We’ve been here before, and I make no apology for raising it again. As this website’s long-suffering readers will be aware, Greenwich Council embarrassed its residents in 2010 by withdrawing funding from the long-running Blackheath fireworks display, claiming it couldn’t afford it because of Conservative government cuts. Greenwich and Lewisham used to fund the display jointly, then Greenwich left its neighbour in the lurch.
However, while Lewisham Council has struggled to raise the money to keep the display going, Greenwich has been freely spending on its own events – fireworks to mark becoming a royal borough, fireworks to impress Tall Ships Race chiefs, private mayoral inauguration ceremonies (at £20,000 a pop), and last year, a £17,000 Hollywood-themed parade to publicise the forthcoming cinema in Eltham.
A couple of years back, Greenwich started paying £10,000 towards the £87,000 display. Last year, it refused to increase that sum, despite pleas from Lewisham.
It’s created a lot of bad feeling, even at the highest levels in Lewisham Council.
When the general election was called, and help was needed to save Clive Efford’s seat in Eltham, Lewisham Labour could have told their colleagues in Greenwich to get stuffed, and gone to help colleagues in Bermondsey and Croydon instead.
But they didn’t. They crossed the border in force, marching past Leegate and into their neighbouring borough to help keep Eltham a Labour seat. And they won – handsomely.
How to pay them back? It should be a no-brainer. As Labour activists will have realised in the past few weeks, us south-east Londoners are better and stronger united rather than divided by boundary lines. It’s time for Greenwich Council to finally right a wrong committed in the bad old days of Chris Roberts – and pay its fair share towards Blackheath fireworks again.
You could see this on Wednesday night if you nipped into Greenwich Council’s regular full meeting, or if you watch it online. As ever, it was a festival of defensiveness. Angry residents raised the privatisation of musculoskeletal services at Greenwich GP surgeries (and got qualified support from councillors); a fishy-looking deal to lease the Hervey Road playing field in Kidbrooke to Blackheath rugby club (and were ignored); and Greenwich using Savills estate agents to assess 20% of its housing stock (it insists council housing isn’t under threat).
These are stories not being covered elsewhere. People have kindly been in contact with me about all these things – but operating on my own, I simply don’t have the resources to follow them up.
Thankfully, the Mercury’s sole reporter/news editor Mandy Little was in the gallery too, so hopefully some of these will get an airing. But she can’t always get down there, and there are just too many stories for one person to cover.
Over at the News Shopper, they’re moving to a system where one person effectively produces the whole paper – lovely if you want a press release to go into the paper without touching the sides, bad for actual journalism. No wonder why the journalists have been on strike again.
This means one of the checks and balances of civic society has effectively disappeared. And when they’re all caught napping, you can get a horrible surprise. So it was this week, with bad news across the borough boundary.
Last orders at the RavensbourneIt’s emerged via social media that Lewisham’s Ravensbourne Arms pub is closing on Sunday.
It’s only been open five years, having been transformed from the grim Coach and Horses by pub outfit Antic. It’s a terrific boozer and a favourite of mine. So please indulge me here.
It also hosted the first meeting of the short-lived Lewisham branch of the National Union of Journalists, where I gave a talk about this website and the dire state of local journalism in SE London. Sadly, what remains of local journalism missed the warning signs about the Ravensbourne. They weren’t the only ones.
Antic isn’t commenting on the closure beyond a short statement thanking customers and confirming a move to new premises in the old Market Tavern/Quaggy Duck site further up Lewisham High Street.
But it’s widely believed the pub has been sold. The freeholder of the pub is, according to the Land Registry, Tavernius Limited, which is one of a network of companies with connections to other firms named after pubs trading under the Antic London brand, such as Westow House at Crystal Palace and the East Dulwich Tavern.
Companies House records for Tavernius indicate a mortgage on the Ravensbourne Arms was paid off on Wednesday, meaning a sale may have take place that hasn’t made it to the Land Registry yet. The Land Registry data also shows some property transfers around the site too.
Antic applied for flats – and got them
Lewisham Council granted planning permission for flats above the Ravensbourne Arms as well as development of surrounding land twice, in 2014 and August 2015. The 2014 application saw two homes built behind the pub last year. (Unfortunately, Lewisham’s planning search function is down at the time of writing, so I can’t double-check what was in the 2014 application.)
The applications don’t mention the pub itself, but this should have rung alarm bells. Housing above pubs can be a way of securing the future of a venue (the new Catford Bridge Tavern will have flats above it). But such developments are also a very good way for developers to shut down the pub itself – these are cases that demand vigilance.
The applicant was given as “Antic London”. There is no company of this name registered at Companies House in the UK, nor in Jersey, Guernsey or the Isle of Man. (An earlier company, Antic Limited, went into administration in 2013, with its operations being taken over by a new company called Gregarious Limited, which is linked to the group of firms mentioned earlier.)
But Antic has always been as much about property as (some very good) pubs – and this was a process that the public were alerted to.
To find planning applications, you have to search through the weekly lists. (This is something From The Murky Depths excels at for big developments.) It’s not actually that big a deal, but you do need to track down the lists. You’ll usually find them on a council website or in a local paper (in Lewisham, I think it’s the South London Press; in Greenwich, it’s currently the Mercury following Greenwich Time’s demise).
There was also a notice tucked away in the Ravensbourne window early in 2015. I actually saw it, took a picture, and made a note to myself to investigate – something I’m kicking myself hard for not doing.
So this process seems to have sailed through without local press – which used to check this stuff as a matter of course – local bloggers, local societies or the likes of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) noticing. But one other check seems to have failed.
Why was it decided behind closed doors?Most planning applications are determined by officers. Local councillors don’t always need to sit around deciding whether you can have a kitchen extension. But if a certain number of your neighbours object, or if a local councillor thinks it should go before committee, then it will do just that.
Both 2014 and 2015 applications – despite them relating to a prominent local business – were not. They were decided by officers behind closed doors.
I’m not as familiar with Lewisham planning processes as Greenwich, but at first sight, it seems that the three councillors that represent Lewisham Central ward missed a trick here, as putting the applications before a committee would have enabled more alarm bells to ring.
This is a shame, because Lewisham has actually done some great work in putting protection of pubs into its planning framework (Greenwich’s Core Strategy also mentions the importance of pubs, although the protections aren’t as strong.)
What happens next?I don’t know. We do know that Antic is redeveloping the long-shut Market Tavern further up Lewisham High Street (under the name “E&H Hadley”), so that may be the company’s long-term priority. I understand that it’s hoped the staff will move up the high street to the new pub when it opens next year. It may well be that the sale of one outlet is funding the other.
But the new venue will be further away from the Hither Green and Ladywell areas, as well as the Lewisham Hospital staff that have come to treat the Ravensbourne as their local.
I’d hope that people rally to save the Ravensbourne Arms, although this could be a long, drawn-out battle – among Lewisham’s trump cards is a local planning rule stating that a pub must be proved to be unviable by having been on the market for at least three years with no takers. (Thanks to Rushey Green councillor James-J Walsh for tweeting this.)
This will be an interesting test for Lewisham’s pub protection policies, and I’m sure events will now be watched closely.
An Antic statement says: “It is with sadness that we announce our leaving the Ravensbourne Arms this Sunday in advance of opening at our new home, EH Hadley, in central Lewisham in 2017.
“We thank all of our customers for their support and very much look forward to being of service again soon.”
Down the road in Catford, Antic has secured a lease extension (from Lewisham Council) on another successful pub, the Catford Constitutional Club, and is holding a party on the 12th. News that it is closing the Ravensbourne may just dampen the celebrations for many locals.
There’s a moral to this story – if you see a planning notice on the front of your local pub, for heaven’s sake, read it and look it up. You might just be the one that helps keep it open.
This has been kicking around for a few days, but as this website’s gong through a bit of an infrastructure phase, it’d be daft to ignore it – Transport for London’s commissioner has said the Bakerloo Line could be extended to Lewisham by 2030, running via the Old Kent Road and New Cross Gate. (See original London SE1 story and page 38 of the TfL commissioner’s report.)
But Mike Brown’s preferred plan is to build only a first phase to Lewisham – instead of extending the route over National Rail lines through Catford to Hayes.
It’s mixed news for Lewisham Council’s campaign to bring the Tube to the borough, as while Lewisham itself – undergoing rapid redevelopment – would get a much-needed Underground link, its southern neighbour faces being stuck with inferior overground services, despite also being home to big regeneration schemes.
On first sight, it appears a remarkably short-sighted proposal. If you consider how congested North Greenwich is now, a Bakerloo terminal at Lewisham – attracting passengers from all points south and east – could make that look calm and peaceful.
Furthermore, the really big costs would be in tunnelling to Lewisham – converting the old Mid-Kent rail route through Ladywell, Catford Bridge, Lower Sydenham and out to Hayes would be relatively cheap.
(Readers with very long memories will remember we’ve been here before – the original 1965 Jubilee Line (then Fleet Line) proposals would have seen the line extended in phases to run to Hayes by 1980.)
But as mentioned last year, Bromley Council has long been unhappy about losing direct trains to the City from Hayes – even though the Bakerloo can shift far more people, and is likely to be at least as quick for suburban travellers than existing services.
If Bromley’s rather inexplicable opposition continues, it’ll also remove one of the key benefits of the scheme – freeing up extra National Rail routes through Lewisham after the Hayes line is transferred to the Underground.
Of course, this does open up the opportunity for others to belatedly come in – last year the Eltham Labour Party agreed a motion backing a Bakerloo extension along the Bexleyheath line, a slightly more sensible proposal than the DLR on stilts on top of the A2.
Lewisham Council studied a variety of different options in a report five years ago, but its findings were largely ignored this side of the border. More recently, Greenwich Council has lent its backing to a Lewisham extension. Local Tories are also supporting the idea.
Bakerloo campaigners will now look at persuading London’s next mayor to look afresh at the scheme so he/she opts to implement the whole extension, rather than just a link to Lewisham. But with TfL losing all its government grant from 2019, the future of the whole scheme isn’t fully guaranteed yet.
17 December update: TfL has now published its full report into the Bakerloo line extension, confirming the above – and indicating that a route through Catford has not so much been kicked into the long grass, but booted into the pond, but also opens up the possibility of a route through Eltham and Bexleyheath to Slade Green. “Planning and engineering work for options to Lewisham will be undertaken on the basis of avoiding preclusion of a future onwards extension including to Hayes and potential other locations such as towards Bexleyheath. This will include working with stakeholders to safeguard necessary delivery of the infrastructure that may be required.”
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.
Last month, this website revealed that one in 50 Greenwich borough residents could lose their right to vote under changes to the electoral register being introduced in December.
Now it’s emerged that the situation is worse in neighbouring Lewisham – with more than one in 20 voters set to fall off the register if they don’t act before 1 December.
Previously, the electoral roll was compiled by one member of each household filling in a survey form. Now, everybody who wants a vote has to apply individually.
Figures released by Lewisham Council under the Freedom of Information Act show that out of 195,863 voters in the borough, 10,730 face falling off the roll when councils switch to the new system on 1 December.
As in Greenwich, it is less well-off areas of Lewisham borough that face losing the most voters. Evelyn ward, which covers most of Deptford, risks losing 8% of its voters; while New Cross ward is set to lose 7.5%.
Lewisham kindly supplied a breakdown of how many voters are registered in each of these 19 wards, so these figures are more detailed than those offered by Greenwich.
|Evelyn (11,308 voters)||910 (8%)|
|New Cross (11,260)||852 (7.5%)|
|Lewisham Central (13,028)||842 (6.4%)|
|Rushey Green (9,766)||614 (6.3%)|
|Telegraph Hill (11,610)||697 (6%)|
|Brockley (12,518)||738 (5.9%)|
|Forest Hill (10,764)||631 (5.8%)|
|Perry Vale (11,264)||627 (5.5%)|
|Sydenham (11,129)||616 (5.5%)|
|Ladywell (10,060)||515 (5.1%)|
|Bellingham (10,308)||529 (5.1%)|
|Catford South (10,788)||549 (5.1%)|
|Whitefoot (9,913)||492 (4.9%)|
|Crofton Park (10,879)||494 (4.5%)|
|Downham (10,315)||450 (4.3%)|
|Grove Park (10,517)||442 (4.2%)|
|Blackheath (10,091)||393 (3.9%)|
|Lee Green (10,345)||339 (3.3%)|
Total “red matches” – those due to come off electoral register in 1 December 2015, as at 11 November 2015. Ward electorates as at 1 September. Source: Lewisham Council
Lewisham staff have been working to make sure people stay on the roll, and these efforts are highlighted in the council’s figures – 1,410 people have been put on the roll since 1 September.
While it’s true the change may also weed out names that shouldn’t be on the register – because they are dead, or are registered in two different places – the Labour Party has launched a “missing million” campaign to get people back on the electoral roll.
This isn’t just out of public service – proposals to cut the number of parliamentary constituencies from 650 to 600, which are set to particularly affect Labour’s urban heartlands, are likely to use 1 December 2015 as a reference date.
Seats in Greenwich and Lewisham are particularly under threat from the changes, which are likely to see many more seats span borough boundaries.
Lewisham Deptford, currently held by Vicky Foxcroft, is set to lose 6.2% of voters. Past plans to redraw constituencies first saw the Deptford area merged with Greenwich, before it was then joined with Rotherhithe.
PS. The Freedom of Information Act, which uncovered these figures in both Greenwich and Lewisham, is under threat. See four simple ways you can take action.
If you’ve been moved in recent days by reports of refugees fleeing Syria and want to donate clothes, sleeping bags or other items to the camp in Calais, then the Age Exchange centre in Blackheath Village is accepting donations from 9am-6pm on weekdays and 10am-5pm on Saturdays.
If you’re unsure about what to bring, take a look at the Lewisham for Refugees Facebook group, set up by Lewisham Central councillor Joani Reid. The priority seems to be men’s warm clothes and camping gear, but take a look at the latest lists there.
I’ve not seen any similar initiative in Greenwich borough, and nothing’s been publicised in this week’s Pravda – council leader Denise Hyland tweeted at the weekend that she expected the Government to meet any “unavoidable costs” of housing refugees.
Lewisham mayor Steve Bullock says the council is already “making preparations” to house its share of refugees. If you do know of anything, please let everyone know in the comments below (thoughts about the wider situation can go elsewhere, thank you).
Pictured above is just some of Saturday’s huge collection at non-league football club Dulwich Hamlet, which included sleeping bags, two guitars, clothes and toys.
Tuesday update: There is now an equivalent Facebook group for Greenwich borough.
Greenwich Council cabinet member John Fahy has broken ranks on his council’s refusal to help fund the annual Blackheath fireworks display by declaring it should fund the event.
Since 2010, Lewisham Council has been left alone to raise funds for the annual event, which straddles the boundary of the two boroughs, after Greenwich pulled its £37,000 funding.
The issue has strained relationships between the two neighbouring administrations, despite them both being run by the Labour Party.
Fahy has published a post on his blog in which he declares:
Blackheath Fireworks is one of the largest community events in London. It attracts large numbers of residents from Greenwich and elsewhere. Local restaurants and businesses benefit from the number attending. It has a major impact on reducing the number of home firework parties and reduces any potential safety issues in the home. Families can enjoy the event in a safe environment.
“Clearly Local Government has many pressures on limited resources but supporting community events is extremely important. We spend significant resources on our Festivals and rightly so. Getting together with a neighbouring Borough builds positive relationships and I fully support Greenwich making a contribution to secure the long term future of the event.”
Fahy, who’s Greenwich Council’s cabinet member for health and older people, also links to a poll where he seeks to “test the views of the wider community” on the issue.
In October 2010, council deputy leader Peter Brooks claimed it would be “inappropriate in this financial climate” to cough up the £37,000 needed to co-fund the event.
“I could give 65 million reasons why we didn’t pay,” Brooks told a council meeting in October 2010, referring to government cuts in the council’s budget. “£37,000 is equivalent to a job and a bit.”
At the same time, Greenwich was spending £30,000 a year on private parties to inaugurate its ceremonial mayors. Thamesmead Moorings councillor Brooks also told the same council meeting that “it’s very difficult to get to Blackheath from my ward” – despite the fact there’s a direct bus, route 380.
Since then, Greenwich spent £20,000 last year on fireworks to promote the Sail Royal Greenwich event, and a further £110,000 on events to mark becoming a royal borough in 2012.
Despite Greenwich’s refusal, Lewisham has continued to raise funds for the event, even though it’s also had its budget slashed by the coalition, by seeking sponsorship from firms and donations from locals – indeed, it was Greenwich resident Douglas Parrant who started 2013’s display after buying tickets in a Lewisham Council-run raffle.
But after last year’s event, Lewisham councillors were told fundraising had fallen £30,000 short – and the council would be approaching Greenwich to help it fund 2014’s display.
Greenwich’s refusal to help out is especially embarrassing for the council’s Labour colleagues in Lewisham, who have pledged to protect the display in past election campaigns.
Of course, there’s some context to this surrounding the poisonous atmosphere in Greenwich Labour.
It’s worth pointing out that Fahy appeared to have slightly different views on the issue in October 2011….
…although it’s well-known within Greenwich Council circles that cabinet members don’t write their own responses – indeed, they often come from council leader Chris Roberts.
When Fahy stood against Roberts for the leadership of the council in 2012, he lost his role as cabinet member for leisure and literally found himself airbrushed out of Greenwich’s weekly propaganda paper, Greenwich Time:
And, as everybody knows now, Fahy was also subjected to this threatening voicemail from Roberts last autumn:
I expect Fahy might have his phone switched off for a few days. To read what he has to say and vote on whether you think Greenwich Council should fund Blackheath fireworks, head on over to his website.