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 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.
Another nail in the coffin for local journalism in south-east London has arrived this week, with the merger of the Greenwich and Lewisham editions of the News Shopper. In truth, it’s not a huge cutback – papers meant for Sydenham to Abbey Wood largely had the same content anyway. And the paper’s distribution is patchy at best.
But the two papers usually had their own front pages, giving publicity to local campaigns that may not resonate in the neighbouring borough. You may not get a printed Shopper through the letterbox any more, but those front pages can still make waves where it matters. Now the papers will share a front page – bad news for campaigns such as those trying to stop Greenwich schools becoming academies or steep cutbacks to Lewisham’s libraries.
This probably means even more crime stories, because everyone (in theory) identifies with those, even though they’re a hugely depressing turn-off if they appear every week.
Until the 1980s, it was common for south London’s local papers to span borough boundaries. The Mercury used to cover Greenwich, Lewisham and the southern part of Southwark (the old Camberwell borough) in one paper. The Kentish Independent covered Greenwich and Bexley before it closed in 1984. The Kentish Times did the same for Bexley and Bromley. The South London Press still stretches from Wandsworth to Lewisham. But back then, the papers were fully-staffed, well-resourced and based in their patches. People even used to go into newsagents to buy them – imagine!
That old economic model has been smashed – partly by shareholder greed, partly by modern technology. Newsrooms have been emptied and moved out of the area – the Shopper comes from Sutton, the Mercury from the SLP’s base in Streatham. Talented young journalists on poor salaries (and priced out of the area) are being made to run ever faster just to keep up to produce stories for papers that are rarely seen or websites that are becoming increasingly unusable.
If this kind of thing interests you, it’s worth reading the thoughts of Gareth Davies, an investigate reporter who recently left the once-proud Croydon Advertiser. Worth also looking at Inside Croydon, the upstart blog which regularly pulls the “Sadvertiser”‘s pants down and is everything I wish 853 was.
This is the point where I should come in and cackle. Look at him with his so-called “blog”! But I can’t. I take great pride in much of what this website and the Charlton Champion has covered over the years. I’ve even given talks about it to fellow journalists. It’s good to be able to tell people about things you think they’ll be interested in.
But lone wolf blogs like this – and maybe even Inside Croydon – burn out eventually. Even the ones that take the line that everything is brilliant fade away because you can only tell that story once.
Most readers of this website will be aware that the content’s dried up a bit lately. That’s partly because I’m still dealing with complications from breaking my ankle five months ago that make it difficult to get around, and I haven’t had much time to catch up with stories like the Thames Path being closed again.
There’s no incentive for me to get out and do this in my own time – in fact, the reverse is true, particularly when my priorities in life are recovering from my injury and seeking some kind of paid employment. Six months ago, I was screamed at in a pub by a Greenwich Labour figure after I suggested he was in a better position to deal with the problems in his party’s council than I was. What’s the point in carrying on if that happens when you’ve gone out for a quiet drink?
So if the local newspaper model is bust, and lone wolf blogs burn out, where next? Greenwich Council had an opportunity to create a community paper out of Greenwich Time, but blew it by turning it into a propaganda sheet. (Incidentally, it is now planning to try again as a fortnightly, which could land it in more legal disputes.)
There’s the co-op model – the amazing Bristol Cable has over 1,200 members and has made an enormous impact with the kind of investigative journalism that has simply gone out of fashion in local papers. But this takes time and money – are enough people interested?
Or perhaps there’s room to try again with the local printed press – the monthly Greenwich Visitor and SE Nine show there’s still life away from the asset-stripping media giants. But who’s willing to take the financial risk?
The answer, ultimately, lies with you. As Guardian staffers are finding out, news doesn’t grow on trees. Would you be willing to support a local news co-op, or investing in a new paper (even only at the level of buying one each week)? I’d be very interested in your thoughts.
If you’re the kind of odd person who writes about local issues, and then you suffer a broken ankle, it means you miss some things. It means that you miss the complete disappearance of one of the area’s best-known buildings while you’re propped up not able to do very much.
So, where the “eco” Sainsbury’s in Greenwich once sat, there’s now an empty plot of land. Ikea took ownership last year, ahead of submitting its full planning application for a new store, and demolished the old store in the spring.
Instead of doing some landscaping to protect the land and make look a bit nicer (think of the green mounds outside Woolwich Tesco, awaiting redevelopment; or the green mounds that sat on what’s now the Lewisham Gateway building site), or even finding some ingenious use for the redundant store, Ikea left it empty. And we all know what happens with empty plots of land in this part of town.
Still, at least the travellers are making use of the site – as Ikea wasn’t – and might be able to keep an eye on the motorcyclists that recently started to race around the site.
None of this will be of any comfort to the site’s neighbours. Nor will this weekend’s news of four-hour delays around the new Ikea in Reading.
But never fear – despite this, despite the Silvertown Tunnel, despite the cruise liner terminal, despite the creation of new retail warehouses on the Charlton riverside – there is money for “the Town Centre and Trafalgar Road Low Emissions Neighbourhood proposal, [which] includes a series of car-free days in the town centre, an incentive scheme to encourage walking and cycling and an extensive series of mini parks throughout the area”.
Too little, too late feels an understatement. It’s like locking the gates once the travellers have moved their vans in…
Greenwich and Lewisham’s only bus service to east London, the 108, will be re-routed to run via the Olympic Park from October.
The current service runs through the Blackwall Tunnel to Stratford bus station, via the A12, Bow Flyover and Stratford High Street.
From 1 October, it will run via Chrisp Street in Poplar and Campbell Road in Bow, before running through Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to Stratford International station, with stops outside the London Aquatics Centre, Stratford station and the Westfield shopping centre. While the 108’s connection at Bromley-by-Bow tube station is lost, it gains a new one at nearby Bow Road.
But while 108 passengers will escape jams in Stratford town centre as well as on the A12 heading towards the Blackwall Tunnel, they could face new hold-ups due to traffic congestion on the East India Dock Road, which links Chrisp Street with the tunnel.
In its response to a consultation into the proposals – which sees the 108’s north-of-the-river route swapped with another service, the D8 – the agency admits that congestion could affect both routes.
TfL says: “We note this is a risk. However, in developing the scheme, regard was had to existing traffic conditions and it is considered possible for both routes to offer a good quality service to passengers. We will continue to monitor service quality on both routes to ensure a service is being provided.”
It’s also not known what will happen during West Ham home matches at the Olympic Stadium – the current D8 service is diverted during stadium events.
Larger buses, which can hold 70 people, will be used, providing some very limited relief for those caught in the 108’s notorious rush-hour overcrowding. There are no plans as yet to increase the number of buses, although details of a new contract to run the route are yet to be released.
Neither Greenwich nor Lewisham councils responded to the consultation, while Tower Hamlets objected to the changes.
This website mentioned the idea in 2013 as a partly tongue-in-cheek response to Greenwich Council’s “all out” campaign to build the Silvertown Tunnel. It was followed by a surprisingly high number of responses suggesting the switch to a TfL consultation into which routes should serve the Olympic Park.
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.
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.
Long-suffering readers will be aware that this website was the first to raise the issue of the diminishing amount of “affordable” and social housing on Greenwich Peninsula, back in April 2013. A year back, Greenwich Council lost a legal battle to keep secret the “viability assessment” council officers used to persuade councillors to increase the proportion of lucrative private housing on the peninsula.
Now Channel 4 News has looked into the issue, with a major investigation that’s taken some months to produce. It’s taken a broader view – revealing that just a quarter of new homes built under Boris Johnson on public land are “affordable”. As well as Knight Dragon’s Greenwich Peninsula, it also features Barratt’s Catford Green development (Catford dog track to the rest of us).
Shane Brownie, who took on Greenwich Council and features in the report, has also written about his experiences.
One thing missing from Channel 4’s investigation is the role of Greenwich Council in this – Labour assembly member Nicky Gavron criticises the actions of the Tory mayor, but isn’t quizzed about why one of her own councils allowed the Peninsula’s developers to railroad it into changing the housing mix there so it could grab £50 million in government grants. But otherwise, it’s a revelatory – and depressing – look at an under-reported aspect of London’s housing crisis.