Tagged: boris johnson

‘Affordable’ housing on Greenwich Peninsula: The Channel 4 News investigation

Long-suffering readers will be aware that this website was the first to raise the issue of the diminishing amount of “affordable” and social housing on Greenwich Peninsula, back in April 2013. A year back, Greenwich Council lost a legal battle to keep secret the “viability assessment” council officers used to persuade councillors to increase the proportion of lucrative private housing on the peninsula.

It’s since been featured on the BBC’s Sunday Politics and on Radio 4.

Now Channel 4 News has looked into the issue, with a major investigation that’s taken some months to produce. It’s taken a broader view – revealing that just a quarter of new homes built under Boris Johnson on public land are “affordable”. As well as Knight Dragon’s Greenwich Peninsula, it also features Barratt’s Catford Green development (Catford dog track to the rest of us).

Shane Brownie, who took on Greenwich Council and features in the report, has also written about his experiences.

One thing missing from Channel 4’s investigation is the role of Greenwich Council in this – Labour assembly member Nicky Gavron criticises the actions of the Tory mayor, but isn’t quizzed about why one of her own councils allowed the Peninsula’s developers to railroad it into changing the housing mix there so it could grab £50 million in government grants. But otherwise, it’s a revelatory – and depressing – look at an under-reported aspect of London’s housing crisis.

Greenwich in roadbuilders’ sights as Mayor Johnson revives long-dead Ringway scheme

Two years ago, this website reported on vague Transport for London plans to revive Ringway 1, a controversial 1960s road scheme that would have demolished great chunks of inner London.

Here’s a video about the Ringways. The Blackwall Tunnel approaches are among the few parts of Ringway 1 that were built. The rest of it would have obliterated Brockley, built a huge junction at Lewisham, and carved through Blackheath. (And that’s before we get to Ringway 2, which would have gone through Oxleas Wood.)

Today, those plans to revive the Ringways have been firmed up a little. And Greenwich is in the roadbuilders’ sights. So I thought I’d put something together very quickly…

Johnson’s plan is for a northern tunnel from the A40 at Park Royal to the A12 at Hackney Wick (in other words, the Blackwall Tunnel northern approach), and a southern tunnel from the A4 at Chiswick to the A13 at Beckton.

Unfortunately, all we have to go on at the moment is this tiny map, nicked from the Evening Standard’s story, and ITV London’s assertion that the scheme involves two tunnels under the Thames.

TfL map of new roads

It’s interesting how TfL’s map de-emphasises the River Thames. I’ve blown it up, and it looks like it’s ploughing straight from a junction on the Old Kent Road through Deptford and the bottom of Greenwich Park. It certainly looks like it’s aiming for an interchange with the A102 at the Woolwich Road flyover, before heading towards City Airport and Beckton.

The Silvertown Tunnel was always going to be toe in the water to test the acceptance of new road schemes, and although the most recent consultation revealed massively increased opposition to the scheme, local politicians’ collaboration with the roadbuilders has helped give them the confidence to come up with schemes like this.

I wonder if Greenwich Council leader Denise Hyland, regeneration cabinet member Danny Thorpe and ex-leader Chris Roberts ever realised their unconditional support for the Silvertown Tunnel would lead to the Greenwich world heritage site sitting under a roadbuilders’ map?

My guess is that perhaps what the plan’s actually for is to build across the Isle of Dogs to meet Bugsby’s Way, a plan which appeared occasionally in the 1970s and 1980s as the Docklands Southern Relief Road, and in the 1990s in aborted ideas for a Greenwich by-pass. Although this would make four tunnels under the Thames, not two.

But who knows? TfL used today’s announcement to hide news that it’s formally applying for permission to build the Silvertown Tunnel, leaving it down to the next mayor to cancel the scheme. What we do know is that via the Silvertown Tunnel, the roadbuilders are back. Do we have the the politicians who can stop them?

Why no Boris bikes in Greenwich? Because nobody wants to pay for them

One cycle hire bike was based in Greenwich for a while - this unbranded prototype was spotted in the lobby of TfL's Pier Walk offices earlier this year

One bike was based in Greenwich for a while – this unbranded prototype was spotted in the lobby of TfL’s Pier Walk offices earlier this year

Back in June, this website reported Boris Johnson giving his backing for cycle hire bikes coming to Greenwich.

A few weeks back, Greenwich’s Tories decided to put a motion before the council suggesting it talk to City Hall about introducing such a scheme in Greenwich town centre, where the bikes are a regular sight. The motion was thrown out, and a bit of a daft row ensued. I’ve written about it this week for Londonist – Will Cycle Hire ever come to Greenwich?

Here’s a spoiler, though – nobody wants to pay for them. Despite Johnson promising the scheme would be self-financing, London Cycle Hire is a gigantic loss-maker. That’s not a bad thing in itself – most public transport loses money, but the wider economic and social benefits tend to be judged worth it.

There’s a good debate on whether the cycle hire scheme – still largely used by affluent men – is actually worth having. I’d argue that it is, as it frees up space on public transport and gets you fit – I used it as part of my commute for a few months last year and found it very useful.

But the main failing is that at £95 for an annual membership it’s absurdly cheap, but the £2 daily hire if you aren’t a member is worse value than taking a bus. Recent figures show that problem still hasn’t been cracked, despite changes to the pricing structure.

But it’s probably less of a priority than investing in safe facilities for people to ride their own bikes in. And that’s something Greenwich Council has been quietly doing over the past couple of years – either with TfL money or when a bit of road needs renewing. The bad old days of the Dear Leader’s tantrums are, in this arena at least, long gone.

Indeed, next year it’s likely we’ll start seeing plans emerge for the first cycle superhighway to Greenwich – phase one of CS4 from Tower Bridge Road to the Old Royal Naval College. If the scheme survives May’s change of mayor, it could revolutionise thousands of commutes. Less revolutionary is Quietway 1, a long-delayed backstreet route from Greenwich station to Waterloo, which is finally due next year.

Ignoring the logistical difficulties of getting the bikes to and from Greenwich, and the absurdity of not having any stands anywhere else in south-east London, let’s take the Greenwich Tories’ scheme at its word.

They wanted four or five cycle stands in Greenwich town centre. Lambeth paid £200,000 for 11 around Stockwell a couple of years back, so let’s say Greenwich would have to pay £100,000 for five, plus an annual £20,000 (a mayor’s booze-up) towards running costs. Good value? You decide.

See also Will Cycle Hire ever come to Greenwich? at Londonist.

Are Boris bikes finally coming to Greenwich? The mayor backs it…

London's new hire bikes feature the Dome - even though there are no terminals near North Greenwich

The Dome features on the new London Cycle Hire branding – but you can’t pick up a bike there

The prospect of London’s cycle hire scheme coming to Greenwich came a step closer this morning after mayor Boris Johnson backed a proposal to bring the scheme to the area.

While the ‘Boris bikes’ – formally Santander Cycles after a recent change in sponsor – are a regular sight in Greenwich, it is impossible to hire or dock a bike in the area.

Instead, visitors take bikes from stations close to Island Gardens and take the bikes through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, or they cycle from docking stations closer to Tower Bridge.

The scheme has largely avoided south-east London – despite poor transport connections, particularly around Walworth, Camberwell and Bermondsey – pushing out instead to east London and more affluent parts of west and south-west London. But Greenwich’s status as a tourist destination could now help bring the scheme to the area.

Asked by Conservative Assembly member (and Tory mayoral hopeful) Andrew Boff if TfL would consider three to five stations in Greenwich, Johnson said he would back an expansion to Greenwich – with a larger number of terminals.

Presumably 45 terminals would be enough to fill the gap between Tower Bridge and Greenwich. The answer’s a surprise as TfL has appeared to have been prioritising filling in gaps in the existing area rather than expanding the service further.

Later, Boff gave credit to Greenwich Tory councillor Matt Clare – probably Woolwich Town Hall’s keenest cyclist – for coming up with the suggestion.

Boff also asked about a wider expansion towards New Cross and Lewisham, and suggested asking Network Rail for money as such a scheme would help mitigate the effect of the Thameslink works at London Bridge. We’ll find out a fuller answer to that in the coming weeks.

Could this actually happen, though? It’s likely to end up in the next mayor’s in-tray, and it’s worth noting that past expansions of the cycle hire scheme have required local boroughs to contribute £2 million each – are Greenwich, Lewisham and Southwark up for that? The bikes are largely used by tourists and more affluent commuters – but that hasn’t stopped Greenwich, which has stepped up its cycling efforts in the past year, giving funding to Thames Clippers. Other boroughs may take different views.

The level of expansion is also worth considering. The hill separating Greenwich from Blackheath could be a natural barrier (although being hilly hasn’t stopped an identical bike hire scheme taking off in Montreal), but the mayor’s involvement in redevelopment schemes in Greenwich Peninsula and Woolwich’s Royal Arsenal could see even further expansion.

Santander’s new branding includes the Millennium Dome, even though it’s impossible to hire or dock a bike there. Incidentally, Green Assembly member Darren Johnson has asked TfL to investigate a walking and cycling connection from the peninsula to Canary Wharf – a connection that would make the extension of the hire scheme to the peninsula a no-brainer.

If the hire scheme is extended, private hire operators could lose out for the visitor market – tourists can hire less cumbersome bikes from Greenwich’s Flightcentre for £4/hr, but recent changes to the hire scheme now mean Boris bikes match that price.

An expansion to Greenwich is by no means a certainty, but it’ll be interesting to watch how this plays out in the weeks and months ahead.

Emirates Air Line cable car now has NO regular commuters

Spot the commuter: The cable car during Tuesday morning's rush hour

Spot the commuter: The cable car during Tuesday morning’s rush hour

853 exclusive: It had just four regular commuters last year – now the Emirates Air Line cable car appears to have NO regular users at all between Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks, according to figures issued by Transport for London.

No Oyster card holders used the £60m crossing more than five times during one week in October, which would trigger a regular users’ discount.

In the equivalent week last year, four people qualified for the commuters’ discount, while 16 used it regularly enough to get cut-price tickets in the same week in 2012.

Last year’s figures, published at Snipe, were widely covered in London’s media, with an LBC radio reporter even travelling to Greenwich to track down the four commuters. But now, it appears there are no commuters to speak of.

Sun 12th Mon 13th Tue 14th Wed 15th Thu 16th Fri 17th Sat 18th
North 2,757 541 1,138 729 1,039 1,231 2,933
South 3,546 1,007 1,575 1,371 1,562 1,809 4,033
TOTAL 6,303 1,548 2,713 2,100 2,601 3,040 6,966

Total Emirates Air Line journeys, starting at north and south terminals, 12-18 October 2014. Source: TfL

For the third year running, I used the Freedom of Information Act to get the figures from TfL, asking for hourly usage figures between Sunday 12th and Saturday 18th October.

Mayor Boris Johnson has called the link, which he opened in 2012, a “howling success” and insists it is a vital tool for regenerating the area. But critics have pilloried the cable car, which charges premium fares and does not accept travelcards, as a vanity project.

But while the cable car has clearly failed to attract regular customers – and ticket sales remain well down on its first year of operation – its overall usage figures are slightly up on last year, suggesting it has achieved some level of success with tourists and occasional travellers. 25,271 journeys were made during the week, compared with 23,029 the previous year and 42,463 in 2012.

Cable car users graph

Since last October, Transport for London has instigated a number of promotions to try to boost tourist usage of the cable car, including giving an audio commentary on routes; opening a promotional booth at North Greenwich station; and spending £1,200 on an electronic ad board at the station’s gateline. This month, the Greenwich Peninsula terminal has been turned into a “magical Christmas experience” as part of a tie-in with The Snowman and The Snowdog film.

One scheme, which offers discounted tickets to Newham and Greenwich borough residents, accounted for 106 ticket sales across the week, while 5,292 “full experience” tickets – offering a souvenir guide and admission to the neighbouring Emirates Aviation Experience – were sold.

28 multi-journey passes – a ticket valid for a year which offers 10 trips at a discount – were sold during the week, compared with 18 last year. (See update at foot of story for more on these, as regular travellers could be using these and not Oyster.) 354 children travelled for £1 each with a schools’ scheme, with 47 adults accompanying them for free – down slightly on on 2013’s figures.

Two parties booked private cabins for themselves, at a cost of £88.

Sun 12th 59 204 457 672 675 834 924 942 858 399 235 28
Mon 13th 10 14 23 77 84 98 115 157 206 193 226 183 125 37
Tue 14th 15 21 44 127 198 271 161 242 359 361 348 321 214 31
Wed 15th 14 44 63 120 220 188 205 250 289 184 214 182 92 35
Thu 16th 12 30 82 189 242 226 232 262 363 230 312 217 167 37
Fri 17th 10 28 57 156 312 359 282 350 301 319 309 301 231 35
Sat 18th 17 130 267 552 751 648 848 856 834 788 748 475 69

Emirates Air Line passengers, hour by hour, between Sunday 12 and Saturday 18 October. Source: TfL.
See equivalent data for Tube journeys from North Greenwich to nearby DLR stations.

Closer analysis of the figures over three years show that already-weak weekday usage of the Emirates Air Line is down slightly on 2013. But passenger numbers continue to show relatively high numbers in the evening – suggesting the cable car could benefit from opening later than 8pm.

Weekday cable car use

Saturday figures are slightly up on 2013…

Saturday cable car usage

…but the real growth has come on Sundays.

Sunday cable car figures

With figures in the Labour and Conservative parties now starting to talk about who will succeed Boris Johnson in the 2016 mayoral election, the future of the cable car – arguably the most visible legacy to the capital so far from Johnson’s two terms at City Hall – is likely to come under the spotlight.

The cable car cost £60m to build, with Emirates paying £36 million in annual instalments for naming rights. A further £8m came from EU funds, with the rest coming from London’s rail services budget.

Green and Liberal Democrat politicians have called for the cable car to be incorporated into the Travelcard scheme to boost its standing as a public transport link – but City Hall currently seems content with operating it as a tourist attraction with premium fares.

Since the opening of the cable car, TfL cash has also gone into other tourist-focused projects. The Garden Bridge between the South Bank and Victoria Embankment is likely to be given the go-ahead from the mayor this week along with £30m of TfL cash.

Also this week, TfL has changed the way its cycle hire scheme charges users, cutting the cost of lengthy hires taken by tourists while doubling charges for some shorter rides.

Wednesday 7.40am update: Thanks to Rob, who tweeted me to say he was commuting on the cable car that week – using the paper multi-journey tickets rather than Oyster, which is says is fiddly to use for regular commuters as it involves obtaining a refund after travelling a certain number of times.

28 of these paper tickets, which are valid for a year, were sold between 12-18 October. So it’s entirely possible there are a handful of people using these tickets rather than Oyster – again, making TfL’s claim that this is a public transport link rather shaky. However, their usage is impossible to track.

Thanks to Clare Griffiths for putting together the graphs in this story.

Media using this story, please credit Darryl Chamberlain or 853blog.com – thank you.

Greenwich Ikea campaigners look to the courts: Can you help?

Rainbow at Sainsbury's Greenwich, 2011
Campaigners against Ikea’s proposed store in east Greenwich have launched an appeal for funds as they look to begin a judicial review into the Government’s decision not to overturn planning permission for the scheme.

Greenwich Council gave outline permission for the store, on the site of the “eco-friendly” Sainsbury’s store in Peartree Way, in March. Planning officers ignored concerns about increased traffic and air pollution, a decision later backed by London mayor Boris Johnson.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles put the scheme on hold, but later opted not to intervene in the scheme. Current Greenwich Council leader Denise Hyland was among the councillors to back the scheme in March, along with then-leader Chris Roberts, then-chief whip Ray Walker, Steve Offord and Clive Mardner; ignoring over an hour of public criticism of the proposals.

More recently, English Heritage turned down a request from the Twentieth Century Society to list the Sainsbury’s store, which opened in September 1999 and was shortlisted for the following year’s Stirling Prize for architecture. Construction work is now well under way on a replacement Sainsbury’s store at Gallions Road, Charlton.

Now the No Ikea Greenwich group needs to raise £2,000 to take the case to solicitors for an initial opinion on a judicial review. Payments can be made via this PayPal page. Judicial reviews need to be launched within three months of the decision they seek to challenge, so the money will need to be raised quickly.

A new petition has also been launched to persuade Sainsbury’s to lift the restrictive covenant on the old store which prevents its use as a supermarket.

The architect behind the Sainsbury’s store, Paul Hinkin, died earlier this month at the age of 49.

“Paul was a very gifted and principled architect with a passion for true sustainability and he will be desperately missed,” his firm, Black Architecture, said in a statement.

Hinkin spoke at the Greenwich Council meeting that approved Ikea’s plans, and earlier this year wrote that Ikea should “do the right thing” and rethink its plans.

“Develop a proposition that meets the needs of the many people of London by developing a store directly served by train or tube and built with the same care, craftsmanship and environmental stewardship that you demand from you furniture,” he wrote.

Ikea certainly has changed its business model in other parts of Europe – a new store in Hamburg is in an inner-city, pedestrianised area.

But there’s been no sign of Ikea announcing any changes to its model for its Greenwich store (indeed, no sign of Ikea representatives for some months, according to Greenwich Millennium Village residents), nor any sign of pressure from Greenwich Council on the flat-pack furniture giant to amend its plans.

Berkeley Homes and Boris Johnson’s £500 ceremonial trowel

Back page of Meridian magazine, September 2014 edition
There’s an interesting feature in this week’s Economist about Berkeley Homes, the developer which had a great influence on Greenwich Council during the Chris Roberts years.

It’s not just interesting because it features “a local blogger” commenting on the former Dear Leader, who’s still in close contact with the council leadership, and his ownership of a Berkeley home on the Royal Arsenal development in Woolwich. It also features the revelation that Boris Johnson was given a £500 ceremonial trowel by Berkeley’s chairman, Tony Pidgeley, last summer. (He was also given a glass paperweight in October.) Johnson is, of course, responsible for strategic planning approval for developments such as the Arsenal (which is GLA land) and Kidbrooke Village. (Mind you, at least you can find Johnson’s gifts and hospitality on the City Hall website – try having a look for the equivalent on the Greenwich site.)

It’s not just Berkeley, it’s not just Greenwich, it’s not just Boris Johnson. Developers’ demands are weighing heavily on many London boroughs, but some are more eager to be associated with them than others. And Berkeley’s particularly good at gaining influence, especially as Pidgeley is also president of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (chair: Chris Roberts’ friend Mark Adams) which has been pushing heavily for the Silvertown Tunnel and Gallions Reach Bridge. Indeed, this written answer from Johnson to London Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon acknowledges the link between Berkeley and the LCCI.

Next month’s tall ships boondoggle will also feature another example of a developer wielding financial power – Barratt Homes, which is currently letting historic Enderby House rot away, is sponsoring the event and has its name on banners in Greenwich town centre. “Festival supporters” include Berkeley, Cathedral Group (Silvertown Tunnel supporter and Morden Wharf developer) and Knight Dragon (Greenwich Peninsula developer). Lots of lovely hospitality, no doubt.

It’s not just on tall ships where developers and councillors can get together. Earlier this summer Cathedral’s chief executive Richard Upton popped up at the unveiling of a tree dedicated to Vice Admiral Hardy at Devonport House, Greenwich, alongside Greenwich leader Denise Hyland and Lewisham’s deputy mayor Alan Smith. Cathedral owns Devonport House, alongside the Movement development by Greenwich station and the Deptford Project across the borough boundary. Naturally, it got a warm write-up in Greenwich Time.

So it’s worth keeping an eye on little things like this. As developers become more powerful, and with councils often unable to build their own housing, do we have representatives that can resist these charm offensives and fight for a good deal for us all?

Incidentally, the picture above is that of an ad for the latest phase of the Royal Arsenal – effectively, the flats that’ll pay for Berkeley’s contribution to the Crossrail station there. Note the little back-scratch for the mayor in the shape of a New Routemaster cruising along Beresford Street – in reality, it’s highly unlikely that the Roastmaster will ever make it to SE18.