Greenwich and Woolwich could get Luton Airport trains from 2018

Ryanair EI-DPC landing at Luton airport by David Precious, used under CC BY 2.0

Greenwich, Charlton and Woolwich could get direct trains to Luton Airport under plans that are about to go out to consultation.

The plans would see trains seven days a week from Luton to Rainham, Kent, via Blackfriars, London Bridge, Greenwich and Dartford.

More services through London Bridge to north London and beyond will be possible when the Thameslink works are completed in 2018.

It would give passengers at Deptford,  Greenwich, Maze Hill and Westcombe Park – who currently rely on trains to Cannon Street – a choice of London terminals after trains to Charing Cross permanently ended in January 2015.

The new lines through London Bridge to Blackfriars will run in between those to Charing Cross and Cannon Street, severing the old connection between Greenwich and the Charing Cross lines (although trains can still run in emergencies).

Trains would also stop at Charlton, Woolwich Arsenal, Plumstead, Abbey Wood and Dartford, but not at Woolwich Dockyard, Belvedere or Erith.

It’s not clear whether existing Southeastern services to Cannon Street will be altered to make room for the trains (there are currently six per hour, not four as stated in the document above).

As well as connections to Luton Airport, passengers would also have direct links to Eurostar at St Pancras and Crossrail at Abbey Wood, as well as north-west London destinations at West Hampstead.

The trains would be operated by Thameslink rather than Southeastern, and the consultation is now on its website.

Elsewhere in south east London, Govia Thameslink Railway’s proposals also include increasing the miserly train service through Crofton Park and Catford from two to four trains per hour.

Meanwhile, local MPs have been pressing goverment ministers on the state of Southeastern with little success. Transport minister Paul Maynard couldn’t be bothered to answer a question from Lewisham East’s Heidi Alexander on whether Southeastern would be given new rolling stock in a debate on Thursday morning, although he was more forthcoming when asked for a meeting about Southeastern by the Conservative MP for Bromley, Bob Neill. Pressed by Eltham’s MP Clive Efford, he confirmed all local MPs would be able to attend.

But asked by Greenwich and Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook if he backed plans to devolve SE London’s rail services to TfL, transport secretary Chris Grayling was non-committal, saying he wanted to see proposals from mayor Sadiq Khan first.

1.15pm update: What gets given can also be taken away, and buried away in the full proposals are plans to cut little-advertised direct trains from New Cross Gate to Gatwick Airport and other destinations in Surrey and Sussex, with passengers expected to take slow Overground trains and change at Norwood Junction.

There’s a huge consultation survey, which covers a vast number of changes and makes some peculiar assumptions, available to fill in. The new Greenwich line trains are covered by questions 15, 16 and 31, Catford line in questions 17, 29 and 30 and New Cross Gate cuts in questions 45 and 56.

Ryanair EI-DPC landing at Luton airport by David Precious, used under CC BY 2.0. Thanks to @politic_animal for the spot, and to commenters below for filling in some of the gaps in this story.

Boundary review sees Greenwich & Woolwich MP’s seat set for chop

Polling station on Victoria Way, Charlton

South-east London’s political map faces being completely redrawn under proposals released today to cut the number of MPs in England.

A Boundary Commission report suggests splitting up the Greenwich & Woolwich seat – currently held by Matt Pennycook – along with neighbouring Lewisham Deptford and Erith & Thamesmead as part of a wholesale redrawing of the parliamentary map.

The proposals see Pennycook’s seat divided into Greenwich & Deptford (stretching from Brockley in the west to parts of Lee Green and Charlton in the east) and Woolwich (stretching from Charlton in the west to parts of Thamesmead and Bexleyheath in the east).

But Eltham MP Clive Efford is a big winner, seeing his constituency expand to take in the Woolwich Common ward, meaning Woolwich will be split between two seats. While there’s a precedent for this historically – in the past the Eltham seat has eaten into Woolwich (having evolved out of a seat called Woolwich West) – having Woolwich town centre split this way is bound to anger many.

Furthermore, Thamesmead is also split along the Greenwich/Bexley boundary, while Charlton could find itself having three MPs.

Boundary Commission proposals

The proposals effectively leave Pennycook, Lewisham Deptford’s Vicky Foxcroft and Erith & Thamesmead’s Teresa Pearce in electoral limbo – potentially pitching Pennycook and Pearce against each other. Pennycook could plump for Greenwich & Deptford, but his proportion of the new seat’s electorate falls just short of the 40% required by Labour to be entitled to seek selection – 39.7% of voters of potential Greenwich & Deptford voters currently have him as an MP – leaving Vicky Foxcroft in prime position to take over.

Pearce could switch to Erith & Crayford and contest that at the next election, but this contains just less than 40% of her old seat, making her position much less secure under Labour selection rules. Furthermore, this is likely to be a fight against sitting Conservative David Evenett.

But both Pearce and Pennycook could contest “Woolwich” – Pennycook just squeaking through with 40.02% of potential voters. Over the border, Heidi Alexander would be a shoo-in for a new Lewisham & Catford seat, one of the less odd proposals to come from the commission.

These are just rough calculations, but a hugely awkward situation for local Labour MPs is also complicated by the rise of Jeremy Corbyn-backed pressure group Momentum, who are agitating for existing MPs to face re-selection by their local parties anyway. With Momentum stronger in more suburban areas, even Clive Efford will be looking over his shoulder. But that’s another story…

This is just the beginning of the process – in the last coalition government, the Lib Dems withdrew support for boundary changes that would have divided east and west Greenwich, then created a barmy Eltham & Charlton seat instead.

There is also the further complication of council wards being redrawn (now in Bexley, after 2018 in Greenwich (definitely) and Lewisham (probably)) which could result in further tinkering.

You can see the proposals for yourself – and comment – at A word of warning – if you think these proposals are mad, someone can always come up with something madder.

1.45pm update: Try coming up with something madder yourself at

OnBlackheath 2016: What a difference a day makes….

OnBlackheath 2016

Five years ago, this website was one of the few places you could go to find updates on a planned music festival due to take place on Blackheath. I even had a chat with the organisers in a nice place in Blackheath Village.

OnBlackheath’s birth was a difficult one, though, not helped by a lack of public information – the first many had heard of it was when Lewisham Council granted it a licence. The venerable Blackheath Society blew an enormous amount of money on fighting that decision through the courts, while Greenwich Council also got its knickers in a twist, with one councillor grumbling that a cuts-ravaged Lewisham was allowing the heath to be hired out for profit. The boundary between the two boroughs runs just a few metres from the festival fence, but these two councils are miles apart in many ways and in truth, neither came out of the saga very well.

The first festival was meant to happen in 2011, then 2012, then 2013… then it finally kicked off in 2014. Updates here have been sparse since (frankly, the line-ups weren’t my bag, so I didn’t bother seeking out a ticket) but now it’s in its third year, and guess what? Greenwich Council is allowing part of its side of the heath to be fired out for profit (In The Night Garden Live doesn’t just pitch up rent-free, y’know).

Was it worth all the fuss? I remember attending a public meeting where residents seemed to be expecting Altamont on the Hare & Billet Road. But what emerged was a “food and music” festival sponsored by that well-known anarchist front, the John Lewis Partnership. It looked like the kind of event for those who eagerly anticipate the Guardian’s Family supplement each Saturday, rather than throwing it in the recycling.

But there was a decent line-up promised, so I thought I’d have a look this year. And what a difference a day makes… it was a lesson in the luck a festival needs to be a real success. Or maybe in how fickle I am.

OnBlackheath 2016
OnBlackheath 2016

Day one was enveloped by persistent drizzle that lasted longer than the forecasts predicted.

Under leaden skies, the jollity felt strangely forced when we strolled in at half-past six – the crowd felt a bit too freshly-scrubbed and out of central casting, there seemed to be a bit too much going on in a small space, and Hot Chip droned on like a poor man’s Erasure.

When frontman Alexis Taylor thanked John Lewis for having them there, I started to wonder what all the fuss was about.

OnBlackheath 2016

Not at all eerie in the rain…

Wandering around the deserted food area, sponsored by the aforementioned retail giant, felt eerie – celebrity chefs I’d never heard of stared out at me from huge photos, the “best chips in London” I’d spent £4 on were anything but. I saw the huge queues for the toilets and decided to skip the bar. I was expecting an underwhelming first day line up, and Primal Scream (why are they still going?) didn’t do much to change that perception. We went home and watched the Paralympics instead.

OnBlackheath 2016

Great by bus, a bit fiddly if you wanted to lock up a bike…

OnBlackheath 2016

Day two was bathed in bright sunshine. And the line-up was great. So nearly every gripe faded into insignificance. I sauntered in at half-past four, smug after being able to take the bus from my front door to the front gate in 10 minutes.

The biggest problem, though, was the scheduling – the top two stages scheduled against each other rather than alternating. Edwyn Collins or Squeeze? I picked Edwyn Collins and he was great. James or St Etienne? I’ve seen St Etienne a couple of times before, so plumped for James and they were magnificent, right down to frontman Tim Booth’s dad-dancing. They also took the piss out of John Lewis, which scored extra marks in my book.

OnBlackheath 2016
OnBlackheath 2016

OnBlackheath 2016

Er, no, we’re alright, thanks…

The awful toilet queues remained, so I avoided the bar again. But watching James while the sun set over south-east London, the whole thing felt like an utter triumph. And right on my doorstep. I can take or leave Belle & Sebastian, but putting the twee Scottish band on last seemed a decent answer to noise worries – they’re hardly Metallica.

OnBlackheath 2016

James frontman Tim Booth and a south-east London sunset

James at OnBlackheath 2016
James at OnBlackheath 2016

Given sunshine and a decent line-up, OnBlackheath flourished. There were a handful of neighbourhood gripes on Twitter, which appeared to be from those looking to perpetuate the old trope – familiar to those of us who endured the anti-Olympics campaigns – about it being illegal to fence off part of Blackheath (it isn’t). The main stage pointed towards Greenwich Park, and there were reports of the festival being audible as far away as the Thames and deep into Charlton, a mile and a half away.

But the people sat out with blankets on Hare & Billet Road as we left on the Sunday night were a reminder that many locals were ready to embrace it. The Hare & Billet pub itself seemed to be doing a roaring trade.

OnBlackheath 2016

Hmmm… best pass on that drink

There are certainly ways it could improve – as well as sorting out the toilets, getting a proper pass-out system in place (if a minnow like Leefest can afford proper wristbands, so can they) would allow people to use Blackheath Village and boost more local traders, rather than be stuck inside a relatively small festival site. Some better cycle parking would be appreciated too, considering the number of two-wheeled steeds shackled to nearby lamp posts.

OnBlackheath 2016

But on balance, OnBlackheath is a good thing, and we’re lucky to have it on our doorsteps. It’s slowly becoming a part of our summer – last year, of the 36,000 attendees, 23% came from Greenwich borough and 14% came from Lewisham. It’s also a family event too – 10% of the tickets went to under-12s. It’s light years away from the fears expressed five years ago. Just pray for a decent line-up – and good weather.

News Shopper’s entire newsroom threatened with redundancy

News Shopper

The Shopper’s Greenwich and Gravesend editions closed last month, merging with papers for Lewisham and Darford

A further nail in the coffin of mainstream journalism in south-east London – the News Shopper’s entire newsroom has been put on notice of redundancy by the newspaper’s owner, Newsquest, according to its staff.

The paper was moved to Sutton last year to share a newsroom with its sister publication, the South London Guardian series. Last month, the Shopper’s Greenwich edition was merged with the neighbouring Lewisham paper. The Gravesend edition was also merged with its Dartford counterpart.

Now all the Sutton-based staff – bar the web editor and managing editor – have been put on notice of redundancy. Four reporters, two content editors, three sub-editors, an editorial assistant and the deputy managing editor will lose their jobs by mid-October.

This will leave just 12 reporters and four content editors to produce 11 South London Guardian papers, four News Shopper editions and their websites, the National Union of Journalists says, including news, sport and leisure coverage.

The cuts come despite Newsquest making £70m profit last year. The News Shopper is one of its most successful titles on the web, although the strain of cuts is starting to show with simple mistakes showing in news stories and, more damagingly, in the printed papers.

Staff are already being balloted for strike action over inadequate staffing, increased workloads and “reduced quality of newspapers”. Reporters walked out last year in protest at a previous round of cuts and the move to Sutton.

Last week's paper contains an appeal to readers to send in news

Last week’s paper contains an appeal to readers to send in news

There are also no longer any staff photographers at the News Shopper – and Newsquest has ended its contract with the Deadlinepix agency to supply photography, leaving reporters and readers to supply pictures.

Last week’s Greenwich & Lewisham paper included an appeal from Shopper editor Andy Parkes for readers to send in their news and photos. “Your, our loyal readers, are the best eyes and ears we have… the News Shopper relies upon its loyal readership more today than ever before.”

Meanwhile, over at the Shopper’s rival in Greenwich & Lewisham, the South London Press and Mercury, times also aren’t good. South Bank community website has complained that the SLP is lifting copy from its reports in today’s issue – a sure-fire sign of a paper that’s understaffed.

It’s hard to see things getting any better for journalism in south-east London – particularly where the traditional titles are concerned. Greenwich suffers the particular problem of the council taking ad revenue to fund its vanity publications, but the diversion of its public notices to the Mercury does not appear to have resulted in any improved coverage.

It will probably take a new entrant to shake things up – but who would have the cash to do it?

Does the Allen key to Greenwich’s new Ikea lie in Birmingham?

Ikea Birmingham Central, 30 August 2016

One of Greenwich’s biggest recent planning battles is set to resurface this autumn, Remember Ikea? One of ex-leader Chris Roberts’ last legacies to the area, Greenwich Council rushed through outline planning permission for a new 350,000-sq ft store back in 2014, to replace the now-demolished “eco”-Sainsbury’s and adjacent former Comet store.

Since then, attention has turned to exactly how a stonking great big furniture store that’s notorious for attracting huge traffic jams can be modelled to fit an area that’s already notorious for huge traffic jams.

Ikea took ownership of the site a year ago and demolished the former stores this spring,. Meanwhile, developer LXB – which was behind Sainsbury’s move down to Charlton – has bought the B&Q branch next door.

So, what’s planned? Eltham-based magazine SE Nine, which usually has decent contacts in Greenwich planning, reported on its Facebook page last month that the site would be a new Ikea format, an Order & Collection Point. This is smaller than a normal store and “packed with inspiration”.

“Particularly when it comes to our dedicated co-workers who are ready to share their home furnishing expertise and lend some specialist help every step of the way. They’re there to help you plan your dream kitchen, for example, or offer expert advice on your next project at home, no matter how big or small.”

There are only four in the UK – and the example cited in SE Nine’s report opened in Birmingham last month.

What else to do, then, but take a day trip to England’s second city?

Birmingham’s changed since the days of Telly Savalas rhapsodising about the Inner Ring Road. That infamous dual carriageway “concrete collar” has been broken, and the city centre now gleams with new shopping centres. The new central library is probably the finest public building in the country, while trams now purr past the brand new Grand Central mall, built on top of the once-dismal New Street station.

Ikea Birmingham Central, 30 August 2016

There’s still a way to go, though – and just off the new tram line, you’ll find Dale End, a run-down shopping street that’s been awaiting redevelopment for years. But it’s here you’ll find the third Ikea Order & Collection store, which opened on 18 August in a site vacated by Toys R Us a decade ago.

Corporation Street, Birmingham, 30 August 2016

This isn’t a full Ikea store – it’s an outlet to showcase some of the Swedish chain’s new designs and to sell smaller items. You can also pick up goods you’ve ordered online and plan what you want to buy with the help of some of the store’s 30 staff. The store sits beneath a 1970s car park, and you can drive up and collect items there. One catch – collection costs up to £10.

Birmingham Central Ikea, 30 August 2016

Ikea Birmingham Central. 30 August 2016

Shopping inside Ikea Birmingham Central

You don’t get the full browsing experience here – that’s available in Ikea’s two main West Midlands store. The “marketplace” doesn’t feature here either – though plenty of its items are scattered around the store.

But there is a small cafe – and yes, there are meatballs too.

This is a test format for Ikea – and it seemed reasonably popular on the sunny Tuesday I visited. But it’s somewhere you’d go if you knew exactly what you wanted – or had money burning a hole in your pocket and a desire to design your own kitchen.

Ikea Birmingham Central, 30 August 2016

Ikea Birmingham Central, 30  August 2016

A format like this might deter people from driving great distances, once they’ve got used to it – the Dale End store openly points out the full range is found at Wednesbury and Coventry, and most customers seemed to wander in from the street. But will a larger version of this giant showroom work in a retail park?

You don’t have to go to Birmingham to get a sample of the Order & Collection Ikea. Because it’s now appeared closer to home, at Stratford.

To the 108!

Ikea Stratford City, 31 August 2016
Ikea Stratford, 31 August 2016

There was a brass band playing Abba tunes outside the new store at Westfield Stratford City when it opened its doors last Wednesday.

This is a smaller affair than its Midlands counterpart – there’s no cafe for a start (I didn’t spot any meatballs either). It sits in an outdoor parade of other furniture stores – Dwell is next door, DFS is opposite – with the displays and planning studio distinguishing it from the rest.

Stratford City Ikea, 31 August 2016

The small displays in the Stratford Ikea at least reflect the tiny flats going up in the area….

Again, if you know what you’re after, this is brilliant (although from here, you could easily drive to stores at Edmonton or Lakeside). But it’s not one you’ll make a special trip just to browse through – it’d only take five minutes, for a start.

Stratford City Ikea, 21 August 2016

It’s entirely possible the presence of this store in Stratford will dampen some demand north of the river for a store in Greenwich – but you might not be so keen to pay £10 to collect a huge flat-pack bookcase which you then have to lug through a shopping mall to a car park you’ve paid £2.70 to use.

There are two other Order & Collection Ikeas in the UK, and they’re both on retail parks – the first opened in Norwich last November, the second is in Aberdeen. Publicity for the first Irish store – on a retail park near Dublin – describes how it is designed around “real people”.

A sitting room on display, we are told, has been designed for Paul (33) and Simon (35). They are a couple with “a strong sense of style”. They bought their city centre apartment together just over four years ago and like to indulge their love of cafes, art galleries, wine bars and eateries.

Simon is passionate about wine, and more particularly red wine. Ikea has built a sittingroom adorned with vases, glassware and textiles. A collection of wine glasses sits on shelves lining one entire wall. Pictures abound – including a framed picture of a bottle of Malbec. The effect is both trendy and personal.

It’s some way from the Lakeside Retail Park. But if you think of the new homes coming to the immediate area, this approach would make sense for Greenwich.

Ikea Altona, September 2015

You can’t miss the Altona Ikea…

An Order & Collection Ikea would mean the retailer has resisted calls to use the format used at a store in Hamburg. You’ll find the store in Altona, a western district that sees itself as a class apart from its neighbours (sound familiar?). Ikea has three stores in Hamburg, but the Altona branch was, when it opened in 2015, its only “high street” store in Europe.

To the S-Bahn!

Altona Ikea, September 2015

The Altona Ikea sits on the area’s main shopping street

The first thing that strikes you about the Altona Ikea is its size – it dominates a pedestrian shopping parade in the same way an old-style department store does. Its bulk comes from an efficient use of space that’s rare in London – walk around the back of the store and you’ll find that deliveries go into the basement, car parking goes on top.

Altona Ikea, 24 September 2015

Going up! Only one way to get your trolley upstairs in Altona Ikea

In between, you’ve three floors of shopping space to mooch around in – with lifts next to escalators to get your trolleys upstairs. The “marketplace” is spread around the store, rather than being at the end of your route..

Altona Ikea, 24 September 2015

The ground floor at the Altona Ikea is almost a standalone store

The ground floor almost acts as a standalone store, with its own cafe facing the street – ideal for shoppers who just want to pop in and out again – a bit like the UK Order and Collection stores.

Ikea Altona, 24 September 2015

The Altona format still contains the warehouse

Head up to the first floor and things feel more like a conventional Ikea – you’ll find more furniture displays and a huge restaurant. Once you’re on the second floor, you’ll find the huge warehouse shelves along with the food store.

Ikea Altona, 24 September 2015

The Altona store has a huge food area

On the weekday I visited, the store was doing a reasonable trade. Plenty of people were heading to and from the station with Ikea goods – there were no queues for the car park, which had 300 empty spaces.

Ikea Altona, 24 September 2015

No car? No problem!

Ikea Altona, 24 September 2015

Could you let this bike take the strain?

There aren’t free deliveries here – it’s 29 euros to hire a “sofa taxi” while there are a range of bicycle options starting at 10 euros. You’re reminded of these at almost every turn. This isn’t a Dutch-style cycling utopia, but taking a bike here is much more popular and easy than it is in London.

Ikea Altona, 24 September 2015

Public transport help is available too

There’s wrapping paper available to help people take their goods on public transport – this is probably one of the best-connected shopping parades in Germany, with national and even international trains stopping here along with buses and local rail services.

Ikea Altona, 24 September 2015

Ikea Altona’s deliveries are tucked away at the back. The car park is further along,

Is this a revolutionary Ikea? Not really – it’s simply the traditional store remixed to suit a very well-connected high street. Perhaps there are a few less furniture displays than a traditional warehouse, but it offers the same comprehensive shopping experience as a retail barn with a vast car park outside.

It’s easy to imagine this format working in a typical zone 3 or 4 London high street. Drop this into Eltham, Bexleyheath or Bromley and it’d be wildly popular, although it’d probably bung up the traffic.

But there’s no high street to drop this into in east Greenwich. To recreate the Altona store in SE London, the developers would have to be bold and create their own high street, a retail destination that driving wouldn’t be the default option to. Despite its leadership’s willingness to do opaque deals with developers, this would surely be anathema to a council that’s trying to reinvigorate Eltham and resuscitate Woolwich.

And while the cycling options might work for the expanding Greenwich Peninsula community, the surrounding terrain – both natural and man-made – would make it a tough ask for the rest of us. Fancy pedalling your goods up Westcombe Hill?

So, despite the clamour for the Altona model Ikea, the Order & Collection version – a format which deters many speculative trips – may be the least worst for east Greenwich. Short of not building the thing at all, it may offer the best chance of avoiding the insanity of the four-hour queues that greeted the opening of Reading’s Ikea in July.

We will find out just what is planned in the coming weeks.

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?”

Fire wrecks home of the Tunnel Club, Greenwich’s alternative comedy shrine

The Mitre on fire

That big fire you might have seen this lunchtime (if it wasn’t this one in Erith) was up by the Blackwall Tunnel, at the Studio 338 nightclub. It’s fair to say the place isn’t in a good way.

Developers and those that like to boost them up like to claim the Greenwich Peninsula was always a wasteland, but that’s not true. The wrecked building, once the Mitre pub, is one of the last survivors from the community that existed there before the second Blackwall Tunnel and its approach road were built.

There were terraced houses behind the Mitre until the 1970s – they were demolished after the Blackwall Tunnel approach, which opened in 1969, effectively cut them off from the rest of the area – and a church stood nearby until the 1980s.

Stranded by the A102 and with few neighbours left to disturb, the Mitre became a favourite for club promoters. It’s been through a variety of incarnations in the past 20 years or so – including Dorrington’s, That Club, and more recently Studio 338.

But it remains best known for being one of the birthplaces of the alternative comedy scene – Malcolm Hardee‘s Tunnel Club.

The Tunnel Club opened in 1984, and helped begin the careers of Harry Enfield, Vic Reeves, Jeremy Hardy, Jo Brand and many, many more. It was a notoriously intimidating place to perform. Another local comic, Arthur Smith, described the Tunnel in his memoir.

Phil and I played the opening night at the Tunnel, which, under Malcolm’s influence, became the arena where London’s top hecklers gathered every Sunday to slaughter open spots and established acts alike. Some punters even met up beforehand in a kind of heckling seminar and one night, when I was performing solo, a voice in the dark interrupted me with a Latin phrase that turned out to mean ‘show us your tits.’

The word ‘notorious’ soon attached itself to the Tunnel which is now remembered as Alternative Comedy’s equivalent to the previous generation’s Glasgow Empire – a place for confrontation, raucousness, multiple comedy pile-ups and deaths. It was not uncommon for the acts to be booed off with such efficiency that the whole show was over in twenty minutes, an occasion that was greeted by the regulars as a great success.

Malcolm, instinctively anti-authoritarian from his thick black glasses, down his naked hairy body, to his piss-stained odd socks, liked to encourage the mayhem by the frequent exhibition of his titanic testicles, which he advertised as ‘the second biggest in the country – after Jenny Agutter’s father.’ (Apparently, they had once compared notes). If the mood took him he would urinate over the front row and, such was his charisma, the victims cheered rather than remonstrated.

The rest is worth a read, as is Malcolm’s own memoir, I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake.

The Mitre is also remembered in a short film, The Tunnel, released in 2012.

The Tunnel closed in 1988, following an enormous police raid on the Mitre. But some of the Tunnel’s spirit moved down the road to Up The Creek, which Malcolm opened three years later. He died in 2005 after falling into Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe, trying to get to his houseboat. The team behind The Tunnel film are now working on a follow-up about Malcolm’s eventful life.

Today’s fire looks like it has brought a final close to the Mitre’s story. The site isn’t immediately suitable for redevelopment – while the gas holder next to it is out of action, the plot behind is earmarked by Transport for London as a construction site if the Silvertown Tunnel gets the go-ahead.

For now, though, 338’s regulars will be sad, some of the neighbours who’d complained about booming early morning beats, less so. But whatever you thought of the place, today’s fire has destroyed one last little bit of anarchic old Greenwich.

Wednesday update: A Studio 338 staff member, named only as Tomas, has died after suffering severe burns in Monday’s fire.