Greenwich Council’s weekly newspaper – Greenwich Time – has published its final edition, bringing to an end a lengthy battle with the Government over its existence.
The council spent £80,000 fighting a Government order to close it (with the Government spending £23,770), before the two parties reached an out-of-court settlement in December.
This week’s edition brings the title to a close after 32 years, of which its final eight were spent as a weekly. It launched in 1984 as a monthly publication, going fortnightly in 1991.
It was the last weekly council paper in England, following the closure of Tower Hamlets’ East End Life earlier this year.
You’ll have to read carefully to spot it’s the final paper – its closure is mentioned in a letter to residents on page two from council leader Denise Hyland, claiming it was “a reliable source of local information… reflective of the incredible history and characteristics of our area”.
But the paper, long targeted by a Government which aimed to outlaw “council Pravdas”, had been limping on for years following the sacking of chief reporter Peter Cordwell and assistant editor Rod Kitson.
Indeed, in its final years, the paper looked increasingly like the Soviet propaganda paper its detractors accused it of aping – a long way from the original intention of emulating genuine local newspapers.
The final front page features a bland statement on the council’s reaction to the EU referendum result and one of the council’s regular obsessions – the army, with a photograph of veterans at its Great Get Together event.
Inside, the redevelopment of estates in Woolwich is reannounced, while the Greenwich Heritage Trust’s creation of an exhibition commemorating the history of the Royal Artillery in Woolwich is featured – without mentioning it is a replacement for the failed Firepower museum, which closes next month.
It is not clear what comes next – the council is keeping its cards very close to its chest. We do know that Greenwich has put its statutory notices – planning applications, highway works, etc – out to tender again.
For now, the council leadership has lost a tool it used to paint a portrait of a borough that many simply didn’t recognise. It could have created a genuine community paper, allowing dissenting views and helping fill a vacuum left by the slow demise of the independent local press. But its leadership didn’t trust its residents, and instead used Greenwich Time to attempt to set the agenda – possibly angering as many as it persuaded.
Hyland’s letter continues: “I hope that the enormous legacy left by Greenwich Time will continue online in digital communities.” Well, hello!
Greenwich Council’s weekly newspaper, Greenwich Time, has only weeks left to live – but the council’s communications empire is actually expanding by taking on work for another London borough.
GT will close in its current format next month after an out-of-court settlement with the Government, which has outlawed “town hall Pravdas”.
But, weeks before the end, Greenwich Time’s advertising team has started selling ad space in Hackney Council’s fortnightly paper, Hackney Today.
The names of GT’s highly-regarded ad team, Nicola McGuire and Gaynor Granger, appear as advertising contacts in recent editions of the east London council’s paper.
Independent local paper Hackney Citizen reports that this is a “temporary arrangement” while Hackney looks for a new ad sales person for its fortnightly paper, with Greenwich receiving a cut of the revenue.
Greenwich’s insistence on publishing Greenwich Time weekly saw it become an early target for former communities secretary Sir Eric Pickles’ war on such papers, which can now only be published four times a year. The only other council weekly in England, Tower Hamlets’ East End Life, closed this week.
Hackney is one of a band of councils who continue to defy the law by publishing fortnightly, and have been threatened with action by chancellor George Osborne, who recently allowed local newspaper premises to allow for business rate relief in an attempt to boost the sector.
It’s not thought any premises in Greenwich borough will qualify (neither Lewisham nor Bexley have any local newspaper premises either) and with Greenwich Council still active in seeking advertising for council publications – and strongly encouraging partner organisations not to place ads with rivals – any new entrant will still find life difficult.
As for Greenwich Time, it remains stubbornly wedded to the agenda of council reputation management over information, with the current edition even ignoring the sinkhole that appeared in Charlton last week, along with printing an out-of-date “what’s on” guide. With some residents not getting the paper until Friday, five days after publication, much of what’s inside is old news by the time it limps onto doormats.
The council leadership is keeping its cards close to its chest on plans for the future. For all the Tories’ bluster over council papers, it took several years to kill off weekly town hall papers and it will no doubt be looking to push the out of court settlement to the letter.
The settlement says the council can publish “regular and frequent communications to those residents who choose to receive such information by whatever medium they they decide (eg, paper or electronic) providing it does not have the appearance of a newspaper, newsletter or similar publication”.
Neighbouring Lewisham has published a weekly email for some years (you can subscribe here and have a chance of winning a trip to Diggerland, the inspiration for the Lewisham Gateway scheme) supported by quarterly magazine Lewisham Life. A tie-up with Greenwich Leisure Limited, the not-for-profit group that runs leisure centres and libraries, has also long been mooted.
Another option is a tie-up with an existing local paper. The Mercury’s publishers have long been keen on recapturing the council’s advertising budget, lost many years ago.
The Mercury was recently bought from octogenarian local news baron Ray Tindle by its South London Press management, quietly reversing his eccentric policy of publishing “hyperlocal” editions for certain areas of Greenwich and Lewisham boroughs and more recently giving the ailing paper a much-needed redesign.
The Greenwich edition of the Streatham-based paper now carries the words “Royal Borough of Greenwich” above the masthead, while it also recently featured a worthy “get fit and stay healthy with Royal Greenwich” supplement – also inflicted on Lewisham readers – no doubt intended as a demonstration of what it could do. This week’s edition features a similar supplement, “Let’s do business in Royal Greenwich”.
Whether this will lead to a tie-up between the council and the Mercury remains to be seen. Greenwich residents will find out by the end of June. But for now, Greenwich Time’s ad sales department doesn’t seem to be going away.
Greenwich Council has drafted in the UK’s former top civil servant to lead a commission to recommend policies to help it combat poverty in the borough.
Lord Kerslake, who as Sir Bob Kerslake was the head of the Home Civil Service for five years until 2015, will chair the Greenwich Fairness Commission, which will have “a particular focus on tackling child poverty and making Greenwich a fairer place for our residents”.
The council’s decision to launch the commission is an acknowledgement that developers’ investment in the area isn’t trickling down to those who need help – or in Woolwich’s case, across the A206. While unaffordable residential towers sprout up by the Thames, the council report announcing Kerslake’s appointment notes “a sharp increase over the past two years in the number of people presenting to the council as homeless”.
Five other London boroughs – Islington, Camden, Tower Hamlets, Croydon and Redbridge – have already set up commissions, making recommendations aimed at making sure disadvantaged residents have the best chance of improving their lives and getting out of poverty.
For example, Islington’s recommendations aimed to tackle issues such as childcare, literacy, poor health, use of community space, and public safety.
The appointment of Kerslake, who was also the permanent secretary to the Department of Communities and Local Government under Sir Eric Pickles, will no doubt be aimed at hushing grumbles from local Tories that the commission will simply be a stick to beat the government with. One council cabinet member – likely to be community wellbeing member Denise Scott-McDonald – is likely to sit on what is otherwise billed as an independent panel “drawn from the local private, voluntary and further/higher education sectors”.
That said, Kerslake is not an entirely disinterested party – these days, he is chair of Peabody, the housing association which is now redeveloping much of Thamesmead, on the borough’s eastern boundary.
The commission will hold four or five meetings to gather evidence and is expected to cost £20,000. It will report back to the council by the end of the year.
In a separate development, a vital stage in attempting to rejuvenate Woolwich’s fortunes has been reached, with Greenwich Council’s cabinet set to ratify a decision to sell the crumbling block containing Woolwich’s covered market to developers St Modwen and Notting Hill Housing Association to build 650 homes, a cinema and a new public square.
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.
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.
Labour’s mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan has backed campaigners who are taking Greenwich Council to court over the planned Enderby Wharf cruise liner terminal.
Khan has issued a statement of support backing the East Greenwich Residents’ Association, which is crowdfunding a legal action against the council’s decision to allow the terminal to permit ships to use their own generators when berthed for an extended period of time – emitting hundreds of heavy lorries’ worth of pollution each day.
Greenwich Council leader Denise Hyland – the only borough leader in London who regularly sits on their own planning committee – backed the scheme after she said she couldn’t “see” any pollution while visiting Southampton’s liner terminal with an executive from its developer, London City Cruise Port. Air pollution is normally invisible. Greenwich’s decision was later ratified by Boris Johnson’s deputy mayor, Sir Edward Lister.
EGRA wants to see the terminal use power generated on-shore, with many residents suggesting London Underground’s Greenwich power station on Old Woolwich Road could be used.
Khan, the bookies’ favourite to succeed Boris Johnson next month, said in a statement issued on Saturday: “I praise the dogged campaigning of the East Greenwich Residents Association who are right to be fighting for cleaner air. Too many lives in London are blighted by filthy, polluted air and we should be doing more to clean it up, not make it worse as the proposal at Enderby Wharf risks doing.
“I support bringing everyone involved back to the drawing board to discuss how a clean solution to this can be found involving an onshore energy supply, and as Mayor I’ll do all I can to help this.”
EGRA also secured the backing of Conservative contender Zac Goldsmith at a meeting earlier this month, and have also been backed by Green candidate Sian Berry and Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon – increasing the chances that Boris Johnson’s successor will take steps to make sure the terminal uses onshore power.
The crowdfunding campaign – which has so far raised over £11,000 – is to bring a judicial review of Greenwich’s decision to approve the terminal in September 2015. There will be an initial hearing in front of a judge on 19 April.
An earlier version of the scheme, which did not involve ships effectively being used as floating hotels for extended stays at the terminal, was backed by the council in 2011. Hyland was insistent that objectors should have made their case back then, despite the major changes to the scheme.
Khan’s intervention will be deeply embarrassing for a Greenwich Council leadership that has been ambivalent at best about the effects of air pollution on the community, and that has tried to paint criticism of the cruise liner scheme as being a political plot.
Regeneration cabinet member Danny Thorpe has called criticism of the terminal “scaremongering” by the Green Party, even though the Labour MPs for both sides of the Thames, Matt Pennycook and Jim Fitzpatrick, have both made clear their unhappiness about Greenwich’s decision to back the scheme.
Indeed, given the cautiousness of Khan’s campaign for the mayoralty and his reluctance to criticise schemes backed by other Labour boroughs – such as Lambeth’s support of the deeply controversial Garden Bridge – his comments will be seen as all the more damning of Greenwich’s approach.
But they will also give strength to those Labour councillors – and other figures within the party – who want to see the council adopt a different attitude in its dealings with both developers and local residents.
Khan coughs on Silvertown Tunnel
Khan has also appeared to distance himself from the Silvertown Tunnel – another scheme backed by Greenwich’s leadership in the teeth of opposition from its Labour neighbours. He told industry publication Transport Network that while he wanted to see more road river crossings east of Tower Bridge, he was unhappy with the current proposal and wanted all current plans – which would also include plans for crossings at Thamesmead and Belvedere – to be reviewed.
“Plans as they stand for the Silvertown Tunnel do not fully take into consideration the importance of greener transport, and imposing a toll is in many people’s minds a tax on East and South East Londoners,” he said.
“We need a proper joined up review, looking at river crossings and improved public transport connections east of Tower Bridge, but in a strategic fashion, not piecemeal like the current mayor.”
Khan’s comments leave former environmental campaigner Zac Goldsmith as the tunnel’s only outright supporter in the race for City Hall. At the very least, they reflect his need to win second-choice votes from supporters of Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon and the Green Party’s Sian Berry, who are both opposed to the scheme. The No to Silvertown Tunnel campaign is currently asking supporters to send the two leading mayoral candidates postcards telling them to oppose the plans.
Greenwich is the only affected borough to have continued backing the scheme, despite opposition from rank and file party members and many councillors.
You can contribute to the Enderby Wharf crowdfunding campaign at www.crowdjustice.co.uk/case/cruise-liner. Full disclosure: I’m a founder member of the No to Silvertown Tunnel campaign.
Local residents in Plumstead are putting up an independent candidate in a Greenwich Council by-election to show their anger over what they say is the borough’s neglect of the area.
Ebru Ogun is running in the Glyndon ward by-election on 5 May – the same day as the London mayoral and assembly poll – against candidates from the five major parties.
The poll has been called following the resignation of low-profile Labour councillor Radha Rabadia. No reason was given for the resignation of Rabadia, known for her loyalty to the council leadership.
A public notice of the poll was only published in this week’s edition of council weekly Greenwich Time – despite the fact that many residents did not receive the paper until Thursday, the same day nominations closed.
Glyndon ward stretches from Plumstead Common down to Thamesmead’s Broadwaters estate. It’s a rock-solid safe Labour seat – the Greens came a very distant second in 2014, getting a quarter of the Labour vote.
But Ogun is the frontwoman for a number of Plumstead residents who feel their area is neglected by the council. Issues such as the state of Plumstead High Street, arson attacks on Plumstead Common, cuts in funds to the Plumstead Make Merry festival, the ruling Labour group’s support for the Gallions Reach river crossing and plans to demolish the interior of Plumstead Library as part of a revamp of the facility have raised the ire of local people in recent years.
While the council has responded with a scheme to rebuild the library as a “district centre”, many locals still feel patronised and ignored by the council leadership – a feeling many outside the main centres of Greenwich, Woolwich and Eltham will share. In Plumstead, the feeling is exacerbated by the area not having a single MP – the wider district is split between the Greenwich & Woolwich, Eltham and Erith & Thamesmead constituencies.
Ogun says: “Having lived in Glyndon for over ten years I am passionate about our area and the well being of its residents.
“If, like me, you care about Plumstead and want your voice heard please vote for me. I will do my best to raise your issues, represent all individuals and make Glyndon and Plumstead a happier place to live and work in.'”
Ogun and her fellow residents will face the might of the local Labour machine as it fights to win the London mayoralty for Sadiq Khan, with the party likely to concentrate its resources there to get the core vote out in a City Hall poll where every vote counts. But they are hoping for a strong vote to tell the council to up its game in the area.
Anyone who wants to help with the campaign – whether they live in the ward or not – can email ebru4glyndon[at]gmail.com to offer their services.
Labour is putting forward “mumtrepreneur” Tonia Ashikodi – also known as Tonia Tiel-Ash – as its candidate.
The Greens, Tories, Ukip and Lib Dems are also putting forward candidates along with the All People’s Party, a group set up in 2014 by disgruntled Labour members in Southwark, which is making its debut in Greenwich politics. The party, which is also fighting for London Assembly seats, is fielding Plumstead-based youth leader Abiola Olaore.
GLYNDON WARD BY-ELECTION CANDIDATES – 5 MAY
Tonia Ashikodi, Labour Party
Matt Browne, Conservative Party
Stewart Christie, Liberal Democrats
Dan Garrun, Green Party
Rita Hamilton, Ukip
Ebru Ogun, Independent
Abiola Olaore, All People’s Party
It’s been a big few days for Cllr John Fahy, de jure deputy leader of Greenwich Council and, when all is said and done, one of the few senior councillors on the Berkeley Homes Party’s benches who is open and approachable. For being open and approachable, he’s found himself the subject of constant investigations designed to throw him out of the party, and perhaps to hand his prized deputy role to a younger figure.
He’s one of the good guys – happy to goof around for a photocall, like this one for the ill-fated Dutch Olympic campsite planned for 2012 – and this website likes him for it. They don’t make many like that any more.
But such is his commitment to the Labour Party – the national political group led by Jeremy Corbyn that the ruling group in Greenwich still has some tenuous association to – that he has to contort himself into terrible positions to keep himself in his life’s work.
Take last week. Ex-council leader Chris Roberts, who oversaw a regime in Greenwich where councillors were routinely threatened and bullied, was given the freedom of the borough. Victims of Roberts’ wrath included Fahy, given a four-letter tirade by voicemail after he questioned the wisdom of holding a half-marathon that benefitted a charity the Dear Leader was involved in.
You can see the ceremony in the video below (from 1h 15m). After Roberts’ drinking pal Steve Offord proposed it, it was seconded by… John Fahy.
Roberts, of course, accepted along with praise for Berkeley Homes chief Tony Pidgeley and an apparent dig at his predecessor Len Duvall for apparently leaving council services in a state. Classy. It’s all in the video.
Of course, the trouble is with honouring a man who oversaw a regime of bullying and threats is that when you go and eulogise over mental health services a week later, it makes you look very silly indeed.
Until the end of last year, Fahy was also in charge of children’s services – education and a lot more – before he was quietly shunted out of his role without explanation. Cllr Fahy, an old-fashioned Labour man who abhors the Westminster Government’s plans to force schools to become academies, was replaced by Miranda Williams, whose political views are less pronounced. She duly wrote to schools ahead of the Budget suggesting they all become academies.
Now it’s emerged Cllr Fahy has got himself a new job – turning Greenwich into a “co-operative council”. Only a question at Wednesday night’s council meeting (watch it here) gave the game away, when Tory leader Matt Hartley congratulated him and asked if he would need a longer business card (see page five).
According to the newly-minted Cabinet Member for Development of Co-operative Council and Social Enterprise (phew), it’s all about building “on the Royal Borough’s strong track record of engaging local communities”. Stop laughing at the back.
But “co-operative council”? There is a network of co-operative councils, and old Labour hands like to hark back to the glory days of the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society, once a huge force in Woolwich and beyond and responsible for the creation of Abbey Wood as a suburb.
But in south London, it’s become a toxic term. Here’s why…
Lambeth Council adopted the “co-operative council” banner a few years back under former leader Steve Reed. Lambeth’s a very different council to Greenwich – dominated by the Blairite Progress wing of Labour rather than the old-fashioned, if curdled paternalistic attitudes that have ruled Greenwich for many years.
Essentially, Lambeth’s co-op council caper was an answer to David Cameron’s Big Society (remember that?). On the surface, it sought to get local people involved in the running of services, which would save the council money. Here’s an example that seems to have worked – getting locals involved in redesigning the council website.
But Lambeth has been less than co-operative in other fields, damaging its relationship with its community. When it sought to revamp the Cressingham Gardens estate in Tulse Hill, residents put together a fully-costed plan to save their homes. Lambeth rejected it – opting to demolish the whole lot.
More worrying for Greenwich – which has managed to protect and even enhance its library service, albeit through a controversial outsourcing deal with GLL that’s raised questions over workers’ conditions – is the fate of Lambeth’s libraries.
One of the affected libraries, Carnegie Library in Herne Hill, closed on Thursday night, and at the time of writing, protesters are into the second night of occupying the building.
With the “co-operative council” concept in tatters elsewhere in south London, why on earth would Greenwich belatedly rush to embrace it? It’s hard to see how “co-op council” values have been lived up to in Lambeth. As for Greenwich, where machine politics has long dominated, talk of “working cooperatively with communities” will raise a few hollow laughs – the legacy of Chris Roberts that many in the town hall are keen to step away from.
There’s been a mixed record in residents taking over community facilities in Greenwich – the under-fives’ centres in East Greenwich Pleasaunce and Charlton Park are now flourishing as The Bridge and The Big Red Bus Club. But the Maryon Wilson Animal Park in Charlton has struggled, in part because the council badly under-estimated the cost of the community taking it on. More broadly, there’s already excellent support for community co-ops through Greenwich Co-Operative Development Association.
So perhaps this is about working more closely with existing organisations. It’s been long-rumoured that GLL could have some kind of involvement in a replacement for propaganda newspaper Greenwich Time, for example. Handily, John Fahy remains a trustee of a charity called Meridian Link, which develops education and sporting opportunities in Ghana, alongside GLL boss Mark Sesnan. (Of course, GLL itself was created out of Greenwich’s old leisure department as an answer to 1990s cuts.)
Austerity means council funding is drying up quickly, so Greenwich and all the rest will need to find imaginative solutions to keep services going. And, of course, making a big show of working with residents and social enterprises is a good way of stepping out of the shadows created by Chris Roberts’ toxic legacy.
But if Cllr Fahy wants to make all this “co-operative council” stuff work, he should take a look at the hash his colleagues in Lambeth have made of it. Unless he wants to look as silly as he did praising his old boss last week, he might want to bin the term before it comes back to bite him.
(Want to ask John about his new job? Ask him on Twitter on Saturday evening.)
(PS. Thank you to all who have got in touch since my accident four weeks ago – particularly those from inside the town hall. Things are still slow-going and may be for some time yet, but I’ll still try to highlight some interesting things here and there in the meantime.)