Tagged: east greenwich

Does the Allen key to Greenwich’s new Ikea lie in Birmingham?

Ikea Birmingham Central, 30 August 2016

One of Greenwich’s biggest recent planning battles is set to resurface this autumn, Remember Ikea? One of ex-leader Chris Roberts’ last legacies to the area, Greenwich Council rushed through outline planning permission for a new 350,000-sq ft store back in 2014, to replace the now-demolished “eco”-Sainsbury’s and adjacent former Comet store.

Since then, attention has turned to exactly how a stonking great big furniture store that’s notorious for attracting huge traffic jams can be modelled to fit an area that’s already notorious for huge traffic jams.

Ikea took ownership of the site a year ago and demolished the former stores this spring,. Meanwhile, developer LXB – which was behind Sainsbury’s move down to Charlton – has bought the B&Q branch next door.

So, what’s planned? Eltham-based magazine SE Nine, which usually has decent contacts in Greenwich planning, reported on its Facebook page last month that the site would be a new Ikea format, an Order & Collection Point. This is smaller than a normal store and “packed with inspiration”.

“Particularly when it comes to our dedicated co-workers who are ready to share their home furnishing expertise and lend some specialist help every step of the way. They’re there to help you plan your dream kitchen, for example, or offer expert advice on your next project at home, no matter how big or small.”

There are only four in the UK – and the example cited in SE Nine’s report opened in Birmingham last month.

What else to do, then, but take a day trip to England’s second city?

Birmingham’s changed since the days of Telly Savalas rhapsodising about the Inner Ring Road. That infamous dual carriageway “concrete collar” has been broken, and the city centre now gleams with new shopping centres. The new central library is probably the finest public building in the country, while trams now purr past the brand new Grand Central mall, built on top of the once-dismal New Street station.

Ikea Birmingham Central, 30 August 2016

There’s still a way to go, though – and just off the new tram line, you’ll find Dale End, a run-down shopping street that’s been awaiting redevelopment for years. But it’s here you’ll find the third Ikea Order & Collection store, which opened on 18 August in a site vacated by Toys R Us a decade ago.

Corporation Street, Birmingham, 30 August 2016

This isn’t a full Ikea store – it’s an outlet to showcase some of the Swedish chain’s new designs and to sell smaller items. You can also pick up goods you’ve ordered online and plan what you want to buy with the help of some of the store’s 30 staff. The store sits beneath a 1970s car park, and you can drive up and collect items there. One catch – collection costs up to £10.

Birmingham Central Ikea, 30 August 2016

Ikea Birmingham Central. 30 August 2016

Shopping inside Ikea Birmingham Central

You don’t get the full browsing experience here – that’s available in Ikea’s two main West Midlands store. The “marketplace” doesn’t feature here either – though plenty of its items are scattered around the store.

But there is a small cafe – and yes, there are meatballs too.

This is a test format for Ikea – and it seemed reasonably popular on the sunny Tuesday I visited. But it’s somewhere you’d go if you knew exactly what you wanted – or had money burning a hole in your pocket and a desire to design your own kitchen.

Ikea Birmingham Central, 30 August 2016

Ikea Birmingham Central, 30  August 2016

A format like this might deter people from driving great distances, once they’ve got used to it – the Dale End store openly points out the full range is found at Wednesbury and Coventry, and most customers seemed to wander in from the street. But will a larger version of this giant showroom work in a retail park?

You don’t have to go to Birmingham to get a sample of the Order & Collection Ikea. Because it’s now appeared closer to home, at Stratford.

To the 108!

Ikea Stratford City, 31 August 2016
Ikea Stratford, 31 August 2016

There was a brass band playing Abba tunes outside the new store at Westfield Stratford City when it opened its doors last Wednesday.

This is a smaller affair than its Midlands counterpart – there’s no cafe for a start (I didn’t spot any meatballs either). It sits in an outdoor parade of other furniture stores – Dwell is next door, DFS is opposite – with the displays and planning studio distinguishing it from the rest.

Stratford City Ikea, 31 August 2016

The small displays in the Stratford Ikea at least reflect the tiny flats going up in the area….

Again, if you know what you’re after, this is brilliant (although from here, you could easily drive to stores at Edmonton or Lakeside). But it’s not one you’ll make a special trip just to browse through – it’d only take five minutes, for a start.

Stratford City Ikea, 21 August 2016

It’s entirely possible the presence of this store in Stratford will dampen some demand north of the river for a store in Greenwich – but you might not be so keen to pay £10 to collect a huge flat-pack bookcase which you then have to lug through a shopping mall to a car park you’ve paid £2.70 to use.

There are two other Order & Collection Ikeas in the UK, and they’re both on retail parks – the first opened in Norwich last November, the second is in Aberdeen. Publicity for the first Irish store – on a retail park near Dublin – describes how it is designed around “real people”.

A sitting room on display, we are told, has been designed for Paul (33) and Simon (35). They are a couple with “a strong sense of style”. They bought their city centre apartment together just over four years ago and like to indulge their love of cafes, art galleries, wine bars and eateries.

Simon is passionate about wine, and more particularly red wine. Ikea has built a sittingroom adorned with vases, glassware and textiles. A collection of wine glasses sits on shelves lining one entire wall. Pictures abound – including a framed picture of a bottle of Malbec. The effect is both trendy and personal.

It’s some way from the Lakeside Retail Park. But if you think of the new homes coming to the immediate area, this approach would make sense for Greenwich.

Ikea Altona, September 2015

You can’t miss the Altona Ikea…

An Order & Collection Ikea would mean the retailer has resisted calls to use the format used at a store in Hamburg. You’ll find the store in Altona, a western district that sees itself as a class apart from its neighbours (sound familiar?). Ikea has three stores in Hamburg, but the Altona branch was, when it opened in 2015, its only “high street” store in Europe.

To the S-Bahn!

Altona Ikea, September 2015

The Altona Ikea sits on the area’s main shopping street

The first thing that strikes you about the Altona Ikea is its size – it dominates a pedestrian shopping parade in the same way an old-style department store does. Its bulk comes from an efficient use of space that’s rare in London – walk around the back of the store and you’ll find that deliveries go into the basement, car parking goes on top.

Altona Ikea, 24 September 2015

Going up! Only one way to get your trolley upstairs in Altona Ikea

In between, you’ve three floors of shopping space to mooch around in – with lifts next to escalators to get your trolleys upstairs. The “marketplace” is spread around the store, rather than being at the end of your route..

Altona Ikea, 24 September 2015

The ground floor at the Altona Ikea is almost a standalone store

The ground floor almost acts as a standalone store, with its own cafe facing the street – ideal for shoppers who just want to pop in and out again – a bit like the UK Order and Collection stores.

Ikea Altona, 24 September 2015

The Altona format still contains the warehouse

Head up to the first floor and things feel more like a conventional Ikea – you’ll find more furniture displays and a huge restaurant. Once you’re on the second floor, you’ll find the huge warehouse shelves along with the food store.

Ikea Altona, 24 September 2015

The Altona store has a huge food area

On the weekday I visited, the store was doing a reasonable trade. Plenty of people were heading to and from the station with Ikea goods – there were no queues for the car park, which had 300 empty spaces.

Ikea Altona, 24 September 2015

No car? No problem!

Ikea Altona, 24 September 2015

Could you let this bike take the strain?

There aren’t free deliveries here – it’s 29 euros to hire a “sofa taxi” while there are a range of bicycle options starting at 10 euros. You’re reminded of these at almost every turn. This isn’t a Dutch-style cycling utopia, but taking a bike here is much more popular and easy than it is in London.

Ikea Altona, 24 September 2015

Public transport help is available too

There’s wrapping paper available to help people take their goods on public transport – this is probably one of the best-connected shopping parades in Germany, with national and even international trains stopping here along with buses and local rail services.

Ikea Altona, 24 September 2015

Ikea Altona’s deliveries are tucked away at the back. The car park is further along,

Is this a revolutionary Ikea? Not really – it’s simply the traditional store remixed to suit a very well-connected high street. Perhaps there are a few less furniture displays than a traditional warehouse, but it offers the same comprehensive shopping experience as a retail barn with a vast car park outside.

It’s easy to imagine this format working in a typical zone 3 or 4 London high street. Drop this into Eltham, Bexleyheath or Bromley and it’d be wildly popular, although it’d probably bung up the traffic.

But there’s no high street to drop this into in east Greenwich. To recreate the Altona store in SE London, the developers would have to be bold and create their own high street, a retail destination that driving wouldn’t be the default option to. Despite its leadership’s willingness to do opaque deals with developers, this would surely be anathema to a council that’s trying to reinvigorate Eltham and resuscitate Woolwich.

And while the cycling options might work for the expanding Greenwich Peninsula community, the surrounding terrain – both natural and man-made – would make it a tough ask for the rest of us. Fancy pedalling your goods up Westcombe Hill?

So, despite the clamour for the Altona model Ikea, the Order & Collection version – a format which deters many speculative trips – may be the least worst for east Greenwich. Short of not building the thing at all, it may offer the best chance of avoiding the insanity of the four-hour queues that greeted the opening of Reading’s Ikea in July.

We will find out just what is planned in the coming weeks.

Fire wrecks home of the Tunnel Club, Greenwich’s alternative comedy shrine

The Mitre on fire

That big fire you might have seen this lunchtime (if it wasn’t this one in Erith) was up by the Blackwall Tunnel, at the Studio 338 nightclub. It’s fair to say the place isn’t in a good way.

Developers and those that like to boost them up like to claim the Greenwich Peninsula was always a wasteland, but that’s not true. The wrecked building, once the Mitre pub, is one of the last survivors from the community that existed there before the second Blackwall Tunnel and its approach road were built.

There were terraced houses behind the Mitre until the 1970s – they were demolished after the Blackwall Tunnel approach, which opened in 1969, effectively cut them off from the rest of the area – and a church stood nearby until the 1980s.

Stranded by the A102 and with few neighbours left to disturb, the Mitre became a favourite for club promoters. It’s been through a variety of incarnations in the past 20 years or so – including Dorrington’s, That Club, and more recently Studio 338.

But it remains best known for being one of the birthplaces of the alternative comedy scene – Malcolm Hardee‘s Tunnel Club.

The Tunnel Club opened in 1984, and helped begin the careers of Harry Enfield, Vic Reeves, Jeremy Hardy, Jo Brand and many, many more. It was a notoriously intimidating place to perform. Another local comic, Arthur Smith, described the Tunnel in his memoir.

Phil and I played the opening night at the Tunnel, which, under Malcolm’s influence, became the arena where London’s top hecklers gathered every Sunday to slaughter open spots and established acts alike. Some punters even met up beforehand in a kind of heckling seminar and one night, when I was performing solo, a voice in the dark interrupted me with a Latin phrase that turned out to mean ‘show us your tits.’

The word ‘notorious’ soon attached itself to the Tunnel which is now remembered as Alternative Comedy’s equivalent to the previous generation’s Glasgow Empire – a place for confrontation, raucousness, multiple comedy pile-ups and deaths. It was not uncommon for the acts to be booed off with such efficiency that the whole show was over in twenty minutes, an occasion that was greeted by the regulars as a great success.

Malcolm, instinctively anti-authoritarian from his thick black glasses, down his naked hairy body, to his piss-stained odd socks, liked to encourage the mayhem by the frequent exhibition of his titanic testicles, which he advertised as ‘the second biggest in the country – after Jenny Agutter’s father.’ (Apparently, they had once compared notes). If the mood took him he would urinate over the front row and, such was his charisma, the victims cheered rather than remonstrated.

The rest is worth a read, as is Malcolm’s own memoir, I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake.

The Mitre is also remembered in a short film, The Tunnel, released in 2012.

The Tunnel closed in 1988, following an enormous police raid on the Mitre. But some of the Tunnel’s spirit moved down the road to Up The Creek, which Malcolm opened three years later. He died in 2005 after falling into Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe, trying to get to his houseboat. The team behind The Tunnel film are now working on a follow-up about Malcolm’s eventful life.

Today’s fire looks like it has brought a final close to the Mitre’s story. The site isn’t immediately suitable for redevelopment – while the gas holder next to it is out of action, the plot behind is earmarked by Transport for London as a construction site if the Silvertown Tunnel gets the go-ahead.

For now, though, 338’s regulars will be sad, some of the neighbours who’d complained about booming early morning beats, less so. But whatever you thought of the place, today’s fire has destroyed one last little bit of anarchic old Greenwich.

Wednesday update: A Studio 338 staff member, named only as Tomas, has died after suffering severe burns in Monday’s fire.

Greenwich cruise liner terminal pollution: A warning from Sydney

7pm update: A High Court judge today allowed the judicial review against Greenwich Council’s decision to proceed. Greenwich Council said it was “disappointed at the further delay“.

On Tuesday morning, a High Court judge will hear an application to hold a judicial review into Greenwich Council’s decision to allow the London City Cruise Port to be built at Enderby Wharf, east Greenwich. The hearing begins at 10.30am in Court 19 at the Royal Courts of Justice.

Local residents object to the terminal allowing cruise ships to use their own generators while on extended stays at the terminals, which they say will hugely increase air pollution in the area.

All four main mayoral candidates – including Labour’s Sadiq Khan and Conservative Zac Goldsmith – have supported the East Greenwich Residents’ Association’s campaign to get the terminal cleaned up.

sydney_cruise1000cc

A similar issue has happened in Sydney, where a cruise liner terminal that opened three years ago is being blamed for rocketing pollution levels in the district of Balmain. Just as in Greenwich, the operators of the White Bay cruise liner terminal say it will be too expensive to switch to “shore side” power.

A resident of Balmain has sent this message to the people of east Greenwich about what it’s like to live in the shadow of a polluting cruise liner terminal.

I live 100 metres from a cruise ship terminal in inner Sydney. Residents had no say in the development and were told the same myth as you regarding shore power.

The cruise ships cannot comply with their noise approval conditions with many of the measuring over 70dB.

We have begged for shore power for 3 years now. When there is a ship berthed out front we can’t open our doors and windows because of the particle matter. In February there was a ship berthed here nearly every day and night. No one could open doors or windows in the hottest summer Sydney has had to date.

We were told we could expect 60-70 ships a year with no overnight stays. Last year there were nearly 160 ships with approximately 12 overnight stays. The overnight stays are a nightmare because of the engine noise and light spillage.

The PA announcements often go all day and they are extremely loud & intrusive. There have been many hundreds of complaints made about this terminal.

After 3 years nothing has been complied with or resolved despite a Senate inquiry saying it should never have been installed here. The inquiry recommended shore power and immediate noise mitigation. That was over a year ago.

The inquiry validated all of the residents’ health concerns. The stench of bunker fuel and the thick black smoke coming from these old ships is appalling. Residents have grave concerns for their health. Interestingly the oldest an dirtiest and noisiest ships are fitted out for shore power.

The real truth about shore power appears to be that the cruise lines do not want to spend the money on retrofitting their fleet for shore power.

Residents near the White Bay terminal have started their own campaign: Stop Cruise Ship Pollution.

Photo: Departure by Simon Clancy used under Creative Commons licence CC-BY-2.0.

Neighbours launch court challenge over Greenwich cruise liner terminal: Can you help?

London City Cruise Port

Greenwich Council is facing a judicial review over its decision to back a cruise liner terminal at Enderby Wharf in east Greenwich – and local residents are appealling for help in funding the challenge.

The council’s planning board backed the scheme last July, ignoring objections from neighbours on both sides of the river, as well as Tower Hamlets Council and Greenwich & Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook.

Residents fear pollution from ships berthed at the terminal, on the west side of the Greenwich peninsula. As the terminal will have no means of generating its own electricity for ships, the vessels will have to power themselves – burning at least 700 litres of diesel an hour.

A single ship will generate the same emissions as 688 permanently-running HGVs, residents say, using far dirtier fuels. Residents want to see power for the terminal provided on shore, as happens at at ports in New York and Amsterdam, but the developers say this will cost too much.

Now a crowdfunding campaign has been launched to raise £6,000 to challenge the council’s decision in the High Court. If you’d like to chip in, visit www.crowdjustice.co.uk/case/cruise-liner.

The council is already defending the challenge, Dr Paul Stookes of legal firm Richard Buxton says. The High Court will now decide whether to allow the judicial review.

Dan Hayes, chair of the East Greenwich Residents Association, says: “We believe that the planning decision is short-sighted and ruinous to Londoners’ health. Nearly 10,000 people die of air pollution in our capital each year and far more suffer ill-health because of bad air.

“We have been constantly exhorted to use public transport, buy cleaner cars or cycle, only to have dirty developments thrust on our communities. It’s time to call a halt on decision-making that makes air pollution much worse for Londoners, and the cruise terminal proposal, without on-shore power, is a striking example of this.”

Why did council leader vote on issue?

The terminal has been vehemently defended by council leader Denise Hyland – who sat on the planning board that gave the terminal the go-ahead. She is the only council leader in London who regularly sits on their borough’s main planning committee.

Hyland chose to sat in judgement on the cruise liner terminal despite having previously publicly endorsed the scheme. In the months before the planning board meeting, she held four meetings with terminal promoters and their associates without most other board members being present – including one just five days before the planning board meeting, according to information provided in response to a Freedom of Information request submitted by this website.

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”.

Regeneration cabinet member Danny Thorpe – regarded as Hyland’s effective deputy on the council – also chose to sit on the planning board, despite being present at three of those meetings.

Thorpe joined Hyland on a trip to inspect a cruise liner terminal in Southampton. Hyland spoke about this during the meeting, saying she could not “see” any air pollution there – despite the fact that it is usually invisible.

Hyland also criticised 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.

The court challenge has the potential to embarrass both Labour and Conservative candidates in this spring’s mayoral elections, since outgoing Conservative mayor Boris Johnson has joined Labour’s Hyland in defending the terminal, to the discomfort of grassroots members of both parties.

Green mayoral candidate Sian Berry and Lib Dem counterpart Caroline Pidgeon have both supported the legal challenge.

Isolated on cruise liner and Silvertown Tunnel

Indeed, this website understands Hyland’s ambivalent attitude to air pollution – an issue which remains high on the political agenda – is causing unease within her party’s ranks. As well as leading Greenwich to an isolated position on the cruise liner terminal, she has now been left in a similar position on the Silvertown Tunnel.

Greenwich is now the only one of the three boroughs closest to the tunnel to remain offering unconditional support; with Lewisham, Southwark, Hackney and Waltham Forest opposing the scheme on air pollution and congestion grounds, and Newham withdrawing its support over congestion fears.

Asked at a council Q&A in December about Southwark’s opposition, she said she continued to support the tunnel because “it arrives in Greenwich and it helps our residents”.

She also told the Q&A she believed air pollution would not be an issue by the time TfL plans to open the tunnel, in 2023, even though the current Conservative government is showing few signs of wanting to tackle the issue, and plans for a central London ultra-low emissions zone do not cover Greenwich.

If the residents’ judicial review over the cruise liner terminal is accepted by the High Court, it will put her stewardship of the council on this issue under a harsh spotlight.

‘Green Trafalgar Road’ scheme wins City Hall cash for Greenwich

A visualisation from EGRA of what Woodland Walk could look like

A visualisation from EGRA of what Woodland Walk could look like

Congratulations to the East Greenwich Residents Association, whose scheme to “green” Trafalgar Road has won an £18,000 grant from City Hall.

The neighbourhood group recently raised over £6,000 in a crowdfunding exercise to promote the plan to improve the environment along the main route through the area.

EGRA wants to see street barriers covered with plants, a green canopy and seating in the neglected Woodland Walk alleyway (pictured above), and the return of market stalls to Tyler Street and Colomb Street.

The City Hall cash, part of the Mayor’s High Street Fund, now brings the kitty to over £24,000, but the cash can only be a start – it also wants Greenwich Council to do its bit by removing street clutter and maintaining the area properly.

It’s a big victory for a group that’s not been afraid to take on the council – it recently called on leader Denise Hyland to stand down from its main planning committee, where she is the only borough leader to have a full-time role in planning decisions.

The council’s notoriously tribal leadership will now have to swallow its anger about EGRA’s criticisms to work with the group on its plan for Trafalgar Road. Council officers have already helped with the plan, including securing the future of the market pitches, which have not been regularly used since the 1990s.

Residents would like to see the neighbourhood get a fair amount of the cash the council is getting for the huge developments in the area.

Getting hold of this Section 106 money could be tricky – this cash tends to disappear into borough-wide pots, as the fate of the £1.5m given for the Charlton Sainsbury’s development shows.

But one source could be the cash generated by selling the “pocket park” on Blackwall Lane to a developer, where 20% of the £1m+ receipts have been earmarked for projects in Peninsula ward, which covers Trafalgar Road.

Local councillor Denise Scott-McDonald argued in favour of the sale in July, telling her fellow cabinet members: “I think it’s a great opportunity. The fact that we’re getting 20% of the money is an opportunity for our ward to really put money into areas that we need to be developed.”

There’s also a message here for local groups – moaning about the council simply isn’t enough; you have to get off your backside and do things yourself. Those in Charlton murmuring about whether that area needs a regeneration scheme might like to take note.

If you’re interested in finding out more about EGRA, it’s holding one of its regular open meetings in the Star and Garter pub in Greenwich Park Street at 7.30pm this evening (Tuesday 15th).

Other south-east London schemes to win cash includes the ambitious Peckham Coal Line project – a New York High Line-style scheme to turn disused rail sidings into green space – as well as a social enterprise grocery store in Catford and a plan to turn a disused water tank in Lewisham into an art space.

Crap development: Enderby Wharf neighbours disturbed by Greenwich’s ‘poo wagon’

Barratt Homes' poo wagon loading up on Wednesday afternoon

Barratt Homes’ poo wagon loading up on Wednesday afternoon

It’s another tall ships weekend, but for a real sniff of what life’s like by the river in Greenwich these days, head down to Christchurch Way. Here, Barratt Homes has recently unveiled the first homes at Enderby Wharf – adjacent to the planned cruise terminal site.

Unfortunately, these homes haven’t yet been properly linked up to utilities. There’s currently no sewerage service, for example.

So every other day, a truck parks up in Christchurch Way to take the new residents’ effluent away. Sometimes it comes at breakfast, sometimes it comes in the afternoon. It smells, and it’s noisy too…

It typically takes three hours to suck all the sewage away, I’m told.

Worse still, the new homes are currently being powered by diesel generators.

While I was filming the poo wagon, one shift-working resident came out to tell me he’s disturbed by the noise from the crap truck, and his asthma is being made worse by the generators.

These are clearly growing pains for what will be a big new development. But it’s another example of why people in this part of Greenwich are feeling a little under siege right now.

Stand down Denise: Residents call on Greenwich Council leader to quit her planning role

London City Cruise Port

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.

Denise Hyland's accession t the council leadership as reported by its weekly newspaper, Greenwich Time

Denise Hyland’s accession t the council leadership as reported by its weekly newspaper, Greenwich Time

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…