Greenwich Council refused a request to increase its funding for Blackheath fireworks after spending £17,000 on a Mickey Mouse stunt to promote a new cinema in Eltham, it has emerged.
Lewisham Council is now turning to controversial minicab service Uber to help fund the £87,000 display after Greenwich rebuffed a plea to up its funding from just £10,000.
The event, which regularly attracts 100,000 spectators, used to be jointly funded between the two boroughs, who share responsibility for the heath.
Greenwich withdrew its £37,000 share of the funding in 2010, claiming it could not afford to pay for the display because of government cuts. This left Lewisham to shoulder the costs alone, appealing for sponsorship and public donations while trimming the length of the display.
Since then, Greenwich has partly relented, offering £10,000 towards the cost of last year’s £96,000 display. Lewisham managed to raise £48,000 in sponsorship and public donations, but was still saddled with a £38,000 shortfall.
Greenwich is paying the same for this year’s display, but after spending £17,000 on a press launch for a new cinema in Eltham featuring Mickey Mouse and Buzz Lightyear characters. In May, it also blew £20,000 on an invite-only event to celebrate the borough’s new ceremonial mayor.
With public displays acknowledged as a key tool in keeping fireworks injuries down, Lewisham has been determined to keep the display going. This is despite the council coming under severe pressure from central government cuts and other changes to local authority funding.
The display also funnels huge numbers of people to pubs and restaurants in Greenwich, Blackheath and Lewisham, as well as boosting trade in other areas within walking distance such as Lee Green, Deptford and Charlton – districts which straddle both boroughs.
Seven weeks to confirm funding
Emails released under the Freedom of Information Act and passed to this website reveal that Lewisham unsuccessfully asked Greenwich to increase its share of the funding.
On 5 August, Lewisham head of culture and community development Liz Dart wrote to Greenwich assistant chief executive Katrina Delaney, pointing out: “We are under pressure to try and bring our subsidy down so if there was any way you could consider an increase to the £10,000 that would be greatly appreciated.”
Some of the correspondence has been redacted, so it is unclear whether Delaney addressed the request directly.
But it took over seven weeks and a follow-up email from Kellie Blake, Lewisham’s community engagement manager, for Delaney to confirm on 26 September that Greenwich would repeat its £10,000 donation.
So despite the event taking place on an open space shared between the two boroughs – and the possibility that the fireworks may actually be launched from within Greenwich, as has happened in the past – Greenwich is just classed as a sponsor of the event.
To help make ends meet this year, Lewisham has accepted backing from Uber, which is offering £5 for every free ride taken by new customers who sign up with a code.
Uber has been criticised for paying just £22,000 in UK corporation tax, while the GMB union has taken it to court claiming it treats drivers unlawfully. The firm is also the subject of frequent protests from traditional black taxi drivers. Only today, concerns about Uber have been linked to an inquiry by MPs into the “gig economy”.
This year’s display is expected to cost £87,700. Other sources of funding include housing association L&Q (£7,000), parks management company Glendale (£5,000), with a further £3,000 hoped to come from other donors such as Uber and estate agency Hamptons.
Lewisham is hoping to raise £11,000 in public donations and make £15,700 in sales at bars and food stands, leaving it with a £36,000 subsidy.
A Mickey Mouse affair in Eltham
Earlier this month, Greenwich Council leader Denise Hyland claimed finances were “down the bone”. But on 3 August, it found £17,000 for a stunt which featured Hollywood star lookalikes parading up and down Eltham High Street to promote its scheme to build a new cinema there.
The event on 3 August, which featured on little-watched local TV channel London Live, also appears in Eltham Labour publicity promoting MP Clive Efford.
Costs included £2,400 on 10 Disney and Marvel characters such as Minnie and Mickey Mouse and Spider-Man, and £6,580 on 14 lookalikes, which included likenesses of Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Will Smith and Daniel Craig.
The figures were obtained by Conservative councillor Spencer Drury, who wrote about them in a letter to the Mercury newspaper, asking why cinema operator Vue could not have funded the stunt, or the event could not have been held when the venue opens in autumn 2018.
The Mercury – which now carries Greenwich Council’s public notices following Greenwich Time’s closure – chose not to run Drury’s revelation as a story. Instead, it was buried on the letters page with a reply from council leader Denise Hyland.
She said: “Sometimes, even in times of austerity, it is important to design events for the community that bring people together to have fun and celebrate their local area with friends and neighbours.”
Like a fireworks display, perhaps.
Residents were invited to post selfies from the event on social media to win prizes. Only five people appear to have taken part on Twitter, with the same number appearing to participate on Instagram.
£20,000 on mayor’s party
Despite claiming to be too poor to fund Blackheath fireworks, Greenwich has also continued to spend £20,000 each year on a private event at the Royal Naval College to celebrate the inauguration of the borough’s ceremonial mayor.
This year’s invitees included Berkeley Homes chief John Anderson and Neil Smith, head of planning at Greenwich Peninsula developer Knight Dragon, according to documents released to this website under the Freedom of Information Act.
There had been some rumours that this year’s mayor, Olu Babatola, would ditch the event. But instead 400 guests saw a 40-strong choir perform while enjoying 90 bottles of wine as well as a menu including salmon goujons, tomato & goat’s cheese tart and crumbled spicy hake.
Most boroughs – including Lewisham – make do with much smaller events at their own town halls, with the public able to watch.
If Babatola did not cancel the event, then it’s unlikely his successor will – next year’s mayor is Peter Brooks, Chris Roberts’ former deputy, who cancelled the fireworks funding in 2010, claiming it would save “a job and a bit”.
Getting a fireworks display on the cheap
Greenwich’s parsimonious attitude to Blackheath fireworks has been a long-running embarrassment for many of the borough’s residents, who can see with their own eyes the benefits it brings to local businesses in both boroughs.
It remains one of the few remaining free displays in London, and funnels huge numbers of people to pubs and restaurants in Greenwich, Blackheath and Lewisham, as well as boosting trade in other areas within walking distance such as Lee, Deptford and Charlton.
It’s not even as if Greenwich needs to increase its own funding directly – the council is proud of its close links with developers, and could surely tap up the likes of Berkeley Homes or Knight Dragon for a donation or sponsorship to help ease Lewisham’s burden.
But Greenwich’s lack of interest shows us the council leadership is still more concerned with promoting itself through stunts like the Eltham lookalike parade, or retreating into a world of self-congratulation in the Old Royal Naval College.
Unlike their colleagues across the border, Lewisham Labour has made protecting the display a key policy, and both councillors and staff there go to great efforts to keep it going.
But with elected mayor Sir Steve Bullock stepping down at the 2018 election, his successor – who will take charge of an increasingly cash-strapped council – may take a different view.
If Greenwich councillors – and the Labour members who pick them – want to see the Blackheath fireworks continue, they may need to change their attitude – and fast.
To donate to Blackheath fireworks, visit http://www.lewisham.gov.uk/fireworks.
This has been kicking around for a few days, but as this website’s gong through a bit of an infrastructure phase, it’d be daft to ignore it – Transport for London’s commissioner has said the Bakerloo Line could be extended to Lewisham by 2030, running via the Old Kent Road and New Cross Gate. (See original London SE1 story and page 38 of the TfL commissioner’s report.)
But Mike Brown’s preferred plan is to build only a first phase to Lewisham – instead of extending the route over National Rail lines through Catford to Hayes.
It’s mixed news for Lewisham Council’s campaign to bring the Tube to the borough, as while Lewisham itself – undergoing rapid redevelopment – would get a much-needed Underground link, its southern neighbour faces being stuck with inferior overground services, despite also being home to big regeneration schemes.
On first sight, it appears a remarkably short-sighted proposal. If you consider how congested North Greenwich is now, a Bakerloo terminal at Lewisham – attracting passengers from all points south and east – could make that look calm and peaceful.
Furthermore, the really big costs would be in tunnelling to Lewisham – converting the old Mid-Kent rail route through Ladywell, Catford Bridge, Lower Sydenham and out to Hayes would be relatively cheap.
(Readers with very long memories will remember we’ve been here before – the original 1965 Jubilee Line (then Fleet Line) proposals would have seen the line extended in phases to run to Hayes by 1980.)
But as mentioned last year, Bromley Council has long been unhappy about losing direct trains to the City from Hayes – even though the Bakerloo can shift far more people, and is likely to be at least as quick for suburban travellers than existing services.
If Bromley’s rather inexplicable opposition continues, it’ll also remove one of the key benefits of the scheme – freeing up extra National Rail routes through Lewisham after the Hayes line is transferred to the Underground.
Of course, this does open up the opportunity for others to belatedly come in – last year the Eltham Labour Party agreed a motion backing a Bakerloo extension along the Bexleyheath line, a slightly more sensible proposal than the DLR on stilts on top of the A2.
Lewisham Council studied a variety of different options in a report five years ago, but its findings were largely ignored this side of the border. More recently, Greenwich Council has lent its backing to a Lewisham extension. Local Tories are also supporting the idea.
Bakerloo campaigners will now look at persuading London’s next mayor to look afresh at the scheme so he/she opts to implement the whole extension, rather than just a link to Lewisham. But with TfL losing all its government grant from 2019, the future of the whole scheme isn’t fully guaranteed yet.
17 December update: TfL has now published its full report into the Bakerloo line extension, confirming the above – and indicating that a route through Catford has not so much been kicked into the long grass, but booted into the pond, but also opens up the possibility of a route through Eltham and Bexleyheath to Slade Green. “Planning and engineering work for options to Lewisham will be undertaken on the basis of avoiding preclusion of a future onwards extension including to Hayes and potential other locations such as towards Bexleyheath. This will include working with stakeholders to safeguard necessary delivery of the infrastructure that may be required.”
Last month, this website revealed that one in 50 Greenwich borough residents could lose their right to vote under changes to the electoral register being introduced in December.
Now it’s emerged that the situation is worse in neighbouring Lewisham – with more than one in 20 voters set to fall off the register if they don’t act before 1 December.
Previously, the electoral roll was compiled by one member of each household filling in a survey form. Now, everybody who wants a vote has to apply individually.
Figures released by Lewisham Council under the Freedom of Information Act show that out of 195,863 voters in the borough, 10,730 face falling off the roll when councils switch to the new system on 1 December.
As in Greenwich, it is less well-off areas of Lewisham borough that face losing the most voters. Evelyn ward, which covers most of Deptford, risks losing 8% of its voters; while New Cross ward is set to lose 7.5%.
Lewisham kindly supplied a breakdown of how many voters are registered in each of these 19 wards, so these figures are more detailed than those offered by Greenwich.
|Evelyn (11,308 voters)||910 (8%)|
|New Cross (11,260)||852 (7.5%)|
|Lewisham Central (13,028)||842 (6.4%)|
|Rushey Green (9,766)||614 (6.3%)|
|Telegraph Hill (11,610)||697 (6%)|
|Brockley (12,518)||738 (5.9%)|
|Forest Hill (10,764)||631 (5.8%)|
|Perry Vale (11,264)||627 (5.5%)|
|Sydenham (11,129)||616 (5.5%)|
|Ladywell (10,060)||515 (5.1%)|
|Bellingham (10,308)||529 (5.1%)|
|Catford South (10,788)||549 (5.1%)|
|Whitefoot (9,913)||492 (4.9%)|
|Crofton Park (10,879)||494 (4.5%)|
|Downham (10,315)||450 (4.3%)|
|Grove Park (10,517)||442 (4.2%)|
|Blackheath (10,091)||393 (3.9%)|
|Lee Green (10,345)||339 (3.3%)|
Total “red matches” – those due to come off electoral register in 1 December 2015, as at 11 November 2015. Ward electorates as at 1 September. Source: Lewisham Council
Lewisham staff have been working to make sure people stay on the roll, and these efforts are highlighted in the council’s figures – 1,410 people have been put on the roll since 1 September.
While it’s true the change may also weed out names that shouldn’t be on the register – because they are dead, or are registered in two different places – the Labour Party has launched a “missing million” campaign to get people back on the electoral roll.
This isn’t just out of public service – proposals to cut the number of parliamentary constituencies from 650 to 600, which are set to particularly affect Labour’s urban heartlands, are likely to use 1 December 2015 as a reference date.
Seats in Greenwich and Lewisham are particularly under threat from the changes, which are likely to see many more seats span borough boundaries.
Lewisham Deptford, currently held by Vicky Foxcroft, is set to lose 6.2% of voters. Past plans to redraw constituencies first saw the Deptford area merged with Greenwich, before it was then joined with Rotherhithe.
PS. The Freedom of Information Act, which uncovered these figures in both Greenwich and Lewisham, is under threat. See four simple ways you can take action.
If you’ve been moved in recent days by reports of refugees fleeing Syria and want to donate clothes, sleeping bags or other items to the camp in Calais, then the Age Exchange centre in Blackheath Village is accepting donations from 9am-6pm on weekdays and 10am-5pm on Saturdays.
If you’re unsure about what to bring, take a look at the Lewisham for Refugees Facebook group, set up by Lewisham Central councillor Joani Reid. The priority seems to be men’s warm clothes and camping gear, but take a look at the latest lists there.
I’ve not seen any similar initiative in Greenwich borough, and nothing’s been publicised in this week’s Pravda – council leader Denise Hyland tweeted at the weekend that she expected the Government to meet any “unavoidable costs” of housing refugees.
Lewisham mayor Steve Bullock says the council is already “making preparations” to house its share of refugees. If you do know of anything, please let everyone know in the comments below (thoughts about the wider situation can go elsewhere, thank you).
Pictured above is just some of Saturday’s huge collection at non-league football club Dulwich Hamlet, which included sleeping bags, two guitars, clothes and toys.
Tuesday update: There is now an equivalent Facebook group for Greenwich borough.
Greenwich Council has joined the chorus of south London councils supporting an extension of the Bakerloo Line to Lewisham, Catford and Hayes, its counterparts in Lewisham heard last night.
Lewisham’s elected mayor Sir Steve Bullock rubber-stamped his council’s backing for TfL’s scheme at a cabinet meeting, endorsing a report urging transport bosses to act quickly to bring the Tube line south-east.
Deputy mayor Alan Smith revealed Greenwich’s support for the proposals during the meeting, which sees Greenwich join Southwark as well as its neighbour in backing the proposals.
Transport for London consulted late last year on an extension to the Bakerloo, which currently runs from Harrow & Wealdstone to Elephant & Castle.
Current proposals see the line running via either Old Kent Road or Camberwell and Peckham to New Cross Gate and Lewisham, before taking over the current mainline service through Catford and Lower Sydenham to Hayes. It’s also mulling over the possibility for a branch running to Bromley.
But TfL does not plan to open the extension until after 2030 – a long wait for areas which are already seeing huge amounts of home-building, particularly at Lewisham and Catford.
“We do now have Greenwich supporting us, and though it won’t directly benefit them, the fact that there are more people behind it helps our case,” Cllr Smith told Wednesday’s meeting at Lewisham Town Hall in Catford.
Lewisham has been exploring a Bakerloo extension for some years now, commissioning a report in 2010 which identified possible routes for the extension, which included routes into Greenwich borough.
But this was ignored by Greenwich under former council leader Chris Roberts, which has prioritised river crossings, so Greenwich’s backing for the new proposals under his replacement Denise Hyland is notable.
While there wouldn’t be a station within Greenwich borough, the council boundary passes surprisingly close to Lewisham station, which is also a hub for bus, DLR and rail services north and east into the borough.
To the south, Bromley Council remains cool on the idea of the Tube entering its borough – preferring to see Hayes remain connected to the National Rail network – with Cllr Smith saying had hadn’t seen a “significant shift in their thinking”.
“Bromley doesn’t seem to consider itself to be part of London, it certainly doesn’t consider itself to be part of the economics of London,” he complained.
“Trying to persuade them that this will be beneficial has proved to be extremely difficult, but this doesn’t mean we will stop trying.”
Last month, Bromley’s London Assembly member James Cleverly asked Mayor Boris Johnson what effect a Bakerloo extension to Hayes would have on journey times, clearly anticipating the answer would involve longer journeys. In fact, he was told trips would be quicker on the Bakerloo.
A Bakerloo extension which took over the Hayes line would free up space on National Rail tracks through Lewisham, creating an opportunity to boost rail services across south-east London.
Lewisham’s response to the consultation also outlines an idea for redeveloping Lewisham station – which even now is struggling as an interchange for passengers displaced by works at London Bridge – as well as suggestions for locations for stations on Old Kent Road.
It also floats the idea of a London Overground extension from New Cross to a “Lewisham South” terminal.
While Greenwich is now backing the Bakerloo proposal, it has not published a response; nor is it currently due to be discussed by councillors there.
A word on the video on this story – it’s the first time I’ve ever filmed a council meeting, using new legislation brought in last year.
It’s very quiet, but hopefully you can get the gist of what’s happening. It also includes some discussion of Lewisham adopting a borough-wide 20mph zone, a topic this site will return to at some point. Next time I do this, it’ll be in Greenwich and I’ll try to edit it properly…
I may be the first person to have used the new legislation to film a meeting in Lewisham. Stewart Christie has a small clip of a full council meeting in Greenwich here.
Lewisham asks that you inform the clerk of the meeting that you’re planning to film, then it’s all fine so long as you don’t get in the way or focus on members of the public – although it’s hard to do it unobtrusively without furniture getting in the way, as you’ll see here, where New Cross councillor Joe Dromey is hidden by a chair.
It’s also worth pointing out here that Lewisham operates a different system to Greenwich – here, the elected mayor takes all decisions and cabinet members propose, advise and scrutinise, so no vote is taken. In Greenwich, cabinet members vote on issues, usually deciding positions outside of public meetings.
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.
Greenwich Council could be on the brink of a welcome U-turn over the traditional Blackheath fireworks display, whose long-term future is at risk thanks to Greenwich’s refusal to join Lewisham Council in funding the display.
The display, due to take place this year on 1 November, began in the 1980s as a joint event between the two boroughs. But Greenwich pulled its £37,000 funding in 2010, leaving Lewisham to raise the funds for an event which takes place on the border of the two boroughs.
With Lewisham facing steep budget cuts, the £100,000 display – which attracts 100,000 people to Blackheath and fills pubs and restaurants in both boroughs – is unlikely to survive without funding from both councils.
But on Friday evening, Greenwich Council’s press office tweeted it had “initiated discussions with Lewisham Council about how we might be able to support their (fireworks) event in an agreed partnership”.
It’s worth pointing out that Greenwich didn’t promote the event at all last year.
On Monday, Greenwich repeated this non-statement on its website, although funnily enough it hasn’t made it into its propaganda weekly Greenwich Time.
When it canned funding for the fireworks in 2010, Greenwich’s then-deputy leader Peter Brooks claimed budgetary pressures led to the decision, a claim that’s looked increasingly ridiculous over the years, with Greenwich blowing £500,000 on the Tall Ships Festival earlier this month.
But if Greenwich Council is sincere in wanting to help the event, perhaps it could start by cancelling a private party it’s continued to hold despite pleading poverty – the annual mayor-making ceremony.
Most councils inaugurate their mayors in simple ceremonies at town halls, which anyone can pop along to watch. (Incidentally, this is all alien in Lewisham, whose residents elect a mayor – Sir Steve Bullock – to run the council. In Greenwich, the mayor is elected by councillors to be a ceremonial figurehead.)
Here’s Waltham Forest’s mayor getting a round of applause from his peers in 2013.
This isn’t good enough for Greenwich, which supplements this town hall event with a full-on inauguration ceremony at the Old Royal Naval College, with 400 invited guests. Were you invited? Nah, me neither.
This year’s event, for current mayor Mick Hayes, cost Greenwich taxpayers £13,385. It featured a speech from the mayor (which you can read here, thanks to the Freedom of Information Act), a speech from leader Denise Hyland (again, you can read it here thanks to FOI). Guests also enjoyed a menu which included Morrocan lamb skewers, crumbled spicy hake and, er, “crudities”.
So, who attends these bashes? Let’s have a look at who was invited – again, supplied under the Freedom of Information Act.
Most of the Labour councillors are on the list, together with a few Tories – all in this together, eh? – along with a load of local worthies, faith leaders and property developers, including representatives from Cathedral Group, Galliard Homes, Berkeley Homes and Greenwich Peninsula developer Knight Dragon. Essentially, it’s a big networking bash that, if you’re a Greenwich taxpayer, you’re picking up the tab for.
The event used to cost £30,000, but the cost has dropped in recent years after the Old Royal Naval College waived its fee for hiring out the Painted Hall. But at £33 per head, there’s very little that ordinary taxpayers in Greenwich get out of this indulgent bash, other than a tedious write-up in Greenwich Time, which probably goes straight in the bin. At least the Blackheath fireworks (£1/head) help local businesses and prevent pyrotechnic misadventures.
Greenwich Council knows the mayor-making is a touchy subject. In 2011, it was mooted that incoming mayor Jim Gillman could axe the ceremony – but he never carried through with the idea. And in 2013, when the celebration went ahead despite the murder of Lee Rigby the same day, Greenwich Time twice misleadingly claimed the event took place in Woolwich Town Hall.
But still, it goes on. There’s a broader issue about how Greenwich Council relates to its residents, and the mayor’s bash is certainly emblematic of all that is wrong with the council’s approach. But quite simply, while the mayor-making goes on, claims of poverty and cuts simply won’t wash.
And in these gloomy days of ongoing austerity, if there is a few quid to be spared for entertainments, then it’s best spent on something we can all enjoy, rather than on a slap-up meal for hangers-on and fat cats.
Next year’s mayor is likely to be Norman Adams, who by all accounts is a thoroughly decent chap and almost a part of the council furniture, having been there since 1978. If the Charlton Athletic season ticket-holder really wants to contribute something good in his mayoral year, he could can next year’s ceremony and insist the cash is spent on something worthwhile instead.
So we wait and see just what comes out of these belated talks between Greenwich and Lewisham about the fireworks. But there’s one man who could help give them a mighty push forward. So, please, step forward, Norman – and give us all something to smile about.
You can donate money to the Blackheath fireworks display on the Lewisham Council website.