-river bus services is at odds with the current reality where TfL neglects the 108, and canned the Rotherhithe Tunnel’s service nine years ago.
And there’s the obvious, fatal flaw that hobbles the scheme from the start – while it’s aimed at relieving northbound Blackwall Tunnel queues, it will only exacerbate each evening’s southbound queues.
Many evenings see traffic at a crawl back through Eltham, Kidbrooke and back into Greenwich – imagine that with the 20% extra traffic even TfL predicts will use the A102/A2. There are also similar problems north of the river.
There are many different reasons why the Silvertown Tunnel must be stopped – whether you’re a driver, a bus user, a pedestrian, a cyclist, someone who has to breathe this area’s foul air, or a combination of all or some of these.
So far, Greenwich’s Labour councillors have stayed notably silent on a Conservative scheme that will have serious implications for the borough. There are murmurings that they’ve been told to keep schtum.
Regeneration cabinet member Danny Thorpe and deputy leader John Fahy attended No to Silvertown Tunnel’s public meeting two weeks ago, but did not contribute any of their thoughts. Nor did the assembled Tories.
What is clear, however, is that the demands put forward in Greenwich’s response to the last Silvertown Tunnel consultation haven’t been met. Demands to run the DLR through the tunnel to Kidbrooke and Eltham have been rejected, and TfL hasn’t been forthcoming with proposals to extend the London Overground from Barking to Abbey Wood.
A third demand, to run the DLR to Thamesmead and Abbey Wood, could appear in a new consultation on a crossing at Gallions Reach to appear on Monday, but taken in isolation, appears to have little relevance to the Silvertown scheme.
Further demands – for independently-scrutinised modelling that shows congestion and pollution would be cut – also have not been met, as the current consultation only carries “preliminary” modelling.
But this website understands from a variety of sources that TfL has been trying to secure Greenwich backing by tying a number of improvements – many desperately needed anyway – to implementation of the Silvertown Tunnel scheme.
These include a bus route from Kidbrooke Village to North Greenwich, which has been on the drawing board for at least 12 years, since the days when the Ferrier Estate was still standing.
More cynically, this website understands that TfL is tying installing a noise barrier along the A102 in Blackheath to implementation of the Silvertown Tunnel scheme, and that Greenwich councillors are happy to go along with this.
Essentially, this means that if residents on Westcombe Hill and Siebert Road (on the left in the picture below) don’t want to be deafened by traffic noise, they have to agree to be choked by even more traffic.
When it comes down to it, the Silvertown Tunnel question comes down to whether you wish to challenge Transport for London’s modelling and the assumptions that lie behind it.
One group which is set not to challenge TfL is the Greenwich Society. This website has seen its draft response, which swallows the TfL line almost completely – backing the tunnel despite admitting it will cause “small increases in traffic on local roads”.
The society left writing its response to Sir Alan Bailey, a former permanent secretary in the Department for Transport in the 1980s – his words reflect the thinking common in those times. Greenwich Society members might like to wonder what they are getting for their subscription fees.
This website understands the Westcombe Society and East Greenwich Residents Association are rejecting the scheme.
Many Greenwich Labour councillors like to pretend they have no influence over the process – even though their mayoral candidate could, if elected, cancel the scheme in May.
Of course, in other political spheres, we’ve seen Labour politicians face down dangerous proposals from Conservative opponents – such as George Osborne’s tax credit cuts.
With Londoners dying from air pollution-related causes, and town centres choked by traffic congestion, it would be refreshing to see Greenwich follow in Lewisham’s lead and stand up for residents. Will they? We’ll have to wait and see.
More than 1 in 50 Greenwich borough residents could lose their right to vote due to Government changes to the way electoral registers are compiled.
Greenwich Council says 4,293 electors are at risk of falling off the roll when it is forced to switch to individual electoral registration in December.
Broken down by ward, the difference is enough to unseat two of Greenwich’s current councillors, judging by 2014’s election results.
Previously, the electoral roll was compiled by one member of each household filling in a survey form. Now, everybody who wants a vote will has to apply individually.
Even if you had a vote in May’s general election, you may still be at risk of falling off the register as voters who’d registered under the old method were still included then.
If you’re unsure you’re on the register, you can check with Greenwich Council’s electoral registration office (or Lewisham’s, or anywhere else). You can get yourself on the roll by visiting www.gov.uk/register-to-vote.
186,340 people were registered to vote in Greenwich in May 2015, up from 174,522 at the time of 2014’s council poll.
The Labour Party launched a “missing million” campaign last weekend focused on driving up electoral registration – it fears that it will lose votes in poorer areas.
That analysis is borne out in Greenwich borough – a ward-by-ward breakdown of where the missing voters are shows more in Thamesmead Moorings and the two wards covering Woolwich. While Labour has little to fear in those three seats, it will need every vote it can get in next year’s mayoral election if Sadiq Khan is to beat Zac Goldsmith to City Hall.
|Coldharbour & New Eltham||147|
|Kidbrooke with Hornfair||232|
|Middle Park and Sutcliffe||158|
Total “red matches” – those due to come off electoral register in 1 December 2015. Source: Greenwich Council
In marginal seats, the effects of missing votes could go both ways. Judging by 2014’s results, two more Labour councillors could have been elected in Blackheath Westcombe and Eltham South if all the “red matches” were Tory voters and had already been removed.
The figures were obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request to Greenwich Council. A similar request was made to Lewisham.
PS. Leader of the House of Commons Chris Grayling today accused journalists of “misusing” Freedom of Information laws to “generate” news stories. The government is currently reviewing FOI laws.
“Everybody’s interested in the job I’m doing, what I’m up to. Yeah, I love it. I’m very proud. You get to see all the vessels that go by, get to see some beautiful vessels.”
Here’s a short film of the Woolwich Ferry’s captain, David Watkins – produced as part of the great 1,000 Londoners series.
Less than a quarter of homes on the new phase of Greenwich Peninsula development will be “affordable”, according to planning documents released by Greenwich Council last night.
Greenwich planners are recommending councillors approve the scheme at a meeting on Tuesday 8 September. Just 22.7% of homes of the 12,678 won’t be sold at full rate, the 320-page planning report reveals.
The original masterplan for the peninsula, agreed in 2004, envisaged 40% of homes being “affordable”.
But that stalled, and Hong Kong-based developer Knight Dragon – controlled by billionaire Dr Henry Cheng – which is now in charge of the scheme, has taken a much more aggressive approach to developing the huge site.
It controversially persuaded councillors to allow it no “affordable” properties at all on the plots nearest Canary Wharf, Peninsula Quays, leading to a legal row which resulted in Greenwich being forced to reveal the viability assessments it used to make the decision.
Greenwich has published the viability assessment for the new scheme, where consultants Christopher Marsh and Company pinpoint withdrawals of grants by the last government as a factor in the low figure.
“Some agency, or several, will receive significant sums via the original land agreement, and currently, none, it would appear, are prepared to re-cycle any share of those receipts back into affordable housing in Greenwich. That is a key driver in this case. Before February 2014, when Government largely abandoned grant aid to affordable housing, we would have expected most schemes to have exceeded 30% affordable housing. Without grant, that expectation has now been reduced by about one third.”
A further document from BNP Paribas compares the Peninsula scheme with property values at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich – an improvement on the Peninsula Quays scheme where values across the whole borough were used, despite the unique nature of the site.
The document indicates that the headline figure for new homes remains 12,678, with towers of up to 40 storeys.
A quick skim through the papers would appear to indicate Greenwich planners have largely accepted Knight Dragon’s transport proposals, despite fears from a raft of local groups and even Transport for London that they will pile additional pressure onto North Greenwich station. An early reference to the “Silvertown Tunnel Rail Link” suggests that planners may not totally be on the ball here.
TfL says: “Jubilee Line crowding is already an issue and is forecast to continue in 2031. The additional crowding on Jubilee Line services is considered an issue. TfL cannot agree that the London Underground (LU) and National Rail networks would be largely unaffected by the proposed development.”
Indeed, council planners shrugged off calls for a pedestrian and cycle connection to Canary Wharf to relieve the Jubilee Line in just a sentence – “the feasibility of a pedestrian link between the Peninsula and Canary Wharf has been investigated previously but it is not considered feasible” – presumably a reference to an 2010 assessment by TfL produced to justify the construction of the Thames Cable Car, which said a bridge would not bring in any income.
The only explicit mass public transport improvement appears to be funding for a bus from Kidbrooke Village to North Greenwich – which is likely to pile even more pressure on the Jubilee Line.
There’s a lot to wade through, but it’s hard to see quite where Greenwich has tried to strike any worthwhile bargain with Knight Dragon. The big question remains – will the council’s planning board swallow Dr Cheng’s prescription?