The election doesn’t stop Greenwich Time – it just removes councillors from its pages for a few weeks. But the weekly paper remains to subtly associate the council with Good Things in the area, and to drone on about “royal borough” this and “royal borough” that.
This week’s Good Thing is the rescuing of Kidbrooke’s Hervey Road Playing Field, which has had the threat of redevelopment hanging over it for years now. There’s a council press release on it too, linking it to other Good Things such as improvements to nearby Hornfair Park.
Except the only threat to Hervey Road Playing Field came from… Greenwich Council. Until 2011, the council had been planning to move Willow Dene special school from Plumstead to the site, until it became clear that building on open land wasn’t going to be a popular option – particularly with the tenacious Save Hervey Road Sports Field campaign in full swing.
“It is clear that the process to secure planning consent for a development at Hervey Road might produce challenge, given its current use and planning designation for Community Open Space in the Unitary Development Plan,” a paper presented to Greenwich Council’s cabinet in July 2011 said with some understatement.
So the council backtracked, Willow Dene stayed in Plumstead and now has a brand new building; and finally Hervey Road field has been declared safe. It should never have taken this long.
Of course, those who only see Greenwich Time – like those who lived in East Germany’s “valley of the clueless” because they never saw western TV – won’t know the full story. Hervey Road got a happy ending – but it’s just another little example of how the council abuses its dominant weekly paper to shape perceptions of itself.
It’s a relief to be able to write about some unalloyed good news – Transport for London is consulting on extending the Bakerloo Line to Lewisham, Catford and Hayes.
Sure, the extension might be at least a decade and a half away, and plans for a Tube to Lewisham have been kicking around since the 1940s, but it’s welcome to see proposals being dusted down – hopefully it’s for real this time.
Two routes from the Elephant to Lewisham are on offer – one via the Old Kent Road, with heaps of sites awaiting redevelopment (and designated a mayoral “opportunity area“); and another via Camberwell and Peckham Rye, where existing services are heaving.
Whichever route is chosen, the line will then pass through New Cross Gate and down to Lewisham before taking over the existing National Rail service from Ladywell to Hayes. That’s an indication of just how old this scheme is – many of the big Tube expansions of the 1930s and 1940s came about by taking over mainline services. But it would free up some space at the awkward rail junction at Lewisham, as well as creating more room for services on the main line to Kent.
There’s also an option for the line to run to Beckenham Junction and possibly through new tunnels to Bromley.
Lewisham Council has been quietly pushing the case for a Bakerloo Line extension for some time – a 2010 report for the council even mulled over an extension through Blackheath to Bexleyheath and Dartford. Think of the benefits that could bring to Kidbrooke Village…
But what’s on the table now could transform much of the borough of Lewisham. That said, here are two blots on the beautiful Bakerloo landscape that supporters will need to watch out for.
Firstly, Labour MPs. Seriously. Despite the fact that the extension’s being heavily promoted by Lewisham Labour Party, up popped Streatham MP Chuka Umanna and Dulwich MP Tessa Jowell a couple of weeks ago, briefing the Evening Standard that “a growing population of younger people would be served if the line goes further west instead — to Camberwell, Herne Hill and Streatham”. In other words, “screw you, Lewisham”. Rather unfortunate, but Umanna has form – he came out with the same cobblers five years ago. You’d think London mayoral wannabe Tessa Jowell would know better, mind.
Secondly, Bromley Council. This website understands the Tory authority’s been reluctant to take part in talks to push the extension. It’s possible Bromley’s worried about losing the National Rail link from Hayes – many weekday trains run fast from Ladywell to London Bridge, providing a relatively speedy link into town. Bromley’s support would be vital for the line progressing beyond Lewisham – will the chance of a further extension sway them?
So there’s plenty to play for. I suspect the Old Kent Road option will come out on top – which will be harsh on Camberwell, first promised a Bakerloo extension in 1931. But it’s all about the “opportunity areas”, which is why a link to Bromley is mooted rather than, say, extending the line a couple of miles slightly further to isolated New Addington.
Consultation papers also indicate that an extension of London Overground services from New Cross is also being considered, although papers presented to Lewisham on Monday indicate that this could be a link to Bromley rather than to Kidbrooke. If Greenwich councillors want to see Kidbrooke and Eltham better connected, they should speak up now. And if you want to see south-east London better connected, then you should speak up now too.
Thought demolishing the Ferrier Estate would rid Kidbrooke of tower blocks? Think again – these are the first images of the 31-storey tower planned as a new centrepiece for the Kidbrooke Village development, currently being built by Berkeley Homes.
The plans for the third phase of the Kidbrooke Village development were revealed at an exhibition earlier this month, and the information boards have now been published online.
The centrepiece is a 31-storey “landmark residential tower”, surrounded by “pocket towers” of 8 to 15 storeys high. There would be restaurant/cafe and retail space at the foot of the tower, which would provide 143 homes.
Berkeley’s plan would supersede the existing scheme which limits the towers to 15 storeys, which itself replaced a plan keeping them at nine storeys.
The tower replaces plans for a hotel and “is designed to create a vertical community, able to live and enjoy recreation through the provision of well-orientated common areas and amenity spaces”.
It would also be the tallest building for miles around – beaten locally only by Deptford’s Convoys Wharf, which would boast a 40-storey tower.
The Kidbrooke tower would equal the highest tower planned for Greenwich Peninsula, which would have 31 storeys. Berkeley has permission for 21-storey towers in Woolwich, Lewisham’s completed Renaissance Tower is 24 storeys high while Deptford’s Distillery Tower weighs in at 27 storeys.
The presentation also details plans for blocks of eight to 18 storeys on land close to Blackheath’s Cator Estate, a conservation area.
The scheme would add would add a further 877 new homes to Kidbrooke Village, taking the total to over 5,000, making it denser than the original Ferrier Estate. There’s no word on how many of these homes will be “affordable” or for social rent – the scheme was due, overall, to deliver 38% “affordable” housing.
But transport infrastructure changes are minimal – with a new Kidbrooke rail station (but the same old service) and a partial reversal of the bus cuts which took place last summer – with TfL already planning to re-route the B16 bus back into the eastern side of the development. But there’s no sign of any serious upgrades to local transport.
Eltham-based community magazine SE Nine, which revealed the plans a couple of weeks ago, reports the proposals “could only have been put forward with the tacit approval of senior councillors and officers” at Greenwich Council – although with the final planning board ahead of May’s election due to meet on 9 April, it looks too late to squeeze it through before the poll, Ikea-style, as no planning application has yet been submitted.
But the close links between council leader Chris Roberts and Berkeley Homes can’t be denied – the leader likes its Royal Arsenal development so much, he bought one of the flats in 2009 (see Land Registry record above). Last year, Berkeley helped Roberts’ campaign for a Silvertown Tunnel. And in January this year, the council’s weekly newspaper Greenwich Time published this odd letter about Berkeley’s charitable arm…
Pleasant and approachable, eh? Clearly this was an attempt to deflect some of the bullying accusations against the leader. Yet Chris Roberts’ exercise in vanity begins to look foolish when you remember how closely his council’s ambitions for Kidbrooke Village depend on Berkeley’s financial position.
According to a confidential report passed to this website, in December 2012, a year before Roberts’ bash, both Greenwich Council and London mayor Boris Johnson agreed to waive their rights to a share of some sales profits from the scheme after Berkeley complained of an £83 million shortfall. In return, the housebuilder would start work on the “village centre” which it said would make the scheme viable.
Cabinet member Denise Hyland – widely thought to be Roberts’ preferred successor if he stands down after May’s poll – backed the move, and a few months, one Sainsbury’s Local and a housing boom later, the place was in rude health once again. If this is the kind of tough decision about a developer your council has to make, it’s not wise to be buddying up with them in public.
As a private firm, Berkeley is only doing its job, getting the best possible return for its shareholders. But is Greenwich Council up to the challenge of doing the same for its residents? We’ll see in the weeks and months to come in the way it deals with the giant tower of Kidbrooke.
Some of Greenwich’s most high-profile development sites suffer from air pollution far in excess of European limits, research carried out for No to Silvertown Tunnel has revealed.
Volunteers, including myself, used tubes to record the pollution in the air at over 50 locations close to the A102, A2 and A206 for four weeks during June, using similar methods used by Greenwich Council for its own pollution records. Over half the tubes came back with readings over 40 μg/m3, the EU limit.
The Woolwich Road/ Blackwall Lane junction in Greenwich, outside where new homes are now being built by developer Galliford Try, recorded 70 micrograms per cubic metre. The site is opposite the flagship Greenwich Square development, which will include homes, shops and and a leisure centre.
With Greenwich Council and London mayor Boris Johnson backing a Silvertown Tunnel, which will attract more traffic to the area, the figures can only get worse.
The figures will be discussed at a public meeting at the Forum at Greenwich, Trafalgar Road, SE10 9EQ on Wednesday (tomorrow) at 7pm.
Further south, high readings were recorded in Eltham at Westhorne Avenue, Eltham station and Westmount Road, where the A2 forms a two-lane bottleneck. Local MP Clive Efford supports the Silvertown proposal, despite compelling evidence that it will make traffic in his constituency worse. So do local Conservatives – even though we recorded a big fat 50 μg/m3 outside their local HQ.
What’s more, when we contacted Greenwich Council to tell it we intended to place pollution tubes on its lamp posts, we discovered it had been collecting its own statistics since 2005.
But mystifyingly, no figures were published since 2010 – until now. We obtained the results through a Freedom of Information Act request, and have published a full archive on the No to Silvertown Tunnel website.
These borough-wide stats bear out our own research, revealing that the borough’s worst location is outside Plumstead station – possibly due to the bus garage being nearby, but also a regular scene for heavy tailbacks.
Despite the council also pressing for a road bridge at Gallions Reach, it appears to have made little serious attempt to record pollution levels in the Thamesmead and Abbey Wood areas, which would be affected by such a scheme as well as emissions from London City Airport.
The whole borough has been an air quality management zone for 12 years, which makes Greenwich Council’s position on road-building even more mystifying. Its decision to stop publishing air quality reports smacks of carelessness at the very least. Pollution has become the council’s dirty secret.
If you drill down into the statistics, you’ll actually find air quality gradually improving in some areas. But in places where traffic remains heavy, it’s stubbornly awful.
Incidentally, the tubes are very easy to install and relatively cheap – if local groups find Greenwich Council’s response to pollution wanting, it’s simple for them to carry out their own studies, just as we did. Indeed, we were inspired by a study done by the Putney Society – so it should be easy for groups in Greenwich, Blackheath, Eltham and Charlton, or elsewhere, to follow suit.
Greenwich Council continues to back new road schemes on the grounds that they will take traffic off existing roads – despite a heap of evidence that proves the opposite. Indeed, studies show new roads simply increase traffic by making road travel more attractive.
It also claims economic benefits for new schemes – but it hasn’t been able to produce a shred of evidence that this is the case. And will it take the health costs from the extra pollution caused by yet more traffic on local roads into account?
Even more perplexing is that neighbouring boroughs don’t want Silvertown – leaving Greenwich’s Labour council in a position where it’s just a figleaf for a Conservative mayor’s scheme. If Greenwich opposed it, would Boris really go ahead?
So how can we persuade local decision-makers to wake up and realise they’re backing a scheme would could be disastrous? Well, we thought we’d invite them to our meeting, where they can hear from experts and see what results we got.
Here’s the response from Don Austen, Labour councillor for Glyndon ward.
Incidentally, Don’s ward not only contains the borough’s filthiest air, his own home is very close to Charlton Village – where air quality also breaks EU rules. We had a few other responses that were nicer, but it’s hard to dispel the feeling that Greenwich’s councillors simply aren’t taking this seriously.
That said, some of the nominees to be Labour’s candidate for for Greenwich & Woolwich are alert to the dangers of blindly following a Conservative mayor’s policy. Lewisham councillor Kevin Bonavia (whose own council opposes Silvertown) voices his concern in his manifesto: “According to a recent GLA report, 150 deaths per year across the borough are caused by air pollution. We shouldn’t be encouraging more traffic in already concentrated areas.”
And yesterday, outsider Kathy Peach took aim not just at the proposal, but the way Greenwich Council has handled it:
I’m not convinced Boris Johnson’s Silvertown Tunnel is the answer. Nor do I believe there’s been an informed democratic debate about it.
I have heard from several quarters that Labour councillors who oppose the scheme have been banned from voicing their opposition in public… the fact that such stories gain traction points to something insular and complacent about our local political culture. We need a breath of fresh air. Let’s get rid of stale tactics and encourage a vigorous inclusive open debate. We need to bring the community along with us – otherwise other parties will jump into the gap.
Hopefully we’ll see Kathy, and Kevin, and others, and hopefully you, down at the Forum tomorrow night. If you’re sceptical, feel free to come along and lob some tough questions.
But if Greenwich councillors won’t listen, and Boris Johnson won’t listen, then we need to find our own way forward – because this is a battle that can be won.
And we might even have some fun on the way. If you want to help, come along tomorrow night.
No to Silvertown Tunnel public meeting: Wednesday 16 October, 7-9pm, Forum at Greenwich, Trafalgar Road, London SE10 9EQ. Speakers are transport consultant John Elliott, the Campaign for Better Transport’s Sian Berry, King’s College London air quality expert Dr Ian Mudway and Clean Air London’s Simon Birkett.
PS. If you have the time, it’s worth reading the 1994 Government report Trunk Roads and the Generation of Traffic. These studies are backed up by another report, published in 2006 for the Countryside Agency and Campaign to Protect Rural England.
Like most of the good things Boris Johnson promotes, this is another one that actually started under the previous mayor. Yesterday’s Ride London Freecycle – once the London Freewheel – was great fun as ever.
But getting to the start at Tower Hill and back showed how far London has to go in really becoming a cycling city, and how little progress has been made since then. A weekend of two-wheeled fun is one thing, but the real hard work is in making sure the whole capital is a city fit for cycling.
On the way up there via Blackheath, I saw a cyclist wearing a Ride London bib pull out of Westbrook Road into Kidbrooke Park Road, a road which makes for hairy riding at the best of times. But he didn’t pull out onto the carriageway, he did a left onto the pavement and cycled up that instead. I couldn’t help wondering if he’d actually just taken a train to Blackheath rather than cycled all the way back.
I took a friend who was riding in London for the first time, and while cycling along the Thames Path isn’t the quickest way to get to central London, it’s certainly the most scenic and pleasant. And riding over Tower Bridge is usually great fun. It wasn’t yesterday, though – a bottleneck of traffic and a badly-parked ice cream van meant it was slow and unpleasant going – and this was the main route into the Freecycle for many from south of the river. On the other side, there were people wheeling their cycles back on the pavement, rather than taking on the traffic. I even saw a bike being carried on top of a car, but that could have been unrelated. Closing this iconic old bridge to motor traffic was clearly a step too far for a “cycling city”.
The Freecycle itself was great – it’s been made bigger, thankfully, cutting the bottlenecks of the past. Being surrounded by children having a whale of a time was something special. But while making loads of noise in the Blackfriars Underpass was fun, I saw a couple of nasty crashes – when it’s sunny outside the underpass, it takes a while for your eyes to adjust to the lack of light inside.
On the way back, we took one of the few genuine innovations that has done some good – Cycle Superhighway 3, through Wapping and Poplar, before swooping down through Cubitt Town to the Greenwich Foot Tunnel. It’s a step above the other cycle superhighways, but while linking the route up has been a good thing, CS3’s separated cycle lanes – and traffic signals – were there long before blue paint was slapped down.
How easy did Transport for London make it to get back from Ride London? By not bothering to adjust the traffic signals, long queues of cyclists built up at the end of Royal Mint Street, where they were only given eight seconds to cross Leman Street. Clearly TfL’s “smoothing traffic flow” only applies to those on four wheels.
For all the great fun of Ride London, including this weekend’s amazing sight of amateur and pro cyclists charging down the A12 and through the Docklands for the London Surrey Classic (next time, how about through the Blackwall Tunnel and out to the North Downs?) it’s not going to do a single thing to make the streets safer for cyclists.
At the moment I’m watching the BBC’s Ride London coverage, where an elected politician is being treated once again as a national treasure. “It’s a magnificient symbol of what we’re doing for cycling in this city,” Boris Johnson told an interviewer, unchallenged, less than a month after two cyclists were killed in a week in central London. If Michael Gove held a national spelling competition, he wouldn’t be allowed to get away with saying it was a symbol of what he was doing for education. So why does the mayor of London get away with it?
It’s easy to shut roads for a weekend’s pedalling party, but the real hard work is in making it easy for people to cycle to work, to school, to the shops. Maybe with the appointment of Andrew Gilligan as cycling commissioner, we will finally to get somewhere with this (except in the rotten borough of Greenwich). But until we see concrete evidence (or rather tarmac evidence), while Freewheel/Skyride/Freecycle will continue to be a success in its own right, it’ll also be a symbol of a wider failure.
Update 00.15 Monday: The Ride London website quotes Boris Johnson talking about 50,000 “amateur cyclists” on Saturday’s Freecycle – does that mean people who drive cars are “amateur motorists”? It’s very unlikely Johnson came up with those words himself, but this City Hall clanger won’t do any good in persuading people that cycling is a thing that normal people do to go to the shops or wherever.
Today’s your last chance to do something people have been able to do for 34 years. After 00.35 tonight, Kidbrooke’s Ferrier Estate will no longer have a bus service for the first time since 1979.
Mind you, there’s no longer a Ferrier Estate to serve. The last remnants of the estate came down in the past couple of weeks, and the smart new Kidbrooke Village development is taking shape. While the new homes have gone up, and new occupants have moved in, routes 178 and B16 have been among the few things to have stayed the same. Not any more.
You’d think the ability to take a bus to your door would be a huge selling point. But developer Berkeley Homes is changing the road network on the old estate – from Saturday, the link under Kidbrooke Park Road which links Tudway Road to Moorhead Way will be closed for good. Which means no more buses.
All of which has been approved by Greenwich Council for a long time. Unfortunately, what nobody took into account was that it wasn’t just Kidbrooke Village that would lose its buses. Sandwiched awkwardly between the Ferrier and the private Blackheath Cator Estate is the Brooklands Park estate. It’s completely cut off from any public roads – there’s a short footpath to Moorhead Way to the west, and to the north, south and east it’s surrounded by the Cator Estate’s private roads, which shut their gates during rush hours. For many people on Brooklands Park, the 178 and B16 are lifelines.
Who did Greenwich Council blame for Greenwich Council’s decision to endorse shutting the roads, cutting off the Brooklands? Why, Transport for London! When Brooklands residents petitioned the council earlier this year, the response said while Berkeley Homes was willing to build a turning circle on Moorhead Way, it was putting pressure on TfL to pay for it. (See the second petition document here and the TfL consultation for more.)
Indeed, council leader Chris Roberts used the issue to call for Greenwich Council to be given powers to run bus services, instead of TfL, even though it was a problem caused entirely by his own council and its chums at Berkeley Homes.
Fast forward to July, and what’s in council propaganda weekly Greenwich Time?
That’s actually a lie. There are no new bus routes. Greenwich Time has long been used to mislead, but the porkies are starting to get bigger.
And whats this?
Yes! It’s a turning circle! From Saturday, while the 178 will run straight up Kidbrooke Park Road, the B16 will use this turning circle so Brooklands residents get some buses. The Brooklands residents will lose a bus to Lewisham and Woolwich, but keep one to Eltham. But how did that pressure on Transport for London to pay for it go?
“After further consultation and discussion, the council and Berkeley Homes agreed to fund a turning circle on Moorhead Way, close to Wingfield School.”
So, surreally, here’s two residents’ association types, cabinet member Denise “foot tunnels” Hyland and Berkeley chair John Anderson celebrating… bus service cuts not being as bad as they could be, and Greenwich Council and Berkeley Homes having to make good their own mistake. Well done everybody, well done.
This won’t be the last transport worry to affect Kidbrooke Village. Plans include a “new transport hub”, presumably replacing the horrible Henleys Cross bus stops, the very worst in crap 1990s transport design. Yet it’s not clear what transport will be serving what will soon be a ballooning population – and whether the rail service through Kidbrooke will be able to cope.
Woolwich’s Royal Arsenal development is set to get 21-storey tower blocks after Greenwich Council’s planning board backed an application from Berkeley Homes tonight. (Thanks to Eltham North councillor Nigel Fletcher for the tweet from the town hall.)
The board voted 3-2 for the plans, which will dramatically change the shape of Woolwich, and the riverside, introducing a series of tower blocks between 14 and 21 stories high, blocking Woolwich town centre off from the river.
The existing Royal Arsenal Gardens park will be to a narrow strip between the towers.
Berkeley’s proposals have been heavily criticised by Arsenal residents and one of the three local councillors, John Fahy, who branded it “wholly inappropriate”.
He added in a video posted to his blog earlier this week: “The whole of Woolwich, and the whole of Greenwich, see the river as important to them. It shouldn’t be overshadowed by high residential blocks that will be there not necessarily for local residents, but those who want to invest from other parts of the world.”
Planning chair Ray Walker (Labour, Eltham West), vice-chair Steve Offord (Labour, Abbey Wood) and cabinet member Sajid Jawaid (Labour, Plumstead) voted for the proposal. Voting against were Hayley Fletcher (Labour, Kidbrooke with Hornfair) and Geoff Brighty (Conservative, Blackheath Westcombe), while Clive Mardner (Labour, Abbey Wood) abstained.
Now Berkeley Homes – the council’s development partner at the former Ferrier Estate, now Kidbrooke Village – have had their way, it will be interesting to see whether the company which is set to gain a handsome profit from tonight’s decision finally comes up with the cash to fit out the Crossrail station at Woolwich, an issue featured here last month.
After paying £25m for the station site to be excavated, so far Berkeley has refused to come up with the £100m for the rest of the station – expecting Transport for London, the Government and Greenwich Council to cough up.
Interestingly, Berkeley chairman Tony Pidgeley joined London mayor (and TfL chair) Boris Johnson on a trip to the Middle East earlier this month, while last month, regeneration councillor Denise Hyland said she was “chipper” about the prospects of the council not having to fund the station.
Intriguingly, an image of the proposed station appeared in the council’s weekly newspaper Greenwich Time in February, bearing the name “ROYAL ARSENAL WOOLWICH” – the name of Berkeley’s development. Previous images have seen the legend “WOOLWICH STATION” above the entrance.
Footnote: If Woolwich finally does get a Crossrail station, it’ll have done better out of Berkeley Homes for transport than Kidbrooke. Greenwich Council has handed over control of the roads through the old Ferrier Estate to Berkeley, which is duly planning, with council approval, to close the roads, forcing the 178 and B16 buses away from the new Kidbrooke Village development.
Residents in the adjoining Brooklands Park estate have been left high and dry by this – but Berkeley Homes is refusing to reverse its decision, instead pressing Transport for London – with Greenwich Council backing – to pay for a turning circle so buses can run up to Brooklands Park and back. (See the second petition document here, and the TfL consultation for more.) So far, though, TfL appears to be trying to call Berkeley’s bluff, and says it is happy to reroute the B16 service “if a suitable turning circle can be provided”.