Local residents in east Greenwich are demanding council leader Denise Hyland stands down from the borough’s main planning committee after it was revealed she is the only council leader in London who is regularly directly involved in taking decisions about major new developments.
The East Greenwich Residents Association has made the call following Hyland’s role in pushing through plans for a controversial cruise liner terminal in the area.
Hyland, who has led the council since June 2014, told the planning meeting that the terminal’s planned 31-storey residential tower was “nothing”, criticising residents for not bringing up air pollution fears when the proposals first came before the planning committee some years back – even though plans for the terminal have substantially changed since then.
She also said that on a trip to a cruise terminal in Southampton, she could not “see” any air pollution there – despite the fact that it is usually invisible. Her performance at the planning board earned her an appearance in this week’s Private Eye magazine.
The planning board shrugged off air pollution concerns about the London City Cruise Port, and the lack of any comprehensive, timely environmental assessment. It accepted developers’ claims that it would be too expensive to install on-shore generating equipment which would reduce the impact of ships spending extended stays at the terminal, despite European guidelines recommending this system is used.
Local MP Matt Pennycook and councillors Stephen Brain and Chris Lloyd were among the objectors, along with Tower Hamlets councillors and Isle of Dogs residents.
Research by EGRA – independently verified by this website – shows no other borough in London allows its leader such a prominent role in taking planning decisions, a role where politics should play no part.
Large or contentious decisions across Greenwich borough are usually taken by a committee of 14 councillors, called the Planning Board.
Most boroughs operate a similar system – though using different names for the committees – which usually see less high-profile cases taken by area committees.
But Denise Hyland is the only one of London’s 28 council leaders (a further four are run by elected mayors) to regularly sit on her council’s main planning committee.
The only other council to permit a formal role for its leader in planning decisions is the controversial Conservative-run authority in Barnet. But even here, Richard Cornelius is only a substitute member of its planning committee, deputising for his fellow Conservative councillors where necessary – a role he hasn’t carried out since June 2014.
Indeed, 13 out of London’s 32 boroughs only allow backbench councillors to take major planning decisions – removing any suspicion that may arise from having high-profile councillors taking sensitive formal decisions.
Of the 14 planning board meetings held since Hyland became leader, she has attended nine of them.
This continues a system which began under Hyland’s predecessor Chris Roberts, who started sitting on the planning board in 2007. Roberts did not take part in the 2011 meeting which gave the terminal its original green light, after appearing on TV promoting the scheme.
But Hyland – then regeneration cabinet member – did take part in that meeting, then praising the scheme as “world class”.
In May, ahead of the planning board’s decision, the London City Cruise Port’s chief executive Kate O’Hara was invited to the council’s £20,000 private mayor-making ceremony, attended by Hyland.
Advice from the Local Government Association says that “members of a planning committee… need to avoid any appearance of bias or of having predetermined their views before taking a decision on a planning application or on planning policies”.
Hyland’s successor in that role, Danny Thorpe, has inherited her position the board. Just six other boroughs – Barking, Camden, Harrow, Lambeth, Newham and Richmond – allow his counterparts to assist in making planning decisions.
In an open letter to Hyland, EGRA’s executive committee says:
“We are concerned that your presence as council leader alongside the regeneration cabinet member could make the planning board susceptible to political pressure and decisions made on policy and party lines rather than in the wider public or community interest.
“This concern is reinforced by your tendency and Councillor Thorpe’s tendency to sum up and make your positions known before voting takes place. The recent decision on the cruise liner terminal is a good case in point.
“Our community feels extremely frustrated at the way in which our attempts to raise legitimate concerns over the development of our area are not being taken seriously and are being batted away through a process that is less than scrupulous at times and is susceptible to what we perceive as potential political interference.
“We call on you to restore our confidence in the borough and the decisions it makes and we formally request that you step down from the Planning Board. We need to have confidence that our borough is making the right decisions for the right reasons and operating in the same way as other London boroughs as part of the statutory process.”
Residents are now pinning their hopes on London mayor Boris Johnson “calling in” the application to decide himself – a move supported by Liberal Democrat, Green and Conservative members on the London Assembly. Tower Hamlets Council has since backed away from its opposition to the scheme. A decision is expected soon.
Meanwhile, it has emerged that European money could have been available to help fund the London City Cruise Port fund on-shore generating equipment.
Trade publication Ship Technology, which accuses the developers of “cutting corners”, reports that the EU can fund up to half the costs of research and 20% of the costs of installation if a member state opts to use such a system. But councillors were not told this before they made their decision.
7pm update: Former Greenwich councillor Hayley Fletcher, who sat on the planning board alongside council leader Chris Roberts, responded to this story…
I couldn’t be at Woolwich Town Hall, so have to leave you in the hands of those who were and who tweeted from the meeting. The plans were approved 6-3, with one abstenion, after a motion calling for approval to be deferred was defeated.
The crucial issue is that the ships will be generating their own power, using much dirtier fuels – critics say it’ll be the equivalent of having 50 lorries running their engines all day and night, and that the terminal should use its own power sources, as used in New York and Amsterdam and demanded by an EU directive.
But these fears were dismissed by councillors, who also heard the terminal will only provide 88 jobs – down from the 500-odd previously mooted.
It’s not the first time air quality concerns have been brushed aside on a major planning application – this happened most recently in March 2014, when outline plans for an Ikea store, also in east Greenwich, were approved.
Those that were there also managed to hear leading councillors make hugely simplistic assumptions about the effect of the terminal.
Forget the charms of the West End – leisure cabinet member Miranda Williams claimed the development will bring tourists to Woolwich and Eltham…
(Worth noting that Stewart Christie is in the Greenwich Lib Dems, Simon Edge in the Greenwich Greens.)
Regeneration member Danny Thorpe claimed the only sources of air pollution in east Greenwich came from Blackwall Tunnel queues and buses – conveniently ignoring the horrendous westbound traffic through Greenwich town centre, which in the 1990s led the council to consider building a bypass under the Thames.
And to top the lot, council leader Denise Hyland told residents that they should have raised air quality issues when the terminal first came before planning some years back – despite the fact that the new plan envisages cruise liners staying for longer. It’s also worth pointing out that Greenwich Council wasn’t making its readings from nitrogen dioxide tubes public at the time.
Peninsula ward councillor Chris Lloyd defended residents, along with colleague Stephen Brain, and local MP Matt Pennycook asked for the matter to be deferred. Conservative councillor Matt Clare also spoke against the scheme, along with his Tower Hamlets counterpart Chris Chapman.
I suspect we’ll be returning to this issue before too long.
9am update: Any Greenwich resident who wishes to ask a question of Greenwich Council regarding this can submit a question to next Wednesday’s council meeting – email committees[at]royalgreenwich.gov.uk by noon today.
Reaction from Tower Hamlets Labour councillor Candida Ronald…
…and local MP Matt Pennycook.
This has been covered elsewhere but it’s worth noting a welcome change of heart from Greenwich Council – it wants to force developers to reveal why they can’t provide set amounts of ‘affordable’ housing in the borough.
The council’s consulting on new rules on the information firms must provide when they apply for planning permission. If big developments have less than 35% “affordable” housing, then homebuilders must submit a viability assessment that outlines why they can’t afford to do it. Greenwich’s plan would see this assessment made public, along with other documents.
It’s a striking U-turn from the council’s attitude over the Peninsula Quays development (pictured above). Greenwich fought all the way to a tribunal to stop having to reveal Knight Dragon’s reasons why it slashed “affordable” housing to 0% in a development including a private school, “high-end private residential” units and a four/five star hotel.
The documents have been released and are currently being studied – and it’s worth noting that Knight Dragon, which recently pushed its Peninsula plans with an “urban village fete“, hasn’t included any “affordable” housing details in its latest masterplan for the area.
Viability assessments and the Peninsula Quays case featured on the BBC’s Sunday Politics London a few weeks back – thanks to Alex Ingram for the recording.
Anything to open up the planning process has to be applauded, and while it’s a shame it took a court case to get here, it may be that Greenwich are actually pioneers here.
Regeneration cabinet member Danny Thorpe said: “This is about transparency for local people. At the moment our hands are tied on affordable housing levels if the viability study shows a development won’t work financially with the levels of affordable housing we want.
“This will now allow the whole process to be far more transparent – making the viability studies publicly available as part of the planning documents means the royal borough and residents alike can see precisely why a developer might claim they cannot meet our affordable housing targets.
“We believe we’re the first local authority in the country to be doing this – looking at policy which insists on these studies being in the public domain. We now want to hear what people think about this policy so please do give us your views.”
Former Conservative leader Spencer Drury has cast doubt on whether the transparency will make any difference, tweeting that “council attitude is key”.
Indeed, despite a snippy response from Thorpe, one argument put forward by the council when it was fighting the release of the Peninsula Quays documents is that few people would understand them.
But with residents’ groups growing over recent years and working together on scrutinising these issues – at least in Greenwich and Charlton – they may have an increased capacity to hold developers, planners and councillors to account. (The big omission is Woolwich, where despite much social media chatter, there is no formal residents’ group to take on these kinds of issues.)
To find out more on the consultation, visit the www.royalgreenwich.gov.uk/haveyoursay and send a response by 22 June.
Greenwich Council is considering whether or not it should buy the University of Greenwich’s Mansion site in Eltham, according to a written answer given at Wednesday night’s council meeting.
The university announced last December that it planned to sell the campus at Avery Hill Park, home to the historic Winter Garden, a Grade-II listed Victorian conservatory on English Heritage’s “at risk” register.
Student halls will remain at the nearby Southwood site, but many of the teaching departments have moved to the university’s new accommodation in Greenwich.
The university has already started looking for a buyer, and it’s been reported that 300 new homes could be built there. Greenwich’s regeneration cabinet member Danny Thorpe says he and council leader Denise Hyland have met the university to discuss the situation.
The question came from Eltham South councillor Nuala Geary. (It’s question 21.)
Is the Royal Borough of Greenwich exploring the possibility of acquiring University of Greenwich’s Avery Hill Mansion site, which has recently been put on the market, and can the Leader confirm that discussions have taken place between the Council, the University and potential developers, prior to the formal sale literature being published?
I can confirm that the Leader and I, with the Chief Executive, have met with the University of Greenwich to discuss the proposed sale of the Avery Hill Mansion site.
At the meeting, the University confirmed that it had undergone some soft market testing in advance of the formal sale.
During 2014 the Council met with a developer and advised them of the current planning status of the site. The Council were also approached by the University and their agent GVA Grimley and again advised them of the current planning status of the site.
At this stage, the Council has not made any decisions on whether or not to acquire the site and continues to talk to the University.
Cllr Geary wasn’t at the meeting, and none of her Conservative colleagues followed the issue up, so nothing was spoken on the issue last night.
The Mansion Site and Winter Gardens were once owned by the old London County Council, so going back into local government ownership isn’t so far-fetched.
Greenwich recently spun off many of its heritage assets – including Charlton House and Eltham’s Tudor Barn – into an independent charity, Royal Greenwich Heritage Trust, but last month Denise Hyland indicated its finances may not be strong enough to bid for the site.
It’s striking, though, that at a time of cuts that Greenwich Council is considering stepping in and buying the site itself.
But compared with other London boroughs – particularly neighbouring Lewisham – Greenwich’s finances appear in fine health, with a usable surplus over £360 million (out of an eye-popping £1.2 billion) put down to a decade of frugal spending.
This graph prepared for Lambeth Council’s cabinet compares the inner London boroughs’ reserves with what they spend, with Greenwich second only to Kensington & Chelsea.
That said, it’s not clear how much of Greenwich’s reserves are committed to other projects, such as the Woolwich Crossrail station. Nothing to do with Greenwich’s finances are ever clear.
But considering the affection locals hold the mansion site in, few will complain if Greenwich does end up splashing the cash. It’s one to watch.
The Friends of Avery Hill Park are holding a public meeting on the Mansion Site’s sale on 19 March.
9am update: I’ve tweaked the surplus figure to reflect the true usable sum (you can see the full accounts here).
Proposals by Greenwich Council’s Conservatives to cancel 2017’s return of the tall ships were thrown out last night as councillors passed the borough’s annual budget.
There was very little detail to last night’s budget – much of it had been decided last year as part of a plan to freeze council tax for two years – and so Greenwich avoided the anti-cuts protests that hit Lewisham and Lambeth councils.
But the Tories had suggested scrapping the return of the Tall Ships Race in 2017 – said to cost the council £1.7million – to spend the money on a “welfare assistance plus” scheme instead, to help residents in need.
It was a clear attempt to attack Labour from the left – but councillors from the ruling party insisted the tall ships event was money well spent, as it provided a boost to the borough’s businesses.
Here’s some video of the debate. The sound’s a bit iffy, but I hope it’s useful. Want to read along? It’s point 11 of the agenda.
It kicks off with council leader Denise Hyland introducing the budget. This isn’t massively interesting (not her fault, it never is) but it’s here so you have as much of the debate as possible.
Then things start to liven up as Conservative leader Spencer Drury responds, and introduces the Tories’ amendment that would scrap the tall ships and fund Lewisham-style local assemblies (although the Tories only planned to have four of these).
Deputy leader John Fahy wasn’t impressed and laid into the Tories’ national record.
Regeneration cabinet member Danny Thorpe, who’s after Fahy’s job, competed with the deputy leader for who could criticise the Tories the most.
Then Charlton councillor Gary Parker addressed the Tories’ motion itself, criticising plans to axe funding for trade union representatives. Health cabinet member David Gardner said the council’s existing policies would help people in “desperate need”, compared Greenwich with Tory Bexley (this happens fairly regularly), and said the £1.7m tall ships funding had already been spent (a claim disputed by Spencer Drury).
Environment cabinet member Jackie Smith and Labour backbencher Aidan Smith piled into the Tories. “If you really care about the poor,” asked Aidan, “why don’t you publicly condemn the bedroom tax?”
For the Tories, Matt Hartley said he was offering “constructive suggestions” and complained about the response, channelling Neil Kinnock.
“And they call us the nasty party? How on earth can Labour councillors – Labour councillors – prioritise spending £1.7 million on the tall ships over extra help for the people most in need in this borough.”
Labour leader Denise Hyland was unimpressed. “It’s no good shakng your head… you want to pretend you are the nice party. My God.
“It is the most vulnerable people, people who need that spare room – for the partner to get a good night’s rest, or for children, or they have noisy equipment – those people come to our surgeries and tell us they need a spare room, despite your party’s bedroom tax.”
Labour’s version of the budget was passed, with the Tories abstaining.
Otherwise, it was pretty uneventful – councillors amused themselves afterwards by spending a whole hour on a motion criticising the Tories, providing a cue for non-masochists to retire to the pub. So much now seems to come down to Tories complaining about Greenwich Time, and Labour members laughing at them.
But here’s Denise Hyland saying she knows nothing about any councillor resigning so there can be a by-election on general election day (Matt Hartley is asking because Greenwich West councillor Matt Pennycook is his rival in Greenwich & Woolwich). (This is a repeat of a question asked last month.)
Here’s Denise Hyland talking about plans to step up “community engagement” – and why they’re not being shared with Tory leader Spencer Drury, who’ll have to read about them first in Greenwich Time.
Here’s Spencer Drury asking about the future of Greenwich Time…
…and Geoff Brighty asking about impartiality and Greenwich Time during the election.
At one point in the meeting, cabinet member Miranda Williams was waving a copy of Greenwich Time about to make a point about libraries. So kudos to John Fahy, who had a copy of a real local newspaper on his desk.
5.15pm update: Buried in a written answer (question eight) – Greenwich will start webcasting meetings later this year. “The introduction of webcasting for some Council meetings later this year will enable even more residents to engage with Council decision making,” Denise Hyland says.
So, last week, Chris Roberts said his farewells as Dear Leader. I’m told he was still in his office at Woolwich Town Hall as the minutes ticked down until the end of his reign at 7pm last Wednesday. And as the effective editor of the council’s weekly newspaper, Greenwich Time, he got to pen his own farewell.
In case you were wondering, “leave this world a little better than you found it” is a quotation from Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scout movement.
More telling, though, from a politician closely associated with huge building projects, is “make no small plans, for they have no power to stir men’s souls”. That’s attributed to Daniel Burnham, a US architect who worked on some of the world’s earliest skyscrapers, including New York City’s Flatiron Building. Something to remember when Berkeley Homes’ huge towers start to loom over Woolwich in the next few years.
Possibly more telling than that, though, is a revealing comment he made at his final full council meeting in March, which you can listen to below. He’s heavily tipped to end up in some consultancy or advisory role, so until he re-emerges, let’s leave this as the last word.
He was paying tribute to departing councillors. But it was pretty clear he wasn’t talking about them when he said: “The service of the public is a noble calling, whether you’re doing it as a councillor or as an officer. No-one in a democracy does it for the money. It can be long, it can be tiring, but as we all know, it can be rewarding.
“It can result in people delving into your personal lives, and as we all know it’s full of journalists, bloggers and tweeters who think that your moral compass and motives are as base as theirs sometimes seem to be – and that public works and public good are something to be denigrated by those who seek to pursue them [sic].”
That was then, this is now.
The Dear Leader is no more, so congratulations and welcome to Denise Hyland as the new Greenwich Council leader, as trumpted by – where else? – Greenwich Time.
It’s lucky for Hyland that one of the more controversial projects under her past watch as regeneration cabinet member, the botched refurbishment of the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels, is finally nearing completion. Indeed, she’d also been saddled with fronting the council’s Bridge The Gap campaign to build the Silvertown Tunnel and a bridge at Gallions Reach – in spite of opposition from her own party.
The party members’ opposition meant Labour’s position in May’s election was subtly different. “Bridge The Gap is dead,” one Labour source insisted to me during the council election. And, indeed, look at what the Labour manifesto said…
A little bit of wiggle room emerged. And Labour candidates were telling people on the doorstep that things had changed. Here’s Stephen Brain, now Peninsula ward councillor, on 23 April.
But on 24 April, despite what was in the Labour party manifesto, here’s what Denise Hyland was telling Boris Johnson, responding to his London Plan…
Was Denise Hyland just following orders? Here she is from the News Shopper last week:
“I’m saying that we need a package of river crossings, absolutely we do.
I’m not going to get drawn into over whether we’ll accept or refuse a single crossing. I want to work with my colleagues, my Labour colleagues in the majority group and get a consensus after we’ve seen the proposals.”
That sounds like Bridge The Gap is still alive.
“Of course I’m concerned about air quality. I think it’s obviously a very difficult balance. If we actually look at our figures, 85 per cent of people thought we needed additional river crossings. 76 per cent wanting Silvertown, 73 per cent wanting a bridge at Gallions. People seem to think that doing nothing is not an option.”
Let’s not forget that Greenwich Council tried to rig that consultation, of course. Perhaps the new chief whip, one Stephen Brain, needs to get his leader into line…
Generally, the News Shopper interview seemed to promise more of the same than anything new. When asked about opening up the council, she said “I obviously want ward councillors to be frontline councillors, they’re the representatives of the council in the community and they represent their people and its for them to channel people’s voices through to the council” – ie, they should do their job. From this early interview, don’t expect any move away from the current top-down decision-making any time soon.
Then again, her Greenwich Time “interview” talked up the importance of listening to communities – since the Shopper’s piece went up on the website on Friday, shortly before GT goes to press, I can’t help wondering if the piece underwent a hasty rewrite as the introductory paragraph doesn’t match the headline. After all, Hyland is now the effective editor of GT…
It’s early days, and Hyland has to get her feet under the table first. While Roberts’ chief executive, Mary Ney, remains in place, big changes are probably unlikely – although a new cohort of Labour councillors will want to make their presence felt.
But who has her old job of regeneration cabinet member, the most important on the council?
Curiously, the job didn’t go to an big hitter such as Jackie Smith, John Fahy or David Gardner – but to Danny Thorpe, the 30-year-old Shooters Hill councillor best known for spending a year of his first term in office in Australia. When a skint Thorpe had to return to London after six months to attend a council meeting to avoid a by-election being triggered, the council’s Labour group had to pay his air fare.
Thorpe, who used to work in events management for Hackney Council, will be juggling his cabinet portfolio with teacher training at a primary school in Dartford. You could always try to follow him on Twitter, but his profile’s locked. Mind you, the last time I saw it, it was full of photos of him and singer Beverley Knight.
Hyland and Thorpe are also both on the planning board along with ex-deputy leader Peter Brooks and ex-chief whip Ray Walker – so the old guard are still represented there.
There are other new faces in the new cabinet. Highly-rated newcomer Sizwe James takes business, employment and skills, while fellow new councillor Chris Kirby gets housing. Miranda Williams, in her second term, joins the cabinet as member for cultural and creative industries. Returning councillor David Gardner takes health and adult social care.
Maureen O’Mara stays in the cabinet, taking community wellbeing and public health; while Jackie Smith also stays in the cabinet, but loses her highly-praised role in charge of children’s services to take on community safety and environment. John Fahy now takes on children’s services as well as being deputy leader. The “Greener Greenwich” portfolio (created by Roberts after the Greens broke through as an electoral force in 2006) has been dumped, with Harry Singh talking charge of customer and community services.
Cynics never the changed the world, so this website won’t be writing the new team off just yet. Denise Hyland and her team need to prove they are better than the unravelling shambles that came before them – and they’ll need to pick up some of the pieces, too.
Of course, Greenwich councillors should be held to account for past actions, but those actions may not necessarily be an accurate prediction of the future. It’d be good to see a review of past contracts signed with developers – as Hammersmith & Fulham’s new Labour administration is carrying out after usurping a Tory regime that also looked a bit too close to builders – but frankly that won’t happen.
Those who kept their head down and did as they were told under a bullying, stifling regime need the chance to find their feet and prove to us they can make a difference. The way Greenwich borough is run desperately needs to change – will they be the ones to deliver?
PS. Former Labour councillor Alex Grant has started a blog – and if you’ve made it down this far, his first post will be essential reading. Former Tory councillor Nigel Fletcher has also returned to being a digital scribe, and his account of losing his seat is also well worth reading.
It was a night when the questions were better than the answers. About 30 demonstrators gathered to greet NHS administrator Matthew Kershaw when he arrived at Woolwich Town Hall on Thursday to take questions from a group of Greenwich councillors about his plans to revamp south-east London’s NHS, including the downgrading of Lewisham Hospital’s A&E to an “urgent care centre”. He turned up late – stuck in traffic crossing Blackheath – and may have missed them.
I had hoped to be able to give you audio from the meeting, but unfortunately, the notorious acoustics in committee room 4/5 has defeated me – people rarely speak into microphone properly and the speakers in the public area are set at a whisper level. (Update: There is now audio, see the foot of this post.) But I can show you the video shown to the healthcare scrutiny panel before the meeting. Get ready to tick off the cliches.
There was half an hour given over to public questions – some were pertinent, some were time-wasting, like the woman from an organisation called Greenwich Link who rambled on about bringing back women-only hospitals. Well, thanks for that. Others voiced dissatisfaction with publicity and the consultation process – it appears the TSA website has had 12,500 unique visitors since it launched last month, which Kershaw’s team seemed pleased with, yet seems rather low to me (it’s probably about as much as this site gets).
Chair Janet Gillman, who happens to be one of my local councillors, asked if there was any chance the consultation would be extended – a call echoed by Bromley Council – but Kershaw indicated there wasn’t.
There were also concerns that the administrator hadn’t taken into account the rise in population in Greenwich borough, which weren’t fully allayed, while Kershaw claimed that local council leaders “fully understood the aspirations” of his report, which may be news to Lewisham mayor Sir Steve Bullock.
When it was the councillors’ turn to ask questions, plenty did themselves proud. That said, Conservative Mandy Brinkhurst earned her additional cash for sitting on a scrutiny panel by asking no questions at all.
By contrast, Labour’s Danny Thorpe, Barbara Barwick and Clare Morris all expressed concern about the effects of the downgrading of Lewisham A&E on the already-overstretched Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Barbara Barwick was to the point, but Danny Thorpe put it best: “I’m amazed nobody’s mentioned transport – it’s appropriate you were late,” he told Kershaw. “It’s very difficult to believe your distance figures are true.”
But whatever the truth of the figures, Kershaw said everybody within south-east London would be within 30 minutes by blue-light of an accident and emergency department – which, apparently, is the London standard. “Care starts the minute an ambulance driver arrives,” he said, noting the improvements in the care paramedics can offer.
Thorpe also brought up the appointment of Lewisham Healthcare’s chief executive to work on a merger with QEH – before the consultation has even finished. Kershaw denied it was a “pre-emptive decision”. “We need to do planning now on the work done so far, and Tim Higginson has been asked to provide a work plan for the future.”
It was Barbara Barwick that started to really home in on the point. If someone turned up at Lewisham after suffering a heart attack, she said, what would happen to them?
Already, Kershaw said, people with heart attacks would be taken to King’s College Hospital in Camberwell or Princess Royal Hospital in Farnborough – Lewisham had stopped specialising in heart attacks and strokes some time ago.
“The way emergency care is delivered in London now,” he continued, “people aren’t taken to the nearest hospital to get the best services.” He cited the case of Fabrice Muamba, the Bolton footballer who collapsed at Tottenham earlier this year but was taken to the London Chest Hospital at Bethnal Green, bypassing two closer hospitals (although I always thought that was at the behest of the doctor who happened to be watching the match and dashed onto the pitch at White Hart Lane.)
“It does mean some people will be carried further, but on balance we think that’s the right thing to do.”
Charlton councillor Allan MacCarthy reminded Kershaw of how slow the bus network is in south London. “I had a constituent who took a bus to an appointment at Lewisham Hospital, but never made it because the bus was stuck in traffic.” Kershaw waffled his way through a response.
It’s clear he has a job to do, within limited, politically-defined boundaries – one questioner asked why south-east London was suffering when the NHS in London as a whole enjoys a £250 million surplus.
But the reality of life as we know it in south-east London, with clogged up streets and slow journey times; together with how many people find Queen Elizabeth Hospital; overcrowded, understaffed, and in a mess, does not tally with the shiny promises in his report. There were pledges to reorganise the way QEH’s A&E is run, but they were short on detail.
It was suggested that when the A&E at Guy’s Hospital in Southwark closed in 1999, it only took a couple of months for people to adjust to using St Thomas’s in Lambeth. Yet the two hospitals are barely a couple of miles apart – nothing like the lengthy, bus-changing terrain that separates Lewisham and QEH (or King’s).
Indeed, even those who seem to be agreeing with the general thrust of his comments think that Kershaw isn’t arguing his case properly. Greenwich’s cabinet member for health, John Fahy, observed that few people seemed to know the difference between an “urgent care centre” and accident and emergency; indeed, it’s possible to argue that things won’t change a great deal for users of Lewisham Hospital.
But the focus on finance (which is what Kershaw is paid to do), together with the rushed consultation, means that the real experience of hospital users is neglected – and sparks suspicions about there being a more sinister endgame for users of Lewisham Hospital.
Backbench Labour councillors in Greenwich may be be sceptical about the plans, but regular readers of this site will know that nobody even breaks wind in the “royal” borough without the say-so of leader Chris Roberts. And it turns out we’ve been here before.
Roberts ally Mick Hayes referred to Greenwich’s support for the little-publicised A Picture of Health review from 2009, which was never fully implemented, but led to the closure of A&E at Queen Mary’s in Sidcup – leaving Bexley borough residents to have to go to QEH or distant Darenth Valley Hospital in Kent. Will Greenwich’s Labour leadership listen to its backbenchers’ concerns this time, or will it back the downgrading of a second neighbouring borough’s hospital? We’ll have to wait and see.
There’s a different viewpoint from the meeting at Clare’s diary, and different sides to the argument at the TSA website and Save Lewisham Hospital. There are also public meetings, including tonight (organised by Greenwich Council) at Woolwich Town Hall.
(Tuesday 1am update: Brockley councillor Vicky Foxcroft reports the Labour group on Lewisham Council has donated £500 to the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign. Will there be an equivalent donation from their comrades in Greenwich?)
Friday, 10pm update: Thanks to Clare, here’s the (very quiet) audio from last Thursday’s meeting.