Category: local stuff

Travellers set up camp at Greenwich’s Ikea site

If you’re the kind of odd person who writes about local issues, and then you suffer a broken ankle, it means you miss some things. It means that you miss the complete disappearance of one of the area’s best-known buildings while you’re propped up not able to do very much.

So, where the “eco” Sainsbury’s in Greenwich once sat, there’s now an empty plot of land. Ikea took ownership last year, ahead of submitting its full planning application for a new store, and demolished the old store in the spring.

Instead of doing some landscaping to protect the land and make look a bit nicer (think of the green mounds outside Woolwich Tesco, awaiting redevelopment; or the green mounds that sat on what’s now the Lewisham Gateway building site), or even finding some ingenious use for the redundant store, Ikea left it empty. And we all know what happens with empty plots of land in this part of town.

IMG_3148

Still, at least the travellers are making use of the site – as Ikea wasn’t – and might be able to keep an eye on the motorcyclists that recently started to race around the site.

None of this will be of any comfort to the site’s neighbours. Nor will this weekend’s news of four-hour delays around the new Ikea in Reading.

But never fear – despite this, despite the Silvertown Tunnel, despite the cruise liner terminal, despite the creation of new retail warehouses on the Charlton riverside – there is money for “the Town Centre and Trafalgar Road Low Emissions Neighbourhood proposal, [which] includes a series of car-free days in the town centre, an incentive scheme to encourage walking and cycling and an extensive series of mini parks throughout the area”.

Too little, too late feels an understatement. It’s like locking the gates once the travellers have moved their vans in…

All change: 108 bus to link SE London with Olympic Park from October

108 bus
Greenwich and Lewisham’s only bus service to east London, the 108, will be re-routed to run via the Olympic Park from October.

The current service runs through the Blackwall Tunnel to Stratford bus station, via the A12, Bow Flyover and Stratford High Street.

From 1 October, it will run via Chrisp Street in Poplar and Campbell Road in Bow, before running through Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to Stratford International station, with stops outside the London Aquatics Centre, Stratford station and the Westfield shopping centre. While the 108’s connection at Bromley-by-Bow tube station is lost, it gains a new one at nearby Bow Road.

But while 108 passengers will escape jams in Stratford town centre as well as on the A12 heading towards the Blackwall Tunnel, they could face new hold-ups due to traffic congestion on the East India Dock Road, which links Chrisp Street with the tunnel.

In its response to a consultation into the proposals – which sees the 108’s north-of-the-river route swapped with another service, the D8 – the agency admits that congestion could affect both routes.

TfL says: “We note this is a risk. However, in developing the scheme, regard was had to existing traffic conditions and it is considered possible for both routes to offer a good quality service to passengers. We will continue to monitor service quality on both routes to ensure a service is being provided.”

It’s also not known what will happen during West Ham home matches at the Olympic Stadium – the current D8 service is diverted during stadium events.

Larger buses, which can hold 70 people, will be used, providing some very limited relief for those caught in the 108’s notorious rush-hour overcrowding. There are no plans as yet to increase the number of buses, although details of a new contract to run the route are yet to be released.

Neither Greenwich nor Lewisham councils responded to the consultation, while Tower Hamlets objected to the changes.

This website mentioned the idea in 2013 as a partly tongue-in-cheek response to Greenwich Council’s “all out” campaign to build the Silvertown Tunnel. It was followed by a surprisingly high number of responses suggesting the switch to a TfL consultation into which routes should serve the Olympic Park.

Stop the propaganda press: Greenwich Time’s final edition published

Greenwich Time, 27 June 2016

Greenwich Council’s weekly newspaper – Greenwich Time – has published its final edition, bringing to an end a lengthy battle with the Government over its existence.

The council spent £80,000 fighting a Government order to close it (with the Government spending £23,770), before the two parties reached an out-of-court settlement in December.

This week’s edition brings the title to a close after 32 years, of which its final eight were spent as a weekly. It launched in 1984 as a monthly publication, going fortnightly in 1991.

It was the last weekly council paper in England, following the closure of Tower Hamlets’ East End Life earlier this year.

You’ll have to read carefully to spot it’s the final paper – its closure is mentioned in a letter to residents on page two from council leader Denise Hyland, claiming it was “a reliable source of local information… reflective of the incredible history and characteristics of our area”.

Greenwich Time, 27 June 2016

But the paper, long targeted by a Government which aimed to outlaw “council Pravdas”, had been limping on for years following the sacking of chief reporter Peter Cordwell and assistant editor Rod Kitson.

Indeed, in its final years, the paper looked increasingly like the Soviet propaganda paper its detractors accused it of aping – a long way from the original intention of emulating genuine local newspapers.

The final front page features a bland statement on the council’s reaction to the EU referendum result and one of the council’s regular obsessions – the army, with a photograph of veterans at its Great Get Together event.

Inside, the redevelopment of estates in Woolwich is reannounced, while the Greenwich Heritage Trust’s creation of an exhibition commemorating the history of the Royal Artillery in Woolwich is featured – without mentioning it is a replacement for the failed Firepower museum, which closes next month.

It is not clear what comes next – the council is keeping its cards very close to its chest. We do know that Greenwich has put its statutory notices – planning applications, highway works, etc – out to tender again.

For now, the council leadership has lost a tool it used to paint a portrait of a borough that many simply didn’t recognise. It could have created a genuine community paper, allowing dissenting views and helping fill a vacuum left by the slow demise of the independent local press. But its leadership didn’t trust its residents, and instead used Greenwich Time to attempt to set the agenda – possibly angering as many as it persuaded.

Hyland’s letter continues: “I hope that the enormous legacy left by Greenwich Time will continue online in digital communities.” Well, hello!

Village people: What’s the fingerpost at Blackheath’s Royal Standard all about?

Blackheath Standard
Normally, this website likes to tell you things you didn’t know. But with normal service disrupted and not much time at present to keep this going, here’s something you can tell me. What’s that new village-style fingerpost sign at Blackheath Standard all about? And is it just me that thinks it looks a little bit odd? It looks less strange since Greenwich Council attached its sign to the front of it (does this mean everywhere is getting one?) but it still looks a tad weird to me.

Maybe it’s the Charlton arm pointing into a tree, perhaps it’s the design, or maybe it’s that faux-village street furniture always seems a bit peculiar in urban London. But it always has me scratching my head whenever I pass it. How did it come about?

Update, 21 June: A bit late with this, but thanks to Thomas Turrell for this explanation…

Greenwich Time ad team takes on Hackney as council weekly axe looms

Greenwich Time

Thankfully, Greenwich Time was on hand to deal with a domestic accident

Greenwich Council’s weekly newspaper, Greenwich Time, has only weeks left to live – but the council’s communications empire is actually expanding by taking on work for another London borough.

GT will close in its current format next month after an out-of-court settlement with the Government, which has outlawed “town hall Pravdas”.

But, weeks before the end, Greenwich Time’s advertising team has started selling ad space in Hackney Council’s fortnightly paper, Hackney Today.

The names of GT’s highly-regarded ad team, Nicola McGuire and Gaynor Granger, appear as advertising contacts in recent editions of the east London council’s paper.

Independent local paper Hackney Citizen reports that this is a  “temporary arrangement” while Hackney looks for a new ad sales person for its fortnightly paper, with Greenwich receiving a cut of the revenue.

Greenwich’s insistence on publishing Greenwich Time weekly saw it become an early target for former communities secretary Sir Eric Pickles’ war on such papers, which can now only be published four times a year. The only other council weekly in England, Tower Hamlets’ East End Life, closed this week.

Hackney is one of a band of councils who continue to defy the law by publishing  fortnightly, and have been threatened with action by chancellor George Osborne, who recently allowed local newspaper premises to allow for business rate relief in an attempt to boost the sector.

It’s not thought any premises in Greenwich borough will qualify (neither Lewisham nor Bexley have any local newspaper premises either) and with Greenwich Council still active in seeking advertising for council publications – and strongly encouraging partner organisations not to place ads with rivals – any new entrant will still find life difficult.

As for Greenwich Time, it remains stubbornly wedded to the agenda of council reputation management over information, with the current edition even ignoring the sinkhole that appeared in Charlton last week, along with printing an out-of-date “what’s on” guide. With some residents not getting the paper until Friday, five days after publication, much of what’s inside is old news by the time it limps onto doormats.

The council leadership is keeping its cards close to its chest on plans for the future. For all the Tories’ bluster over council papers, it took several years to kill off weekly town hall papers and it will no doubt be looking to push the out of court settlement to the letter.

The settlement says the council can publish “regular and frequent communications to those residents who choose to receive such information by whatever medium they they decide (eg, paper or electronic) providing it does not have the appearance of a newspaper, newsletter or similar publication”.

Neighbouring Lewisham has published a weekly email for some years (you can subscribe here and have a chance of winning a trip to Diggerland, the inspiration for the Lewisham Gateway scheme) supported by quarterly magazine Lewisham Life. A tie-up with Greenwich Leisure Limited, the not-for-profit group that runs leisure centres and libraries, has also long been mooted.

Council information... for the wrong borough

Council information… for the wrong borough

Another option is a tie-up with an existing local paper. The Mercury’s publishers have long been keen on recapturing the council’s advertising budget, lost many years ago.

The Mercury was recently bought from octogenarian local news baron Ray Tindle by its South London Press management, quietly reversing his eccentric policy of publishing “hyperlocal” editions for certain areas of Greenwich and Lewisham boroughs and more recently giving the ailing paper a much-needed redesign.

Smiling kids on the front page... look familiar to you?

Smiling kids on the front page… look familiar to you?

The Greenwich edition of the Streatham-based paper now carries the words “Royal Borough of Greenwich” above the masthead, while it also recently featured a worthy “get fit and stay healthy with Royal Greenwich” supplement – also inflicted on Lewisham readers – no doubt intended as a demonstration of what it could do. This week’s edition features a similar supplement, “Let’s do business in Royal Greenwich”.

Whether this will lead to a tie-up between the council and the Mercury remains to be seen. Greenwich residents will find out by the end of June. But for now, Greenwich Time’s ad sales department doesn’t seem to be going away.

Former Civil Service boss to lead Greenwich fairness commission

Connaught Estate, Woolwich, August 2015

Woolwich’s Connaught Estate comes down… but many residents are being left behind by the pace of change in the area

Greenwich Council has drafted in the UK’s former top civil servant to lead a commission to recommend policies to help it combat poverty in the borough.

Lord Kerslake, who as Sir Bob Kerslake was the head of the Home Civil Service for five years until 2015, will chair the Greenwich Fairness Commission, which will have “a particular focus on tackling child poverty and making Greenwich a fairer place for our residents”.

The council’s decision to launch the commission is an acknowledgement that developers’ investment in the area isn’t trickling down to those who need help – or in Woolwich’s case, across the A206. While unaffordable residential towers sprout up by the Thames, the council report announcing Kerslake’s appointment notes “a sharp increase over the past two years in the number of people presenting to the council as homeless”.

Five other London boroughs – Islington, Camden, Tower Hamlets, Croydon and Redbridge – have already set up commissions, making recommendations aimed at making sure disadvantaged residents have the best chance of improving their lives and getting out of poverty.

For example, Islington’s recommendations aimed to tackle issues such as childcare, literacy, poor health, use of community space, and public safety.

The appointment of Kerslake, who was also the permanent secretary to the Department of Communities and Local Government under Sir Eric Pickles, will no doubt be aimed at hushing grumbles from local Tories that the commission will simply be a stick to beat the government with. One council cabinet member – likely to be community wellbeing member Denise Scott-McDonald – is likely to sit on what is otherwise billed as an independent panel “drawn from the local private, voluntary and further/higher education sectors”.

That said, Kerslake is not an entirely disinterested party – these days, he is chair of Peabody, the housing association which is now redeveloping much of Thamesmead, on the borough’s eastern boundary.

The commission will hold four or five meetings to gather evidence and is expected to cost £20,000. It will report back to the council by the end of the year.

In a separate development, a vital stage in attempting to rejuvenate Woolwich’s fortunes has been reached, with Greenwich Council’s cabinet set to ratify a decision to sell the crumbling block containing Woolwich’s covered market to developers St Modwen and Notting Hill Housing Association to build 650 homes, a cinema and a new public square.

Greenwich cruise liner terminal pollution: A warning from Sydney

7pm update: A High Court judge today allowed the judicial review against Greenwich Council’s decision to proceed. Greenwich Council said it was “disappointed at the further delay“.

On Tuesday morning, a High Court judge will hear an application to hold a judicial review into Greenwich Council’s decision to allow the London City Cruise Port to be built at Enderby Wharf, east Greenwich. The hearing begins at 10.30am in Court 19 at the Royal Courts of Justice.

Local residents object to the terminal allowing cruise ships to use their own generators while on extended stays at the terminals, which they say will hugely increase air pollution in the area.

All four main mayoral candidates – including Labour’s Sadiq Khan and Conservative Zac Goldsmith – have supported the East Greenwich Residents’ Association’s campaign to get the terminal cleaned up.

sydney_cruise1000cc

A similar issue has happened in Sydney, where a cruise liner terminal that opened three years ago is being blamed for rocketing pollution levels in the district of Balmain. Just as in Greenwich, the operators of the White Bay cruise liner terminal say it will be too expensive to switch to “shore side” power.

A resident of Balmain has sent this message to the people of east Greenwich about what it’s like to live in the shadow of a polluting cruise liner terminal.

I live 100 metres from a cruise ship terminal in inner Sydney. Residents had no say in the development and were told the same myth as you regarding shore power.

The cruise ships cannot comply with their noise approval conditions with many of the measuring over 70dB.

We have begged for shore power for 3 years now. When there is a ship berthed out front we can’t open our doors and windows because of the particle matter. In February there was a ship berthed here nearly every day and night. No one could open doors or windows in the hottest summer Sydney has had to date.

We were told we could expect 60-70 ships a year with no overnight stays. Last year there were nearly 160 ships with approximately 12 overnight stays. The overnight stays are a nightmare because of the engine noise and light spillage.

The PA announcements often go all day and they are extremely loud & intrusive. There have been many hundreds of complaints made about this terminal.

After 3 years nothing has been complied with or resolved despite a Senate inquiry saying it should never have been installed here. The inquiry recommended shore power and immediate noise mitigation. That was over a year ago.

The inquiry validated all of the residents’ health concerns. The stench of bunker fuel and the thick black smoke coming from these old ships is appalling. Residents have grave concerns for their health. Interestingly the oldest an dirtiest and noisiest ships are fitted out for shore power.

The real truth about shore power appears to be that the cruise lines do not want to spend the money on retrofitting their fleet for shore power.

Residents near the White Bay terminal have started their own campaign: Stop Cruise Ship Pollution.

Photo: Departure by Simon Clancy used under Creative Commons licence CC-BY-2.0.