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Enderby Wharf: Greenwich cruise terminal battle to be debated in Parliament as residents plan appeal

Residents say the ships' engines can be as polluting as 688 lorries idling all day.

Residents say the ships’ engines can be as polluting as 688 lorries idling all day

The battle over the Enderby Wharf cruise liner terminal in Greenwich will be debated in Parliament next Wednesday, while local residents have confirmed they are planning to appeal against a decision to throw out a judicial review into Greenwich Council’s decision to approve the scheme.

Poplar MP Jim Fitzpatrick, who has backed Isle of Dogs residents concerned about pollution from the terminal, will lead the half-hour debate in Westminster Hall on Wednesday afternoon.

Residents on both sides of the Thames 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. They say the emissions are comparable to 688 lorries idling all day, and are demanding a switch to shore-based power supplies instead.

A judicial review into the decision was thrown out last month, with Mr Justice Collins stating that no errors had been made in making the decision. It is believed that council leader Denise Hyland’s meetings with the developer before the decision was made were not raised in court. Hyland is the only council leader in London to regularly sit on her borough’s main planning committee, and voted for the scheme.

Fitzpatrick’s intervention will be embarrassing for his Labour Party colleague Hyland as well as her deputy leader Danny Thorpe, who also voted for the scheme and called criticism of it “scaremongering”.

Greenwich & Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook has also sided with residents, tweeting that the judicial review’s failure was “not the end of the matter”. London mayor Sadiq Khan also offered his backing while campaigning for the position.

Now the East Greenwich Residents Association is supporting a second attempt at the High Court. While Mr Justice Collins refused leave to appeal, lawyers for the anonymous plaintiff bringing the case claim there were errors in his judgment.

EGRA’s Ian Blore said this afternoon: “We half expected an appeal. Residents and others who attended the two-day fullHigh Court hearing were surprised when Mr Justice Collins joked that he would issue his decision before going on an Antarctic cruise. The 9,500 Londoners who die of air pollution each year may not find that funny.

“It is sad that a potentially highly polluting development is still being pursued when air quality is at the top of everyone’s agenda and when a remedy, onshore power supply to the berthed ships, is possible.

“It’s doubly sad that citizens have to pay to crowdfund a legal action to prevent this and to pay council taxes to fund the legal costs of the Royal Borough of Greenwich.”

Update 4.25pm: Ian Blore adds: “Greenwich MP Matt Pennycook applied in the ballot to have this issue discussed but Jim Fitzpatrick won it.  Nevertheless our MP will be speaking in the debate.  With such a consensus to redesign this scheme can’t we please go back to the drawing board and save a lot of time and legal fees?”

Tower Hamlets mayoral scandal: Consequences south of the river?

Tower Hamlets Council hoarding
It’s an east London matter, but last week’s news that Tower Hamlets’ elected mayor Lutfur Rahman had been booted out of office by an election court after being found guilty of corrupt and illegal practices during an election could have consequences south of the river too.

The particular circumstances of Tower Hamlets are unusual. Elsewhere, the system of having an elected mayor has worked well, with Sir Steve Bullock a popular and respected figure in Lewisham. But Lutfur Rahman turned his office into a personality cult, even sticking his face on humdrum signs in the borough.

A fresh election will be held next month. Labour’s John Biggs, the current London Assembly member for City & East and a former Tower Hamlets council leader, will be hoping to take charge of the authority once again.

Tower Hamlets returning to Labour would have significant consequences for Greenwich and Lewisham, as Biggs – like Greenwich’s Denise Hyland and Newham’s Robin Wales – is one of that generation of London Labour politicians that still believes building new roads can bring prosperity.

He’s been a fervent advocate for the Silvertown Tunnel – believing it would relieve congestion in the borough (although as it’s aimed at Canary Wharf and the City, it’d do nothing to relieve the southbound snarl-ups on the A12).

By contrast, under Rahman, Tower Hamlets has been inconsistent on the issue – opposing it in 2012, cautiously welcoming it in 2014. Just as yesterday’s Supreme Court verdict on air pollution will make it easier for campaigners to challenge the tunnel, a Biggs victory in Tower Hamlets could increase certain local politicians’ resolve to continue with this dubious venture.

Indeed, it’s possible we’ll see a more united front between the riverside boroughs on the huge redevelopments and other infrastructure projects across the area – relations between Tower Hamlets and Greenwich on planning issues haven’t been healthy in recent years, most recently with Isle of Dogs residents feeling left out on discussions over plans to expand the long-delayed cruise liner terminal (more on this to come). The winner out of all this could well be Newham’s muscular mayor, Sir Robin Wales, who recently hosted a meeting of east London boroughs (and Greenwich) to discuss devolving responsibilities from central government.

Of course, this is speculation – intra-borough jealousies don’t depend on them being run by rival parties, as anyone who’s dealt with Greenwich and Lewisham will know. But heads could well be banged together soon, especially with Labour currently poised to take the London mayoralty next year.

East End Life, 27 April 2015

The other consequence to the Tower Hamlets ruling concerns Greenwich Time. Tower Hamlets is England’s only other council to publish a weekly newspaper – one which the local Labour party has consistently criticised for bias.

The two government commissioners recently sent into Tower Hamlets (yesterday joined by two more) have kept East End Life going – something which hasn’t gone unnoticed by Denise Hyland – using Press Association copy to report on the election court case. I wonder how Greenwich Time would have dealt with a similar case here.

Whether the next government will implement Eric Pickles’ laws banning “town hall Pravdas” is something we’ll find out in weeks to come – the election has thrown Pickles’ fight with Greenwich into the long grass.

But a new administration in Tower Hamlets may well scrap East End Life as a symbol of reform – or it may well try to find some new solution. All of which could impact on Greenwich’s battle to keep its own weekly paper going.

Again, this is all speculation – two elections mean things are very much up in the air, and after all, this is Tower Hamlets politics.

But it’s worth keeping an eye on events across the water in the next few weeks – the excellent Trial By Jeory and Love Wapping will keep you up to date on what’s happening.

Will Greenwich Council’s new boss be the same as the old boss?

So, last week, Chris Roberts said his farewells as Dear Leader. I’m told he was still in his office at Woolwich Town Hall as the minutes ticked down until the end of his reign at 7pm last Wednesday. And as the effective editor of the council’s weekly newspaper, Greenwich Time, he got to pen his own farewell.

roberts_farewell

In case you were wondering, “leave this world a little better than you found it” is a quotation from Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scout movement.

More telling, though, from a politician closely associated with huge building projects, is “make no small plans, for they have no power to stir men’s souls”. That’s attributed to Daniel Burnham, a US architect who worked on some of the world’s earliest skyscrapers, including New York City’s Flatiron Building. Something to remember when Berkeley Homes’ huge towers start to loom over Woolwich in the next few years.

Possibly more telling than that, though, is a revealing comment he made at his final full council meeting in March, which you can listen to below. He’s heavily tipped to end up in some consultancy or advisory role, so until he re-emerges, let’s leave this as the last word.

He was paying tribute to departing councillors. But it was pretty clear he wasn’t talking about them when he said: “The service of the public is a noble calling, whether you’re doing it as a councillor or as an officer. No-one in a democracy does it for the money. It can be long, it can be tiring, but as we all know, it can be rewarding.

“It can result in people delving into your personal lives, and as we all know it’s full of journalists, bloggers and tweeters who think that your moral compass and motives are as base as theirs sometimes seem to be – and that public works and public good are something to be denigrated by those who seek to pursue them [sic].”

***

That was then, this is now.

Greenwich Time, 17 June 2014

The Dear Leader is no more, so congratulations and welcome to Denise Hyland as the new Greenwich Council leader, as trumpted by – where else? – Greenwich Time.

It’s lucky for Hyland that one of the more controversial projects under her past watch as regeneration cabinet member, the botched refurbishment of the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels, is finally nearing completion. Indeed, she’d also been saddled with fronting the council’s Bridge The Gap campaign to build the Silvertown Tunnel and a bridge at Gallions Reach – in spite of opposition from her own party.

The party members’ opposition meant Labour’s position in May’s election was subtly different. “Bridge The Gap is dead,” one Labour source insisted to me during the council election. And, indeed, look at what the Labour manifesto said…

Greenwich Labour manifesto, 2014

A little bit of wiggle room emerged. And Labour candidates were telling people on the doorstep that things had changed. Here’s Stephen Brain, now Peninsula ward councillor, on 23 April.

Stephen Brain on Twitter

But on 24 April, despite what was in the Labour party manifesto, here’s what Denise Hyland was telling Boris Johnson, responding to his London Plan

London Plan response, 24 April 2014

Was Denise Hyland just following orders? Here she is from the News Shopper last week:

“I’m saying that we need a package of river crossings, absolutely we do.

I’m not going to get drawn into over whether we’ll accept or refuse a single crossing. I want to work with my colleagues, my Labour colleagues in the majority group and get a consensus after we’ve seen the proposals.”

That sounds like Bridge The Gap is still alive.

“Of course I’m concerned about air quality. I think it’s obviously a very difficult balance. If we actually look at our figures, 85 per cent of people thought we needed additional river crossings. 76 per cent wanting Silvertown, 73 per cent wanting a bridge at Gallions. People seem to think that doing nothing is not an option.”

Let’s not forget that Greenwich Council tried to rig that consultation, of course. Perhaps the new chief whip, one Stephen Brain, needs to get his leader into line…

Generally, the News Shopper interview seemed to promise more of the same than anything new. When asked about opening up the council, she said “I obviously want ward councillors to be frontline councillors, they’re the representatives of the council in the community and they represent their people and its for them to channel people’s voices through to the council” – ie, they should do their job. From this early interview, don’t expect any move away from the current top-down decision-making any time soon.

Then again, her Greenwich Time “interview” talked up the importance of listening to communities – since the Shopper’s piece went up on the website on Friday, shortly before GT goes to press, I can’t help wondering if the piece underwent a hasty rewrite as the introductory paragraph doesn’t match the headline. After all, Hyland is now the effective editor of GT…

It’s early days, and Hyland has to get her feet under the table first. While Roberts’ chief executive, Mary Ney, remains in place, big changes are probably unlikely – although a new cohort of Labour councillors will want to make their presence felt.

But who has her old job of regeneration cabinet member, the most important on the council?

Danny ThorpeCuriously, the job didn’t go to an big hitter such as Jackie Smith, John Fahy or David Gardner – but to Danny Thorpe, the 30-year-old Shooters Hill councillor best known for spending a year of his first term in office in Australia. When a skint Thorpe had to return to London after six months to attend a council meeting to avoid a by-election being triggered, the council’s Labour group had to pay his air fare.

Thorpe, who used to work in events management for Hackney Council, will be juggling his cabinet portfolio with teacher training at a primary school in Dartford. You could always try to follow him on Twitter, but his profile’s locked. Mind you, the last time I saw it, it was full of photos of him and singer Beverley Knight.

Hyland and Thorpe are also both on the planning board along with ex-deputy leader Peter Brooks and ex-chief whip Ray Walker – so the old guard are still represented there.

There are other new faces in the new cabinet. Highly-rated newcomer Sizwe James takes business, employment and skills, while fellow new councillor Chris Kirby gets housing. Miranda Williams, in her second term, joins the cabinet as member for cultural and creative industries. Returning councillor David Gardner takes health and adult social care.

Maureen O’Mara stays in the cabinet, taking community wellbeing and public health; while Jackie Smith also stays in the cabinet, but loses her highly-praised role in charge of children’s services to take on community safety and environment. John Fahy now takes on children’s services as well as being deputy leader. The “Greener Greenwich” portfolio (created by Roberts after the Greens broke through as an electoral force in 2006) has been dumped, with Harry Singh talking charge of customer and community services.

Cynics never the changed the world, so this website won’t be writing the new team off just yet. Denise Hyland and her team need to prove they are better than the unravelling shambles that came before them – and they’ll need to pick up some of the pieces, too.

Of course, Greenwich councillors should be held to account for past actions, but those actions may not necessarily be an accurate prediction of the future. It’d be good to see a review of past contracts signed with developers – as Hammersmith & Fulham’s new Labour administration is carrying out after usurping a Tory regime that also looked a bit too close to builders – but frankly that won’t happen.

Those who kept their head down and did as they were told under a bullying, stifling regime need the chance to find their feet and prove to us they can make a difference. The way Greenwich borough is run desperately needs to change – will they be the ones to deliver?

PS. Former Labour councillor Alex Grant has started a blog – and if you’ve made it down this far, his first post will be essential reading. Former Tory councillor Nigel Fletcher has also returned to being a digital scribe, and his account of losing his seat is also well worth reading.

Greenwich Council election results: Labour prevails, but no wipeout

woolwich_town_hall

Election counts are funny events. While the overall result was never in doubt, there were enough mini-dramas to make spending most of Friday in a hall at Woolwich’s Waterfront leisure centre a strangely compelling experience. Maybe it’s the hypnosis that kicks in after staring at ballot papers being counted.

Anyway, enough waffle. Here are the headlines:

  • Labour tightened its grip on Greenwich Council after taking three seats from the Tories, giving them 43 councillors to the Conservatives’ eight.
  • Tory deputy leader Nigel Fletcher was the night’s biggest scalp, losing his Eltham North seat to Labour along with fellow Conservative Adam Thomas. Their leader Spencer Drury clung on, but Labour’s Linda Bird and Wynn Davies surged ahead of their rivals, both finishing less than 30 votes behind Drury.
  • Labour also nicked a seat from the Tories in Blackheath Westcombe ward, with Cherry Parker and Paul Morrissey topping the poll. Veteran Tory Geoff Brighty held on, edging out Labour rival Damien Welfare.
  • But the Tories held off surging Labour and Ukip votes in Eltham South and Coldharbour & New Eltham to retain all their councillors there.
  • Strong Ukip votes wrecked Tory polling in many wards in the south and east of the borough – coming second in five wards – but early fears that they would eat into Labour votes in Abbey Wood and Eltham West weren’t realised.
  • But in the north and west, it was the Greens who picked up votes, notably in Greenwich West where Robin Stott polled a party record 1,108 votes. They also came second in five wards, beating the Liberal Democrats in all 17 wards, mostly comfortably.
  • The Lib Dem vote collapsed completely, with their strongest vote being just 557 votes in Greenwich West, a target for them in 2010. Former councillor Paul Webbewood slumped to just 273 votes in Middle Park & Sutcliffe, behind the British National Party.
  • Full results are on the Greenwich Council website.

For the next four years, all that really matters is the bit in bold. Labour won, eating away at traditionally Tory Eltham. The urban/suburban divide in Greenwich borough used to be expressed by where voted Labour and where voted Conservative. Now Labour have snuck deeper into Eltham, the great divide is now summed up by where the Greens came second, and where Ukip ended as runners-up.

waterfront

The count took up two big sports halls at the Waterfront. The heroes were the counters, all given Royal Borough of Greenwich bags and sugary sweets to see them through the long day. Polling boss Stephen O’Hare prowled around with a smile on his face – his team toils for years building up to days like this. You have to admire the skills involved in putting all this together.

It was Christmas Day for polling geeks, and there were lots of presents to unwrap. The counters had to sort the yellow ballot papers out (did you spot the little Cutty Sark on them?) and flatten them – and make sure the white European ballots were packed away for their separate count on Sunday. This alone took two or three hours. Only then could the counting actually start.

And they did this while being watched by candidates and party helpers. Some sat back, relaxed and good-natured, like Labour’s Don Austen, poised as if he was soaking up summer sun. Some manage to do it in the creepiest possible fashion – like the one bent right over one desk, showing off rather too much of his backside. If he’d hung around, one of the Greens could have parked her bike there. (Lib Dem veteran Bonnie Soanes later told me he always wears braces to election counts to prevent this.)

count_leafletThere were more intriguing sights. The perfect Judas kiss, as one politician got a smacker on the cheek from a same-party rival suspected of a stitch-up operation. The grandest of Greenwich politics’ grand fromages, Nick Raynsford, greeting all with a statesman-like smile. Labour councillor Clive Mardner, also beaming away, brought his mum along to take a look.

And there was the camaraderie across party lines, as rivals talked, gossiped and joked after a stressful battle – a lot more unites than divides after the polls have shut, and after all, it’s the ones who wear the same rosette as you who are more likely to stab you in the back. There were two groups who weren’t really chatting, though – one was Ukip, the other the clique around outgoing leader Chris Roberts.

There’s an old joke about weighing the Labour vote. But despite the thumping win, that wasn’t strictly true – it was all about the split votes. And there were a huge number of them – far higher than in previous elections, experienced campaigners told me. These told as much of a story as the big piles of Labour votes that emerged later.

You get three votes for council elections, but many Greenwich votes stubbornly decided to pick and choose rather than vote on party lines, or only voted for one or two candidates. Some splits were logical – Labour/Green, or Tory/Ukip. A telling number went for logic-defying protest split of Green/Ukip. Green candidate Dave Sharman, a peace-loving Quaker, wore a look of saintly bemusement after being told one voter had picked him, Ukip and the BNP. Another voter planted three Xs in the box for another Green candidate – a misunderstanding or a declaration of love?

While the splits tell a story, they can also be misleading – they have to be separately counted, which is painstakingly done by ticking off candidates’ names on a grid. A large number of Ukip ticks led to a small flurry of excitement over Abbey Wood ward. A larger number of ticks led to real worries in Eltham West – local MP Clive Efford watching with concern for chief whip Ray Walker, one of Roberts’ henchmen.

But in the end, Labour sailed through, although many in his party would have been quietly pleased to see the back of Walker, who once accused victims of bullying in the party of being bandwagon- jumpers. That said, when the Eltham West result was announced, it was like a fog had lifted from the hall. Another early panic saw Labour’s Chris Lloyd display a look of mild terror at a pile of Green votes. By the time the Greens turned up to take a look, though, Labour were comfortably ahead.

Then there were the spoiled ballots. “There’s a cock and balls on that one!,” giggled one Labour candidate. “There’s one in Charlton that just says ‘cunts’ all down the paper,” mused a Labour helper. I saw one where the voter put a cross next to everybody. We all agreed it was better that people spoiled their papers than stayed at home – but heaven knows what the counters made of the genitalia and profanities.

Count wristband

When counting got under way, the looks on candidates’ faces, lined up in front of the counters, seemed to resemble the old Fry’s “five boys” advertisement – anticipation, desperation, concern, despair and elation. “Someone needs to give Matt Clare a hug,” an observer said as the Eltham South Tory looked more and more concerned.

Outside the Waterfront, the smokers turned a stretch of pavement on Woolwich High Street into Greenwich borough’s premier political salon. “I’m staying detached,” said Nigel Fletcher, puffing away and reflecting on what was to come.

Back inside, Tory chief Spencer Drury looked increasingly like a man who’d been up all night playing poker and was left with only his car keys to throw onto the table. Around lunchtime, the rosette-wearing Tories had a little pow-wow under a tree in Powis Street. Heaven knows what Woolwich’s shoppers, swimmers and winos made of the sight.

The day went on. The process started at 9am, yet it was nearly 5pm before the first seats were announced. One Labour candidate’s mum kept texting her to ask if she’d won. Not yet, not yet… big crowds built up around the Eltham counting desks. Shooters Hill’s Lib Dem Stewart Christie gave up watching his results, laughing: “I’m going to finish a very strong 9th.”

But despite the curse of being saddled with the toxic Lib Dem badge, and a local party imploding after the resignation of its leader, he made an impact beyond the ballot box, and found himself in an animated chat with Labour’s Denise Hyland about the Gallions Reach Bridge. Stewart’s campaigning will certainly go on. His Charlton colleague Paul Chapman, a complete newcomer, looks set to stay active in some form or other. I couldn’t help wondering if the Charlton Labour party were eyeing him up as a possible recruit…

Someone else who seemed to have caught the campaigning bug was the Greens’ Jo Lawbuary, bouncing with excitement when she heard boyfriend Purnendu Roy came second in unfancied Woolwich Common. She didn’t do too badly herself, beating the Tories and Lib Dems in Plumstead.

But while the Greens were proud of their second-place finish in Peninsula, one experienced Labour figure suggested it was a bit of a damp squib – they were still a good 900-1,150 votes behind Labour (789, 757 and 665 to Labour’s 1,926, 1,771 and 1,614). The lesson for the Greens should be to kick on and just carry on campaigning locally. Perhaps with people like Jo on board and a general election next year, they might do that this time.

Empty counting hall

As the results went on, the emotional contrasts became sharper. Blackheath Westcombe Labour victor Cherry Parker‘s smile was matched by Tory opponent Thomas Turrell‘s resigned laugh. He’d had a rough day, but at least he played his part in the election.

And in a borough like Greenwich, taking part really is what counts. In next-door Charlton ward, the Tories seemed to conduct a fantasy campaign from behind a keyboard, meting out the odd tweet without even revealing who was behind the account, yet declining to even appear at a hustings or come along to the count. They rightly finished well down the ballot, and then quietly deleted their Twitter account.

There were big cheers for Labour’s win in Eltham North, but widespread sympathy for popular Nigel Fletcher. A genuinely nice guy who can do an unnervingly accurate impression of William Hague (his criticism of the Daily Mail’s campaign against Ed Miliband went viral last year), he’s a keen student of the way opposition politicians conduct themselves, but he’d had a harsh practical lesson. Even Chris Roberts popped by to pass on his condolences.

Nerves were fraying among the Tories, but in the cold light of day, perhaps they panicked a bit too much. John Hills, Mandy Brinkhurst and Matt Hartley held onto Coldharbour & New Eltham. This kind of working-class Tory vote could have been stolen by Labour or Ukip – and had been not so far away (Lewisham’s Grove Park ward falling to Labour, Bexley’s Blackfen & Lamorbey losing one to Ukip – the losing Tory there being Brinkhurst’s son, Chris Taylor). But the Conservatives dug in, and held on – in its own way, a stunning victory when judged against other London boroughs.

The crowd surrounding the final ward to declare, Eltham North

The crowd surrounding the final ward to declare, Eltham South

The clock ticked towards eight, and there was a delay as a few missing ballot papers for the final ward, Eltham South, were tracked down. A fog seemed to fall again as whispers indicated a three-way split between the Tories, Labour and Ukip. But again, the Tories held on, with both Labour and Ukip less than 100 behind, and despite disgrunted ex-Tory Eileen Glover scoring 440 votes.

Finally, Matt Clare could relax. And while it’s no comfort to Adam Thomas or Nigel Fletcher, the resillience of the Eltham Tories is striking. Stung by their losses, they could have turned on their leader Spencer Drury. Yet the Tories seem to have weathered the storm, and on Saturday they re-elected him as their leader.

More importantly for the borough’s immediate future, there’s an intriguing question over whether Labour should have gained more seats in Greenwich.

Would a Labour party that was more more willing to listen and more capable of dealing with criticism have done better? After all, the more open and consensual administration in Lewisham, with a track record of campaigning on local issues, even surged into suburban Grove Park on its way to a near-wipeout. Greenwich Labour, which had little local narrative beyond aping the Tories’ council tax freeze, couldn’t get past Eltham High Street.

moundOne of the keenest criticisms of Chris Roberts’ administration was that it deliberately focused on the big three town centres and ignored smaller local centres. The Coldharbour & New Eltham Tory campaign focused on the state of The Mound, a small shopping parade off Mottingham’s William Barefoot Drive. If Chris Roberts’ administration had dealt with issues there earlier, could that have generated the extra votes to propel Labour’s Sandra Bauer or Rob Carr past Matt Hartley? But it didn’t, so the Tories won.

More pertinently, did Roberts and Maureen O’Mara’s pavement tax deny Simon Christie the 68 extra votes to nudge him ahead of Tories’ Nuala Geary in Eltham South, which includes part of the high street?

Labour across London had a superb night – but the Roberts regime’s chronic inability to listen to people acted as a brake on the party’s success in Greenwich.

But now Roberts has sailed off into the past on his royal barge. There are 13 shiny new Labour councillors, and one returning councillor (Woolwich Common’s David Gardner). Some elements of their jobs will be tough – such as dealing with the fallout from further Government cutbacks.

But hopefully they’ll be allowed to bring new ideas to the table – and most importantly, be allowed to express those new ideas. Can they deliver a fresh start? Good luck to them – I’ll be watching with fingers crossed.

Greenwich Council ignores locals and backs new Ikea store

Woolwich Road, 22 February 2014

The planning board ignored worries about traffic congestion on the Woolwich Road

Greenwich Council’s planning board ignored well over an hour of public criticism last night to back outline plans by furniture giant Ikea to build a store in east Greenwich.

The seven-strong board split on party lines to endorse the proposal, with the council’s Labour leader Chris Roberts among the five members backing the scheme – despite Labour councillors and candidates joining opponents to speak out. The two Conservatives opposed the scheme.

The decision is just an outline approval – Ikea will have to return to the council at a later date with detailed plans before construction can go ahead on the site currently occupied by the “eco-friendly” Sainsbury’s store, which is relocating to Charlton.

Greenwich planning officers said Ikea was considering subsidising delivery for those who use public transport to get to the store, although neither they nor Ikea representatives were clear about what this would mean.

Members of the public spoke for an hour and quarter on the scheme, with nobody supporting it. Opponents included Labour councillors Mary Mills and Alex Grant.

“So many people have got in touch with me – there’s so much wrong with this, I can’t go into detail,” Peninsula councillor Mills said.

“When I was elected 14 years ago, it seemed as if Greenwich had taken on board sustainability. It seems like we’re running away from that now.”

Blackheath Westcombe councillor Alex Grant also recalled approving the original Sainsbury’s scheme as “a rookie councillor”, branding traffic predictions “nonsense”. He suggested Ikea be invited to select a more suitable site.

Greenwich & Woolwich parliamentary candidate Matt Pennycook acknowleged the promised 400 jobs – “the people who will benefit are not in this room” – but added he was “extremely concerned” about traffic and pollution.

“Too much rests on underlying assumptions which may not be realised,” he told the planning board.

Greenwich Council planning board, 3 March 2014

One resident of Greenwich Millennium Village told the board: “Common sense tells me this will be a nightmare for the area if it goes ahead. We’re not an out-of-town shopping centre, we’re a thriving community.”

Other residents questioned why Ikea was unwilling to compromise its business model, with one pointing out that the store operates a car-free model in Hong Kong.

Charlton Society chair (and Labour council candidate) David Gardner questioned why Ikea aimed for 35% of visitors using public transport in Greenwich, when the Croydon store – which lies off a tram line – only has 28%.

Another local resident, Martin Stanforth, said the Croydon Ikea could not cope with the traffic, adding: “Our streets are not designed for massive amounts of traffic.

“You cannot approve this store until you’ve been to Ikea Croydon on a Saturday afternoon. What’s your legacy going to be?”

But councillors on the board were unmoved – indeed, regeneration cabinet member Denise Hyland asked planning officers from the start of the meeting how the council could enforce conditions if the application was approved.

Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts said he was aiming to reverse the legacy of 1980s car-centric development – but backed the scheme regardless.

Abbey Wood Labour councillor Clive Mardner backed the scheme, emphasising the importance of working with local people and adding: “I assume they’re taking on board air quality.”

Both Conservative councillors on the board opposed the scheme. Blackheath Westcombe councillor Geoff Brighty called the traffic predictions “laughable”.

Veteran colleague Dermot Poston (Eltham North) called the existing Sainsbury’s store “revolutionary” and “beautiful” – which led to him being accused of “playing to the gallery” by Roberts in a meeting which is supposed to be non-partisan.

Poston also questioned the lack of environmental impact assessment, and accused the council of arrogance for ignoring the 20th Century Society’s application to have the Sainsbury’s building listed.

But in the end, the board appeared determined to back the scheme – no matter how shaky the case, or how much Chris Roberts’ own Labour councillors and candidates opposed it.

For tweets from last night’s planning board, take a look at this Storify page.

Votes for: Steve Offord (Lab, Abbey Wood/ housing cabinet member), Clive Mardner (Lab, Abbey Wood), Denise Hyland (Lab, Abbey Wood/ regeneration cabinet member), Chris Roberts (Lab, Glyndon/ council leader), Ray Walker (Lab, Eltham West/ chief whip).
Votes against: Geoff Brighty (Con, Blackheath Westcombe), Dermot Poston (Con, Eltham North)

Will Charlton’s pitch problems flush out ground move?

valley01

There’s a new owner at Charlton Athletic – but the scale of the rebuilding job facing Belgian businessman Roland Duchâtelet became apparent yesterday when the team’s match against Barnsley was postponed less than two hours before kick-off due to ongoing problems with The Valley pitch.

But Charlton fans should be vigilant that the current problems with the pitch aren’t used as a pretext to move the club out of its historic home.

Last year, it was reported that the club was in talks with Greenwich Council about moving out of The Valley for a new stadium, to be built at Morden Wharf on the west side of Greenwich Peninsula, on land currently owned by developer Cathedral Homes. The club’s old site would become social housing, under this scheme.

What’s been unclear, though is where the impetus for the scheme has come from – whether it came from within the club, or from outside.

But what is known is that Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts was a frequent visitor at matches under the ownership of Michael Slater and Tony Jimenez, where he could be seen enjoying hospitality in the directors’ box.

Slater and Jimenez took over at Charlton at the end of 2010. They installed Chris Powell as manager, and secured the funds to secure promotion back to the Championship in 2012. But after that the funds dried up.

The pitch problems at The Valley are a symptom of that trouble. The club admits part of the drainage system has collapsed, and this can’t be rectified until the end of the season. No significant work has taken place on the pitch for years – and the end result of that neglect was Saturday’s fiasco.

Now Slater and Jimenez are on their way out, to be replaced by Roland Duchâtelet, owner of Belgian sides Standard Liege and Sint-Truidense, one-time East German giants FC Carl-Zeiss Jena and Spanish second division team AD Alcorcón. Quite a collection of clubs. He also fronts a small liberal political party in Belgium.

Greenwich Council press reelaseDuchâtelet has installed aide Katrien Meire onto Charlton’s board, but before they could get their feet under the table, a little charm offensive was launched from Greenwich Council.

“Royal Borough welcomes new Charlton Athletic owners,” trilled a press release on 3 January, adding ominously: “The borough will work with the new owners to further strengthen the Club.”

Oddly, Chris Roberts seems to be in a very small band of people who believes that Michael Slater and Tony Jimenez helped Charlton “progress”.

Councillor Chris Roberts, Leader of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, said: “The Council would like to welcome the new owners of Charlton Athletic Football Club to the Borough. At the same time, we would also like to place on record our thanks to the previous owners for the progress made by the Club during their tenure in which they secured promotion to the Championship.”

It’s a very, very odd statement – yes, Slater and Jimenez helped Charlton return to its natural level in the Championship. But the club haemorrhaged senior staff under their regime, and by all accounts was facing serious financial problems before its sale. Hopefully yesterday’s events will encourage football journalists to investigate their record a little more thoroughly.

So what exactly was Roberts thanking Slater and Jimenez for? For being receptive to a proposal to move ground, perhaps? We don’t know, but previous chairman Richard Murray (who returns to his role under Duchâtelet) didn’t get that kind of herogram when he sold up, despite all his achievements.

Neither did the council make any noise when it declared The Valley an asset of community value last November, which would put a six-month block on any sale. Why was that?

Charlton Athletic, 9 January 2014

If Roberts is putting pressure on Charlton to move, then he’s now got to start again with Roland Duchâtelet and Katrien Meire. Will they be receptive? Nobody knows, but Duchâtelet did refer to The Valley as “a cherished stadium” in a statement to fans last week.

Greenwich Council has denied any formal discussions have taken place over a move. An answer to a Freedom of Information Act request made last year would only say:

“Occasional discussions have taken place between representatives of the Council and CAFC going back over many years. These discussions have included reference to the Club’s aspiration to stay in, or return to the Premiership, and as a result have included reference to the size and capacity of the existing stands and constraints on expansion posed by the physical limitations of the existing site. The discussions have been informal and conversational in nature, and have not been of a substantive nature.”

It’s very easy to make an educated guess that Greenwich Council is encouraging Charlton to move under the pretext that the ground is knackered. It then gets a high-profile occupant for a stadium on the peninsula, while social housing which would otherwise have been built up there gets shunted into Charlton. It’s a conspiracy theory, but with the lack of anything on the record, it’s one which makes sense.

Typically, not even those connected with Greenwich Labour know quite what Roberts’ intentions are towards Charlton. Even those who support the club seem hazy on the plans.

But a conversation I had with one yesterday worried me. “If there’s a continuing sense The Valley is awful, it makes the argument to move easier,” I was told.

Yet there is nothing wrong with The Valley. The pitch hasn’t been maintained properly, but that’s a management failure, not a failure of location. Indeed, The Valley was known as one of the best pitches in the country a decade ago. And it can be that way again.

If there’s an argument for moving, it surrounds the The Valley’s limited room for expansion. But with The Valley not even two-thirds full at present – and Greenwich Council having previously backed past expansion plans – that isn’t an issue.

Fixing the pitch should be relatively cheap. But perhaps the embarrassment of the postponement, and the way it was mishandled by the club might prompt Duchâtelet to show his hand on the long-term future of Charlton Athletic.

It’s 24 years since Charlton fans formed the Valley Party to fight Greenwich Council on the issue of the club playing at its traditional home. Nearly a quarter of a century on, it may well be time for a new generation to become just as vigilant and proactive towards the council’s intentions for Floyd Road.