Former Greenwich Conservative councillor Dermot Poston dies

South East London Mercury, May 1968

Former Eltham North councillor Dermot Poston, who was first elected to Woolwich Town Hall in 1968, has died, his colleague Spencer Drury announced on Friday.

A former teacher at Haberdasher’s Askes Hatcham Boys’ School in New Cross, Poston was a stalwart of the local Conservatives, and clocked up 40 years’ service in the town hall.

His first win – in the former Horn Park ward – came in highly unusual circumstances, when the Conservatives won a landslide on Greenwich Council.

Most of London’s boroughs went Tory that night, but it wasn’t to last and he lost his seat – and the Tories lost power, never to return, at the 1971 poll.

Kentish Independent, May 1968

He returned again in New Eltham in 1974, serving until 1990, before returning in a by-election at Eltham Park in 1993. He stayed on until 2014 as that seat was incorporated into Eltham North.

One of the things that looking at council meetings can do is to break your political prejudices; you can find yourself looking forward to hearing contributions by representatives whose national parties you simply can’t abide.

So it was for me with Dermot Poston, who was as likely to take the mickey out of himself as he was to lambast the council’s policies. On one occasion he had the council chamber in stitches by recalling his days as a roller-skater – something you could never imagine this dignified gentleman doing. In a council chamber dominated by spite and petty digs, Poston would tackle opponents hard, but fairly.

He was an astute critic of former leader Chris Roberts and, as an opposition councillor, was able to speak freely on an increasingly politicised planning board – coming out against the Ikea development in Greenwich, a position which saw him accused of “playing to the gallery” by Roberts; even though most of his Eltham constituents would probably back it.

South East London Mercury ad, May 1968

A glance at 1968’s clippings from the South East London Mercury (as was) and the long-defunct Kentish Independent show little of Poston – he was one of a number of people no doubt slightly surprised to find themselves on the council and running it.

But there are lots to show what a different place Greenwich borough was at that point in time – Thamesmead’s first residents were just moving in, the riverside industries were still clinging on, and the A102 was under construction. Indeed, Greenwich borough itself had only just been created out of the old metropolitan boroughs.

Around the time of his retirement, I had thought about contacting him for an interview, to find out what it was like to have been that rarest of creatures – a Tory who could remember being on the winning side in Greenwich – and his thoughts on how politics, his party, and the role of being a councillor had changed over the years. I never got around to doing it, which is something I regret.

In Greenwich, watching council meetings can be as depressing as it can be enlightening – while you will sometimes learn new things about the area you live in, you are just as likely to come away feeling cheapened having been exposed to a intensive dose of arrogance, ignorance and rudeness.

In the time I watched him on the council, you never got that with Dermot Poston, who treated the sometimes dull, sometimes bitter business of the town hall with dignity and wit. Hopefully there will be some way of commemorating his contribution – even if it is just councillors treating each other – and the public who pay their allowances – with a little more respect. He’ll be much missed in local public life, and my condolences go to his family, friends and colleagues.

Clippings above from the South East London Mercury (top and bottom) and Kentish Independent (centre) from May 1968, courtesy of Greenwich Heritage Centre.

TfL bus cuts threaten route 180 through Lewisham, Greenwich and Charlton

Route 180 in Charlton

Transport for London could axe bus route 180 between Lewisham and Charlton, according to a document released by Greenwich Council earlier this month.

The service – which currently runs between Lewisham and Belvedere via Greenwich, Charlton, Woolwich, Plumstead and Abbey Wood, could be diverted to run to and from North Greenwich station instead.

The proposal – first reported by From The Murky Depths – is contained in a transport report (see page 26) produced as part of the council’s plans to redevelop the Charlton riverside.

TfL is also looking at reducing the frequency of route 472, which runs between North Greenwich and Thamesmead.

The report, produced by consultants Urban Movement, says the proposals were mooted in a meeting with TfL last month.

It says: “At a meeting with Aidan Daly of TfL Buses on 19.01.17 he suggested that the frequency of Route 472 is proposed to reduce to 7.5 buses per hour in the peaks from its current frequencies of 12 and 10.

“This route would also be extended to Abbey Wood (due to the arrival of Crossrail). Route 180 is proposed to be diverted at Peartree Way to North Greenwich at its existing frequency of 6 buses per hour, no longer serving the section between Woolwich Road and Lewisham. Route 380 would retain the link between Charlton and Lewisham.

“Overall, it is proposed that bus frequency along the Woolwich Road is set to reduce by approximately 4 buses per hour, while the main flow of buses into North Greenwich reduces by 1 bus per hour overall as a result of the 180 being diverted.”

Most users of bus services in the area will find the idea of cutting the 180 to be palpably barmy – particularly with big population increases right along its route. It would reduce services between Greenwich and Woolwich and break a connection between Lewisham and east Greenwich which has existed since the days of trams. Passengers would presumably be expected to take a 177 and change in central Greenwich for a 199, a service which is often heavily delayed by traffic in Rotherhithe and Deptford.

The reference to the 380 being a replacement for the 180 is an odd one, since the 380 runs through Blackheath rather than Greenwich, and follows a different and more circuitous route through Charlton. But then there is also an odd reference in the report to the bus terminal at Charlton station being redundant when it is used daily by short runs on the 472, early-terminating 486s and rail replacement buses.

The bus network around Woolwich and Abbey Wood will face big changes to coincide with the planned start of Crossrail services in December 2018. But this comes as TfL finds its income squeezed on two fronts: the Conservative government in Westminster withdrawing its grant funding from 2018, and Labour mayor Sadiq Khan’s decision to freeze all single TfL fares until 2020. So service expansions may end up being balanced by cuts elsewhere.

Observers have long feared that big cuts to bus services will be on the way; it may be that Charlton, Greenwich and Lewisham will find this out the hard way. TfL is already planning on big changes to 23 routes through the West End, partly as a response to increased congestion.

One Lewisham route has already been subjected to a stealth cut; in November the area’s only direct link to the West End, the 436 to Paddington, was diverted at Vauxhall to terminate at Battersea Park instead.

If this proposal worries you, then you may want to write to your local representatives – particularly those on the London Assembly – to ask them what they are doing about this.

Should North Greenwich bus station be listed? These people say it should be

North Greenwich bus station, November 2016
You probably read a couple of weeks ago about the new development planned for North Greenwich station – 30-storey glass towers, a “winter garden”, 800 flats and a world-famous architect in Santiago Calatrava.

It’ll certainly be an impressive sight and will probably replace the Dome as the peninsula’s signature building – in fact, if you look at the peninsula from Charlton, the O2 is already disappearing behind Knight Dragon’s fast rising towers.

Peninsula Place will replace the current bus station at North Greenwich – a darling of 1990s architecture books but no longer fit for purpose; a scene of fights, bus jams and frustration.

What you probably didn’t see reported is that the 20th Century Society, rather bravely, wants to see the Norman Foster-designed terminus listed.

“We would deeply regret the loss of two recent and outstanding examples of late-20th-century infrastructure buildings,” the society’s conservation adviser Tess Pinto told design website Dezeen.

Clearly our Tess hasn’t faced any sharp digs in the ribs while trying to squeeze onto a 486. It is a lovely building, if useless for what the area has become. Perhaps it could be dismantled and re-erected somewhere else? It is the third major bit of 1990s infrastructure on the peninsula to face destruction in the past couple of years after the ‘eco’-Sainsbury’s (which the 20th Century Society also fought to save) and the soon-to-be-ripped-out busway.

Indeed, the Dome’s Blue Peter time capsule almost came a cropper recently.

North Greenwich bus station queue

No matter how impressive 30-storey glass towers will be, it’s absurd to say they “unlock the potential” of the peninsula – very little has been done since the Jubilee Line opened in 1999, and the only plans focus on a road tunnel aimed at long-distance commuters passing through. But that’s what Sadiq Khan found himself saying in interviews promoting Peninsula Place. (He also managed to mistakenly claim Crossrail was coming to the peninsula, a reminder that he needs better transport advisers, fast.)

TfL has admitted the Jubilee Line faces capacity problems into the 2030s – despite another major upgrade planned soon – while plans show the bus station as having room for 17, rather than 15 buses, and planned Silvertown Tunnel services may gobble up those spaces. Add in 15,000 new homes, and those fights for 422s aren’t going to go away any day soon.

I’ve written about this for CityMetric, and you should go there now and read why North Greenwich desperately needs a bridge to Canary Wharf to ease some of the pressure.

Peninsula Place (image: Knight Dragon)

Neither City Hall, Greenwich Council nor Knight Dragon seem willing to countenance the thought that Greenwich Peninsula needs more than just the Jubilee Line.

So Peninsula Place is an uncomfortable reminder that if you live in east Greenwich, Charlton or Blackheath – never mind Eltham or Woolwich – then if you’re heading to central London, North Greenwich will not be meant for you for much longer.

It’s mad when you think about it from a transport planning point of view – North Greenwich has a lot of regular users who live nowhere near it, but use it every day because it is in zone 2 and results in cheaper fares than using their local stations. And this situation will get worse as the TfL fare freeze goes on while Southeastern’s continue to rise.

An in time, North Greenwich station will have more people in its catchment area, and will become increasingly difficult to access by bus for the rest of us as time goes on. Best to get used to this now (or get a bike).

Unfortunately, this means the train services through places like Charlton, Blackheath and Eltham will need improving – but this seems unlikely too.

So while the glass towers will certainly look very nice, unless there’s a serious rethink, short-term and parochial thinking looks set to curse the peninsula – and the rest of us who live nearby – for years to come.

Dirty borough: Greenwich’s street sweeping boss leaves council after complaints

victoria_way1000

Victoria Way in Charlton earlier this month: the result of half-completed council sweeps

The man in charge of Greenwich Council’s street sweeping has parted company with the authority after streets in some parts of the borough were left unswept for weeks.

Matthew Norwell, Greenwich’s director of community services, left before Christmas “by mutual agreement”, the council has confirmed.

Councillors were frustrated at the failure of his department to respond to mounting complaints about filthy streets, with some streets still covered in autumn leaves in January.

Mr Norwell, who earned £140,000 a year, also resigned his directorships at two council companies – GS Plus and Greenwich Service Solutions – on 13 December.

A council spokesperson told 853: “Matthew Norwell left the Council by mutual agreement before Christmas. We would like to wish him well with his future endeavours.”

victoria_way1000_a

A council worker sweeps leaves into the gutter in Victoria Way in Charlton in January. Past sweeps had seen these piles of leaves abandoned for weeks. (The bins blocking the pavement were left out by refuse collection teams.)

Local councillors had faced the brunt of anger from residents at the deteriorating state of their streets, particularly in Plumstead and Charlton, with the service sharply criticised at a scrutiny meeting in November.

There is no recording of this meeting available, but minutes state: “There was a general perception amongst the Panel that some areas of the borough received an inferior street cleansing service in comparison to others.

“Those Members of the Panel who represented wards in the Woolwich and Plumstead areas had received numerous complaints from residents and were finding it increasingly difficult to defend the perceived lack of street cleansing in these areas.”

The minutes also record Greenwich environment cabinet member Jackie Smith saying “a discussion needed to be had” about the level of resources put into the service, with just £29 per resident spent on keeping the borough clean – much less than neighbouring Lewisham or Southwark.

However, despite the historic underfunding of the service and the failure of her department, Smith decided to blame the  Conservative Party when questioned at a council meeting in December.

jackie_smith1000

In Plumstead, Smith insisted Plumstead High Street – the focus of many residents’ complaints – had been given a “deep clean” by council staff during the summer, even though it appears that the clean failed to have any effect.

And in Charlton, residents complained of streets covered in leaves for months on end, with sweeping  – when it was carried out – seemingly carried out on an arbitrary basis, and often half-completed.

While government cutbacks are unhelpful, the council’s previous underfunding of the service left it vulnerable to failings.

The council has stepped up its act by signing up to a customised version of the FixMyStreet app, which works across many UK authorities.

But while FixMyStreet allows the council to see where there are litter and flytipping hotspots, its response to them still seems to be influenced by lobbying rather than data, with areas of Charlton being ignored despite the introduction of a “taskforce” to fix street issues.

Town hall insiders say Norwell’s department had struggled after taking on responsibility for council housing in a reorganisation designed to slim down the number of senior management posts.

While Greenwich Council has traditionally resisted suggestions that it spin off its housing stock into an arms-length company, preferring to keep direct control and hold rents down, critics say this has left much of the borough’s council housing stock in a poor state.

Norwell’s successor will take charge of a department with a huge remit – from licensing and trading standards to parks, sport and leisure and the council’s mortuary.

Whoever takes over will need to deal with the legacies of past underfunding as well as government cuts. For the sake of the whole borough – because living in an area that looks like a dump has an effect on us all, frankly – hopefully they will have the skills to turn it around.

Sadiq Khan backed Silvertown Tunnel five weeks after election – despite promising ‘joined-up review’

A102

The A102 on a polluted day: Campaigners fear the Silvertown Tunnel will increase pollution and congestion across east and south-east London

London mayor Sadiq Khan agreed to continue with Boris Johnson’s plans to build the controversial Silvertown Tunnel within weeks of taking office, despite promising a “proper joined-up review” into the project while standing for election.

Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that Khan backed the tunnel after receiving a briefing from Transport for London representatives on 14 June, just five weeks after he took office.

Officials were then charged with making the proposals more palatable to the public, from offering free bus services and residents’ discounts to adding cycle racks to existing buses.

The £1 billion project – which would provide a new toll road from the Royal Docks to feed into the A102 at Greenwich Peninsula, and would toll the Blackwall Tunnel – is currently going through the planning process, with a series of public hearings taking place until April. Later this year, planning inspectors will recommend to the government whether to approve or refuse the scheme.

Full disclosure: I’m part of the No to Silvertown Tunnel campaign that is challenging the scheme, however, the opinions expressed in this story do not represent the views of the campaign. I’m also a registered objector to the tunnel as an individual.

The joined-up review that didn’t happen

Khan had pledged “a proper joined up review, looking at river crossings and improved public transport connections east of Tower Bridge, but in a strategic fashion, not piecemeal like the current mayor”, when interviewed about the project by Transport Network in April 2016, ahead of May’s election.

By 27 May, this had become a commitment to “review the merits” of the scheme.

But a TfL briefing note says Khan agreed to its proposals less than three weeks later, and the review would merely be about “improvements”.

This is despite opposition to the tunnel from Labour councils in Lewisham, Southwark, Hackney and now Newham, which has reversed its earlier backing for the scheme.

Khan also appears to have quietly dropped plans for further road crossings at Gallions Reach and Belvedere. The Gallions crossing has been a long-cherished aim for London’s Labour councils, and was a supposed condition for Greenwich’s backing of the Silvertown scheme. Neither project appears in TfL’s latest business plan, released last month.

While politicians in Greenwich and Tower Hamlets are going through the motions in still supporting the scheme, the project has come under sustained attack from their council officers at planning hearings, which resume today.

The documents released by City Hall

Aspen Way

The proposed tunnel would feed straight into this existing morning traffic jam at Aspen Way, Poplar

The Greater London Authority was asked for the terms of reference of Khan’s review, as well as the advice sent to Khan and deputy mayor Val Shawcross, their responses, as well as details of who was consulted.

There is no record of anybody outside the GLA or TfL being consulted by the mayor’s office, despite the widespread concern about the proposals from neighbouring councils.

The GLA sent a Powerpoint presentation from TfL to the mayor from June, when he agreed to back the scheme; as well as a later presentation outlining options to make the scheme more palatable. There is also a note from GLA head of transport Tim Steer to Shawcross outlining the problems with residents’ discounts.

You can see the documents for yourself here (12MB PDF).

Cover letter with more details (added 26 January 2017)

Asked for the terms of reference, the GLA said:

“In requesting that TfL review the merits of the Silvertown Tunnel scheme, the Mayor asked that particular consideration be paid to the following:

 

 

 

 

  • a clear commitment to delivering much-needed cross river public transport links;
  • environmental assurances, both in terms of how it is constructed and once operational;
  • and benefits for pedestrians and cyclists, linking to the wider opportunities for new river crossings, such as the proposed Rotherhithe to Canary Wharf crossing.”

 

However, there is no sign that any of TfL’s assertions about the scheme – apart from on tolling – were scrutinised in any way by the mayor or his deputy.

This includes its claim that “no additional traffic will be generated”, which has been disputed by councils at the planning process.

A question of ‘further benefits’

Ford Trader Dartford Tunnel Cycle Bus

In October, Khan confirmed he was backing the scheme but making it “greener and more public transport-focused, and exploring further benefits for residents who use the tunnel”.

“Further benefits for residents who use the tunnel” – which campaigners fear mean concessions for local residents who drive through the tunnel – have the potential to wreck TfL’s traffic modelling by generating even more new trips and causing more congestion.

Despite this, both Labour and Conservative politicians on both sides of the Thames are still pressing for concessions.

Khan’s main idea to “green” the tunnel was to create a special bus service for cyclists – reminiscent of a short-lived service offered when the Dartford Tunnel first opened in 1963 (pictured above, below is one of the vehicles in a yard in Stratford in 1999).

Hackney Waterden Road Ford Thames bus

He also re-announced a series of bus services already planned for the tunnel, as well as reiterating his support for a pedestrian and cycle bridge between Rotherhithe and Canary Wharf.

The mayor also re-announced past proposals for a ferry between North Greenwich and Canary Wharf and an Overground extension from Barking Riverside to Thamesmead. There was one surprising addition – a pledge to investigate a DLR extension from Gallions Reach to Thamesmead, the first time this idea has surfaced without being attached to a new road.

Other plans suggested by TfL but not taken forward by Khan included free travel on the Emirates Air Line between 7am and 9am on weekdays, to be paid for by increasing “leisure fares” on the cable car.

Rocky reception at planning hearings

The Silvertown Tunnel planning hearing resumes at Excel today

The Silvertown Tunnel planning hearing resumes at Excel today

Planning hearings into the scheme began in October and resume today at the Excel centre in the Royal Docks. A three-strong panel is hearing arguments from TfL and interested parties, mainly boroughs and local landowners.

What has been striking so far has been the tough reception TfL’s plans got from all boroughs. None of them are happy with TfL’s traffic modelling. This is a problem for TfL, because all its other forecasts, from the economy to pollution, derive from how much traffic it thinks will use the tunnel.

Most strikingly, Greenwich Council’s senior transport planner, Kim Smith, told hearings last month that the council was worried the “local network would suffer” as a result of the tunnel’s construction – something campaigners have been warning about for four years, and that appears in a report the council buried nearly five years ago.

Her opposite number at Newham, Murray Woodburn, pointed out that TfL’s record in assessing demand for river crossings was “not exactly fantastic”, pointing out that the Woolwich Arsenal DLR extension proved to be twice as busy as predicted.

“We as host boroughs have no option other than to treat the highway impacts… with very little confidence,” he told the hearing.

Much of this depends on the calculations that go into the modelling itself – the boroughs challenged the “value of time” used in the forecasts, saying that economic conditions in this part of London are vastly different from the rest of the country.

But the tolling also plays a part – so we learned that TfL has only modelled what would happen if tolls increased by 20%, which would only take the maximum charge for a car up to £3.60.

TfL has also admitted it could reduce charges if the tunnel was less busy than forecast – jeopardising traffic levels on other roads and possibly increasing pollution.

You can see a Storify summary of one of December’s hearings here.

Greenwich councillors say one thing, officers say another

Silvertown Tunnel hearing at The Crystal

Bedtime reading: The planning documents for the Silvertown Tunnel scheme

But while Murray Woodburn’s boss, Newham elected mayor Sir Robin Wales, has “politically repositioned the council’s stance” on the tunnel, Kim Smith’s employers at Greenwich are still singing the same old songs written by former leader Chris Roberts.

Smith told the planning hearing the council only ever supported “a package of crossings” (ie, including the now-dropped Gallions crossing), which is consistent with the council’s submissions to earlier consultations on the scheme.

But a few days later she was contradicted by current transport cabinet member Sizwe James, who has been lumbered with the job of defending the council’s stance, at a scrutiny panel meeting. These are where backbench councillors interrogate (or at least gently probe) senior councillors and officers on how things are going.

Much of the Regeneration, Transport and Culture scrutiny meeting was about Greenwich’s policies on air pollution – which falls under the remit of deputy leader Danny Thorpe’s regeneration portfolio. Thorpe enlisted TfL’s David Rowe – a genial chap who’s in charge of much of the politics and practicalities around the proposal – to answer questions from councillors on the Silvertown Tunnel and air pollution.

This was largely a waste of time, as everything depends on the traffic modelling, which council officials are unhappy about. But nobody told the councillors that the modelling was hotly disputed, and Rowe’s presence presumably just gave Thorpe someone to hide behind. (Shaky video of almost the whole meeting can be found here.)

Too bright to come out with that crap

January 2013: Nick Raynsford, Denise Hyland and Chris Roberts promote their pro-tunnel Bridge The Gap campaign

January 2013: Nick Raynsford, Denise Hyland and Chris Roberts promote their pro-tunnel Bridge The Gap campaign

Even worse, by the time the meeting had got around to transport questions – where the meat of the Silvertown scheme could be dissected – almost everybody had cleared off, including Thorpe and Rowe, leaving James – who has only recently taken over transport from Thorpe – isolated.

James told the panel that the council supported the tunnel’s construction in isolation.

“We have been consistently supportive of a package of crossings… but that is not the only reason we’re supporting Silvertown, it’s also about resilience and supporting growth,” he told the meeting on 13 December.

But James then managed to contradict himself on that point, as well as Smith’s comments to the planning hearing.

Asked by former deputy leader John Fahy if it concerned him that the tunnel would attract more traffic than anticipated now the Gallions and Belvedere schemes have been canned, James replied: “Of course it does, there’ll be more pressure at one point, that’s why we support a package of crossings.”

Either the council supports the Silvertown Tunnel on its own, or it supports more than one crossing, surely?

After an awkward silence, Greenwich’s assistant director of transport, Tim Jackson, intervened to point out that “if TfL were here they would say” that tolling would control traffic levels.

But TfL had gone home – and Jackson’s colleagues have been taking TfL to task on the question of tolling at the planning hearings, something he didn’t tell the panel.

So Greenwich councillors were denied the chance to properly scrutinise the council’s line on the scheme, and learned nothing about how the council is approaching what is a complex set of public hearings on the scheme.

Then James was taken to task by Greenwich West councillor Mehboob Khan, who, in short, told him he was too bright to come out with that crap.

“Southwark have formally objected on the basis of increased traffic going through the west of our borough through Lewisham and Southwark towards Rotherhithe [Tunnel]. That’s the council’s official position,” he said.

“Lewisham have objected. Hackney have objected. Tower Hamlets objected [it did in an earlier consultation]. Greenwich didn’t. Someone’s right here, and somebody’s wrong here. Their objections aren’t, in principle, to Silvertown – it’s about the mitigation of the problems caused by it not being dealt with by TfL.

“You meet TfL on a regular basis – you’re new to this portfolio this year. And perhaps you don’t want to be tainted by past portfolio-holders’ stances.” At this point, John Fahy pretended to cuff Khan around the ear.

“Can you look at this afresh and and see why other boroughs have taken a completely polarised position to Greenwich? And maybe come forward with something more in line with what an intelligent, articulate cabinet member like yourself would come forward with?”

James responded: “This is not my personal position, this is the position of the Labour Group.” [Greenwich Labour councillors backed the scheme in 2012.]

Khan came back: “We’re not interested in Labour Group here. This forms part of the council’s scrutiny function. That political view is taken elsewhere.”

James agreed he would look again at the council’s position. But frankly, the damage has already been done by his predecessors, who mistook criticism of the council’s stance for politically-motivated attacks. It’s now left Greenwich in an embarrassing position of backing a scheme it knows will damage the borough.

Khan can still stop it – but do local politicians care enough?

Before Christmas, the West Ham constituency Labour party passed a motion against the scheme, and there are rumours of new rumblings against the Silvertown Tunnel south of the river too. But it’s too late to take their complaints to council leaders – they’ve already made their minds up.

If they really wanted to stop the scheme, they would be taking their concerns straight to Sadiq Khan and Val Shawcross, which would mean overcoming their reluctance to embarrass the Labour mayor and his transport deputy.

Even at this late stage, the tunnel certainly isn’t a done deal – especially with the fierce criticism it’s getting from the boroughs.

Just as with another dodgy scheme inherited from Boris Johnson, the Garden Bridge, many millions of pounds have already been spent on getting the Silvertown Tunnel through planning – and this planning inquiry itself is taking up huge amounts of TfL’s time when the organisation is having its budgets cut.

But now we know how slapdash Khan’s “review” was, will any of his friends have the courage to have a quiet word in his ear?

Southeastern smackdown: Worst of all worlds for SE London commuters

Lewisham station, 2015
Today’s announcement that the government won’t be devolving Southeastern’s metro rail services to Transport for London is the worst of all worlds for south-east London – and threatens to put parts of our local infrastructure under even greater strain.

Despite clear improvements to train services in north London which have already been transferred to mayoral control, transport secretary Chris Grayling has called such a move “deckchair shifting” – while refusing to let go of the Titanic’s wheel.

It’s also a massive blow to mayor Sadiq Khan – we’ve seen under Ken Livingstone, and to a smaller (and more ambiguous) extent under Boris Johnson, that fixing transport is the most visible way a mayor can change London for the better.

The devolution plan – first concocted under Johnson – would have separated Southeastern’s metro services from Kent/Sussex trains, and handed them to TfL to manage. This system – where TfL takes responsibility for fares, services and staffing – has worked wonders on London Overground, where services are up while delays and fare-dodging are down.

Now Khan looks like he’ll be denied this, as Grayling decides the service on the Grove Park to Bromley North shuttle is more appropriate for Westminster to deal with rather than City Hall.

But it also leaves south-east Londoners the most exposed to the ill-effects of Khan’s fare “freeze” – where fares on TfL services are frozen but travelcard, fare caps and National Rail fares will continue to increase.

Because of the actions of Grayling and Khan, south-east Londoners who rely on Southeastern face paying far more for our travel than those use can use the Tube or most services north of the river.

Here are the current fares – you can see where National Rail fares are increasingly out of synch with TfL tickets in the outer zones, despite the far inferior service. The TfL fare scale also applies to many National Rail services in west, north and east London, as part of recent policy decisions or for historic reasons.

Most National Rail fares will be 10p dearer from 2 January – but TfL tickets are frozen.

2016 Oyster/ contactless fare TfL – all National Rail only Using both in Zone 1
Zone 1-2 £2.90/£2.40 £2.70/£2.40 £4.30/£3.70
Zone 1-3 £3.30/£2.80 £3.40/£2.50 £5.00/£4.00
Zone 1-4 £3.90/£2.80 £3.90/£2.80 £5.50/£4.30
Zone 1-5 £4.70/£3.10 £5.00/£3.20 £6.60/£4.70
Zone 1-6 £5.10/£3.10 £6.10/£3.80 £7.70/£5.30
Zone 2-4 £2.40/£1.50 £2.80/£2.20 n/a
Zone 2-6 £3.80/£1.50 £4.10/£2.70 n/a

With Khan pledging to keep TfL fares frozen until 2020, and Tory policy to keep increasing National Rail fares, these disparities will get worse, and start to affect people further into London. Worse still, commuters who use Southeastern and then change to the Tube in Zone 1 will continue to face a profiteering surcharge of up to £1.60 that many rail users in north, west and east London do not face.

Note also that off-peak zone 2-6 TfL fares are held down to £1.50 – the price of a bus fare – to drum up trade during quieter hours. No such good sense on National Rail. So someone travelling from Deptford to Erith gets whacked with a £2.70 fare; Canary Wharf to Upminster is just £1.50.

It’s worth pointing out here that Sadiq Khan refused an offer by TfL to freeze Travelcard prices and fare caps, which would have lessened the blow of continued National Rail fare rises.

This isn’t just about south-east Londoners being financially penalised. This also sets back infrastructure improvements – because TfL knows that central government’s inept management of National Rail services is putting pressure on its own operations.

108 overcrowding

The daily grind to and from North Greenwich (thanks to Ruth Townson for the pictures)

TfL’s business case raised the possibility of improvements such as rebuilding the junction at Lewisham, which would enable more services to run through the station, and building new platforms at Brockley which would take pressure off the Jubilee Line at Canada Water.

These ideas don’t just come out of the goodness of TfL’s own heart. People are already voting with their feet because of the cost and unreliability of National Rail services. The business case highlighted how many passengers would rather take the bus to Brixton for the Tube than use unreliable National Rail services closer to their homes.

Brixton: TfL's customer data means it knows where commuters are coming from

Brixton: TfL’s customer data means it knows where commuters are coming from

We see the same effect locally at North Greenwich, where thousands pile onto buses to avoid using Southeastern, putting massive strain on the local transport network. Part of this is down to the fare structure – travelling from North Greenwich only means a zone 2 travelcard, even if you start your journey by bus in Eltham or Blackheath. But if you miss a Jubilee Line train, there’s usually another one in two minutes. You can’t say that for Southeastern trains.

The punishment fare for changing in Zone 1 is also a factor. The DLR’s Woolwich Arsenal services were overwhelmed within months of their introduction. If you had a job at, say, Angel, why would you pay £5.50 to start your journey on an unreliable Southeastern train if taking the DLR would only set you back £3.90?

So SE London commuters face more years of paying more for less, unless the government can be persuaded to change its mind.

The government has little interest in the views of voters in Greenwich or Lewisham, as Tory election wins are thin on the ground here. But will voters in true-blue Bexley and Bromley punish their Tory MPs and councils over this? And will Khan have to modify his fare “freeze” so south Londoners lose out less? We’ll have to wait and see.

Easter rail cuts to hit Greenwich and Woolwich’s Transatlantic Tall Ships Regatta

Greenwich Council says 2014's Tall Ships festival brought 1.1 million people to Greenwich and Woolwich

Next year’s Transatlantic Tall Ships Regatta in Greenwich and Woolwich has been hit by news that major engineering works will cancel most National Rail trains in the area that weekend, making it harder for visitors to attend the spectacle.

The event, which is costing Greenwich Council £2 million, will take place over Easter, from 13 to 16 April. It follows 2014’s Tall Ships Festival, which the council says brought 1.1 million visitors to the area, generating a claimed “£17 million of economic activity”.

Between 35 and 40 ships are due to be moored at two sites, in Greenwich and Woolwich, across the weekend. The ships will then sail across the Atlantic and back, with stops in Simes, Portugal; Bermuda; Boston; a to-be-confirmed Canadian port; Quebec; and Le Havre, France.

But visitors will find it much harder to reach the event as the National Rail line through Greenwich will be closed all weekend to accommodate Thameslink Programme rebuilding works at London Bridge station. There will be no service at Deptford, Greenwich, Maze Hill and Westcombe Park stations all weekend, with Charing Cross and Waterloo East closed on Good Friday and Easter Saturday.

Lewisham station, 2015

Lewisham station has suffered from overcrowding due to Thameslink works

According to a report to be presented to Greenwich Council’s overview and scrutiny committee next week, Southeastern is planning to run a miserly two direct trains per hour between Victoria or Charing Cross and Woolwich Arsenal, with an additional service running to and from New Cross, with passengers expected to change for central London trains at Lewisham.

One solution to provide an additional service to central London, which would avoid possible overcrowding at Lewisham station, could be to swap rail services around so the New Cross trains run in and out of Blackfriars instead. This happened during the early stages of the Thameslink Programme closures, but there is no sign that this is being considered.

Buses could also be hit if there is a need for road closures in Greenwich town centre to accommodate expected crowds – but a whole closure of the town centre, which happened in 2014, is being ruled out because of the effects of the cut in rail services.

The report says: “In order to accommodate the crowds expected at the event in Greenwich Town Centre, some temporary road closures may be required.

“Road closures will improve the festival ambience, encourage visitors to use the shops in the town centre, and improve pedestrian safety. The newly available space can be animated with performers and temporary stalls. The proposed closure… is still to be agreed internally and with TfL and other stakeholders.

“Subject to internal and external agreement, the likely road closure will resemble the arrangements made for the successful Greenwich Car Free Day with the addition of Welland Street closed to traffic to accommodate a queuing system for the Cutty Sark DLR station.”

Travellers are to be advised to use Docklands Light Railway services – which will run every five minutes to Greenwich and Woolwich Arsenal across the weekend – and Thames Clippers boats.

Woolwich Royal Arsenal, 2014

Businesses in he Royal Arsenal development benefitted from the Tall Ships event in 2014

Conservative councillors tried to cancel the Tall Ships Regatta last year, saying the money should be used to help vulnerable residents and improve local engagement. Their budget amendment was thrown out after the council’s Labour leadership said the event would help boost businesses in the area.

But this month’s report reveals scepticism from Woolwich businesses that 2014’s Tall Ships festival benefitted the town.

While most said the event benefitted “Royal Greenwich” (it is not made clear whether this means Greenwich borough or Greenwich itself), 65% of businesses strongly disagreed that the Tall Ships Regatta was a good thing for Woolwich or Woolwich residents, adding that most of the benefits were felt within Berkeley Homes’ Royal Arsenal development rather than the town centre.

The report points out that Woolwich has fewer hospitality businesses than Greenwich, and outlines plans to better link the town centre with the Arsenal complex.

It adds 84% of businesses did not take on extra staff for the 2014 event.

Next year’s festival has also been sluggish at attracting tall ships trainees, who will sail with a ship on the first leg to Portugal. The council originally hoped to attract 179, but estimates have been scaled back after just 39 signed up. Greenwich taxpayers are due to pay for 30 trainees, at a total cost of £27,000, although 31 are paying their own costs.

The report also reveals £20,000 in sponsorship from the controversial London City Cruise Port at Enderby Wharf (whose impact on the environment is discussed in this Radio 4 documentary) and £12,500 from developer U+I, which last week announced major plans to develop part of the Woolwich/Charlton riverside. Intercontinental Hotels is donating a venue (costed at £30,000) for the Captain’s Party, while Charlton Athletic Football Club – currently in turmoil with its own supporters – is also offering The Valley (£1,500) for a crew party.

It also admits some staff working on the event may not get London Living Wage. “All contractors will be encouraged to pay staff working on the event London Living Wage or higher, although the nature of some business sectors, where staff may be sub-contracted, makes enforcing the payment of London Living Wage difficult or impossible,” it says.