Blackheath fireworks: Lewisham turns to Uber after Greenwich Council blows £17,000 on Mickey Mouse stunt

Eltham cinema launch

Eltham MP Clive Efford, Greenwich Council leader Denise Hyland, “Daniel Craig”, ceremonial mayor Olu Babatola, deputy leader Danny Thorpe and friends. Photo: Eltham Labour Party

Greenwich Council refused a request to increase its funding for Blackheath fireworks after spending £17,000 on a Mickey Mouse stunt to promote a new cinema in Eltham, it has emerged.

Lewisham Council is now turning to controversial minicab service Uber to help fund the £87,000 display after Greenwich rebuffed a plea to up its funding from just £10,000.

The event, which regularly attracts 100,000 spectators, used to be jointly funded between the two boroughs, who share responsibility for the heath.

Greenwich withdrew its £37,000 share of the funding in 2010, claiming it could not afford to pay for the display because of government cuts. This left Lewisham to shoulder the costs alone, appealing for sponsorship and public donations while trimming the length of the display.

Since then, Greenwich has partly relented, offering £10,000 towards the cost of last year’s £96,000 display. Lewisham managed to raise £48,000 in sponsorship and public donations, but was still saddled with a £38,000 shortfall.

Greenwich is paying the same for this year’s display, but after spending £17,000 on a press launch for a new cinema in Eltham featuring Mickey Mouse and Buzz Lightyear characters. In May, it also blew £20,000 on an invite-only event to celebrate the borough’s new ceremonial mayor.

With public displays acknowledged as a key tool in keeping fireworks injuries down, Lewisham has been determined to keep the display going. This is despite the council coming under severe pressure from central government cuts and other changes to local authority funding.

The display also funnels huge numbers of people to pubs and restaurants in Greenwich, Blackheath and Lewisham, as well as boosting trade in other areas within walking distance such as Lee Green, Deptford and Charlton – districts which straddle both boroughs.

Seven weeks to confirm funding

Blackheath fireworks attracts 100,000 people each year, boosting businesses across a wide area

Blackheath fireworks attracts 100,000 people each year, boosting businesses across a wide area

Emails released under the Freedom of Information Act and passed to this website reveal that Lewisham unsuccessfully asked Greenwich to increase its share of the funding.

On 5 August, Lewisham head of culture and community development Liz Dart wrote to Greenwich assistant chief executive Katrina Delaney, pointing out: “We are under pressure to try and bring our subsidy down so if there was any way you could consider an increase to the £10,000 that would be greatly appreciated.”

Some of the correspondence has been redacted, so it is unclear whether Delaney addressed the request directly.

But it took over seven weeks and a follow-up email from Kellie Blake, Lewisham’s community engagement manager, for Delaney to confirm on 26 September that Greenwich would repeat its £10,000 donation.

So despite the event taking place on an open space shared between the two boroughs – and the possibility that the fireworks may actually be launched from within Greenwich, as has happened in the past – Greenwich is just classed as a sponsor of the event.

To help make ends meet this year, Lewisham has accepted backing from Uber, which is offering £5 for every free ride taken by new customers who sign up with a code.

Uber has been criticised for paying just £22,000 in UK corporation tax, while the GMB union has taken it to court claiming it treats drivers unlawfully. The firm is also the subject of frequent protests from traditional black taxi drivers. Only today, concerns about Uber have been linked to an inquiry by MPs into the “gig economy”.

This year’s display is expected to cost £87,700. Other sources of funding include housing association L&Q (£7,000), parks management company Glendale (£5,000), with a further £3,000 hoped to come from other donors such as Uber and estate agency Hamptons.

Lewisham is hoping to raise £11,000 in public donations and make £15,700 in sales at bars and food stands, leaving it with a £36,000 subsidy.

A Mickey Mouse affair in Eltham

The Eltham cinema stunt was little-covered, but appears in Labour Party publicity in the constituency

The Eltham cinema stunt was little-covered, but appears in Labour Party publicity in the constituency

Earlier this month, Greenwich Council leader Denise Hyland claimed finances were “down the bone”. But on 3 August, it found £17,000 for a stunt which featured Hollywood star lookalikes parading up and down Eltham High Street to promote its scheme to build a new cinema there.

The event on 3 August, which featured on little-watched local TV channel London Live, also appears in Eltham Labour publicity promoting MP Clive Efford.

Costs included £2,400 on 10 Disney and Marvel characters such as Minnie and Mickey Mouse and Spider-Man, and £6,580 on 14 lookalikes, which included likenesses of Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Will Smith and Daniel Craig.

The figures were obtained by Conservative councillor Spencer Drury, who wrote about them in a letter to the Mercury newspaper, asking why cinema operator Vue could not have funded the stunt, or the event could not have been held when the venue opens in autumn 2018.

Spencer Drury's letter (Greenwich & Lewisham Mercury, 12 September 2016)

The Mercury – which now carries Greenwich Council’s public notices following Greenwich Time’s closure – chose not to run Drury’s revelation as a story. Instead, it was buried on the letters page with a reply from council leader Denise Hyland.

Denise Hyland's response (Greenwich & Lewisham Mercury, 12 September 2016)

She said: “Sometimes, even in times of austerity, it is important to design events for the community that bring people together to have fun and celebrate their local area with friends and neighbours.”

Like a fireworks display, perhaps.

Residents were invited to post selfies from the event on social media to win prizes. Only five people appear to have taken part on Twitter, with the same number appearing to participate on Instagram.

£20,000 on mayor’s party

Ermine over fireworks: This private event - lauded in now-shut council weekly Greenwich Time - cost taxpayers £20,000

Ermine over fireworks: This private event – lauded in now-shut council weekly Greenwich Time – cost taxpayers £20,000

Despite claiming to be too poor to fund Blackheath fireworks, Greenwich has also continued to spend £20,000 each year on a private event at the Royal Naval College to celebrate the inauguration of the borough’s ceremonial mayor.

This year’s invitees included Berkeley Homes chief John Anderson and Neil Smith, head of planning at Greenwich Peninsula developer Knight Dragon, according to documents released to this website under the Freedom of Information Act.

There had been some rumours that this year’s mayor, Olu Babatola, would ditch the event. But instead 400 guests saw a 40-strong choir perform while enjoying 90 bottles of wine as well as a menu including salmon goujons, tomato & goat’s cheese tart and crumbled spicy hake.

Most boroughs – including Lewisham – make do with much smaller events at their own town halls, with the public able to watch.

Written answer from Greenwich full council meeting, 27 October

If Babatola did not cancel the event, then it’s unlikely his successor will – next year’s mayor is Peter Brooks, Chris Roberts’ former deputy, who cancelled the fireworks funding in 2010, claiming it would save “a job and a bit”.

Getting a fireworks display on the cheap

Lewisham's Labour group has made saving Blackheath fireworks a priority, unlike their Greenwich colleagues

Greenwich’s parsimonious attitude to Blackheath fireworks has been a long-running embarrassment for many of the borough’s residents, who can see with their own eyes the benefits it brings to local businesses in both boroughs.

It remains one of the few remaining free displays in London, and funnels huge numbers of people to pubs and restaurants in Greenwich, Blackheath and Lewisham, as well as boosting trade in other areas within walking distance such as Lee, Deptford and Charlton.

It’s not even as if Greenwich needs to increase its own funding directly – the council is proud of its close links with developers, and could surely tap up the likes of Berkeley Homes or Knight Dragon for a donation or sponsorship to help ease Lewisham’s burden.

But Greenwich’s lack of interest shows us the council leadership is still more concerned with promoting itself through stunts like the Eltham lookalike parade, or retreating into a world of self-congratulation in the Old Royal Naval College.

Unlike their colleagues across the border, Lewisham Labour has made protecting the display a key policy, and both councillors and staff there go to great efforts to keep it going.

But with elected mayor Sir Steve Bullock stepping down at the 2018 election, his successor – who will take charge of an increasingly cash-strapped council – may take a different view.

If Greenwich councillors – and the Labour members who pick them – want to see the Blackheath fireworks continue, they may need to change their attitude – and fast.

To donate to Blackheath fireworks, visit http://www.lewisham.gov.uk/fireworks.

Bye bye busway: Dual carriageway for Greenwich Millennium Village

GMV bus way

This would become a dual carriage way under TfL and Greenwich Council’s scheme

The busway that links Greenwich Millennium Village and North Greenwich station is set to be ripped out and replaced with a dual carriageway, under plans unveiled by Transport for London and Greenwich Council today.

A consultation has been launched into the scheme, which will also see new bus stops installed by the Pilot pub.

It follows a number of collisions in the area, with drivers and pedestrians confused by the unconventional layout, which has two single-carriageway roads placed next to each other; one for buses and one for general traffic.

GMV busway

Looking towards the Dome from the top of a bus – the busway is on the right

A woman died in January after being hit by a bus in the Millennium Village during a morning rush hour.

The layout is a legacy of a failed plan to have the Millennium Dome served by guided buses. The buses kept crashing while on test, so the busway was covered in tarmac and handed over for normal bus use in June 2001.

Its proposed replacement would provides one lane for buses and one lane for general traffic in each direction. Despite Transport for London recently installing a “cycle hub” (in reality, a couple of double-deck cycle racks) at North Greenwich station, there is no dedicated space for cyclists. It also appears to improve the access route into North Greenwich station, and removes the traffic lights that hold up buses outside the Pilot, replacing them with a pelican crossing.

But while the new arrangement will be less confusing, it does allow rat-running through the Millennium Village to the car parks for the O2 and at North Greenwich station, with the route through GMV bring a popular cut-through in the mornings. The construction of a dual carriageway through this area may mean one problem has been swapped for another. It seems an opportunity has been missed to keep traffic that shouldn’t be in GMV out of it.

If the Silvertown Tunnel is built, the dual carriageway past the Pilot would also be the main access route to the O2 and surrounding amenities during the construction period.

It also means the under-construction St Mary Magdalene school would be surrounded by dual carriageways on both sides.

Local councillors are pleased with what’s planned…

…but to have your say, visit Transport for London’s consultation site.

How former Greenwich Council leader represented borough in Berlin – with taxpayers paying his hotel bill

Chris Roberts in Berlin

Roberts joins Denise Hyland and other councillors in Berlin. From left to right: Norman Adams, Chris Roberts, Reinickendorf district mayor Frank Balzer, deputy council chairman Henry Mazatis, Denise Hyland, former Reinickendorf council director Frank Zemke, Reinickendorf mayor Katrin Schultze-Berndt (CDU), Chris Lloyd, Peter Brooks, Denise Scott-McDonald, Steve Offord. Photo from Reinickendorf council.

Former Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts, who left the council after accusations of bullying were made against him, represented the borough on a trip to Berlin this summer, with accommodation paid for as part of a taxpayer-funded town twinning scheme.

Roberts, who is now deputy chairman of a company which lobbies for property developers, joined current council leader Denise Hyland and five other councillors on the beano to Reinickendorf, west Berlin, in July.

Berlin taxpayers stumped up the £1,585 accommodation costs for the group’s three-day trip, which marked the 50th anniversary of the two boroughs being twinned. Greenwich taxpayers had paid for a German delegation to visit south-east London earlier in the year.

While Roberts stepped down from the council’s top job two years ago, he retains a close relationship with the current council leadership – despite his new role at Cratus Communications, a company which specialises in lobbying local authorities.

His final year in charge saw allegations that he threw a set of keys at a council cleaner, while a leaked voicemail revealed him threatening former deputy leader John Fahy with the loss of his cabinet position in a row over a half-marathon that benefited a charity Roberts had set up.

In addition two councillors stepped down from their jobs complaining of a “culture of bullying” in his Labour group. One of them, former planning chair Alex Grant, later went public with claims that councillors were threatened and intimidated over planning matters.

Despite all this, both Labour and Tory councillors united to award Roberts the freedom of the borough earlier this year.

Fireworks and a VIP dinner

The trip, which took place between 14-17 July, saw Roberts, Hyland, Roberts’ former deputy Peter Brooks (Glyndon ward), Norman Adams (Kidbrooke with Hornfair), Steve Offord (Abbey Wood), Chris Lloyd (Peninsula) and cabinet member Denise Scott-McDonald (Peninsula) treated to rooms at the four-star Hotel am Borgisturm in Tegel.

They were treated to a fireworks display on a lake to mark the relationship between the two councils, as well as a Saturday night stage show at the Friedrichstadtpalast theatre, in the centre of the German capital.

Roberts and the party also enjoyed a VIP dinner at the Tegel Harbour Festival, while they also attended a reception at Reinickendorf’s town hall.

One councillor, Chris Lloyd, tweeted about being presented with a medal.

Despite this clearly being a big deal in Reinickendorf, Greenwich did not announce the councillors’ trip to the media. Asked under England’s Freedom of Information Act about the councillors’ trip, Greenwich Council did not disclose Roberts’ attendance or the cost of the trip, although it did confirm the itinerary and pointed out each member of the party paid their own travel costs.

None of the councillors has disclosed the trip with Roberts on their register of interests, despite it being worth more than £100 each.

However, the trip was reported locally and officials in Reinickendorf released a photo showing Roberts with the party. They later confirmed the costs after a request made under Berlin’s state freedom of information laws.

Conflict of interests

Chris Roberts’ new employment as a lobbyist for developers opens up a possible conflict of interests, as Denise Hyland, Peter Brooks, Norman Adams and Steve Offord sit on the borough’s main planning committee, the grandly-titled Planning Board.

Hyland has been criticised for being the only council leader in London to be on such a committee, and earlier this month withdrew from a decision on a skate park in Charlton Park after objectors pointed out she had spoken in support of the scheme last year.

Roberts – who this website understands is still in regular contact with the council leadership – has recently been joined at Cratus Communications by Michael Stanworth, a former Labour Party organiser in Greenwich borough during his time in office.

The Cratus website recently published an article praising the views of another Roberts chum, Tony Pidgeley, the chairman of Berkeley Homes, which is behind the Royal Arsenal and Kidbrooke Village developments. Pidgeley was thanked in Roberts’ acceptance speech when he was given the freedom of the borough.

Reinickendorf town hall

Greenwich memorabilia in Reinickendorf’s town hall

Greenwich taxpayers pay for return trips

While Greenwich taxpayers did not contribute directly to Roberts’ trip, they do fund accommodation costs when Reinickendorf councillors come to stay. In May, the council paid £4,140 for a Reinickendorf party to stay at the Hotel Ibis in Greenwich.

The delegation, which included Reinickendorf leader Hinrich Luehmann and its former chief executive Frank Zemke, were shown around the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich and attended the private Old Royal Naval College inauguration of mayor Olu Babatola, a bash that cost council taxpayers £20,000.

A month later, Zemke was given the freedom of Greenwich borough – the council’s highest honour – for “pioneering the exchange of officials and trainees, as well as other institutions from the two boroughs”.

The borough of Reinickendorf, named after a leafy suburb of Berlin, is clearly proud of its links with Greenwich. A Greenwich Promenade runs alongside Lake Tegel, while memorabilia from Greenwich is proudly displayed in its town hall. A Greenwich borough crest is also on display at the local rail station. Coincidentally, Reinickendorf’s next-door borough, Charlottenberg, has a similar arrangement with Lewisham.

Woolwich's Buddy Bear

But evidence of Greenwich’s pride is less easy to come by. Until recently, the only public commemoration was a small and poorly-maintained road in Eltham’s Avery Hill Park, Reinickendorf Avenue. But earlier this year, a “buddy bear” was presented to Greenwich by Reinickendorf. It now sits, looking slightly marooned, in General Gordon Square, Woolwich.

Town twinning started in Europe after the second world war, and was aimed at repairing damaged relationships between nations. With two of Greenwich’s twin towns – the other is Maribor, Slovenia – in European Union states, it’s possible that these agreements may grow in importance if Britain goes through with the vote to leave the EU. A third town, Tema in Ghana, has received assistance and recycled council equipment.

But trips like this one to Reinickendorf make the whole arrangement look like a private jolly. Furthermore, inviting a property developer’s lobbyist along for a subsidised break raises questions about the whole arrangement, and bigger questions about just how the council’s main planning committee works. But will anyone on the council be brave enough to ask them?

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 bce2018.org.uk. 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 boundaryassistant.org.

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 SE1.co.uk 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?