In an easier world, the fire brigade being called to a stuck lift in Greenwich Foot Tunnel would have been Proper News. I would have asked the fireman if anyone was stuck in there. I might have waited around for a bit to see if anything happened.
But it happens too often, regular users tell me. So I wheezed my bike up the south stairs last night, gazed out at the flashing blue lights of the fire engine (presumably parked well away so nobody thought the Cutty Sark was on fire again), and went off on my merry way.
Last week, Greenwich Council announced it’d been given £200,000 by TfL to trial a safe cycling scheme in the tunnel, along with its quieter sister crossing at Woolwich. Currently, there is a blanket ban on cycling that is widely flouted and little-enforced.
When there are too many pedestrians in the tunnels, cyclists will be told to get off and walk. While there is money for enforcement measures, it remains to be seen quite how it’ll work.
While new investment in cycling is to be welcomed, is this really the right solution? The over-engineered lifts still aren’t working properly (particularly at Greenwich – vandalism is more of an issue at Woolwich) – the product of a botched £11.5m refurbishment scheme – so perhaps fixing those should be more of a priority.
But perhaps the council is resigned to their unreliability – it’s working on a smartphone app which will send alerts to warn people that the lifts are stuck.
Demand for cycling routes to Canary Wharf is increasing, so a hundred grand on turning the Greenwich tunnel into what may effectively become a cycle tunnel is clearly a magnitude cheaper than creating the sorely-needed new cycling/walking routes across the Thames.
It’ll take a lot of work to ensure the small tunnel doesn’t become an effective no-go zone for people on two feet – is any piece of technology up to making sure pedestrians are safe? Perhaps that breed of aggressive, anti-social cyclist that charges through the tunnel – the ones many cyclists hate, too – has won this battle down to sheer strength. Or because nobody really wanted to take the pedestrians’ side.
Whatever happens, FOGWOFT, the Friends of Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels, will be watching the scheme – and if you’re a regular user, on foot or on two wheels, it may need your help in doing just that.
Gazing out at that fire engine last night, though, I couldn’t help comparing the situation with that of the Charlton skate park row, where Berkeley Homes has effectively given Greenwich Council £360,000 to move the Royal Arsenal Gardens skate park to Charlton Park, well away from the plush investment opportunities it plans to build there.
Part of the plan is to pass a bylaw banning skateboarders from Woolwich’s General Gordon Square, who do little harm and bring life what can be a bleak space on quiet nights. Rather unrealistically, the council hopes they’ll take their boards and get on a 53 bus to be banished two miles up the hill, well away from Berkeley’s buyers.
It’s very telling that Greenwich Council wishes to criminalise these young people for these minor misdemeanours in Woolwich, while backing down on similar infractions in Greenwich Foot Tunnel. But the kids in Woolwich have no clout, while the foot tunnel cyclists are often heading to well-paid jobs in Canary Wharf. One rule for one group, another for the rest – such is life in a “royal borough”.
Greenwich Council is to trial “shared use” of the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels, which will mean cyclists being officially allowed to use them at quieter times, it has emerged.
The council’s put in a bid for £100,000 of City Hall money to develop technology to record pedestrian and cyclist movements in the tunnel, to warn cyclists when the narrow passages make it unsafe for riding.
The Friends of Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels have been asked to act as partners on the bid, along with Tower Hamlets and Newham councils.
Fogwoft says: “The proposal would allow shared use between pedestrians and cyclists at times when the tunnel is fairly empty. It would require cyclists to walk when necessary. It would allow them to cycle when safe.”
Any proposal to allow cycling in the tunnels will be a hugely contentious issue – while there is a blanket ban on riding bicycles, it is widely flouted, especially in the Greenwich tunnel, which is a major link for cyclists between south-east London and Canary Wharf. Since lift attendants were withdrawn some years ago, there has been little enforcement of the ban.
If Greenwich’s bid to City Hall is unsuccessful, the council says it will fund the scheme itself.
The council says: “The proposal will be to use state of the art technology to trial shared use in the tunnel. It will monitor cycle and pedestrian flows (and cycle speeds) at all times, and use this to regulate the cycling ban; at times of low pedestrian flow, considerate cycle use will be permitted, and conversely during high pedestrian flow periods cyclists will be required to dismount and push through the space. In other words, the permission levels would respond in a timely manner to conditions in the tunnels at all times.
“This will be enforced through clear, digital signage triggered by the flow levels during each period, which will be tracked throughout the tunnel. The visual signage could be backed up by audible messages, and reinforced through additional monitoring via CCTV and other means.
“Technology will also be used to monitor the speed of any person cycling through the tunnel, flashing up clear signage to anyone travelling quicker than a recommended limit (to be defined) in a similar way to speed warning signs used on highways.”
The bid document says a trial would last for 12 months and be “rigorously monitored”.
“In using digital technology to track, monitor and regulate permissions at various times of the day, users will feel that a sensible use of the space is allowed at all times. If successful, the trial has potential to be extended to other similar spaces throughout London,” it adds.
A further £10,000-£25,000 would fund “behavioural change” measures – enforcement, in other words.
It’s believed that a system would be trialled in the quieter Woolwich tunnel before being moved to Greenwich by 2016/17.
Fogwoft has invited users to discuss the issue at its annual general meeting on 2 October. (See more on Fogwoft’s website.) The council will also have to consult the public directly about the scheme, which will involve a change to a by-law.
The announcement comes as the long-delayed refurbishment works on both tunnels enter their final stages, after long delays caused by poor management of the project, both by the council and contractor Hyder Consulting.
While deep cleaning hasn’t taken place, the lifts at Woolwich are now working, though anecdotal evidence suggests the Greenwich lifts are still bedevilled by breakdowns. Indicators have been placed in the Greenwich tunnel to warn of lift problems, although they are difficult to read in sunlight.
In December 2012, a poll on this website showed 51% of voters would back cycling in the tunnel at all times, with just 16% favouring the current ban and 18% backing the kind of compromise Greenwich is going for. This may indicate something about the readership of this website, though.
But with Greenwich Council backing the motor vehicle-only Silvertown Tunnel, and with even more intensive development planned for the Isle of Dogs, the foot tunnel issue shows it’s clear there is still a massive, unmet demand for safe pedestrian and cyclist crossings from south-east to east London.
Monday update: Here’s an interesting project – the echoey sounds of the Woolwich Foot Tunnel captured in Waves of Woolwich.
Long-delayed refurbishment works at Greenwich Foot Tunnel could finally be finished by next March, the inaugural meeting of a pressure group on the issue was told last week.
About 50 people filled the first gathering of the Friends of Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels, which aims to protect and promote the two cross-river links, both badly hit by a botched revamp managed by Greenwich Council.
At a council meeting in July, Greenwich regeneration cabinet member Denise Hyland, who is in charge of the tunnel scheme, announced work on to get the tunnels finished would be brought forward – but there was still no date as to when a report, commissioned last October, into the fiasco would be published.
Hyland, who is in charge of the tunnels, did not attend the packed meeting at the 10 Centre last Thursday. But Tower Hamlets councillor Gloria Thienel was there, and the Conservative representative for Blackwall & Cubitt Town said her own council’s officers understood that Greenwich planned to have the work done by March.
But she did add: “We’ve been told this before.”
If true, this would mean the work at Greenwich would be finished in time for May’s council elections. There was no news as to when work at Woolwich would be finished – indeed, users of that crossing were thin on the ground.
Much of the meeting, chaired by outgoing Peninsula councillor Mary Mills, was concerned with filling positions on its committee. Indeed, But a wide range of issues were raised, with the issue of cycling in the tunnels causing almost as much concern as their poor state of repair.
The other big issue was the lack of lift staff – made redundant by Greenwich Council, with passengers able to operate the lifts themselves. Dubbed the “guardians of the tunnels” by one speaker, their ability to control cycling in the tunnels merely by denying errant cyclists entry to a lift was much missed.
Crime and anti-social behaviour were brought up – with suggestions for closer working between Greenwich, Tower Hamlets and Newham councils and borough police forces. Others also feared the Greenwich tunnel was nearing capacity – and it was time to start looking at alternative pedestrian and cyclist links.
While no Greenwich cabinet members turned up, backbench councillors Alex Grant and Matt Pennycook were there for part of the meeting, along with parliamentary hopeful David Prescott. Shortly after the two councillors went, with perfect timing, London cycling commissioner Andrew Gilligan popped in for the end.
There were also representatives from the new Friends of Island Gardens group, formed to protect the park which faces Greenwich from across the Thames.
In case you haven’t seen this elsewhere, a friends group is being set up for the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels, badly damaged by a botched Greenwich Council attempt to refurbish them.
For more than a century the people of London have crossed the River Thames through foot tunnels at Greenwich and Woolwich which owe their existence to that great Victorian working class hero Will Crooks.
The Woolwich MP’s vision was of a free passage under the Thames for people commutng to work in the docks and factories on the north bank of the river.
The docks may have gone, but the tunnels, classed as public highways and therefore kept open around the 24 hours a day, are now used in large part by those working in the fnancial services sector in Canary Wharf, and by tourists wishing to sample the baroque majesty of maritme Greenwich. The tunnel at Greenwich is also part of Natonal Cycle Route #1, which links Dover and Inverness.
Taken together, the Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels are used by 1.5 million people every year.
Whether this be for work or leisure, the tunnels are a vital transport and cultural asset which, in the spirit of their creator, belong to the people of London.
Management of the Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels is the responsibility of the Royal Borough of Greenwich. For some years the tunnels have been in a poor state of repair, and for this reason they have been the subject of a renovation project funded by an £11.5m grant from central government.
Beset by delays, contractual issues and politcal obfuscaton, the tunnel renovaton work is far from complete. In 2011 the original contractors were sacked without explanation, and the Royal Borough of Greenwich has yet to release the report of an independent inquiry into what went wrong. The new lifts at Greenwich are subject to frequent breakdown, work on the staircases has halted, and new lifts have yet to
be installed at Woolwich.
The matter is now in the hands of auditors at the Greater London Authority, and
few expect the work to be fnished before the end of next year.
Local people have had enough of the mismanagement of this invaluable community asset. We are now rallying together in celebration and defence of the tunnels, and in early September will formally launch the Friends of Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels.
The aim of this new community group is to promote the use and enjoyment of the Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels, and to oversee and hold to account those responsible for them.
Together we will work to ensure a high standard of maintenance, appearance and access to the tunnels, represent all tunnel users – pedestrians and cyclists together – and, with the rapid economic growth of the Isle of Dogs and Newham, lobby for the importance of the tunnels as a transport facility.
The inaugural meetng of the Friends of Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels will take place on Thursday 5 September at the 10 Centre, Tarves Way, London SE10 9JU, starting at 7pm. The venue is located behind Greenwich DLR station, at the end of Straightsmouth.
All are welcome, and we look forward to seeing you there.
From last month’s council meeting, here’s Denise Hyland, the Greenwich councillor responsible for the foot tunnels fiasco, explaining why the council has changed tack to commission new work to finish the tunnels’ refurbishment, and why its inquiry into the mess won’t be reporting back any time soon.
Incidentally, a friends group is also being set up for Island Gardens, the park at the foot of the Isle of Dogs which contains the Greenwich tunnel’s north entrance. This follows the withdrawal of a mysterious attempt to build a “community centre” (see Tower Hamlets-watching blog Trial By Jeory for more). Campaigners there are meeting tonight at 7.30pm at Poplar, Blackwall and District Rowing Club, next to the park, to discuss next steps.
(For more information on FOGWOFT, call Francis Sedgemore on 07840 191336 or Ian Blore on 07900 253658.)
Not exactly earth-shattering news, but City Hall isn’t expecting work on the Greenwich Foot Tunnel to be complete until next year. Work on revamping the Thames crossing, together with its sister tunnel at Woolwich, stopped last year after a Greenwich Council refurbishment project collapsed in 2011.
Last month, it emerged that Labour London Assembly member Len Duvall had asked auditors to investigate the supervision of the project. While the works were being carried out on behalf of Greenwich Council, the cash had come from a Government agency whose work has since been taken over by the Greater London Authority.
Now Green assembly member Darren Johnson has taken up the issue, asking mayor Boris Johnson:
Greenwich foot tunnel
Question No: 1923 / 2013
Although responsibility for the refurbishment of the Greenwich foot tunnel lies with the Royal Borough, and given that these works have been stalled for several years will you as the Mayor of London and Chair of TfL instigate an investigation into what has gone wrong and urge Greenwich to publish a timetable for the completion of these works?
Written response from the Mayor
The foot tunnels are important strategic links, which need careful management to refurbish, given their age. Work on the refurbishment of the foot tunnels has been suspended whilst Greenwich re-evaluates the required scope of the works, as it has become clear that the scale of the task is greater than previously anticipated.
The tunnels are currently safe and open for use at all times and I understand that Greenwich anticipates procuring consultants and contractors shortly, in order to review and complete the works as early as possible in 2014. Once the procurement process has been finalised, a timetable for completion of the works will be announced.
What Boris Johnson’s response didn’t say is that Greenwich isn’t going to be commissioning any new works until its own investigation, led by John Willmoth, is complete. Last month, Greenwich Council said the report wasn’t yet complete, but would be presented to the council’s cabinet “at the earliest opportunity”.
At least, however, the reply from the mayor indicates City Hall has woken up to the issue – past responses, to Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon, gave the impression it was shrugging off the issue and leaving it to Greenwich Council.
City Hall officials have been asked to investigate the handling of Greenwich Council’s botched £11.5m redevelopment of the Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels, where work has been stalled for over a year.
Greenwich & Lewisham assembly member Len Duvall has referred the matter to auditors at the Greater London Authority to establish what went wrong with the project, which had been funded by the Government’s Homes & Communities Agency (HCA) before being switched to City Hall last year.
It’s emerged an HCA official signed off the project after a site visit in March 2011, handing the project over to Greenwich Council the following month, on the understanding work would be finished by September 2011.
The HCA stopped scrutinising the project after the site visit, and the matter was not looked at again until City Hall took over the HCA’s work in London in April 2012. Now Duvall has asked the authority’s audit panel and district auditor to investigate. The London Assembly’s budget and performance committee has also been asked to look at the issue.
Duvall’s move comes after campaigning from Greenwich Cyclists on the issue.
Both Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels remain in a poor state after the collapse of the project in late 2011, at around the time cabinet member Denise Hyland was blaming the problems at both tunnels on “hidden structures” which didn’t actually exist.
The council itself, which sacked the three contractors in charge of the job, admitted in October 2012 that there was “an unacceptable and deteriorating environment for users” in the tunnels.
Last November, it emerged Greenwich Council had previously told the HCA the work had been completed – even though that simply wasn’t the case, and that should have been clear on any site visit.
Indeed, when the Woolwich Foot Tunnel reopened in December 2011 after at least a 15-month closure, the poor state of the tunnel demonstrated the difficulty the project was in. When Greenwich’s lifts reopened in early 2012, lights were failing and lifts kept breaking.
In a letter to Duvall seen by this website, the GLA’s Housing and Land executive director David Lunts says “the project remains a concern for the GLA”, and says it is now in “regular dialogue” with the council as it struggles to complete the project.
No work has taken place at either tunnel for over a year, with no new contractors appointed to finish the job. Woolwich Foot Tunnel remains without lifts, Greenwich had new lifts fitted but they have been plagued by breakdowns.
Greenwich Council commissioned an independent report from John Willmoth into the fiasco six months ago. After completing a report into the council’s handling of big projects in general, he has yet to report back on the foot tunnels issue.
11.20am update: Len Duvall has told this site:
“What took place over the work on the foot tunnels work should not have happened.
Greenwich are learning from this experience internally and I look forward to the publication of the second of John Wilmoth’s independent reports examining what happened in this case more closely.
My intervention is to make the GLA take its responsibilities seriously, not just ‘shrug their shoulders’ when public money from bodies that have since become part of the GLA is involved. There are lessons for us to learn at the GLA and I hope that Greenwich Council are equally keen to ensure that events like this don’t occur in the future. Most importantly Greenwich need to press on with the completion of the works – monitored closely by the GLA – to ensure that both foot tunnels are accessible to everyone.”
For the end of 2012, we were promised shiny and revamped foot tunnels at Greenwich and Woolwich – but they never happened. The Woolwich tunnel’s been left to rot, the Greenwich tunnel has gained new lifts which still aren’t working properly. It still looks a mess as well.
Funnily enough, the foot tunnel fiasco doesn’t make it into Greenwich Council’s back-slapping review of the year, available for a fiver – sick bags not included.
One thing that struck me before Christmas was the heated debate about cyclists in the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, after this website revealed nobody had been prosecuted for cycling in there for three years. Ticketing errant cyclists would raise more than a Dear Leader’s Greatest Hits DVD ever would – but should, as some commenters suggested, the council officially adopt a more tolerant attitude to those who want to nip through on two wheels, rather than just unofficially doing so?
So, in place of any leadership from the council, let’s have a poll and see what you really think. I’ve taken some of the suggestions and tried to combine them into a series of options that’d work for both Greenwich and Woolwich tunnels. Maybe by this time next year, we could have a radical new policy that both cyclists and walkers could agree with.
Or maybe we could just have working lifts, and fixed-up tunnels instead…