It’s been the most dismal, depressing election campaign I can remember. If we’re voting, we’re voting for one man merely to stop the other bloke getting in. Something’s wrong with that.
For a campaign full of lies and smears, though, one of the final porkies took place above the skies of Greenwich. Wednesday’s Evening Standard devoted its page three to a big picture of the Greenwich cable car in operation, with words by City Hall reporter Peter Dominiczack, who’s seemingly spent the past few months simply taking dictation from the mayor’s team.
High above the Thames, London’s first cable car has its maiden flight.
Three gondolas were suspended in mid-air today after moving off just before 10am — the first test of the city’s newest river crossing.
The cars did not appear to be carrying any passengers, though they could transport athletes at the Olympics if they are completed in time and will eventually carry up to 10 people per trip.
Onlookers at North Greenwich, on the south side of the cable car run, were impressed by the project, despite its £60 million price tag, and said they hoped it would bring more people to the area.
Unfortunately for the Boris campaign rag, the gondolas have been under test for 10 days or so, as readers of greenwich.co.uk will know.
“The Emirates Airline cable car took a step closer to completion yesterday as moving cable car gondolas were sighted for the first time.”
All of which proves which news outfit you can trust in future, and which is only good for soaking up the cat litter. But what if Boris Johnson had done something more substantial with our local transport? How would we be feeling about him today? Here’s a blog post I could have written, if only he’d cared…
“Well if I can’t take London back to Victorian forms of transport, then what is the point of having a Conservative mayor?,” puffed Boris Johnson as he coasted over the Blackwall Tunnel approach and down the slope on his blue bicycle.
Ten minutes earlier, the mayor had cut the ribbon on something he could call his own. The New Tower Bridge, some critics were calling it. Tory-leaning bloggers were calling it the Boris Bridge. And that was the name that stuck.
But the sleek blue Diamond Jubilee Bridge, open only to pedestrians and cyclists, was the gamble upon which Boris Johnson was trying to win over the capital for a second term.
The project had its critics. Labour MPs called it a “vanity project”. The Evening Standard said “it is hard to see why the Mayor persists with this project when the hard-pressed motorists of Chelsea still have to pay an outrageous congestion charge,” referring to his controversial U-turn in 2011 on the charge’s western extension.
The £300m Diamond Jubilee Bridge, from the Isle of Dogs to North Greenwich, ended up having to be bailed out by Chancellor George Osborne when promised sponsorship money didn’t turn up. Could it be finished before campaigning begun in the mayoral election? Safety engineers had only cleared it the previous week, but as a the bridge’s arms lifted for a cruise liner to pass through with a lengthy toot of its horn, it was clear that this would be as important for the area as the Jubilee Line was thirteen years beforehand.
From a spiral ramp at Marsh Wall on the Isle of Dogs, the bridge crossed the Thames and the Blackwall Tunnel entrances, allowing passengers to walk or ride off in front of the O2 and the London Soccerdome.
Furthermore, the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme went live on the Greenwich Peninsula that morning, allowing residents in the new homes there to cycle to work instead of taking the Tube. A further extension into Greenwich itself, through Deptford and up into the Rotherhithe would go live after the Olympics.
When the mayor was brought over to the press by his ever-attentive PR handlers, he was in ebullient mood.
“These two parts of our great city are too important to be separated,” he said, fixing journalists in the eye one by one.
“Now, like Bonnie and Clyde or Antony and Cleopatra, they are joined together by this great monument to British engineering.
“The great joy of being a Londoner is that there is so much of this great city to explore,” he added, gesturing at the under-developed peninsula around him. “Now, thanks to this bridge, soon there will be so much more to explore here.”
But didn’t people want a road crossing, asked a reporter from a suburban freesheet.
“I think these people here are happy with this new bridge,” Boris said, gesturing to a crowd who obligingly cheered. Some carried blue balloons and leaflets, but there were also a large number of curious locals too.
He continued, fixing the reporter in the eye again.
“The real issue is that you’ll never get this area developed if it has another main road running through it. But if you make this an attractive place to walk around, have your lunch in, walk the dog in, then we’ll bring investment and prosperity to the Greenwich Peninsula.
“Now look, if we can build a matching bridge from Canary Wharf to Rotherhithe, then we’re linking up communities and bringing together more parts of this great city.
“This is why I can’t afford a cut in bus fares, I need to invest,” he added, itching to get back on the election trail.
The mayor’s Conservative colleagues weren’t wasting any time, handing out leaflets to cycle hire users at the new cycle stations in the Millennium Village and retail park. Not only were they confident of victory across London, but local activists say there are signs that the party could even land a councillor in the area for the first time in decades.
Indeed, the ‘Boris effect’ had reverberated across the borough of Greenwich as the local Labour party was forced to up its game. Concerned councillors held their first public meetings in years as they feared political rivals muscling in on their patch – and they didn’t like what they heard.
“He’s proved that he isn’t all about appealling to the outer suburbs. He could have taken the lazy option and wanted to build a third Blackwall Tunnel, and spent all his time pandering to people in Bexley, but he’s challenged us on our own doorstep instead,” one political rival said. “Ken Livingstone’s had to make more than a token appearance in Woolwich this time around.”
Local Conservatives were thrilled. “Now we can campaign across the borough, instead of hiding out in Eltham or at Abbey Wood station and leafleting people who live in Bexley, which is what we normally do,” one said.
“We can tell people that Boris hasn’t spent the past four years sucking up to the suburbs and the City – if he’d done that, it would have been a waste of four years, after all.”
After conquering Greenwich with his new bridge, Boris had one more revelation – that he’d been approached by the owners of the London Eye, who wanted to build a cable car between the O2 and the Royal Docks.
“We’ll have to see about that one,” he told reporters. “That’s for fun – nobody but a fool would take a cable car seriously,” he smiled, before turning and riding back to the Isle of Dogs, a crowd of cyclists following.
There’s information on the mayoral candidates and interviews with Greenwich & Lewisham’s London Assembly candidates at greenwich.co.uk. There’s more on the poll, and where to vote, at London Elects. Polling stations close at 10pm.
Over on guardian.co.uk, you can find me and other London scribes discussing the effects Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone have had on their areas.
My bit is illustrated by a picture of Charlton’s glitzy Victoria Way, but really it’s on about the scene if you walk down to the bottom of the road. The land in the picture above was originally earmarked for the Ken-era Greenwich Waterfront Transit scheme, canned by Boris a few years back. The GWT had been watered down from a tram to a bus by the time it was scrapped (and, indeed, would have run via Bugsbys Way instead of the planned dedicated road through the retail parks). But it was still a commitment to improving transport in the area, and it’s something that should have been up and running by now.
Instead, we got the cable car, which is very nice, but largely useless as a form of public transport. From the hill on Victoria Way, you get a lovely view of both the GWT wasteland (now due to be turned into a Travelodge) and the cable car – a quick summary of the past decade of London transport politics all in one glance.
With the campaign in full flow, you probably won’t find much mayoral stuff here unless it directly relates to south-east London, but I’ll be contributing to Snipe’s The Scoop.
Oh, and that bent-up “Woolwich Road SE7” street sign in the photo? It’s been left like that by Greenwich Council – sorry, Royal Greenwich – for 10 years after a car smashed into it, despite complaints from local residents who want to see it removed or replaced. Despite the splashing out on new signs in more high-profile areas, it shows just how Greenwich is happy to leave much of its patch looking anything but regal.
London mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone says he wants to see south east London’s rail network run by Transport for London – and says he’d agreed a deal to do just that before he was voted out of office in 2008.
Speaking to local residents and activists in Deptford last night, he said all London’s mainline rail services should be run along the lines of London Overground, the network he created in 2007 to take over run-down services in north London.
At present, Southeastern, along with other privately-run services, is free to set fares, acquire trains and decides on the level of service it wants to provide.
But under the model used for London Overground, TfL decides which services, trains and fares to offer – and keeps 90% of the revenue, leaving operator LOROL with the rest. Trains, stations and track have been upgraded, and the service linked with the old East London Tube line – and punctuality has shot up, along with passenger numbers.
Mr Livingstone told the audience:
If people can remember how bad the North London Line was – it was absolutely the worst railway line. We took it over, merged it with the East London Line, and it’s now Britain’s best railway. That cost one and a quarter billion pounds. It’s a lot of money, but it’s peanuts in terms of most major public investment projects.
If we ran all overland trains in London on that basis – if we can run a service that’s as reliable on our overground, why can’t South East Trains? [sic] They don’t give a damn. They’ve got a monopoly, they run a minimum service at the maximum fare.
One of the tragedies about my losing last time was that the Labour government had agreed to start transferring control of London’s overland train franchising to the mayor. They passed a law that allowed two people from outside London to on the TfL board to oversee it, and I was in negotiations with [transport secretary] Ruth Kelly to just take them over and run them like we do the Overground. And [Boris] Johnson just dropped all of that.
That’s something I want to come back to. It’s a power I want from the government, to become the franchising authority and set the same standard for south east trains as you’d expect from the London Overground. There’s absolutely no reason why it couldn’t be done.
With both the main challengers for next May’s election backing TfL taking over the rest of the capital’s mainline trains, and with TfL having commissioned a report into how this might work, it looks as if time could well be running out for the likes of Southeastern, whose franchise expires in March 2014.
It’s fair to say Southeastern won’t be missed, after recent fiascos with snow, the current saga of trains being mysteriously short of coaches and a continuing inability to communicate with passengers. Furthermore, recently-submitted planning documents show the company still plans to cut train services at many Greenwich line stations during next summer’s Olympics.
While some aspects of Southeastern’s service could be fixed relatively easily – such as staffing and customer service – it’s not clear where the sums needed to transform the train service would come from. On the down side, it could see the withdrawal of rail-only tickets in favour of travelcards and the more expensive, but more flexible fares that Tube and DLR users pay. But would this be a small price to pay for a much-improved service?
One thing is for sure – the political will is there, from both Ken and Boris. If you’re a hacked-off Southeastern commuter, it’s worth making sure both men – and their parties, the ones that created this mess in the first place – are well aware you want to see change.
With the coalition government considering longer train franchises for the rest of the country, we in south-east London might not get this chance again for many years.
8pm update: If you use Lewisham station, and find the locked exit on platform 4 (the one towards Blackheath) as annoying as I do, this petition may be right up your street…
To Deptford last night, where mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone held a question and answer session with locals and activists at the Lady Margaret Hall. He spoke a little on local trains, which I’ll post about later, but he said a few interesting things about the cable car under construction on the Greenwich Peninsula.
We know past schemes for cable cars there have been considered and dropped over the years, including one to East India DLR station for the millennium, and another plan for one to Canary Wharf. But the former mayor said he and O2 arena boss Philip Anschutz considered the same proposal as is now under construction by the Thames – and it was rejected because it was financially unviable.
Using a question about the cable car to close the session, he told his audience:
We looked at a cable car when Philip Anschutz bought the O2 – [it was] one of the things we looked at, as well as running that fleet of boats he’s got. It was exactly the same scheme, running from the O2 to the ExCeL centre. Philip Anschutz is one of the richest men in the world – but we decided the money just didn’t stack up. It’s a nice tourist attraction, but it’s not mass transit, and it’s a luxury you couldn’t afford.
Boris has this idea it’ll be a triumph, it’ll be open in time for the Olympics – at the moment it’s clearly not going to be open for the Olympics, and it’s now the most expensive cable car in human history.
We’ll have to finish it – but get a mayor who actually pays attention to the bottom line and the detail, because these things go wrong if you just do a grand gesture and not the day job.
While TfL chiefs have been at pains to dampen down the suggestion that the service will be open by the Olympics, the project has been criticised for its cost, currently estimated at £60m, which Boris Johnson is trying to recoup through commercial sponsorship and an application for European funds. Any money he doesn’t get back, though, comes out of TfL’s rail budget – and this is from something which originally was meant to be entirely privately funded.
Folly or not, it’s worth mentioning again that you can take a closer look at the works that are going on at an open morning at the site of what will be “Emirates Greenwich Peninsula” station, on Saturday 26 November from 10am-1pm.
Turns out Ken Livingstone was in Greenwich yesterday, visiting Ravensbourne college as part of his “Tell Ken” campaign visits to every London borough.
He was also due to meet residents in Woolwich town centre, was snapped outside Poundland in Eltham before holding a meeting in there last night. Wish I’d known now, I’d have made the journey to SE9 to see that.
The “once and future mayor” was due to go out campaigning with Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts – considering relations between the two are widely thought to be pretty frosty, that would have been good value too.
But did you know about his visit? I had no idea, but then I’ve been away. Did you meet Ken? If you did, what did you tell him – and what did the mayoral candidate tell you?
Or if, like me, you knew nothing of his trip, what would you have told him?
One-time and maybe next time’s mayor Ken Livingstone was in Plumstead yesterday, and my Scoop colleague Adam Bienkov grabbed a few words with him. Among other things, he came out against plans for a new river crossing at the Greenwich peninsula – the Silvertown Link.
Plans for a crossing have been around for years – with Livingstone himself wanting to build a bridge where Edmund Halley Way (pictured above) now sits. More recently, Boris Johnson has talked up these plans a bit more, promoting a tunnel across to Silvertown. The development masterplan for the peninsula has following the approval of the cable car scheme, which – if it actually gets built – will depart from what’s now a coach park to the east of Edmund Halley Way. The masterplan envisages two skyscrapers either side of Edmund Halley Way – again, if the cable car gets built – leaving room for a tunnel in the middle.
It’s this change to the vision for the peninsula that has prompted the U-turn from Livingstone.
The reason we went for the bridge and not the tunnel at Silvertown is because the bridge benefits a much wider area. If you look at the impacts of a bridge versus the tunnel you’re mad to do the tunnel, especially because a tunnel would be much more expensive. I’m also not sure you want to dump all that extra traffic in the area around the Greenwich Peninsula.
It’s a belated admission that the road network leading up to the peninsula simply couldn’t cope with the extra traffic that would be attracted by a third crossing coming off the A102, adding to the two Blackwall Tunnels. While the 42-year-old approach road is – effectively – a three-lane motorway, it soon drops down to two lanes in spells through Kidbrooke and Eltham, and homes right the way along the route would have been blighted by possible expansion plans.
Yet this didn’t stop there being support – or a lack of visible objections – from across the political spectrum. Conservatives were in favour, but the Silvertown Link was the local Labour party’s dirty secret too, with Eltham MP Clive Efford backing it in election material. Even the local Green Party – for whom I stood as a candidate in last year’s council elections – was reluctant to campaign against a development which would have catastrophic consequences for the quality of life in east Greenwich. Indeed, it’s as if a conspiracy of silence has surrounded the whole thing, with the local media ignoring comments last week from Boris Johnson that there was a “pressing need” for the crossing.
Further down the river, it’s less clear-cut. For Livingstone also reiterated his support for a Thames Gateway Bridge – the one Boris scrapped. But TfL still kept the plan on the drawing board, even floating the idea of a ferry at West Thamesmead until a bridge could be built. Ken wanted to build the TGB before the Silvertown Link – Boris wants to do it the other way around.
While some of the infrastructure to support the Thames Gateway Bridge is already there – half-finished junctions on dual carriageways either side of the river – the plan fell down thanks to fears of increased traffic through other neighbouring streets. As discussed before, some of the streets leading up to Thamesmead – such as Knee Hill in Abbey Wood – are no bigger than side roads. It’s suburban voters in the likes of Bexleyheath who demand extra river crossings for their cars – but the same suburban voters didn’t want the extra traffic around their areas, or to see green space built over to accommodate those cars.
It’s not quite clear how this problem gets solved without causing great disruption around areas like Abbey Wood and Bexleyheath. There’s no indication as to how Ken Livingstone would solve them, either.
I can’t help thinking he should offer a substantial public transport improvement alongside a road bridge – not just extra buses, but maybe an extension of a rail line across the bridge too.
Extend the London Overground from Barking across to Abbey Wood or Erith, creating new links deep into east and north London? Or bring the Hammersmith and City line across from Barking? Or maybe the DLR? If a bridge has to be built, it could be an opportunity to give Thamesmead the public transport it desperately needs. Anything less than that, and I suspect Ken will have another bitter fight on his hands – if he wins the fight to be elected next May, of course.
A little question came to mind when I took a ride on the Tube at the weekend…
It was bloody stupid for Ken Livingstone to get involved with Press TV, a channel backed by the Iranian government. Taking money from stone-throwing bigots isn’t wise when you’re seeking election to the London mayoralty. And as Adam Bienkov points out, it involves associating yourself with some dodgy characters, like cat-chops above, and a disreputable figure associated with SE London – that’s right, disgraced ex-Old Bexley and Sidcup MP Derek Conway.
So why is Boris Johnson taking their money too, in the form of ads on the London Underground network? We know he’s hardly choosy about who TfL gets its money from, but it seems odd to have your campaign team claim an association with Press TV is “embarrassing”, while taking advertising money from them. It may show an admirable commitment to free speech, granted, but I can’t help thinking it’s a bit inconsistent.