You could see this on Wednesday night if you nipped into Greenwich Council’s regular full meeting, or if you watch it online. As ever, it was a festival of defensiveness. Angry residents raised the privatisation of musculoskeletal services at Greenwich GP surgeries (and got qualified support from councillors); a fishy-looking deal to lease the Hervey Road playing field in Kidbrooke to Blackheath rugby club (and were ignored); and Greenwich using Savills estate agents to assess 20% of its housing stock (it insists council housing isn’t under threat).
These are stories not being covered elsewhere. People have kindly been in contact with me about all these things – but operating on my own, I simply don’t have the resources to follow them up.
Thankfully, the Mercury’s sole reporter/news editor Mandy Little was in the gallery too, so hopefully some of these will get an airing. But she can’t always get down there, and there are just too many stories for one person to cover.
Over at the News Shopper, they’re moving to a system where one person effectively produces the whole paper – lovely if you want a press release to go into the paper without touching the sides, bad for actual journalism. No wonder why the journalists have been on strike again.
This means one of the checks and balances of civic society has effectively disappeared. And when they’re all caught napping, you can get a horrible surprise. So it was this week, with bad news across the borough boundary.
Last orders at the RavensbourneIt’s emerged via social media that Lewisham’s Ravensbourne Arms pub is closing on Sunday.
It’s only been open five years, having been transformed from the grim Coach and Horses by pub outfit Antic. It’s a terrific boozer and a favourite of mine. So please indulge me here.
It also hosted the first meeting of the short-lived Lewisham branch of the National Union of Journalists, where I gave a talk about this website and the dire state of local journalism in SE London. Sadly, what remains of local journalism missed the warning signs about the Ravensbourne. They weren’t the only ones.
Antic isn’t commenting on the closure beyond a short statement thanking customers and confirming a move to new premises in the old Market Tavern/Quaggy Duck site further up Lewisham High Street.
But it’s widely believed the pub has been sold. The freeholder of the pub is, according to the Land Registry, Tavernius Limited, which is one of a network of companies with connections to other firms named after pubs trading under the Antic London brand, such as Westow House at Crystal Palace and the East Dulwich Tavern.
Companies House records for Tavernius indicate a mortgage on the Ravensbourne Arms was paid off on Wednesday, meaning a sale may have take place that hasn’t made it to the Land Registry yet. The Land Registry data also shows some property transfers around the site too.
Antic applied for flats – and got them
Lewisham Council granted planning permission for flats above the Ravensbourne Arms as well as development of surrounding land twice, in 2014 and August 2015. The 2014 application saw two homes built behind the pub last year. (Unfortunately, Lewisham’s planning search function is down at the time of writing, so I can’t double-check what was in the 2014 application.)
The applications don’t mention the pub itself, but this should have rung alarm bells. Housing above pubs can be a way of securing the future of a venue (the new Catford Bridge Tavern will have flats above it). But such developments are also a very good way for developers to shut down the pub itself – these are cases that demand vigilance.
The applicant was given as “Antic London”. There is no company of this name registered at Companies House in the UK, nor in Jersey, Guernsey or the Isle of Man. (An earlier company, Antic Limited, went into administration in 2013, with its operations being taken over by a new company called Gregarious Limited, which is linked to the group of firms mentioned earlier.)
But Antic has always been as much about property as (some very good) pubs – and this was a process that the public were alerted to.
To find planning applications, you have to search through the weekly lists. (This is something From The Murky Depths excels at for big developments.) It’s not actually that big a deal, but you do need to track down the lists. You’ll usually find them on a council website or in a local paper (in Lewisham, I think it’s the South London Press; in Greenwich, it’s currently the Mercury following Greenwich Time’s demise).
There was also a notice tucked away in the Ravensbourne window early in 2015. I actually saw it, took a picture, and made a note to myself to investigate – something I’m kicking myself hard for not doing.
So this process seems to have sailed through without local press – which used to check this stuff as a matter of course – local bloggers, local societies or the likes of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) noticing. But one other check seems to have failed.
Why was it decided behind closed doors?Most planning applications are determined by officers. Local councillors don’t always need to sit around deciding whether you can have a kitchen extension. But if a certain number of your neighbours object, or if a local councillor thinks it should go before committee, then it will do just that.
Both 2014 and 2015 applications – despite them relating to a prominent local business – were not. They were decided by officers behind closed doors.
I’m not as familiar with Lewisham planning processes as Greenwich, but at first sight, it seems that the three councillors that represent Lewisham Central ward missed a trick here, as putting the applications before a committee would have enabled more alarm bells to ring.
This is a shame, because Lewisham has actually done some great work in putting protection of pubs into its planning framework (Greenwich’s Core Strategy also mentions the importance of pubs, although the protections aren’t as strong.)
What happens next?I don’t know. We do know that Antic is redeveloping the long-shut Market Tavern further up Lewisham High Street (under the name “E&H Hadley”), so that may be the company’s long-term priority. I understand that it’s hoped the staff will move up the high street to the new pub when it opens next year. It may well be that the sale of one outlet is funding the other.
But the new venue will be further away from the Hither Green and Ladywell areas, as well as the Lewisham Hospital staff that have come to treat the Ravensbourne as their local.
I’d hope that people rally to save the Ravensbourne Arms, although this could be a long, drawn-out battle – among Lewisham’s trump cards is a local planning rule stating that a pub must be proved to be unviable by having been on the market for at least three years with no takers. (Thanks to Rushey Green councillor James-J Walsh for tweeting this.)
This will be an interesting test for Lewisham’s pub protection policies, and I’m sure events will now be watched closely.
An Antic statement says: “It is with sadness that we announce our leaving the Ravensbourne Arms this Sunday in advance of opening at our new home, EH Hadley, in central Lewisham in 2017.
“We thank all of our customers for their support and very much look forward to being of service again soon.”
Down the road in Catford, Antic has secured a lease extension (from Lewisham Council) on another successful pub, the Catford Constitutional Club, and is holding a party on the 12th. News that it is closing the Ravensbourne may just dampen the celebrations for many locals.
There’s a moral to this story – if you see a planning notice on the front of your local pub, for heaven’s sake, read it and look it up. You might just be the one that helps keep it open.
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.
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.
Greenwich, Blackheath and Lewisham could soon have a direct bus link to the Olympic Park under plans revealed by Transport for London today.
The 108 service through the Blackwall Tunnel would have its route altered north of the river so it runs via Stratford City bus station, beside the Westfield shopping centre, to Stratford International station. The new route would see it run alongside the edge of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, with a stop at the London Aquatics Centre.
The route would gain bigger buses – though still single-deck, due to height restrictions in the Blackwall Tunnel.
It would also be rerouted away from the Blackwall Tunnel’s northern approach to serve Chrisp Street in Poplar, passing Langdon Park and Devons Road DLR stations rather than Bromley-by-Bow tube.
The change is part of a revamp of routes serving the borough of Tower Hamlets. Another change sees the 277 rerouted through the Isle of Dogs, bringing Greenwich town centre within walking distance of a 24-hour bus from Dalston and Hackney.
Bigger buses on the 108 would certainly provide some relief on what’s a chronically overcrowded route – although without an increase in frequency the route will continue to struggle with demand.
A switch to run via Stratford City would cause some problems for people changing buses in Stratford itself – in 2013, TfL said it would break 600 trips each day – although the two bus stations are only separated by a short walk via the Westfield centre. What’s not clear is if the diverted route would be affected by West Ham United moving to the Olympic Stadium this summer.
And while rerouting the 108 via Chrisp Street would mean the service avoids the A12 traffic jams, some passengers may miss the link to Bromley-by-Bow, although the new service passes close to Bow Road station.
What’s the view from north of the river? Bow’s Diamond Geezer thinks this is more about getting double-deckers on another bus…
There’s a consultation now open on the scheme – if you’re a 108 user, have your say by 20 March.
PS. You read it here first, three years ago…
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.”
Alternative Tube maps are objects of fascination for many – but now the mayor’s office has got in on the act with an alternative map of London itself.
The new Greater London Authority website features a map that invites you to “find out what we’re doing where you live and work”. You’re invited to select a borough from a dropdown, then you’re presented with some blurb about that borough and a map of neighbourhoods.
And here’s the map. Charlton seems to encroach a bit far west and Hither Green seems to be making a bid to escape the borough of Lewisham, where it wholly belongs. But hold on… what’s that in the top right-hand corner where Thamesmead should be? Creekmouth? Wrong side of the Thames…
Over in Camden, Camden Town and Kentish Town have been swallowed up by an expanding Gospel Oak.
Here’s my favourite – someone clearly stuck Ewell in before realising it’s actually in Surrey, not in Sutton, and so nothing to do with the mayor.
What’s happened here, then? It looks like an odd mix of reality combined with Wikipedia searching, council wards and the wishful thinking of developers and estate agents.
It must have been a good idea at the time to try to map London’s hundreds of neighbourhoods, and present some interesting data to go with them – but it’s actually harder than you think.
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.