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.”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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s been a very long time in coming, but walkers and cyclists could soon be able to use the Thames Path uninterrupted between Charlton and Woolwich – with plans to build a new path over the riverfront.
Currently, the Thames Path from central London stops dead at the Thames Barrier, with anyone wanting to continue eastwards having to continue via the busy Woolwich Road before walking through the King Henry’s Wharf housing development.
During the week, walkers in the know can sneak through an unsigned shortcut through the Westminster Industrial Estate – but these barriers prevent cyclists from using it.
Plans to plug the gap were first revealed in September, at Greenwich Council’s first “cycling forum”, after negotiations with landowners. Now they’re slowly starting to become reality, with one phase having already received planning permission, and another currently in the planning process.
The scheme is particularly good news for the enormous creative arts hub Second Floor Arts, as the new route will run right past its entrance. Greenwich hopes it will be complete by April 2017.
Heading from east to west… (apologies for the duff photos, which are of a display board at the cycle forum event).
Phase 1 is currently going through the planning process (see application 15/3519/F), and consists of a ramp from Warspite Road which will then sit on top of the riverfront, taking the route round to the existing Thames Path at King Henry’s Wharf. Or, strictly speaking: “Construction of combined footway / cycleway bridge, a 1.4m high pedestrian parapet with lighting incorporated into the parapet posts, erection of a wooden fender structure in the foreshore area.” Comments on this need to be with the council by 29 December.
Phase 2 already has planning permission (see application 15/2972/F). It consists of a ramp between Unity Way, the street that leads to the Thames Barrier visitor centre, and Bowater Road, inside the Westminster Industrial Estate. This means there’ll still be a diversion away from the river (and the deteriorating Mersey ferry Royal Iris, moored here) but nowhere near as long and inconvenient as the current scheme. Greenwich hopes to start work on this before April.
While the scheme would make life easier for walkers, it also opens up the Thames Path as a viable cycle commuter route for people in King Henry’s Wharf, Woolwich Dockyard Estate and beyond – a twenty-minute pootle on a bike to North Greenwich being much quicker and more pleasant for those who are up for it than squeezing onto an overcrowded bus.
The money for this is coming from Transport for London – as mentioned last week in the post about hire bikes and Greenwich town centre, many of Greenwich’s cycle-friendly schemes are either coming either from TfL money, or through adapting renewal schemes when roads need resurfacing or reworking.
Separately, there is also a scheme to introduce a stretch of segregrated cycle lane on Plumstead Road, in an attempt to fix a botched road scheme from a decade back. “Light segregation” is also due to be installed on a cycle lane in Rochester Way, Kidbrooke, shortly.
Greenwich has a newsletter for people interested in cycling infrastructure in the borough – email cycling-strategy[at]royalgreenwich.gov.uk and ask to be put on its list.
Not much time for new stories at the moment, but a quick word about something old that’s just a teensy bit annoying, which may be the dullest post this site has ever featured..
Last night, the Twitter feed of Greenwich Council’s deputy leader John Fahy – it’s the only place to find him these days, he seems to have been airbrushed out of the weekly Greenwich Time again – sprang to life with a strange little comment.
Rachel Blundy? Who’s that? Man the borders! Guards, stop her!
Actually, it turns out she’s a journalist at the Evening Standard, who had the exciting job of writing up a story about nine out of the 10 most miserable places in the UK being in London. Greenwich comes seventh – one place more miserable than Luton.
Of course, she never had to leave the paper’s Kensington HQ to write it – it’s purely based on a survey of 25,000 people conducted by Rightmove. It’s the sort of stuff that’s easy clickbait, and people who rarely look deeper than the headline get really excited by this kind of thing.
I wonder how statistically sound this survey is – you’re looking at no more than 200 people per council area surveyed, for a start. We also don’t know where in each borough these people live – in Greenwich, you’re likely to be vastly more satisfied if you live on the Ashburnham Triangle conservation area than if you go home on the 177 to the Abbey Wood Estate.
But in terms of getting lovely, lovely clicks, there’s no room for this kind of question. And no time. So, essentially, it’s a councillor blaming a journalist who’s been told to write a fairly rubbish news story. So far, so typical.
Even the Tories are getting defensive.
But hang on a minute. Let’s dive into these figures. Asked about the upkeep of their local area, respondents rated Greenwich 119th out of 130 council areas – 27/33 in London. As a local council, you’ve got some direct input over this. I’d be asking some questions here. So perhaps the good councillor Fahy shouldn’t be so dismissive. And maybe there’s something for new Tory leader Matt Hartley to get his teeth into.
Too often, Greenwich is dismissive of those who claim the place looks like a dump – even while a contracting cock-up means weeds are threatening to displace puny humans from many parts of the borough.
To be fair, they are making efforts to change – finally embracing the FixMyStreet app for reporting faults (erstwhile Dear Leader Chris Roberts is said to have actively discouraged techological fixes like this), and using a 25-year-old law to finally get tough on shopping trolleys.
But if you live in well-tended Eltham avenues as the council leadership does, you may not see the fly-tipping that blights other areas. And you also may not see these…
Abandoned street sweepers’ bags started cropping up a year or so in my own neck of Charlton. They also appear in parts of east Greenwich, while I’ve had reports of them in Abbey Wood too. They come and go – I remember them being left out all over Christmas in many areas. We seem to be in a summer of them here, left lying around for anything up to a week, blocking pavements and getting in the way. More often than not, they’re left out for a whole weekend. Essentially, the council is flytipping its own streets.
They’re not the only ones – cross into Lewisham, and you’ll often see huge piles of blue bags shoved up against walls awaiting collection. It’s the same in Southwark. But in Greenwich, half-empty bags are just left in seemingly random places to moulder for days on end. It happened today in my part of Charlton – I’m pretty fearful they’ll be left out for the weekend, making the place look a dump for the first day of the football season.
Personally, I’ve complained plenty of times, only really getting anywhere when local MP Matt Pennycook gets involved. Otherwise, reports are often ignored, both by council staff and by councillors. (I accept this is probably because it’s me doing the complaining.)
But today, I got some answers. I bumped into a street sweeper leaving these bags out, and asked him about how it works. I won’t say where to protect his identity. It does seem, though, that this practice shouldn’t be happening. If you come home from work in the evening and your street is littered with bags, then chances are they shouldn’t be there.
Apparently, these bags should be collected within two hours. However, the vans that do the collecting often don’t get round to them – some staff are more “efficient” than others, according to my man with the broom. So, it appears that they just get abandoned. The bags are half-empty because otherwise staff can’t throw them onto the van otherwise (!), and staff are told to leave the bags on the edge of the pavement – even though it often blocks the pavement.
It looks like something’s gone wrong at Cleansweep, the council’s in-house litter service – nobody’s really monitoring whether this relatively new way of working is actually successful. And, I’d argue, because people are often used to poorly-kept streets, they aren’t really pressing the council on it. It also doesn’t appear that councillors are doing much work on this either.
So, ladies and gentlemen – we have some work to do here. If you see a bag that’s been left out for a day or so, report it. The FixMyStreet app is great for this if you have a smartphone. Ask it to send you updates on your problem. They’ll ring you back sometimes to check details. If the council comes back and tells you it’s “awaiting collection”, politely ask them to collect it. Hopefully, they’ll get the message and fix this.
Because otherwise, the next step is seeing if the council can be fined for flytipping its own streets – and that would be a bit embarrassing, wouldn’t it?
This website was the first media outlet to highlight how Greenwich councillors allowed developers to reduce the amount of “affordable” housing in part of the Greenwich Peninsula to zero.
Councillors made the decision about Peninsula Quays on the basis of a “viability assessment” which had been kept from them – they had to trust Greenwich’s planning officers on what was effectively pre-emptive social cleansing.
Two years on and one court case later, it’s likely the issue may lead to changes in planning procedures across London. Shane Brownie, the residents’ rep who alerted me to the story, battled to force a reluctant Greenwich Council to release the document – a fight he finally won in February.
Now Greenwich has performed a startling about-turn on the issue, planning to make public the assessments that it wouldn’t even show its councillors.
Last week, the issue formed part of a documentary for Radio 4, The Affordable Housing Crisis, which you can still hear on the BBC’s website. Nick Mathiason and Christian Eriksson of The Bureau of Investigative Journalism have also looked at the issue, with their own investigation.
One aspect that shows just how much of a crock the assessment was, and how Greenwich planners failed local people, is in how the viability assessment was based on house prices across Greenwich borough rather than on the peninsula alone – even though demand for a flat on the river close to a Tube station in Zone 2 is not comparable with, say, a semi in New Eltham.
While Greenwich’s plan to publish viability assessments is welcome, it should not obscure the fact that the council’s planners failed on this high-profile scheme, trashing the principles of mixed development that local politicians espouse but often fail to actually achieve.
I’m a week late with this because I’ve been in Barcelona, a city whose residents are taking a harder line on housing. Wandering around in my first day, a scrum of media outside the city hall indicated the arrival of Ada Colau, Barcelona’s new mayor-elect.
She’s an activist who has led protests and occupations over the city’s housing crisis, and plans to radically increase the supply of social housing in the Catalan capital.
As I watched her field questions from the press – and the enthusiasm shown by passers-by – I couldn’t help thinking that her approach is desperately needed in London. Watching some of the discussion over our own mayoral election, though, I’m not convinced many of the possible candidates get it.
But perhaps there is some incremental change here in Greenwich. Last night, the council’s planning board deferred a decision on whether or not to allow a nine-storey block of flats on Woolwich Road in Charlton.
Local amenity groups had opposed the Valley House scheme on the basis of height – but what persuaded councillors to throw the scheme back at the developer was its inclusion of “poor doors”. Just 18.4% of the flats there were due to be “affordable” – another secret viability assessment – with these residents given a separate set of doors to access those homes.
This is the kind of development that would have sailed through under former leader Chris Roberts and his henchman Ray Walker, former planning board chair. Now under new chair Mark James, the developers have effectively been told to go away and bin the poor doors.
Like many issues in Greenwich, there’s a total lack of political leadership over housing – the council leads the local Labour party rather than the other way around. A wraparound ad for Berkeley Homes in this week’s propaganda rag Greenwich Time doesn’t inspire any confidence that its relationship with property developers is any healthier under Denise Hyland than it was under Roberts.
Contrast this with Lewisham, where the local party trumpets new council housing. In Greenwich, this kind of promotion is left to the council itself (via Greenwich Time), leaving an unhealthy political vacuum.
Decisions like last night’s indicate things are starting to change. However, it’s worth remembering that council officers – the same ones that kept Greenwich Peninsula’s viability assessment from councillors – recommended approval, poor doors and all. In Greenwich’s command-and-control political culture, criticising council officers is a crime comparable with robbing grandmothers – they’ve traditionally been used as cover for the council leadership’s cowardice.
But last night’s Valley House decision shows some Greenwich councillors are now starting to take some responsibility for their council’s actions instead of just taking the path of least resistance. Hopefully there will also be pressure to reveal the viability assessment for Valley House too. If the events of the last few months are to really mean anything in Greenwich, though, councillors are going to have to start asking some very awkward questions of their planning staff.
4.30pm update: Former councillor Alex Grant has also written about the issue.
Back in January, this website noted the sudden cut to bus route 53 caused by roadworks by Westminster Bridge. The service stopped running the full length of its route to Whitehall, depriving many local workers, from cleaners to civil servants, of their usual route to central London.
The diggers have moved away from Bridge Street, but initial dates for the restoration of service in March and then April have been missed. Transport for London blames new works at the Elephant & Castle for continuing to stop the service at Lambeth North. However, no other bus through the Elephant is suffering such a severe cut in service.
Local politicians have been strangely silent on the matter – at least in public – although I do know Woolwich Common’s Labour councillor David Gardner has raised the issue with Transport for London, citing the number of low-paid workers who use the bus.
You might remember last summer, this website mentioned a special rail trip up the Angerstein Wharf branch line, which links the main network with riverside industries in both Greenwich and Charlton.
853 reader John decided to shell out for the all-day trip which included a trip up the line.
He says: “I live on Bramshot Avenue and have crossed this line by foot many times. I enjoy travelling by train and just simply staring out the window, but I must admit I was a bit apprehensive because of your ‘punishingly-long’ comment. 11 hours is a long time.
“However, it was a great day. I suppose it was made better by taking the ‘dining’ option (old-fashioned first class carriages, a spot-on full English breakfast, four-course dinner and a fair bit of booze), but the journey was interesting and far from boring.
“Yes, my fellow travellers were definitely of a type: ‘peas in a pod’ as one said, who I heard commenting on the madness that a 3365B couldn’t couple with a 3367 🙂 But these are affable types, and the world needs people like them.”
“The only downside was that there was a broken track at Angerstein and we couldn’t go all the way down.”
And now, courtesy of YouTube train buff snowyrails, you can watch the trip for yourself. Enjoy.