The London Marathon is the best day of the year in this part of south-east London, right? So wouldn’t it be great if there was another one?
And no, not the return of Run to the Beat.
Just announced today, and coming on 4 March 2018, is The Big Half – a half-marathon using the central chunk of the London Marathon course. It’ll start at Tower Bridge, wind its way back around Canary Wharf, then back over Tower Bridge to end at the Cutty Sark. It’s organised by the same team behind the London Marathon.
The event in full…
– The Big Half, a mass participation race over the classic half marathon distance, starting at the iconic setting of Tower Bridge and finishing in Greenwich
– The Little Half for younger runners will be held on a 2.1 mile route from Southwark Park to the stunning Finish Line by the Cutty Sark in Greenwich
– The Big Relay, exclusively for community groups from the four host boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Southwark, Lewisham and Greenwich, with distances ranging from one mile to five miles
– The Big Festival in Greenwich with a huge range of food music and entertainment, including performances from community groups and fun activities and fitness classes for the whole family to enjoy
Entry is open now if you fancy doing it yourself. There are 5,800 places in the main race (making it much smaller than either the main marathon or the unlamented Run to the Beat) with a limited number of discounted places for people from the host boroughs (Greenwich, Lewisham, Southwark and Tower Hamlets).
Quotes from the press release:
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “The Big Half has the potential to become one of the most remarkable days in our sporting calendar. And putting local people at the heart of a world-class running event is a masterstroke. Sport has the power to change people’s lives, and we hope The Big Half will become an annual event that can help inspire tens of thousands of Londoners to get involved in sport and in their local communities.”
Hugh Brasher, Event Director, The Big Half, said: “If you were inspired by Sunday’s London Marathon, this is your chance to get involved in an event like no other. Sport can be an incredible way of joining people together and getting communities to interact together. We are creating an event that is unique, that is fun, that people will want to come back to year after year. The Big Half is a celebration of community and life.”
There’ll still be a bit of disruption (I imagine people in Wapping will feel sore) but nothing like the mass closures of full marathon day. And it looks like it’ll be a huge day for Greenwich town centre. So stick the date in your diary…
An east Greenwich pub has had its licence withdrawn by councillors after council officers found its management had left the premises to be run by its customers.
The Duchess on Woolwich Road – formerly the Ship & Billet and Frog & Radiator – has been closed since January after a series of violent incidents.
In September, most of the pub’s windows were smashed by a customer, and when council officers visited to investigate, they were told its designated supervisor had left and discovered the pub was apparently being run by a drunken customer. “It appeared almost that the locals were running the pub,” the officers said in a report.
The following month, they were told by the pub’s licence holder that he planned to close and redevelop the pub, but in January council offers found the pub still being run by customers and serving well after its 2am licence.
The report continues: “[Name redacted] claimed to be running the premises in the absence of her mother. Her speech was slurred and she smelt of drink. She beckoned the licensing officer behind the bar area where he came face to face with a large, shaven-headed male. Believing that he was in charge of the premises, he introduced himself as a licensing officer. His reply was: ‘Does that make you fucking important?’
“Realising that he was a customer, the licensing officer changed his attitude. His response: ‘I couldn’t give two fucks who you are!’ With that, he picked up a pint glass full of beer… and stormed off into the public area.
“The licensing officer returned to speak to [name redacted] who obviously had no knowledge of running licensed premises. She was unaware who the licence holders were as she had never met them. She had no idea what a Designated Premises Supervisor was, nor the opening and closing time of the premises. Asked when she planned to close for the evening, she replied: ‘When I feel like it!'”
The Duchess was one of the last of the old-style pubs along the main road through east Greenwich, after the demolition of the Victoria and the Old Friends, the conversion of the William IV and revamp of The Crown. It is unlikely to be missed – but will anyone take on the prominent corner site and try to revive the old pub?
There is much better news for Greenwich drinkers a little further down Woolwich Road – a micropub, the River Ale House, has been given both planning and licensing permission by Greenwich Council. It will replace the Under Cover Experience lingerie retailer.
Micropubs – small one-room bars concentrating on real ale – first emerged in Kent, and there are already seven in south-east London, including The Long Pond in Eltham. Here’s a pub crawl linking six of them – although with the River Ale House and another newcomer, The Kentish Belle in Bexleyheath, it may need a bit of a rewrite….
So the 2017 Tall Ships Regatta is over and the vessels are sailing off to the North Sea. How was it for you? It all seems to have gone well from the little I saw – you may be able to say more.
If you pay council tax in Greenwich borough, you’ve a direct interest in whether or not it was a success – it costs the council £2 million. They’ll have to have shifted a lot of £5 programmes to make that back. Local Tories have long grumbled that the event should be making money and it should be more heavily sponsored. Indeed, the list of sponsors did look like a roll-call of usual suspects – the developers and hotel firms that benefit from “brand Royal Greenwich”. You could have had your firm’s name all over the riverside walk for £19,000 plus VAT.
But for the council leadership this is an investment in local businesses – a good old-fashioned Labour intervention in the economy, like building a cinema in Eltham. (This argument never stretches to Blackheath fireworks, mind.)
The trouble with this kind of one-off event is that it’s hard to quantify any benefit. There’ll no doubt be a report within a few weeks that indicates the local economy benefitted by squillions, so there’ll be lots of back-slapping. Whether or not this is really the case will be harder to tell. That said, it certainly reinforces Greenwich’s position as one of the very few real tourist draws outside central London.
But it’s also meant to draw people to Woolwich, too. And this is a more difficult sell. Indeed, local business there weren’t impressed with 2014’s event, something this website reported on last year.
Essentially, because it takes place on the riverside, it benefits the businesses in Berkeley Homes’ Royal Arsenal development, and does nothing for those in the traditional town centre. A few plans were set out to fix this, including “a joined up event management plan that links the main town centre with the Arsenal Riverside Festival site”, “integrated way finding and high street dressing to link the town centre to the Arsenal Festival site”, and “animation of Beresford Square, Powis St and General Gordon Square”.
A draft business engagement report suggested the council should “host (non-competing) stalls and attractions in General Gordon Square and Powis Street to encourage footfall and dwell time in the main town centre”.
Except that there was – as far as I could tell – nothing outside the Royal Arsenal. I had a quick look in Woolwich on Saturday and – a few bits of bunting aside – it seemed to be a normal day. Nothing happening in General Gordon Square or Beresford Square, just the odd performer in fancy dress avoiding the costly food and drink in the Arsenal. General Gordon Square, with its big screen (pictured above on Saturday), was its usual mildly depressing self.
Instead, all the effort seemed to have gone into social media. Here, cabinet member Sizwe James pleads with us that if we visit the Earl of Chatham pub, his captors will set him free.
Woolwich being a hub for tall ships could be a brilliant thing – but the benefit seems to be flowing towards one particular developer rather than the town as a whole.
Now, I may have missed something – and if you saw a choir of Jack Russells performing sea shanties in front of the big screen, please use the comments box below – but by neglecting the traditional town centre again, I can’t help thinking the council has unwittingly made the divide between Woolwich town centre and the Royal Arsenal that little bit wider.
Anyway, the best place to watch Easter Sunday’s Parade of Sail wasn’t Greenwich, it wasn’t Woolwich, it was the Thames Barrier. If the tall ships return – and I’m sure they will – make a note for next time.
11pm update: Greenwich Council deputy leader Danny Thorpe says “loads happened” in Woolwich town centre “and all over the borough”. I’ve added an image of the report which made recommendations for Woolwich.
Much excitement today on the Greenwich Peninsula with the press invited to take a ride on the little driverless shuttles that have once again taken over the riverside path. Here’s BBC London’s Tom Edwards, going all Tomorrow’s World on us, except the future is here today, right before our eyes, with bicycle outriders.
“The council thinks sharing vehicles could reduce pollution and congestion…” – that would be a bus, right?
Yet in the boring real life Greenwich Peninsula, bus passengers are getting a decidedly shonky deal. The dedicated busway that takes double-deckers up to North Greenwich station has been out of action for nearly three weeks for utility works that nobody seems in a hurry to finish. This means buses end up being sent around the frequently-congested roundabout at the top of Blackwall Lane, holding up passengers and making them late for work.
This morning, this resulted in a whole heap of buses having to disgorge their passengers at Greenwich Millennium Village, leaving them to walk half a mile to the station. (Thank you to the frustrated commuter who sent me the photos.) It’s not clear what had caused the hold-up – the Blackwall Tunnel was flowing freely.
TfL and Greenwich Council recently confirmed plans to rip out the busway and replace it with a dual carriageway. But before claiming the Greenwich Peninsula is some hotbed of innovation, perhaps they might like to do something to assist the transport that already exists there.
Got a minute? Watch this video. It won’t take long.
The individual you can see spluttering “a minivan?!” like a south London Lady Bracknell is Greenwich Council cabinet member Maureen O’Mara. The person questioning her, off camera, is Matt Hartley, leader of Greenwich’s Tories.
This exchange, about why council meeting webcasts aren’t very well promoted, was probably the highlight of last month’s council meeting.
You might even have read about it in the Sutton-based News Shopper. Alright, you probably didn’t. So here it is.
Transparency, eh? What a waste of bleedin’ time! All this stuff’s for geeks and berks! But it’s not. And O’Mara, Hartley, and the Sutton Shopper are all letting us down here.
Greenwich Council started streaming full council meetings last year. It’s a very good idea – people should be able to see what their councillors are up to. It’s a really simple system – works a treat on mobile phones too, so you can watch wherever you may be. It costs the council £9,400 per year, plus £1,040 for every 30 hours of broadcast. Most council meetings are about two and a half hours long. (See question 7.)
Alright, you’re not going to watch it live. And in practice, these meetings are hard to follow unless you’ve a) an agenda paper (available a week beforehand); b) a list of questions from councillors and the public (available 10-15 minutes beforehand in the town hall, not sure if this is available to online viewers). Like any sporting event, you can’t beat being there.
But the recordings stay online, so you can watch back later. And that’s where the value is. The bits that are worth watching are questions from the public and questions from (usually Tory) councillors; most of these are submitted in advance, although the latter also has a section for new questions that can be asked on the night. Public deputations and petitions are also worth a look.
The rest of it’s often peacock-strutting nonsense, unfortunately. Even hardened Town Hall watchers usually head to the pub once the members’ questions are through. But the first hour or so of a council meeting usually contains something interesting.
It’s important that people can see how councillors act to the public and to their peers. Most people have better things to do than watch Prime Minister’s Questions or Mayor’s Question Time live. But they’ll often see clips on the news later.
And just like the Commons and City Hall showpieces, Full Council isn’t usually very impressive either. Too many cabinet members come across as sanctimonious or just plain rude, one or two come across as out of their depth. Others manage to answer questions simply and honestly and without blaming the Tories for everything.
But even the good ones aren’t utilising webcasting properly. Individual councillors’ contributions can be highlighted – here is deputy council leader Danny Thorpe being rude to Matt Hartley – and even embedded, like this:
(Unfortunately, I can’t embed council content due to me having a cheapo site set-up. That’s something I’d like to fix one day. Instead, Lady Bracknell will have to do.)
There’s nothing stopping our councillors from posting links to their own contributions in the days after meetings, just as MPs can link to their speeches in the Commons. People are more likely to watch these clips via social media than to sit through the tedium of watching the thing live.
Here’s Matt Hartley presenting the Tories’ alternative budget (and complaining about council leader Denise Hyland’s absence) and cabinet member Chris Kirby tearing it to shreds.
Nobody’s making use of these clips, and it’s a big miss. The local press isn’t – not the Mercury, and not the News Shopper, which is grumbling that nobody’s watching in the first place. To be fair on the papers, maybe they don’t know it’s available. (Even if they’re writing about it.) But what excuse do the councillors have?
Maybe the councillors are all a bit embarrassed by their performances. In some cases, they bloody well should be. This stuff is never going to attract huge numbers. But if you aren’t using it yourself to its fullest extent, you can’t complain when nobody watches. Perhaps they just want this to just go away, so nobody writes blog posts peppered with screen grabs of councillors pulling funny faces.
But a few more viewers might lead to a real breakthrough – getting the committee rooms sorted so they can be filmed too. Big planning meetings would certainly attract an audience. Cabinet meetings are where the real decisions take place. And while scrutiny’s often dull, it should be available on the record. Actually, sometimes scrutiny does attract big numbers.
A week after Maureen O’Mara implied nobody was interested in watching council meetings, there was a packed health scrutiny panel meeting looking into the controversial handing of local musculoskeletal physiotherapy services to private provider Circle Health.
By all accounts, the scrutiny panel did themselves proud. But there’s no recording of this that’s publicly available so we can see for ourselves. And that’s a real shame. I think the scrutiny panel would probably appreciate a recording, too, so they can look back over points that may have been missed.
Sure, some embarrassing performances may find their way onto a server (indeed, they already have done). But that should be a cue for councillors to raise their game, not lash out at those who want to see more transparency.
There was another council meeting this week, but the system was broken. So we’ll never see what this was about.
Cuts to school budgets are a massive issue, and people should have been able to see their local politicians’ responses to them, and engage with them.
The next normal council meeting won’t be until June – hopefully the cameras will have been fixed by then. But hopefully Greenwich councillors – both Labour and Conservative – will look again at webcasting. Who knows, with an election due next year, they might find their constituents like what they see.
You can see past council meetings at https://royalgreenwich.public-i.tv/core/portal/home.
Greenwich Council is considering setting up its own cycle hire schemes, after once again ruling out paying for TfL’s Santander Cycles to reach the borough.
The council has rejected a new call to work on an expansion of the London Cycle Hire network, following a petition handed to the council last month by Conservative councillor Matt Clare.
While the Labour administration does not object to the idea, it has baulked at the idea of paying the estimated £2 million cost of bringing the scheme south east.
“Boris bikes” have been a common sight in Greenwich town centre since the scheme was extended to the Isle of Dogs, with a cycle dock close to the Greenwich Foot Tunnel at Island Gardens. However, coverage is poor south of the river, with just a single hire dock east of Tower Bridge.
An electric bike hire scheme is due to launch in east Greenwich and Greenwich town centre on 8 April as part of the City Hall-funded Low Emissions Neighbourhood (LEN) scheme. The 16-bike scheme will “encourage residents of the LEN to trial more sustainable alternatives to the private motor vehicle”.
Electric bikes would certainly work on the hilly terrain around Greenwich, Blackheath and Charlton; although plans to set up a hire scheme in the borough of Haringey – which features some punishing inclines around Highgate and Muswell Hill – have been dropped after TfL said they were poor value for money.
There are also plans being developed to make folding Brompton bicycles available at Greenwich station. Bromptons are already available at a handful of locations in London including Peckham Rye station, while there used to be a scheme at the University of Greenwich.
The report says: “Development work on the implementation of a Brompton Bike Dock is in progress. If the scheme were to progress 8 Brompton Bikes would be available at Greenwich Station. Residents would be able to hire these for just £2.50 per day with no initial sign up fee. By comparison the Santander Cycle Hire scheme costs £2 to access per day, the first 30 minutes is free and then £2 for every 30 minutes.
“Based on the outcome of these trials proposals may be developed for wider expansion of these or similar schemes to suitable locations in the Borough.”
“In the longer term, a variety of public bike sharing models are being evaluated. This includes traditional dock based models as well as ‘floating’ models that do not require substantial infrastructure to operate.”
Despite looking at different models, the report says Greenwich would still be interested in having the London Cycle Hire scheme – so long as it didn’t have to pay for it. “Officers will continue to work with TfL to ensure that TfL is aware that the Council would welcome an extension of the Mayor’s cycle hire scheme into the Royal Borough and to explore the opportunity to fund any expansion at no cost to the Council.”
With TfL facing steep financial cuts, any expansion of the loss-making scheme (it requires a £10m subsidy each year) would have to come from councils or developers, meaning its coverage of London is likely to remain somewhat lopsided. The most recent boost to the network came last year when bikes were made available in the Olympic Park, which is controlled by a City Hall agency.
While Greenwich has ruled out contributing to an expansion, Southwark Council said three years ago it would consider paying for the scheme to be extended to Bermondsey, Rotherhithe, Camberwell and Peckham, which would pave the way for a further expansion east.
But little has been heard since, and when asked last year, Sadiq Khan would only say that TfL was talking to “council planners and land developers in Rotherhithe” about expansion there.
Greenwich borough is all set to get a new weekly newspaper after Greenwich Council agreed to sign an advertising deal with the publisher of the weekly Southwark News.
Councils must, by law, publish certain public notices – such as for planning and highways matters – in at least one local newspaper.
Until 2016, Greenwich had used this as a pretext for publishing its own weekly paper, Greenwich Time. It closed last summer after an out-of-court settlement following a government crackdown on “council Pravdas”.
Since then, Greenwich has been publishing some of its notices in the Penge-based Mercury newspaper, a free offshoot of the South London Press series; while placing its vanity stuff… sorry, vital public information in a dull fortnightly called Greenwich Info.
But now Greenwich, after a lengthy tender process, has opted to take its ad money to a new entrant to the area, Southwark Newspaper Ltd. The contract could be worth up to £1.2m over three years. (For its part, the council claims the equivalent cost of Greenwich Time would only be £738,000, but this doesn’t take into account the cost of in-house advertising, while local organisations were strongly encouraged to place ads in GT rather than other publications.)
The firm is best known for Southwark News, the only independent paid-for newspaper in the capital, which contains Southwark Council’s public notices. It’s a very good paper and has an excellent reputation. There’s also a free spin-off, Southwark Weekender, which focuses on events in the borough.
It also publishes Lambeth Weekender, which features Lambeth Council’s notices as well as a rotating opinion column between the three parties represented at the town hall – Labour, the Conservatives and the Greens.
Greenwich’s choice to give the contract to Southwark Newspaper Ltd was ratified by a scrutiny panel last week after the borough’s Conservatives “called in” the decision. (I asked the Tories why, but they never got back to me. You’ll have to ask them yourself.)
Is the Greenwich Weekender coming?
Whether this means we’re in line for Greenwich Weekender isn’t clear. Hopefully, the council will keep its mitts off. Whether it has “Royal” in the title might be a clue. Greenwich wants its ads “published… in the context of engaging local editorial content which helps to positively inform local residents about the measures that their neighbours and local service providers are undertaking to make the borough a great place to live, work, learn and visit”. No moaning about dirty streets or pollution or Plumstead High Street falling to bits, y’hear? LOOK AT THE TALL SHIPS!
In practice, sticking council ads in a pan-south London “what’s on”-style publication with a couple of pages of council editorial will tick that box nicely. This is pretty much how Lambeth Weekender started.
Since the council’s latest Big Idea is creating a “cultural quarter” in Berkeley Homes’s Royal Arsenal development in Woolwich, this could actually work well for all sides. We get an interesting local weekly, the council gets its ads and some puff pieces, a south London business gets money and can employ more people.
Don’t expect to get a copy through your letterbox, though – no bidder was willing to fulfil the council’s demand that 95% of households got a paper, which was the alleged distribution of Greenwich Time. Now fewer than one in three households will get a paper, although 8,500 will be made available at 80 pick-up points across the borough. Hopefully this will include dump bins in public places rather than the usual council network.
Fingers crossed that the Southwark team can pull it off. While money from public notices represents a subsidy that can be open to abuse (and has been for many, many years), it is good to see the cash going to a reputable independent publisher, based reasonably near the borough, rather than the media groups that have steadily starved the existing local titles. So good luck to them.
There is one fly in the ointment – since Greenwich made its initial decision, Lambeth has decided to switch its public notice contract away from Lambeth Weekender and back to the South London Press, swallowing concerns about ads for sexual services in the SLP. Whether that loss of income upsets the plan remains to be seen.
The distant Mercury
This is bad news for the Mercury, once the area’s main local paper, but long reduced to being a free offshoot of the South London Press. Despite the efforts of the paper’s one remaining reporter/editor, resources have been slashed to the bone and beyond in recent years.
The paper was recently sold to its management and was given a revamp, with the council ad contract seen as a lifeline.
Indeed, a second bidder had been rejected by the council after due diligence found it presented an “unacceptable risk to the council”.
It is not known who the second bidder was. It may not even have been the Mercury/SLP.
An amateurish effort at a local paper – Greenwich Gazette – briefly appeared and then disappeared during the council tender process (but not before lifting copy from this website about Blackheath fireworks). The Gazette did not carry any details of any publisher, but it appears to have been linked to a design and PR business based in west Greenwich for which only limited financial information is available.
Hopefully not having to worry about council ad money will make the Mercury a bit more fearless. Even if few people ever see a copy because the distribution is terrible.
The stumbling Shopper – and a BBC bailout
Tough times continue at the News Shopper too, which is now produced from Sutton and is effectively the same newspaper as the South London Guardian/Surrey Comet series, making it some kind of quasi-regional freesheet. Recent editions available in Greenwich have featured news from Biggin Hill, Crayford and even Enfield.
Cutbacks have also led to cock-ups like this – the Surrey Comet (which covers Kingston) effectively getting a News Shopper letters page.
Publisher Newsquest has been bleeding its titles dry across the UK – recently slashing jobs at a production hub in south Wales after collecting £340,000 in Welsh government subsidies.
There’s more bailout money for the asset-strippers on offer from the BBC, and we’ll soon see the results of that in south-east London. The Beeb is setting up a Local Democracy Reporters Scheme, which will see reporters based at local news organisations start to cover local council meetings, like the old days. Except the BBC will be funding them, and the results will be available to the news barons who cut council coverage in the first place, like Newsquest.
One reporter will cover Greenwich, Bexley and Bromley; another has the enormous task of covering Lewisham, Southwark and Lambeth. I can’t see it working very well. If you’ve read this far and you’re interested, here’s why the Local Democracy Reporter Scheme, as it stands, is a terrible idea.